Who are you investing in?
This question hangs directly above my computer screen in my office at Faith Lutheran Church. My call is not to the programming of Family Ministry but to the people. It reminds me not to let the relationships get lost amid all the curricula, details, e-mail reminders, and newsletter articles. I have always known this but the idea of investment became front and center to me as I participated in my own leadership development with other MCS leaders through Intentional Impact.
I have served the people of Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois as the Director of Family Ministry for over ten years. After completing six months of classes and coaching, I am more equipped to mentor leaders at Faith and help them mentor others. Leadership development in Family Ministry now happens in a variety of ways.
From the beginning of the Intentional Impact process we were strongly encouraged to initiate a mentoring relationship with at least 1-2 people in our church. This relationship would involve regular one-on-one meetings that would include conversations of both faith and leadership. Hopefully during the natural course of the mentoring, there would be opportunities for the mentee to learn by doing.
I began formally mentoring two women who have been involved in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School for many years. Both of them are very gifted in the area of teaching young children. I knew they could also be leaders of adults as well. Their practical knowledge and wisdom would be beneficial not only to the children in Sunday School but also the other teachers. At Faith Church, leaders in different ministry areas often read a book together as a way to begin conversation. Using that model, I read the book Help. Thanks. Wow! by Anne Lamott with each of these women. Reading this book together prompted some good conversation about their personal faith and how they live it out. It was also was a good way to share some of our faith struggles.
The Intentional Impact model of mentoring assumed a structure in which new leaders could be plugged in automatically. Faith has no such structure. I struggled with how to mentor someone when there isn’t an open leadership slot waiting for them. I wondered: What should we talk about? What skills are essential for leadership? How is leadership in the church different than being a leader in a school classroom or an office setting? These were questions I asked myself even as I jumped into the mentor role. What evolved was conversation inspired by the Holy Spirit!
Leadership of Faith Formation is different from the public classroom setting. The players may all look the same on the surface: children, parents, and teachers. Yet our relationship with people and the subject matter is much more nuanced than in public school. We are a community built around Word and Sacrament. We believe that God comes to us and entrusts us with the gifts of belonging and forgiveness. Those building blocks of our relationships inform how we are together. Our classrooms are not built on right answers. Our classrooms are built on right relationship, with God and with one another. So the big question is—how do you mentor leaders to understand that difference and model that in their actions?
In Help. Thanks. Wow!, Lamott’s own vulnerability encouraged us to be more open and vulnerable with each other as we talked about the joys and frustrations of living a faithful life. As we were increasingly honest with each other, I saw an opening to be honest about the “behind-the-scenes” life of leadership in the church. I asked them to think critically about the structure and curriculum of Faith’s Sunday School. Where do we encourage belonging and forgiveness and where do we fall short? How do we nurture the learners to grow deeper in their relationship with God and not only focus on learning facts of the Bible stories? Those questions helped them look at the passing on of our faith with new eyes. The questions also helped them see how unsystematic a classroom structure can be when everyone has their own unique relationship with God. It didn’t take long for our conversation to turn how best to prepare and nurture the teachers in these classrooms. From that point our meetings took on a pattern of easily weaving in and out of the topics of faith, leadership and even discipleship.
Both women’s leadership journeys have been unique. They are learning to invest and cultivate leadership in themselves. One of these women began the year as a Sunday School team leader. She has been finding ways to encourage and support the teachers as the year progresses. The other mentee has begun to use some of her leadership skills outside the area of Family Ministry. She has been asked to be on a visioning team for the congregation. In just six months’ time she has become another leader for the congregation. She and I will begin working on developing her coaching skills so that soon she will mentor and invest in someone else in a similar way.
These two one-on-one relationships have been fulfilling for everyone involved but I can’t mentor all the leaders in Family Ministry one-to-one. There are at least sixteen year-long leaders and twelve event leaders. Creativity was needed to use the mentoring principles and build strong relationships with a variety of leaders. I schedule times directly on my calendar to initiate regular communication. Sometimes a regular check-in is enough but many times that simple check-in can lead to more specific and in-depth support. If I do not write reminders for myself to do this, the year can slip away from me. We end every check-in with a prayer. I want to affirm that the Holy Spirit is working in and through them.
Some check-in questions that can lead to more in-depth conversation:
- Is there anything in the class or with the project that is frustrating you?
- What do you need from me to support you?
- What are you celebrating? What is going well?
For single event leaders I schedule more than one meeting for preparation. I do this because the meetings consist of more than just logistical details. We talk about how God is present in our work together and then plan for moments of silence and wonder within the event. I encourage the leaders to share the ways they personally encounter God in their lives and then try to incorporate those techniques into the event plan. The more leaders reflect on how the grace of God is manifest in their lives, the more easily they can help the participants do the same.
Finally, I have prioritized meetings with parents for conversation. I have no hidden agenda. I am not trying to recruit them to volunteer. I meet with them either one-on-one or as a couple and we talk about their life as a family. I ask about what pressures they feel as they raise their children. What are some of their struggles? I also ask the parents to share with me what brings their family joy. How do they enjoy each other’s company? These simple conversations are also investing in people. We are strengthening our gift of belonging—to God and to each other.
The way we are investing in leaders in Family Ministry at Faith is different than the model I learned through Intentional Impact. The spirit is the same. We are building relationships and growing in faith. We are having more intentional conversations about the ways that God is present in our lives. More people want to share in the ministry. Growing and reproducing leaders isn’t about numbers. It is about God working through each of us, in our own way, with our own gifts to do God’s work in the church and the world.
Who am I investing in? The same people who are investing in me.