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My family and friends give me grief for watching public television because they think I’m just watching book reviews and documentaries. In fact, I’m also downloading blues classics like Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan together on “In Session” or B.B. King and Eric Clapton on “Riding With The King.” Of course, the list of white artists whose music and careers has been built on the work of black musicians like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Bessie Smith, Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker is long. Most of those men and women played the Southern “chitlin circuit” for years with little or no recognition by the mainstream. Except for small audiences of devoted fans, it was only when they were discovered by white American and British groups like John Mayall, Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others that people outside the circuit took notice. After that, many of their careers exploded and they rode the wave the mainstream created.
The Justice Conference (www.thejusticeconference.com) in Portland, Oregon concluded yesterday with a riveting talk by Francis Chan to over 4,000 mostly white and relatively young people who had come to explore ways in which they can be part of bringing justice, peace, mercy, love and hope to others. Begun two years ago at a small college in Bend, Oregon (Kilns College) there were 1,000 attending. In two years they had quadrupled. Along with the attendees there were dozens of sponsors from major parachurch organizations, colleges, and publishers. Scores of exhibitors were there to tell their story. Some say it may be this generation’s version of Woodstock or the National Prayer Breakfast.
Also present and honored was Dr. John Perkins, the elder statesman of the justice movement in America. In 1960, Drs. John and Vera Mae Perkins began Mendenhall Ministries to help the poor in rural Mississippi. In 1972 they moved to nearby Jackson, Mississippi to focus on the needs of inner-city families. In 1982 they moved to Pasadena, California and established the Harambee Christian Family Center serving a 12-block area of predominantly African-American and Latino families. In 1989, John called together a group of national leaders working in urban areas. That meeting led to the formation of the Christian Community Development Association.
For years, the CCDA struggled to grow and thrive. It had dedicated leadership and the early pioneers in urban ministry and racial reconciliation worked hard to show the evangelical church the importance of justice, mercy, peace and love. Practitioners like Wayne Gordon, Bob Lupton, Glen Kehrein, Mary Nelson and Barbara Williams-Skinner were famous in the small community of evangelical urban ministries and relatively unknown in the broader evangelical world. They worked without support from major donors or sponsors. You might say they played the “chitlin circuit” of the evangelical world. Yet, they never stopped pressing for a wholistic Gospel and now they are on the verge of being “discovered” by a new generation – the Justice Generation.
So, I am looking forward to a series of programs that do not just honor the roots of the current movement but bring the founders along on the ride. Let’s see sessions with Bob Lupton and Francis Chan or Gary Haugen paired with Mary Nelson. It’s a new day for justice ministries and time to recognize and praise those on whose shoulders they are standing. If the most recent Justice Conference is any indicator, the best days of CCDA are ahead of them.Comments
Years ago I was part of an organization – Leadership Network – that convened senior pastors and staff of large churches. While they were used to hearing from their peers they told us they wanted to hear from non-pastors about issues of management and leadership because the seminaries and conferences they attended did not address those issues for large churches. We began to seed our conferences with management speakers, business professionals, secular authors and other “non-church” resources. While the emphasis was still on church professionals learning from other church professionals about the “business” of the church, the introduction of outside resources was welcomed with enthusiasm.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog titled “Half-Time for Church Staff” reflecting on the growing trend of church staff to start their own non-profit organizations. That started me thinking about why. That question led me to start asking church staff who the influencers were in their lives and the conferences they were attending. This is an oversimplification but the majority of them reported going to conferences like “Q”, “Catalyst”, “Fusion”, “Orange” and the Willow Creek Leadership Conferences. When I looked at the speaker rosters (and attended the conferences) I realized the speakers are, with exceptions, men and women who are known as artists, writers, film makers, social justice leaders, think tank scholars, management consultants, pundits, journalists, and entrepreneurs. They are not, typically, church staff or church leaders talking about church. The roster does include pastors who have left the church to launch something new. They are “culture makers” (to use Andy Crouch’s phrase) who are creative and working outside institutions or starting their own.
In other words, while we seeded those long ago conferences with a few outside resources, the outside resources have become the main voices informing and shaping church staff. The professionals are no longer attending conferences for professionals to learn how to increase attendance and build an organization. They are attending conferences that while they include the institutional church as one of the channels of culture, it is only one of several. In some ways, the real action for ministry is “outside the walls” of the church. Yes, this has been talked about for years by people in the various lay movements that have come and gone. I don’t think any of us could have predicted what might happen when the young leaders of the church are more interested and motivated by starting new organizations (not churches) with missions that are almost foreign to the senior staff and lay leadership of their churches. The heroes of the young staff are not builders of large churches but explorers and entrepreneurs in arts, culture, film, commentary and social justice. I’m curious how this plays out.Comments
I have worked with a number of entrepreneurs over the years and there are some common themes and characteristics in their lives. One of them is extreme focus and a personal identification with projects. They start things, grow them and then start looking for exit strategies. In non-profit work there are very few exit strategies – especially for founders.
A familiar and common characteristic of entrepreneurs founding ministries is sooner or later they start looking for other partners. First, they lose interest in it but want to see it go on. Second, they wake up and see the project is almost completely dependent on them financially and that makes them uncomfortable. They don’t like to think about their capital being committed for an undefined future. Third, either the project becomes far more expensive than they thought it would be or they take a financial hit and are no longer able to support it by themselves. In each case, they discover the value (often for the first time) of “partnerships”. Entrepreneurs, by nature, do not typically partner well and often only as a last resort.
Too often they find the project is so completely identified with them and their funding that others see it as a privately owned property. Of course, this is probably how the founder sees it as well. It has the founder's face all over it and is so thoroughly merged with that person that others cannot see themselves being a part of it. They cannot imagine it being anything but a private venture looking for “other people’s money.” It looks like someone having a child and raising them for ten years and then looking for someone else to take over or help with the expense. In many cases, they want help with the “child” but don’t expect to make concessions in the vision or operation. They think others should be interested in this project that has been so important to them and it is just a matter of finding the donors and convincing them.
For others, they have waited too long and created an organization so dependent on their funding that the time required gradually to find more funders interested makes a transition to partners difficult. They have been focused for so long on shaping and crafting it that they gave no thought (or very little) to a time when there would be a need for others to come alongside. They never designed it to have other investors/funders.
Then there are those who run out of money to support it and they find themselves in a crisis. It could be from a financial downturn or it could be they had the resources to fund the growth but not an ongoing operation. Typically, they start looking for traditional donors thinking they can now present themselves as another grant opportunity for them. That’s when they discover how unusual they are in the minds of most traditional donors. That’s another topic!
So, what might entrepreneurs starting ministries do from the outset?
1. Think about how much it takes to make a ten year commitment and put the money aside if you want to have total control.
2. From the outset start thinking about how to design the project to easily allow for other funders.
3. Recognize that after about four years the project will be seen as your pet project and it will be very difficult to find others unless you do the hard work of redesigning it.
4. Finally, don’t discount the option of ending it instead of finding partners. Some things just have a life for several years and their purpose is fulfilled.Comments
Ross Douthat’s article this week in the New York Times titled “Can The Working Class Be Saved?” starts with a reference to Charles Murray’s latest book, “Coming Apart.” “What’s brilliant is Murray’s portrait, rich in data and anecdote, of the steady breakdown of what he calls America’s “founding virtues” — thrift and industriousness, fidelity and parental responsibility, piety and civic engagement — within America’s working class, and the personal and communal wreckage that’s ensued.”
There may be one more founding virtue as well. It’s what Lord Moulton in a 1924 essay in “The Atlantic Monthly” called “obedience to the unenforceable.” What’s that? “There are three great domains of Human Action. First comes the domain of Positive Law, where our actions are prescribed by laws binding upon us which must be obeyed. Next comes the domain of Free Choice, which includes all those actions as to which we claim and enjoy complete freedom. But between these two there is a third large and important domain in which there rules neither Positive Law nor Absolute Freedom. In that domain there is no law which inexorably determines our course of action, and yet we feel that we are not free to choose as we would. The degree of this sense of a lack of complete freedom in this domain varies in every case. It grades from a consciousness of a Duty nearly as strong as Positive Law, to a feeling that the matter is all but a question of personal choice. Some might wish to parcel out this domain into separate countries, calling one, for instance, the domain of Duty, another the domain of Public Spirit, another the domain of Good Form; but I prefer to look at it as all one domain, for it has one and the same characteristic throughout — it is the domain of Obedience to the Unenforceable. The obedience is the obedience of a man to that which he cannot be forced to obey. He is the enforcer of the law upon himself.
“The dangers that threaten the maintenance of this domain of Manners arise from its situation between the region of Absolute Choice and the region of Positive Law. There are countless supporters of the movements to enlarge the sphere of Positive Law. In many countries — especially in the younger nations — there is a tendency to make laws to regulate everything. On the other hand, there is a growing tendency to treat matters that are not regulated by Positive Law as being matters of Absolute Choice. Both these movements are encroachments on the middle land, and to my mind the real greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measured by the extent of this land of Obedience to the Unenforceable. It measures the extent to which the nation trusts its citizens, and its existence and area testify to the way they behave in response to that trust. Mere obedience to Law does not measure the greatness of a Nation. It can easily be obtained by a strong executive, and most easily of all from a timorous people. Nor is the licence of behavior which so often accompanies the absence of Law, and which is miscalled Liberty, a proof of greatness. The true test is the extent to which the individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self-imposed law.”
Watching the struggle between the extreme poles of our current politics has only underscored the wisdom of Moulton’s insight. It is not heavier regulation or more free choice that is the single solution to the rift in our nation today. It is the breakdown of personal responsibility and adherence to the self-imposed law that is in jeopardy. What we need is what Moulton described as people able to enforce these laws upon themselves.Comments
One of the most pronounced trends in the non-profit world in the last ten years has been the number of men and women in business careers making a transition to the non-profit world. While most assumed there would be some differences in the way those two worlds operated, I think many discovered they had no preparation for how different they are! Making a lateral move from business leadership to non-profit leadership was more of a shock than they knew it would be and it has taken them years to make the adjustment. Many have not made the adjustment and chosen to go back into business or join boards. The two worlds have different rules, incentives, values and assumptions as well as different realities.
It is only recently that I have been noticing another shift. People on staff with churches are moving into the non-profit world by establishing their own 501(c)3 organizations. In the same way, they are learning that the traditional non-profit world is not the same as church. Most people would assume those worlds would be fairly similar but they are not and the differences are important.
Men and women on the staff of churches have had to learn not only about the cultural differences between churches (different language, values, incentives, etc.) but also the unique operating principles of each.
First, church staff have typically never worked with boards. They might have been managed by a pastor or executive pastor but they have never faced the unique relationship between a governing board and an executive director. In fact, the legal requirements and expectations of a non-profit governing board are far more demanding than those of a most often distant deacon body or church committee.
Second, most churches have budgets and the operating budget provides the funding for the program. Staff are not responsible for raising their budget. In fact, they are discouraged from doing it as that competes with the overall operating budget of the church. While many staff have learned how to raise additional money for special projects from church members they have typically not been asked to raise a whole operating budget.
Third, church staff understand the politics and systems of their church. They understand the “ecosystem” of their congregation and the needs of that body. However, they have very little experience in understanding the complexities and needs of the larger community. By necessity, they have become expert in a well-defined organization but a community where many non-profits navigate and compete for support of all kinds is foreign to them and they do not factor in how much they will need to learn about that community.
I think this is a trend that will only increase – especially with younger staff who are uncomfortable being confined to one place and want to “make a difference” in the world. They recognize the church is not “the world” in which they want to spend their lives. They have different expectations and this is going to play out in interesting ways.Comments