Archive for May, 2013

The Ministry Balance Dance

May 1, 2013

One of the challenges of ministry is to keep seemingly contradictory ideas in balance. We are called to hold on to what appear to be polar opposites and keep them in tension. One such challenge we have is the dance between a permission giving culture and accountability.

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out the 72 disciples in pairs to every town and place where He intended to go. He gave them permission to go out into the surrounding communities, to enter into people’s homes, to eat meals with them, to heal the sick, and to declare that the kingdom of God had come near. If they were not welcomed, He gave them permission to leave, to wipe the dust off their feet, and to declare judgment on these towns. Jesus had created a permission giving culture. He didn’t give them a lot of training before they went out. It was on the job training. It was just in time training. It was ‘learn while you are doing it.’ He didn’t have them memorize a speech they were required to give to each home they visited. He didn’t put a tracking device on them to make sure they went to the right places and talked to the right people. He didn’t watch them like “Big Brother”. He trusted them with the good news of the gospel and gave them permission to act and react in each individual situation as they felt led by the Holy Spirit.

And yet, there was still some accountability. After Jesus sent them out, they returned and shared their experiences with Him and the others. They reported in after the fact, sharing their joys and enthusiasm for what they had seen God do. While the scriptures don’t say it, I imagine they also shared some stories of confusion, embarrassment, or inhospitality. I imagine they still needed some direction from Jesus and were wanting to make sure they were still “on the same page.” When we want to make sure that people are staying “on message” – communicating our values and vision. Reporting and accountability are important.

This dance between cultivating a permission giving culture and ensuring accountability is not an easy one to maintain. But both are important. Both are essential. But, most of us tend to lean in one direction or the other.

Over the last fifty years, I would say that our Presbyterian tendency has been to emphasize accountability at the expense of becoming permission-giving. The Presbyterian Presence book series has described our era as moving from a corporate model to a regulatory model. The regulatory model is an over emphasis on accountability that chokes out the permission giving spirit. It quenches the creative artistic spirit that is present in some of our people and can drive them to other congregations and other denominations. Because of our recent habits, our danger is not that we will become too permission giving. Our danger is that we will become too regulatory, and that we won’t provide enough permission to engage our communities where God is already at work.

Our denomination has been losing members for 50 years now. The irony is that the more members we lose, the more regulatory we become. In a time when we need to become more permission giving, our tendency is to actually move in the opposite direction. When we do so, we become our own worst enemy.

We have a tendency to operate out of fear rather than adventure. We try to plan so that we won’t get sued, rather than to plan to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who are different than we are. If we become too permission giving, and completely lose our accountability, we will descend into chaos. This would not be good. It is also not likely. If we become too regulatory, we will quench the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, remain isolated from our communities, and be afraid to try any new missional experiments. If we try to micro manage everything, we will crucify those who make mistakes and dig our own graves.

If we hope to see our people participate in fresh expressions of gospel ministry, if we hope to see people’s lives changed by Jesus Christ, and if we hope to make a difference in a world of discontinuous change, we need to learn the ministry balance dance. Accountability and a permission giving culture are both necessary for faithful and fruitful ministry. But, when we realize that our temptation is not to become too permission giving, but to become too regulatory, then we know what needs to be reduced and what needs room to grow. Even though it may be scary, even though we may feel awkward, and even though we may not like it, it may be time for some dancing lessons. And you can’t regulate a good dance.