Recently Valley (the congregation I serve) finished a long budgeting process. The down economy and the shifting culture has not been good to us over the past years. Many church members have lost their jobs and others have seen a drastic reductions in income. At the same time the attendance has been in a steady slow decline (until recently…we’ve seen an increase over the past 10 months which is encouraging). All these factors combined forced us to make some difficult decisions. There has been months of debate, meetings, discussion, drafts, and redrafts. Here are a few of my reflections on this process:
1) I love the process and congregational involvement.
In Baptist world every member that wants a vote gets a vote. Committees meet and come up with a decisions, but they always have to clear their conclusions with the congregation. Sure, this slows everything down; but sometimes speed is not our friend.
Other churches I’ve worked in have been completely staff run (the congregation was given no say in budgeting issues). This allowed us to move and make changes quickly; but we lost the opportunity for the people to bring their wisdom to the table. It put us as staff members in an unhealthy place of authority and forced the congregation to vote with their feet. When (not if) the congregation disagreed with staff decisions, with no place at the table to join the dialogue, all the people could do was leave. While I do believe leaders should be given the space and trust to lead, I love that the congregation gets final say in the budget. It keeps leaders honest and the congregation involved. It reinforces that the congregation is a team of gifted believers working together to encourage and equip one another to love like Jesus in the community.
I love it.
Side Note: This congregational involvement and individual ownership are two of the factors that have shifted my measure of success from large expanding congregations to small multiplying ones. The larger a body gets the less ownership the membership has, the more room there is for people to hide as consumers. Small and reproducing – that’s the ticket…easier said than done though.
2. I love and fear the respect for the staff.
One of the decisions the congregation had to make surrounded staff salaries. After long conversations the staff, deacons, personnel, and finance committee came to the decision that the best route to go was to furlough the staff one day a week for the remainder of the year in conjunction with asking the congregation to give $25 more per week per family (a monstrous sacrifice for many of our families).
This was an incredibly difficult decision for the congregation and committees come to; and I appreciate their struggle. There was lots of talk about “holding to commitments” and “providing for those that serve” them. Valley has never cut staff salaries before. This was a first for them and I could see the stress physically manifested on their faces. It was a challenging move for the congregation and committees to take.
I hate to say this, but it gave me comfort that coming to the decision was difficult for them. I’m honored to be held in such high regard and to work alongside such a caring and considerate group of believers. I’m thankful that I serve a congregation that has my family and fellow staff members’ families best interests at heart.
To be clear. I believe it was the right decision to make. I completely agree with it and support it. Not surprisingly God has already begun to provide for our family the income we will be missing in the coming months. That’s how He rolls.
Side Note: Last summer I went looking for a job and it took me months to find anything. This summer Wendy walks into a store and they are like, “Oh we love you! Start work tomorrow! You’re awesome!” Is this a sign that the economy is turning around and things are getting better? I think not. Is this a sign that life is unfair and my wife is fifty times more awesome than I am? Yes. That is exactly what it is.
There is a dark side to the congregation’s monstrous respect for and committment to staff. A staff member’s role is to be a servant leader (I’ve written a big series about this earlier this year so I won’t unpack that statement right now…that series starts here). We (the staff) serve the congregation by filling certain rolls the congregation believes need extra attention (see Acts 7). My personal opinion is that our measure of success should not be simply how well we perform those rolls, but how well we equip others to perform the rolls and reproduce ourselves. Because every believer is gifted and filled by the Spirit, God has given Valley (and every church) everything it needs to grow. It is easy for a congregation to become dependent on their staff. It is therefore important to always keep in the forefront of our minds that staff members are not special, better, holier, or somehow more filled with the Spirit. Staff members are simply Body members called out to serve. We are not the head of the house. We are more like the butlers.
3. I love the people I serve.
The people at Valley amaze me. I love meeting with them, talking with them, debating them, and learning from them. While the budgeting process has been difficult and long, I’ve enjoyed the time it has allowed me to spend with the leaders of Valley. They are truly amazing.
I’m not excited about Valley’s future because of some great strategy or plan of attack we have in the works. I’m not excited about Valley’s future because of some new shiny ministry or new way of thinking. I’m excited about Valley’s future because Valley is made up of exceptional people. They amaze me. The Lord is going to do incredible things through them in the future. It is a privilege to be their servant. I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store for us. It is going to be a fantastic journey.