Have you ever been discouraged by the lack of growth and maturity in people's relationship with Christ? Have you ever felt like your small groups were becoming stale because individualism and consumerism were winning out over authentic Christian community? Have you ever wondered why people in your ministry aren't aspiring to lead and reproduce more disciples?
There's a question worth considering in these situations: "What are we publicly recognizing when it comes to Christian community and leadership development?" Because, the fact is, we tend to reproduce what we recognize.
What Are You Recognizing Publicly in Your Ministry Setting?
Public recognition comes in many forms. It might be praise for a ministry act mentioned from the pulpit, a church-wide email from a ministry director including special recognition for a job well done, or a thank you written in the church newsletter. Whatever forms the communication takes, when we publicly acknowledge an act, it sends a very clear message: "This is important—do more of this."
For example, say you have an event in your church that requires setting up a couple hundred chairs. The person in charge of setup, a volunteer named Jim, comes in two hours early and single-handedly sets up every chair. At the event, someone from the podium recognizes and praises Jim for his sacrificial service to the Lord in front of hundreds of participants. What value gets reinforced in this situation? An individual act of service—and a noble and sacrificial one, at that.
Now let's change the situation slightly. What if Jim, as a volunteer, had recruited 10 other people to come in just 30 minutes early? Once they arrived, Jim spent 10 minutes explaining how the chairs needed to be set up, lead the group in prayer, and then everyone spent 20 minutes setting up chairs and relating to one another as they served together.
Here's the question: Would the person at the podium have recognized and praised Jim for what he did in the second scenario? Or would he have gotten more recognition for doing the whole job all by himself? If Jim is less likely to get recognized for his efforts in the second scenario (having recruited, trained, and served along side 10 other people who wouldn't have otherwise been involved) than he is in the first scenario (solo service), then what value is getting recognized and reinforced to the congregation in this situation?
If vibrant Christian community, leadership development, team building, discipling relationships, and relational outreach are struggling to gain momentum in your church setting, then do an audit and see how many times those activities have been publicly recognized in the life of your people. If those values have not been publicly recognized, then your congregation is likely to instinctively assume they are not highly valued in church life.
You might say, "We don't have a lot of these stories to recognize publicly." Then the stories will need to start with church leaders. Church leaders will need to live, re-tell, and teach the values you want the congregation to embrace.
A Few Examples
Here are some examples to consider when doing a "recognition audit." Which of these situations are more likely to receive public recognition in your setting?
- 1) A stagnant small group has a few members who agree to set up the stage props for the Christmas musical seen by hundreds. Or, 2) A missional group who invites their neighbors to spend an evening singing Christmas songs at the local homeless shelter where just a few people live.
- 1) A small group updates their group information on the church website by stating the title and popular author of the next curriculum the group is studying. Or, 2) A small group updates their group information on the church website by stating the group's mission statement.
- 1) A group member prays aloud for the first time during a small-group gathering. Or, 2) A long-time leader does the closing benediction at the church's worship service.
- 1) An already large group adds several new members. Or, 2) an already large group multiplies into two groups.
- 1) A new Christian father leads his family in meal-time devotions every day for a week. Or, 2) The same new Christian does a devotional reading for the church pot-luck dinner.
In each scenario, the situation that would likely get more recognition in your church setting will also likely be what continues to happen in your ministry. Remember, what you recognize is what people perceive you value, and it's also typically what you reproduce in your ministry.
So when we lament a lack of spiritual growth, an overflow of inward-focused groups, and a scarcity of quality leaders, we might be well served to consider an audit of our public praise. We might simply be reproducing what we recognize.
—Dan Lentz; copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today.