Last week in Atlanta, we convened about two dozen pastors, lay leaders, and other church leaders from around the country to talk about the pressing challenges of ministry economics with a focus on property, space, and buildings. Now if that doesn’t get you amped up for ministry, what will?!?!
Kidding aside, it was one of the most engaging, energizing, stimulating, creative environments I’ve encountered in quite some time. This was in part due to the particular people who were there – all very faithful, creative, and collaborative leaders. But I think another key ingredient was this: Everyone was committed to asking better, broader questions that pushed us beyond the usual parameters and assumptions that typically drive conversations about ministry.
No one asked, “how should I run a capital campaign?” but instead “what if we radically re-imagined what our building is for?”
No one asked, “what do I do about a decline in tithes and offerings,” but instead, “how can local congregations partner and collaborate to resource one another more faithfully and effectively?”
No one asked, “how can we get people to come to our building,” but instead, “what’s God doing in the community that we should be paying attention to? And what might that mean for our building!?”
No one asked, “what happens when our reserves run out just to fix the heater,” but instead, “how do we do asset-based ministry and get creative with revenues to offset financial constraints?”
No one asked, “how do we keep the doors open for one more year?” but instead, “what is God doing with us, and how can we faithfully steward God’s surprising gifts right now?”
Note that all of the initial questions listed above are questions for which there may be reasonable answers. There are answers, for example, to questions about running capital campaigns, getting people to the building, building up reserves, and so on. But are these the most faithful, imaginative, and necessary questions for ministry? Probably not. And worse, having the “right” answers to the wrong questions can leave us in a perilous situation by providing a false sense of stability and resolution, having failed to accurately identify the underlying, fundamental problems – the elephants in the room, we might say.
Instead of providing only the “right” answers to the predictable questions, what would happen in our ministry board meetings if we started posing for discussion questions like:
- What questions are we not asking that need to be asked?
- What questions are we tired of asking?
- In what areas of ministry are we providing quick answers to the wrong questions?
- What questions are we asking about God’s work in our community?
- Who “out there” is asking good questions that we should be listening to more carefully?
- Who are we and why are we here?
- What else?
It’s striking to me that Jesus so rarely answers a question directly, opting instead to respond with a deeper, broader, more challenging question. Perhaps we’ve spent too much time focused on efficient answers and not enough time on asking faithful questions that don’t have clear answers. What might God do with such questions?