What Is Ministry

My biggest challenge in championing a new paradigm of ministry practice is in providing ministry leaders with WHY our current way of doing ministry is unsustainable. Many leaders believe that there is nothing that enough money will not fix. Now we don’t indulge this thought directly, but we do behave as if our ministry’s well-being is linked to some better happening in the outer. But, what if  any problem or challenge in the organization is actually exacerbated by the WAY we currently do ministry? What if we had a more mature and evolved ministry practice? We might still have the same issues, but they would be engaged as evolutionary drivers rather than problems to solve. Think about that for a moment before you read on.

Four out of five US churches are in decline or have plateaued. Nearly 1500 clergy leave ministry each year due to burnout or dissatisfaction with the job. In the New Thought movement, 89% of all our churches and centers have congregations of less than 150 adult participants. Seventy five percent of all churches have less than 100 congregants. Nearly all religious organizations in US and Canada are funded by only a small group of loyal contributors, most of whom are aging Baby Boomers and Traditionals. Donations to religious charities are down from 53% to less than 25% of monies donated to non-profits in the last 30 years.

Ministry leaders are often at a loss as to how to turn the tide, how to rediscover and reacquire the “good old days” when it seemed as if the business of growing and sustaining a church community was accomplished through dynamic Sunday lessons, prosperity programs, and visionary leadership. But now it seems that the times have changed and an expiration date has now been affixed to the old pastor / flock model of ministry.

Maybe it’s not necessary to answer the “WHY do we need to evolve” question. Maybe it is more important to consider why we need a new ministry practice and a new context for the role Unity and CSL have in changing lives and co-creating a world that works for everyone. If churches and centers are the delivery system for our message, and if our spiritual communities are the hands of the Divine supporting anyone who journeys with us, does our current practice of ministry actually serve to unleash the magnificence of our essence or does our current practice of ministry keep us largely focused on survival?

Okay, I am just going to proceed under the assumption that you are ready to go with learning about and engaging the Integral Ministry Model. You want to know the HOW. You are my low hanging fruit. I can actually hear some of you say: Pick me, pick me!!!

Any HOW about what to do first and then next, needs to have some context. The first thing to understand about this new ministry practice is the context out of which it arises: a living system.

I often ask ministry leaders the question: What is Ministry? Effortlessly the responses come forth: Community, Prayer, Intimacy, Spiritual Growth, Support, etc. Few people mention: Bylaws, Systems, Facilities, Grounds, etc. When it comes to identifying the ALL that ministry is, ministry leaders leave a lot out of the conversations. And, yet, some of the less sexy elements are integral to the whole of ministry functioning in a healthy and sustainable fashion.

AQALThe integral framework is a holistic lens through which to view the various parts of ministry in the context of the whole living system. The whole of ministry may be described in terms of four arenas of development: Consciousness, Culture, Social System, and Organization. Within each of these domains of development are the specific lines or dynamics that evolve from basic to more advanced. Within the four quadrants (domains) I have identified which dynamic is the focus of development (getting to the next level): Leadership Intentionality, Congregational Identity, Relational Dynamics, and Organizational Behavior.

(So, if you are an integral geek, you probably are saying, “Hey, wait a minute, where’s the I, WE, IT, and ITS designators?” No worries, Wilber is fine with my adaptation because my map happens to match the territory that ministry is.)

Within each quadrant is something that needs to evolve from where it is now to the next level. For instance, the intentionality of leaders (the Board, let’s say) at its most basic level is predict and control. There is nothing inherently bad or wrong about predict and control as a leadership strategy, it’s just not necessarily the most advanced or mature context for Unity and CSL leaders. It’s the default position of most corporations, but it is not necessarily ideal for spiritually based organizations. So what would be the next level beyond predict and control? Spirit-led.

Now I know what your thinking…no big revelation here, right? But, how easy is it for your Board to shift out of predict and control when dealing with organizational lack and stick with being Spirit – led when everyone is triggered by their own sense of not enough?

In the cultural quadrant, congregational identity moves from minister-centered to mission-centered where the identity of the congregation arises from its call to make a difference in the world. How do you transition from a congregation that only knows itself in the context of who the minister is, to defining itself in terms of the difference it seeks to make in the world? Cultural change, getting to the next level can take 3 – 5 years.

In the social system where the default relational dynamic is the family system (where the minister is ostensibly the primary care-giver, as if in the role of parent unto the congregation), how do you transition to a more mature relational interaction where the entire community, not just the minister, fulfills the function of providing support and care-giving?

Then in the organizational quadrant where structures, practices, and systems are utilitarian (for survival or maintaining the status quo) at the basic level, how do you create requisite structures, where every organizational practice and system is linked to an intentional aim of the organization?

All of these transition questions were answered in the course of implementing the three-year Pilot Program. I plan to begin educating our community via the Center Updates and Integral Ministry Arts training for leaders in upcoming months. They need to understand how living systems evolve and their role in taking the ministry to the next level.

Blessings, Gary