This last week I went to a conference called the Community Project presented by “the C4 group”. There practitioners who were involved with caring for their cities gave testimonials about how their efforts brought forth change for the good of their community. It began with a leader talking to us about the church being outward focused. Then he turned his body to the back of the auditorium. Then he shared how offensive and non-inclusive this posture is for churches. But sadly, many operate in this way. Leaders need to turn the congregation to be “face-forward” by being “face-forward” leaders themselves. Our church leadership is asking questions about our involvement in the community. How effective are we influencing our city in the name of Jesus. This group challenged the leaders who came with me. Are we effectively being face-forward? One of them was a young lady has recently come to Christ in our church. She is now working as a social worker in our local food bank and community resource organization. I also gave her the title of community outreach director, which has no definition to it yet, nor a salary. We as a church have been involved with the food bank, which is called F.U.N.: Families Unlimited Network, and a large apartment complex. But we sense our impact at this point needs to be reevaluated and recalibrated.
In rereading Jim Collins book, Good to Great and Good to Great and the Social Sector, the defining our impact is challenged. Collins goes right to the heart of what is needed. He states, “How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?” (Social Sector p.5). There is the vital question. Great organizations are rigorous in applying consistent exacting standards to them. (Good to Great 52). This is a challenge for churches that have an assumption that church means to make everyone comfortable and feel good so they support the church. The organization becomes self-focused and misses the importance of why they exist and whom they exist for. To begin with, we must see a larger vision for leadership in church than just the people who attend on Sunday.
Leading a Community Oriented Church
The Community project President Monty Hipp has been involved with development in many churches and other social service organization. Questions came to mind as he shared about intentional, strategic and measurable influence in our cities. This requires consistent and concerted effort. Collins calls the “Flywheel Principle” the ability to keep applying pressure in the same place till it begins to move. It moves quicker and easier over time.
How does one lead a sustainable and community oriented church? What kind of leader is needed? Surprising it is not about an ego needy leader. Great leaders will do what ever it takes for the health of the organization rather than their own preservation. Jim Collins shares his research into organizations that have sustained a thriving business for 15 years or more. Faith venture has some similarities to a start up business. But trust development and faith that God has sent you are the intangibles that a Good to Great business model cannot measure. There is some crossover, but it begins in a different place. Humility to serve the organization over self-interest is the first connection. Collins refers to top leaders as Level 5 leaders. They are not ambitious for themselves but the cause or mission of the organization. (14). He or she will do whatever it takes for the sake of the organization.
Creating Allies for Community Development
Monty Hipp challenged us to look for “Unlikely allies”. Building bridges to unlikely allies can enable church leaders to share goals and funding for community development. These allies may not be ones that we are comfortable with or share core values. But to find shared goals about caring for the community can bring us together for the greater good. Those allies could be government, the extended faith community, the corporate sector and school. We were encouraged to connect with people in our city that could be those possible allies. We were also challenged to put those dates on our calendars. My list was to connect with the public school superintendent, the principals of one of the primary schools, one of the middle schools and the high school. Others are to talk to pastors, business leaders and city counsel members for ways we can collaborate.
One warning that was mentioned was to know your churches unique mission. This was so evident in the people interviewed. Unless the home organization knows its mission it can easily lose focus. Community development can be only the latest tool to build the church. Organizational drift can occur. To keep our church strong and healthy, while at the same time investing in the community is key. The church’s impact is only as good as its own internal health. With all the talk of about being a “missional” church, tactics do not help. All that the church is supposed to be is essential. We cannot neglect the hard business of caring for the people who do hold loyalty to the church. They can be led to grow in their spiritual development as they serve, but not to the neglect of their connection to Christ and His people.
Question to pursue: How do face-forward Christian leaders keep focused on the health and development of those people within the church, the daily functions of the church as an organization and keeping to the mission?
The Community Project hosting organization’s web site:www.c4group.org