Lead Testimony – Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber (2014 Minneapolis)

Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber’s testimony entitled: Leading When We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know.

Here are their slides:

And the notes:

We are GRATEFUL for emphasis this year on “LEAD – CREATE – DISCERN.” “LEAD” has been under-served by NEXT— pastors and Sessions. We’re not experts – we can only tell what we have experienced. We are in a medium sized church in Asheville, NC. Terrific group of people – all ages, lots of life-long Presbyterians, but also just as many former Roman Catholics and former Baptists – Sense of SAFETY is important… Several pastors of GCPC has had some kind of minor to moderate to serious boundary challenges which at times means we have to refocus on TRUST. We would tell you how many members we have but we are really not sure.  We only spend 15 minutes a year on the statistical report that we have to give to GA which we have never found relevant …and we have a lot of people who are people participating with us who we don’t know what to call as membership fades away as a relative category. In the last few years, our 25-45 year olds now meet and exceed our next largest group in the church which is 65 and older, which we have achieved without the usually bells and whistles that attract that group…. some of which we understand (we’ll talk about it in a minute) …. and some of which is why we labeled this talk “Leading when you don’t know what you don’t know.”  Cause we don’t know… Younger members we see 1 in every 3 Sundays. Older ones we see almost every Sunday. We try to keep what is ESSENTIAL – we don’t know what we don’t know.  NOTHING is obvious or predictable in church life—We EITHER love that…or we will be miserable – growth or not! We have a long list of failures…one of which is committees. We reorganized committees and arranged for a committee night where we would meet and worship together once a month. It worked great….one time. SEVERAL attempts at alternative worship have…failed, but we started a new one yesterday. We’ll see how it goes. Small groups never took off. Like many of us, we’re asking, is the building important? It’s a resource, but ALSO a DRAIN… Here are some things we’re doing that are working: …Session went from 35 to 14 …Session meetings are around 75 minutes – not every month …BIBLE STUDY + ARTICLES is the focus of our work. We fund the theological and Biblical imagination of Session members above EVERYTHING ELSE (business, reports…etc…) …When new members join the church.  We don’t have a class – Mark likes to offer a 3 hour class on Calvin, but instead, the professional staff meets individually with each new member or family to get to know them personally – to hear their stories and find out what their spiritual needs are. …We LEVERAGE LEADERSHIP to NOT feed energy on useless things… This is our biggest bet.  If we are wrong about this–we are out of business. … This is OBVIOUS…but one of the challenges of LEADERSHIP is looking for the “magic potion”  or the “special insight or gimmick” which will turn things around.  Recently, another mainline pastor got together with us to find out what we were doing to be so successful.  He’d heard about Grace Covenant…He was genuinely disappointed when he learned that there was no magic bullet.  What we told him, and what we are here to share with you, is there are no shortcuts and no magic wands. We talk about JESUS—relentlessly— At our Annual Meeting in February, we asked our congregation to consider our ministry… and what there “is no substitute for.” Here’s what they said:

  • trust
  • authenticity
  • nimbleness
  • curiosity
  • openness
  • content
  • competence
  • healthy boundaries
  • working (no shortcuts)
  • imagination
  • leadership
  • kindness
  • joy

Here’s what we tell ourselves and others about our guideposts:

  1. Be reliable—return phone calls/emails promptly.
  2. Don’t make it about you—because it’s not…be well-defined leaders; tend the family system of our ministry—every day
  3. Boundaries….SERIOUSLY. When I arrived at GCPC there were boundary challenges and easily fixable things like solid doors without windows.
  4. Work hard – work smart. Much of ministry is incremental!
  5. Take care of yourself/take time off, but don’t overly spiritualize.
  6. Feed opportunities and starve problems. This is LEADERSHIP – we steer where energy and attention goes.
  7. Church has to feel different than the rest of folks’ lives!
  8. Strategic planning is largely a waste of time—but strategic thinking is essential! (Pay whatever cost you have to help you system be NIMBLE.)
  9. BUILD a network – expect to do that – don’t wait to “get picked”
  10. No substitute for loving our jobs.. 

There are a few things we’ve done that are going well. 1) A Sermon series/theological imagination: –we want to nurture a theological conversation with the congregation; –lectionary doesn’t help much –democratize the conversation/ get people engaged/be accountable 2) Faith survey –giving it/sharing it changed conversation –engaged Session, members, new folks—they were part in building it 3) Using our Resources Used to be the “church behind McDonalds.” Now we’re the church with the garden.

4) Strategic planning vs. Strategic thinking:

There are two major growth producers there were NOT on anyone’s radar 2 months before we started deploying significant resources to it: 1) the garden. 2) real.life.stories (Storytelling events)   Look, this is just us—we are describing, not prescribing. We have discovered that we can EITHER struggle, or see these challenges as a FEAST – we know God likes FEASTS. Ministry today is hard, it is a challenge…and we love it…

[Editor’s note: Our apologies that there isn’t video with sound. The video from the LEAD testimony at the 2014 National Gathering is somewhere out in the ether, but we don’t have access to it.]

Here is a copy of the Faith Survey they talked about as having changed the conversation at their church. Also, visit the website real-life-stories.org to check out the storytelling ministry they’ve started.

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