Your Ministry's Farm System: School Days

Your Ministry's Farm System: School Days

In schools, there are some teacher-student relationships (can you say Paul and Timothy?) that result in teens feeling welcome and returning after college. What similar relationships are forged in your ministry?

Close scrutiny of your local school system may reveal similar structural parallels to baseball's farm system and New Testament discipling. 

Current culture dictates the internet and social media are essential gospel tools.

In academia, you'll see older teachers schooling students who, in return, come back and serve as student teachers, staff colleagues, or even administrative bosses of their former mentors.  It's not unusual to find districts with teaching personnel who grew up in the community and only left to attend college and the returned to serve.

Why?

Sometimes because of the personal relationship established with older adults. How were they prepared? Classwork, certainly, but also by things beyond the classroom.

The extracurricular structure encourages use of their unique individual gifts. Although personality cliques naturally occur, the system is in place for students of assorted backgrounds to find their niche among programs, such as music, sports, technology, or academic clubs.

How those then-students often first become interested in a desired niche, is during their middle school (sixth-eighth grade) and high school years. They're called feeder schools. Local districts are intentional in sending counselors, teachers, coaches, administrators, focused on interacting with younger students to encourage them to get involved, and use their gifts in specific programs.

Often, if a program does not exist, the door is created for a teacher sponsor to be approached, and a process of creating such an outreach is introduced. Such teacher-student relationships (can you say Paul and Timothy?) often resulted in teens feeling welcome and returning after college.

What similar relationships are forged in your ministry?

Do you have "feeder ministries" teaching children and teens how to serve in "big church," or do you wait until they are "of age?"

Are your students' extracurricular, school-nurtured gifts employed to fill your ministry needs? What Biblical examples come to mind of employing assorted gifts for the greater goal?

Free Agency

Whether in baseball or schools, there are times when specific roles must be filled. The same holds true for churches.

Unfortunately, in church ministry, these specific roles can wind up in limited hands. They may be assigned to current personnel who have some interest, they're taken by some volunteers with limited skills, but a passionate heart; embraced by a zealous, but controlling leader; or filled by talented, reliable workers who are so efficient they are perhaps inflexible and uncertain how to embrace new voices.

Consequently, in any of the above situations, the ministry may become stagnant, ineffective, fade away, or one dimensional. As if all the pitchers were right-handed, all the teachers were math teachers, or all students were from the same household. Paul warned the Corinthians about this are all the same?

The antidote is intentional recruiting. In baseball, intentional recruiting can take on the form of free agency, where a player shops themselves to the highest bidder, or just wants a job. Or where owners make overtures to the players they deem have the most potential to benefit their teams.

Jesus fell among the latter free-agent recruiters, intentionally seeking role-playing disciples. (Note his exchange with John and Peter at the end of John's gospel.)

There are three places to look for free agents in ministry:

Revisiting the farm system, identifying and nurturing gifts and skills within the congregation;
Rearranging the farm system, trading team leaders between ministries;
Recruiting and employing those not part of the current congregation, even if some don't yet believe in Christ, and finding them a place on the farm.

While scary and maybe controversial, this process has the following potential:

Cross-generation discipling;
Specific responsibilities are expertly managed;
Potential believers are evangelized.

Reaching the Digitals

Particularly among older congregations, keeping pace with changing technology is typically problematic. Current culture, though, dictates the internet and social media are essential gospel tools. Conventional wisdom says adults born in the 1990s and teens (that's everybody born after 1999) are both most adept at these tools and most difficult to engage in ministry. Rather than "Millennials," a phrase with ominous baggage, renew your vision.

How does your perception change, if you instead view that demographic, as The Digital Generation? What gifts do they offer that you don't have? What must they learn about the gospels to use their digital gifts better? How can working alongside them establish a discipling scenario?

While there are fears and questions about asking nonbelievers to serve, the payoffs can be broad. A successful, sustaining model is the radio program "Unshackled," produced by Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. From its inception in 1950, "Unshackled" hires professional, union actors even if they're unbelievers, rather than rely on actors just because they're Christian. This approach was intentional.

The now-retired, long-time director of "Unshackled," Bob O'Donnell, explains, ""I’d rather cast a good actor who is not Christian, than a Christian who is a bad actor.”

The two reasons, he added, were that "no matter how earnest, a bad actor may not engage a listener who needs to hear the message; a good nonbeliever may come to Christ as a result of regular exposure to the word, other believers, and Christ-following standards.

Indeed, the "Unshackled" cast roster has had such an impact on actors through the decades.

Coaches and teachers have ongoing processes of evaluation their personnel and needs. Perhaps Jesus and His Father did as well. So should you. Here are a couple of ideas to employ:

A Team Jesus Template Evaluation Exercise

Viewing your current (or dream) ministry team, create an ensemble no larger than 12:

1. PERSONNEL: Make a list of current team members. When was your most recent addition?
2. DEMOGRAPHICS: Make a note of relative ages or tenure at the church. How many are the same age, either chronologically or by tenure at the church? If not gender specific, is each gender represented on the team?
3. TEMPERAMENT: Who are outspoken? Who are introverts? Who are visionary? Who are argumentative? Who are sarcastic? Who are chronic complainers?
4. SKILLS: Who is comfortable using current technology? Meeting people?
5. CULTURE: Are there any individuals from another ethnicity or culture that are present in your church or local community?

A Team Balance Checklist

Such a list is recommended to balance composition of your ministry team:
Invite one new member (defined as new member to the church, or someone who has not served in this ministry in the previous 12 months);
Invite members of another generation (one male, one female);
Invite a teen (middle school or above);
Include a community member who is not a part of the church.

This brief survey gives you a place where growth may occur, and may indicate why progress has been stifled in your church's recent past. Discuss what you discover from this exercise.

For other ideas on team building, read: "The Team Jesus Template," which first appeared on the site on June 20, 2017.

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