A Travel Free Learning Article
By George Bullard, Ministry Colleague with The Columbia Partnership
My wife and I got married on an important day in American political infamy. June 17, 1972. Oh, you do not know what this celebrates? Perhaps it is because the event—the Watergate break-in—is not nearly as well-known as is the two years of cover up that led to the resignation on August 9, 1974 of USA President Richard Nixon.
Having graduated from high school near Philadelphia, PA, I moved into adulthood with one eye on Joe Paterno and Penn State football. While not an avid fan, I was always conscience of what appeared to be a great college sports program. Admittedly my other eye was on Bobby Bowden at Florida State who I ultimately hoped would have more college football wins than Joe Paterno, but I did not want it to happen because of a cover up.
Richard Nixon did not break into the Watergate office building. Joe Paterno did not sexually abuse boys. Yet to the best of our current knowledge both were involved in a cover up. Often it is the cover up of bad things—can we still use the actual word "sin"?—that gets everyone in the tar pit dirty and stuck.
Congregations are often involved in cover ups that inhibit their ability to soar with faith towards a fruitful future whereby they might be considered a FaithSoaring Church. While the cover ups within congregations can be about illegal and immoral activities, they can also be about less dramatic but equally as debilitating activities.
Here are a few things congregations tend to cover up. First, they cover up mediocrity. Increasingly younger generations want high quality programs, ministries, and activities that address their real needs in real time. Congregations, on the other hand, often say that their programs, ministries, and activities were good enough for them and should be for the next generation. They have blinders on and do not see the need to be continually improving the quality and focus of what they do as a congregation.
Second, they cover up a lack of spiritual maturity. Congregations equate regular participation with spiritual growth. Classes, courses, seminars, and small groups attended equate with discipleship progress. They are measuring output—enrollment and attendance, rather than impact—persons who are maturing in their spiritual journey as followers of Jesus Christ. Much less, people who are fully missional in their life style and impacting people with the unconditional love of God.
Third, they cover up the absence of a clear, passionate vision for the future. They do so by coming up with a motto or theme for the programmatic emphases of their congregation that seeks to push the congregation into the future rather than allowing God to pull the congregation into the future. They go from one event to another, one promotion to another, one part of the liturgical church year to another without an adequate sense of their destination.
Fourth, they cover up a lack of organizational processes and skills. It is frequently said that congregations would go bankrupt if they had to make a profit because they are run so poorly. While that is a little harsh, it may not be too far from the truth. Too many congregations focus on maintaining a museum rather than inspiring a movement. They have shallow relationships in the congregation they take few risks for fear they may create conflict they cannot handle.
Fifth, they cover up a lack of expertise in leading and managing transition and change. Too few lay and clergy leaders actually know how to lead a congregation—a voluntary, member-based association—through transition and change. To cover up their lack of expertise they either "bulldoze" the process or they spiritualize it. They engage in blamestorming focused on the people who did not do their part, rather than acknowledging they need greater skill in leading and managing transition and change.
And yes, unfortunately as some congregations and denominations have taught us, they also cover up illegal and immoral acts, and even perpetuate the culture that breeds them.
The true measure of a pastor, staff minister, or lay leader is what happens in the congregation when they are no longer there. What was covered up during a certain period? What will we realize five years after you are gone? What are you doing to create a positive, sustainable future?
What are you covering up in your congregation? You can't cover it up and soar with faith. FaithSoaring Churches, at www.FaithSoaringChurches.info, are real, self-disclosing, and averse to covering up their barnacles.
Important Things to Know
George Bullard is a Ministry Colleague and the Strategic Coordinator with The Columbia Partnership. He is also executive director [General Secretary] of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance. He is the author of FaithSoaring Churches, Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation and Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict; published by Chalice Press and Lucas Park Books of St. Louis. With Chalice Press he is the Senior Editor for the TCP Leadership Series which now includes more than two dozen books.
The Columbia Partnership is a non-profit Christian ministry organization focused on transforming the capacity of the North American Church to pursue and sustain Christ-centered ministry. Its current vision is to engage 2100 congregations in transformation annually by the end of 2017. Travel Free Learning is a sharing knowledge emphasis of TCP. For more information about products and services check out the web site at www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, send an e-mail to Client.Care@TheColumbiaPartnership.org, or call 803.622.0923.
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This article first appeared in an earlier form as a blog post on The ABP News Blog at http://www.abpnews.com/blog/author/georgebullard/.