We’re beginning a bold experiment in discerning God’s leadership and developing a Ministry Action Plan at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.
Its still a work in progress, and I’m sure we’ll hit some bumps along the way. It may even fall apart in the process. But it is an open, honest and straightforward effort to listen and follow God’s leadership.
I’ve never been a big fan of the way most churches develop their budget.
There are some notable and extraordinary exceptions, but in many churches the process usually begins with the Budget Committee looking at last year’s budget, comparing it with how much money has been given and what the economic forecast for the coming year looks like. Then they decide upon some number that represents their best estimate of what the members will actually give next year. They close with prayer and ask God to bless their work.
Surely there’s a better way. So this year, we’re trying a different approach.
It begins with a discernment process. All of the teams in the church (all 50 of them) are meeting during these days to pray and listen for God’s answer to the question, “What is God leading our team to be and do?” They’re not discussing money yet. That will come later. But for now, unencumbered by the financial costs involved, they’re trying to discern God’s leadership for their ministry area.
Our Senior Associate Pastor Lynn Turner has come up with some guiding questions for the teams to use in the process.
“God’s Will: nothing less, nothing more”
Framing: What is God leading us to do in this area of ministry in the coming year?
Shedding: What do we need to lay aside in order to hear God speak? What do we need to let go of in our current ministry that will allow God to open new avenues of ministry?
Listening: Whose voices do we need to hear now? Who do we need to talk with that might give insight?
Exploring and Weighing: Sharing of ideas of those who have been praying… asking the question… ”where does God seem most present in the ideas shared? Where does the Spirit seem to rest?”
Resting: Taking some time to pray about the path ahead.
You can’t enforce a timetable on discerning God’s leadership, but we hope that by the end of the summer all of the teams will begin to sense a direction.
Next, the team leaders and leadership staff will work together to figure out how much it will cost (money, time and people) to accomplish what they feel God is leading them to do.
And then, in mid-September, we’ll have a Saturday morning-long “Ministry Action Plan Summit,” attended by all church team leaders, and the members of the Budget, Finance & Personnel Teams. Each team will have written on a 3×5 card what they’re sensing as God’s direction. The team leaders will have two minutes each to tell the group about it. (Senior Pastor Jim Somerville says he’s going to keep the stopwatch and call time.)
We’ll communicate what the teams are hearing throughout the church, through every possible channel of communication. We’ll challenge our congregation to consecrate ourselves to follow where God leads.
An important piece of the process is one we don’t feel we can implement quite yet. But, God willing, it will be the centerpiece of the Ministry Action Plan development process beginning next year. It is a “Consecration Sunday” when the congregation will have the opportunity to make a commitment of their time, talent, and finances to carry out what God has called us to do in the coming year.
Up until this point, there has been no discussion of the financial aspects of the Ministry Action Plan. But now, with the financial projections that the team leaders have developed and the commitments the congregation made on Consecration Sunday, the Budget Team will meet to develop a three-tier budget for the coming year:
- A “Hold the Line Budget” – the smallest of the three, that essentially keeps the budget where it was the previous year.
- A “Step of Faith Budget” – a larger number that accounts for the faith that God will provide.
- A “Bringing Heaven to Earth Budget” – a number that reflects all that we sense God is calling us to do, and so large a number that only God can make it happen.
The Deacon Chair, two representatives each from Budget, Finance & Personnel Teams, the Senior Pastor, the seven Associate Pastors, and one representative from each of the eight ministry areas of the church (Invitation, Community, Worship, Formation, Compassion, Communication, Support, & Pastor’s Office) will get together in October. With the Budget Team’s three scenarios in hand, this group will negotiate and develop a recommended set of priorities to meet each of the three scenarios. We fully expect to give-and-take among the ministry areas so that, when the day is done, we will agree on on where God is leading our church in the coming year.
The Budget Team will review, adjust and take final action on the recommendations and then begin a two-month series of presentations and discussions among Deacons and the congregation, allowing more room and time for God’s Spirit to move among us. Perhaps additional adjustments will be made the plans during this period.
Finally, in mid-December, the congregation vote on the plan.
That’s the plan. I’ll tell you how it’s going as we live it out in the coming months.