This week, I had the pleasure to attend a workshop led by John Vest at the Next Church national gathering. It was entitled, An Introduction to Cultivated Ministry: Bearing Fruit through Theology, Accountability, Learning, and Storytelling.
This workshop is connected to an ongoing project and movement within Next Church, considering how we might shift our framework for assessing the visions and directions of ministry and community life together.
The Cultivated Ministry project began when some creative leaders gathered to talk about the ways that we support (or struggle to support) new ministry initiatives. Here are some of the themes that emerged. In this conversation. . .
One of these leaders compared the process to the Hunger Games and said, “You come up with a good — even proven — ministry, and everyone is excited about it. When you ask for help in paying for it, there are three larger churches and a couple of grant programs to go to and these creative ministries end up fighting each other to our own death to get any final resources.”
Touché. I know what this is like personally.
Soon after, a pastor of a large congregation with a multi-million-dollar budget said, “What I hear you asking for is a blank check, and we simply can’t give that to you. In a season where we have many resources, but are facing budget cuts of our own and laying off staff, we have to justify every dollar we spend.”
Another leader spoke up and said, “Our presbytery has money to fund new ventures but we expect them to be growing numerically and financially sustainable within five years.”
“What if we’re working in a community that is financially incapable of being self-sustaining?” someone chimed up.
All of these quotes directly come from the new Cultivated Ministry booklet (it’s a really good resource!) and are a summary of themes that often come up when discussing ways to support and finance new ministry initiatives.
The challenge is often this: The typical metrics for evaluating and supporting ministries are inadequate, and they have not been replaced with new ones. That is what Cultivating Ministry seeks to do.
Let me say more. . .
When it comes to existing churches and new ministry initiatives alike, we often evaluate effectiveness through membership counts, financial totals, and worship attendance. But these are not always good measuring tools, nor are they often what are most fruitful in the life of a shared vision.
In the workshop at Next Church, John Vest shared that we place the expectations of these traditional metrics upon new initiatives and new communities (including whether or not we will fund them) when many of our existing churches cannot meet the expectations of those very same metrics.
The Cultivated Ministry project seeks to provide different metrics. They are. . .
- Mutual Accountability
Theology – In this workshop, John Vest said, “We often know the the what and the how of what we’re doing, but we don’t always know the why. If you don’t have a theological reason for what you’re doing, come up with one, or do something else.” The shared convictions of our theology can inform and enrich our directions. We are invited into spiritual imagination together.
Mutual Accountability – Likewise, we are invited into a teamwork approach of mutual support and accountability. Notice the word mutual. So often, we consider ‘accountability’ to flow in only one direction, with one group or entity holding sole evaluation power. But we need to be partners. Ministry leaders need to tell the story of what they are doing, and larger communities need to ask how they can best come alongside these new initiatives. The Cultivated Ministry booklet says, “Mutual accountability is a continuous cycle of inviting participation, developing clarity, acting, reflecting, evaluating, and acting again.”
Learning – Discernment is always a crucial element in the Cultivating Ministry process. As a part of discernment, we can ask vital questions to help us consider our impact. If we are not reflecting, learning, and growing regularly, we can get into a rut of merely counting outputs. Outputs are not the same as impact. I think this statement is especially important when it comes to assessment: “The key to making this paradigm shift is understanding that learning is the primary goal of assessment. In a learning-driven approach to assessment, we shift from history to vision, from outputs to impact, from reality to in-breaking possibility. We assess what we have done, not as justification for continued practice, but as the springboard to future innovation.”
Storytelling – Stories help us understand where we came from and where we’re going. Likewise, stories help us make meaning. Stories help connect us and bring us together for shared belonging and shared work. “When we make Cultivated Ministry a priority, it becomes clear that not only do we need ways of gathering information about the effectiveness of our ministry, we must also learn to use that information to tell stories that matter — stories of impact and stories of transformation. Without these stories, we can collect all the quantitative data we want, but it won’t lead to the deep cultural and organizational adaptations we need to fulfill our mission in rapidly changing contexts.
We can change our metrics. We can become better partners. We can do ministry with more intention. We can do ministry with better support.
The Cultivated Ministry project can help with all of these.
If you’d like to see some of my other reflections from #NextChurch2018, see also,