Comprehensive Ministry Review – Recommendations

About a week or so ago, I wrote a post about last December’s Comprehensive Ministry Review, the results of which just came in recently. Specifically, this post was about a series of Affirmations by the Synod review team.

I noted that we should just take a few days to let those affirmations sink in before we began to look at what the review team recommended. Well, a few days have come and gone, so now let’s take a closer look at areas that we need to focus on in upcoming months. I’m going to editorialize these a little. The recommendation language will stay pretty much verbatim (but I’ll let you know if there’s an edit), but I want to add on some areas where we’ve already begun the work. OK? OK.


1. “Collectively as a congregation, before March 1, 2015, start a process to discern God’s purpose for this congregation and identify your shared core values/guiding principles (possible resource: Living Lutheran by Dave Daubert). Complete this process within six to eight months and then find creative ways to keep both statements fresh in members’ minds, for decision-making and inspiration.

N.B. The link for the above title will take you to the Amazon Smile page. If you use Amazon Smile, a percentage of your purchase will be donated to First Lutheran. Just thought you might like to know about this small way of supporting our ministry financially. Thanks!

So, we’re a bit behind on this, but I’m confident that we can still have in place a set of core values and guiding principles to shape the way we do mission here at FELC by August/September 2015. Our new Town Hall structure should provide us opportunities to work on this as a group. Already at May’s Town Hall we began to identify this value: FELC is a Safe Place. We said that this should be a safe place physically – now we need some actionable items put in place to help us make sure that’s the case. We also said we are a safe place psychologically and spiritually  – One member mentioned specifically that he lives on property belonging to a church where he knows his doubts and questions will not be welcomed or tolerated, and so he comes here, halfway across town, because he feels like he belongs, questions and all.

I’ll do another post on discerning core values and guiding principles in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled. In the mean time, think about (AND SHARE! It does no good to examine ideas if you’re going to just keep them to yourself.) what’s important to you about this congregation. It can be things we already do, or things we could do. The point is to get the discussion rolling.

2. “Prioritize goals, including action steps, resourcing needs, timelines, and designated project leaders. Follow through on your plan [as identified in discussions with our consultant from Kairos] to choose two internal and two external projects to focus on at a time.

3. “Develop and commit to engaging in a healing process to work through issues lingering from past conflicts. Seek out an external counselor or therapist who specializes in group healing processes.”

Mark your calendars for June 14. Cynthia Gustavson will meet with us during our Town Hall that day to begin a more formal process of healing. I know that some people are less affected than others by the conflict(s) that occurred in the congregation in 2010/2011, but it’s very clear both to me and to our consultant and to our review team that there is residual trauma in the congregation as a whole. Even if you feel like you are “over it,” please understand that not everyone is, and your participation in this process will be in support of your brothers and sisters who need you to engage. This is important work, if we ever want to move forward.

4. “Build up lay leaders within the congregation by helping them to identify their spiritual gifts, encouraging them to live out their unique gifts both inside and outside the [congregation], identifying applicable gift/role pairings supporting the life of the congregation, and providing ongoing training and support.”

5. “Live into your CAT survey goal to “provide more opportunities for Christian education and spiritual formation at every age and stage of life.”

6. “Create and maintain a balance of energy between the internal missions (discipleship) [or Linking In] and external missions (evangelism and outreach) [or Bridging Out].”

7. “Determine a long-term plan for the building, including potential sale of the lower parking lot in order to offset expanded parking nearer the corner of Utica and 12th, and rental of space to community partners. Look into a building assessment from MIF [Mission Investment Fund] and or/energy audit from PSO and prioritize repairs.”

Some things have changed since the review team was on site. At that time, we were not partnering with House Church Tulsa, for example. We were also in conversation with a neighboring health provider concerning the potential sale of our lower parking lot. This negotiation is currently in limbo, and we’re not even certain that the sale of the lot, given an increased need for parking thanks to House Church and other potential building use partners, would be the best option.

Our partnership with House Church and the continually expanding work of Padre Alvaro and the Comunidad de Esperanza, plus ongoing relationships with the Early Learning Center  are helping us to see our building less as a liability (60 year old building with a bad boiler, in need of a lot of upkeep, etc.) and more as an asset for the whole community. Not only has House Church really embraced working with us, but also CdeE has been using the building for teaching Spanish and English as a Second Language, as well as for working on social justice issues for the Latino community in Tulsa. We have a LOT of potential in this building, if we continue to steward the resource well.

To that end, a task force has worked with the Core Council for putting together contracts and covenants for Building Use Partners – and these affect other policies including renting the building for events such as weddings, etc.

In short, we’re making really good progress in this area, and are actually building excellent relationships through the broader community. People may not be aware that First Lutheran had a certain reputation for not playing well with others for quite some time. I’m only now learning the extent of that, and your openness to trying new things has already helped us heal some of those old wounds.

8. “As you explore rental of space to other entities, we recommend you do so from an intentional posture of partnership/relationship rather than a stance of proprietor.
   * Explore establishing a building stakeholder consortium that shares responsibility for           building and grounds upkeep and repair.
   * Consider having monthly stakeholder meetings with building partners in order to                 coordinate building use and develop stronger relationships
   * In addition to financial contributions, consider inviting all building partners commit         to contribute to and participate in worship life at least once a year (e.g. an artist or           musician can share from their gifts, a counselor or spiritual director could share how       lives are changed, separate congregations can participate in a joint worship, and etc.       as fits budding partnerships.”

There is a lot of momentum (or inertia) to overcome here, but we are making progress. First, it seems clear to me that we are already approaching the Building Use Partners precisely as that – partners, and not lessees. We have been sort of informally working together to figure out how best to share the space. There are hiccups here and there (sound bleeding through floors and ceilings, though this doesn’t appear to be too distracting) and so forth, but overall, the informal approach has been working so far. It will be better to formalize some of these things.

To that end (and secondly), we have identified and are currently testing some software that should help us avoid room use scheduling issues. This is an ongoing process.

Finally, on May 22 we held the first of four joint worship events with our Building Use Partners. We grilled food and shared bread and wine/juice around tables while hearing Scripture and sermons, and while listening to excellent music jointly offered by House Church musicians and members of our own music program. It was beautiful to behold! From this meeting, I spoke with someone who wants to help us with some of the landscaping around the building! Relationships grow in the midst of all this stuff, and it’s really, really great!

9. “Increase signage, upstairs and downstairs, inside and outside, particularly at doors to indicate preferred entrance points, and to direct people to worship, office space, nursery, and restrooms. Explore placing signs at prominent sites, as fits city ordinance, to point people to the existence of this congregation and its location.”

10. “Make the front of the building (facing Utica) more visible so that it is evident this building houses an active and vibrant congregation.”

11. “Broadly utilize your developing branding to grow awareness of your identity in the community.”

12. “Live into your desire to attract youth and families and be more welcoming overall, by updating gathering and transitional spaces, in order to make it more visually and olfactory appealing. Engage a building engineer or other building professional to determine where gasses are being leaked.”

Fortunately, the gas trap fiasco of last year has finally been resolved, thanks to Bruce Torkelson! But we need to work on that other stuff!

13. “Build upon your history of providing quality worship and music, adapting as relevant for the changing mission field. As you build a family-friendly, welcoming, and engaging community, consider bringing the choir down from the choir loft to join the rest of the congregation in the main worship space.

Two things here: 1) We are in the process of calling a part-time choir director, whose engaged presence will help us tremendously musically. The current staff and volunteers have been doing a great and commendable job in the absence of a consistent presence, but it’s a LOT of work. Getting a part-time person on board will be great! 2) Our long-standing tradition of a worship committee who picks music just isn’t working any more. We need to form something like a “liturgical arts task force” to help think more broadly about worship experiences – thinking about the use of space and smells, for example, especially in the more dramatic seasons of the church year. The Altar Guild can and should be part of this process, but not everyone on the Altar Guild wants to do that particular kind of work. That’s not a problem. We need to all work together on this. I’m also thinking that we need to think a bit differently about how to more effectively use people’s gifts during the worship experience. The task force can help to guide those discussions.

14. “Create a sustainable budget and financial policies, including written policies for bequests, memorials, sale of property, and rental use of space.”

I have tried to avoid using names in most of this report, but I want to lift up Robert Ohlde for a minute. Robert has held pretty much every position on the council since he became a member here, and the man works tirelessly in areas that aren’t always comfortable for him. Our congregation seems to have a bit of a history of taking talented people and using them so much that they’re just worn out. Nobody deserves that. Robert doesn’t deserve that. We need a couple of people who are willing to help, especially in the area of Financial Stewardship. By condition of various grants, we are committed to looking at Financial Stewardship all year long (as opposed to the old model of a single campaign in the fall). Right now, Robert and I are the Stewardship Team. This is a recipe for disaster. We need help. Help?!

15. “Utilize activities you already do (e.g. the annual performance of Messiah and the Early Learning Center) as leverage points for moving to the next level of relationship and increased exposure of your branding.


All of these recommendations are solid. I think the review team, though they only spent a couple of (admittedly very intense) days among us, really listened to what people had to say, and this is reflected in their recommendations.

This gives us a good list of things to work on and provides a framework for a strategy for moving forward in ministry. We now need people who are willing to donate some blood, sweat and tears to help us plan and implement a couple of these projects at at time. The Core Council will need to tackle this work and manage the project, but they cannot and should not do it on their own. One thing I’ve seen from this congregation is that, when you are motivated, you can pull off amazing things. You have the resources already, because you’ve done it before. Now it’s time to do it again! There is much at stake, but God has already equipped you with what you need to do the work. Persevere! Your gifts won’t fail you.

Comprehensive Ministry Review – Affirmations

In December 2014, a team comprised of leaders from around our Synod joined a team of leaders from our congregation, as well as several community leaders from around Tulsa  – Area pastors and lay leaders, a director at the psychiatric hospital who shares our block, and the director of a not-for-profit that works with formerly homeless people of faith, with homebound Christians, and with faith communities, bringing them all together in healthy relationships.

Gathered together, they discussed our congregation. They talked about our place within the Tulsa community and how we are working to engage (or not engage) in ministry to the people we live among. They toured around our neighborhood in order to get a sense of the physical context of our ministry. In short, they wanted to see how are we doing as a community of Jesus followers in terms of fulfilling our commission to be salt and light in the world.

This gathering was a pretty grueling process that began on a Friday night and continued through Sunday morning. It was exhausting. But it was also really positive.

In the end, the group assembled for us a report that includes a list of affirmations – things they see at work in us that they’d like to hold up as very positive – and a list of recommendations concerning things that they would strongly encourage us to address. I’m just going to list those things verbatim.


* You are to be commended for welcoming and accepting a first call pastor and embracing a major shift in pastoral style. You are serving an important role as a training ground for a first call pastor.

* You have a strong core of dedicated leaders that have worked hard for the good of the congregation and community.

* The congregation has a strong sense of fellowship and community experienced through planned events.

* The congregation has lay leaders taking ownership of taking communion to home-bound members.

* The congregation has quality liturgy and music in worship.

* The congregation is committed to a healthy Mutual Ministry.

* The congregation is supportive [financially and spiritually] of the newly forming Latino ministry, Comunidad de Esperanza, and its developer[.]

* The congregation supports two active W[omen of the] ELCA circles, WELCA sponsored global mission activities, and a redeveloping Men’s Group, which is currently focused on fellowship but plans to begin Bible Study and service activity in 2015.

* The building is located in a prime area of Tulsa, situated at a crossroads where it can serve as a bridge between North and South and between the Downtown and Midtown communities, as well as serve an an integral part of a “mind, body, spirit” care [center – based on its proximity to both Hillcrest Hospital and Parkside Psychiatric Hospital.]

* The building is large and full of petential for expanding ministry and community partnerships.

* The Early Learning Center is a necessary and long-standing ministry in the community.

* The congregation is now starting new partnerships with Abba’s Family, Manna Meals [at St. Paul’s UMC], and a joint youth group with other area non-Lutheran congregations.

* First Lutheran has a strong identity in the community with its longstanding ties to the annual presentation of [Handel’s] Messiah.

* You have a strong Pastor who is building trust with and among the congregation. He is also actively reaching out into the community.

So, these are the very positive things our Review team saw in us. If we were to conduct the review again today, there would be more things to add, I’m sure. Some of those new affirmations would be based on our having begun to address the recommendations that the team offered to us. But those recommendations I’ll save for a follow-up post in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, just let these things soak in. And don’t worry – the recommendations aren’t negative things: they’re more opportunities for us to seize. Some of them are going to be extremely important, others maybe less so. But let’s save those for tomorrow, and focus today on these affirmations. OK? OK.

Innovation in the Church

Last fall, George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning in the Parkland School Division (Story Plain, Alberta, Canada) wrote this great post about 8 Characteristics of the “Innovator’s Mindset.”

You can read the article for yourself, but the reason I wanted to post it here is that what Couros writes about innovators applies not just to the field of education, but also resonates in the congregation, as well.

Each of us, as baptized Christians, is called to reach out beyond ourselves to the world around, to share the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. This is, in fact, the ONLY reason the church exists. It’s not for great fellowship; it’s not for good music; it’s not for creating warm, fuzzy feelings with the Creator. Our job is to share the gospel. Full stop. How do we do that? We go – beyond the four walls of our building. We make disciples (students and followers of the Way of Jesus). We baptize and teach people about Jesus and his Way, so that those whom we have taught can go and do likewise. There’s always a sending. Always.

The way this reaching out looks changes from time to time and from place to place. What has worked for First Lutheran in the past, is very likely not what will work today. In fulfillment of our Baptismal promises to BE the church in the world, we all need to think of innovative ways to get the gospel message to folks in our current setting.

According to Couros, innovative thinkers are empathetic; they are problem finders; they are risk-takers; they tend to be well-networked; they are observant; they create; they are resilient; and they are reflective. You may come to different conclusions about how Couros’ article relates to our work as the Church, but here are some thoughts I’m working on.

Empathy – Couros writes that we first need to understand WHO it is that we are serving, so that we know HOW to innovate ways of reaching them. We need to understand where people are coming from, what their experiences are, what needs they have, and then determine from that what gifts of our own we might bring to bear on their behalf. This kind of empathy doesn’t come from giving our best guesses about what people need, but rather from building relationships and asking questions.

Problem Finders – As we build relationships and learn to ask good questions of our friends, then we can turn to working on problems ALONGSIDE those whom we are called to serve. Finding problems to solve isn’t exactly our job, but relational work with others leads there as we learn what is important to people. We’re not there to do work FOR others, but with them. Together, we help people learn to innovate, we help to reframe issues and questions. But we don’t assume. That relational work comes first, and we need to get good at asking powerful questions. Couros wrote, “The invention of the home computer started with the focus of, ‘How do we bring the experience of a powerful computer into the homes of families?’ Many capstone projects developed by students in their classrooms start with first finding, and then solving problems both locally and globally.  How often do we as educators immerse ourselves in a similar process?  If want to be innovative, we need to look at questions first.” Our questions will look different from those related to technological innovation, but questions is where we, too, need to begin – not with answers, and certainly not with trite answers that don’t relate to where people are coming from.

Risk-Takers – A question we really need to ask of ourselves time and again is: “What are we willing to risk for the sake of the gospel?” Couros wrote about “best practices” (by which we often mean “those things we’ve done the most and know the best”) are “the enemy of innovation.” What are we willing to change? In what ways are we willing to go off the beaten path, the path of the tried-and-(formerly) true? Taking risks is about change, which I know people generally hate. But remember this: change is inevitable. We simply can’t not change, and we also can’t go back to what’s past. The question becomes, are we going to settle for the change that leads to decay, or are we going to choose to risk change that might well be transformative – for ourselves, but more importantly, for the world, who needs us? This is NOT a rhetorical question. Let’s talk about this.

Networked – Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens when we learn to beg, borrow, and steal from other people who are having success. But that requires that we get out of our own four walls again. We need to poke our heads out of the hole and see what’s going on elsewhere. This was part of the reason I invited people to head down to First Christian Church on Good Friday and check out their Tenebrae service. It was to break us out of the pattern that we have established and see what other folks are doing. Not so that we can copy it, but so that we can see that “different” does not equal “bad.” Seeing different ways and approaches even to worship services sparks new ideas, and the greater the variety, the more new ideas come about. I’ll repeat Couros here when he says “Isolation is the enemy of innovation.” Get out there and experience something different. Then bring it back and let’s work it around to see how we can tweak it to fit our context.

Observant –  This, to me, is much the same concept as Networking above. It’s about deliberately looking for connections and TRAINING ourselves to look for connections. After some practice observing connections, it becomes second nature. Thinking of a practical example from my own life, I’ve noticed that managing a museum is a lot like pastoring a church in some respects. There are obvious differences, too, but there are certain things that are remarkably similar. Non-museum people won’t observe those similarities, but since I’ve had a foot in each world, it’s easy to make the connections. And this is why I’m able to explain some church-related things to my non-churchy museum friends. I see patterns common to both worlds, and I can translate. It’s because I have a network that gives me a vocabulary to span both worlds. How might this kind of adaptive and integrative thinking be helpful in our Great Commission work?   This, too, is innovation.

Creators – Couros writes, “So many people have great ideas, yet they never come to fruition.  Innovation is a combination of ideas and hard work.  Conversation is crucial to the process of innovation, but without action, ideas simply fade away and/or die.  What you create with what you have learned is imperative in this process.” In other words, “Innovation without works is dead.” This is why we need everybody in the church rowing. In the past, it was OK (it was never ideal, but it still managed to work, more or less) to follow the 80/20 rule – 20 percent of the people did 80 percent of the work and the financial support. That doesn’t fly in a small congregation like ours. We all need to do more than just show up on Sunday morning. This work belongs to all of us, as baptized and commissioned Christians.

Resilient – Sometimes our risks don’t pay off on the first go-around. That’s OK. We need to learn to embrace failure as a teacher and be encouraged that we at least tried. We can’t let false starts and outright disasters deter us from trying again.  Jesus never promised us an easy road to success (TV preachers’ claims to the contrary notwithstanding). Persevere!

Reflective – Couros states this just about perfectly: “What worked? What didn’t?  What could we do next time?  If we started again, what would we do differently?  What can we build upon?  It is important that in [working on God’s mission] and innovation, we sit down and reflect on our process.  This last point is definitely lacking in many aspects of [the church] as we are always “trying to get through [from Sunday to Sunday]”, yet reflection is probably the most important part of [church work].”

Innovation in the life of the church can and probably should have a certain inward component: It’s good to think about and apply the concepts of innovation to things like our worship and our governance structure, for example. But we have to remember that those things exist BECAUSE of the Great Commission, not in place of them. We absolutely NEED to move our focus more to the outside. It’s only in connection to the Great Commission that the work we do within the currently gathered body has any meaning at all, apart from a sort of narcissistic and hyper-individualized satisfaction we get (aka “What I get out of going to church”). This kind of thinking may itself be innovative for some of us. That’s fine. Let’s begin there.

For you members of First Lutheran, let me ask this question: How can the leadership (myself included) of this congregation help you to embrace innovation as a way of being the church? How can we help you learn to embody this even more than you are now?