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Can We Talk?

This week I found the file for the first workshop I led on communication, complete with acetate overhead sheets, from 25 years ago! It is interesting to note changes. There was no mention of internet, email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, or any form of social media. There was no discussion of cultural bias, gender identity, or sexuality. Although there were deep political divisions in 1996, no one considered political polarization a critical issue to be considered at work or church. Today it seems we have given up on having conversations with anyone with whom we do not already agree. Having a meaningful conversation must have been so much simpler then!

And yet, I was asked to lead a workshop on communication for a group of social workers and caregivers in a non-profit agency. What were the concerns? Learning to listen to each other and trying to decipher from a conversation what was really going on in another person’s life. Some things never change. I’d like to share some of the principles and tools I shared then, just as applicable today, and a few more I’ve learned along the way.

  • Take time
    Don’t try to carry on a meaningful conversation while distracted. (Texting while watching TV and eating dinner?) People know when you are not really paying attention.
  • Focus
    Listen to what they are saying without rehearsing, or researching, your next response. Ask yourself “what are they trying to say?”
  • Suspend judgement
    Certain words and phrases can set you off, obscuring your ability to hear. Set aside what seems unreasonable or unacceptable to you long enough to understand the complete thought or feeling process of the other.
  • Build rather than argue
    “Yes, but…” signals an argument has begun. A better alternative is “Yes, and…” which moves conversation forward. (Thanks to Susan Sparks for that).
  • Clarify
    As “technique-y” as “What I hear you saying is…” can be, it can head off a lot of misunderstanding. “Help me understand how you came to see it this way?” is also helpful.
  • Speak for yourself
    Putting words into their mouths is not helpful. Quoting others is probably not helpful. Articulating your thoughts without threatening, accusing, or negating the other person is helpful. This is often called “using I statements.” Some great ideas from Brian McLaren include:

    • I can understand how you might see it that way and wonder how I can help you understand where I’m coming from?
    • Wow, I really see that differently…
    • I understand Jesus/the Bible to be saying…

For people with whom we have permanent family relationships, those with whom we have longstanding relationships we wish to maintain, and those with whom we have a spiritual relationship, we do well to preface and conclude our conversations with the reminder that, unless what brought us together is on the table, our connection and affection predates and will outlast this conversation. Reducing that fear can make our conversations an avenue of strengthening our ties rather than severing them.

Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry in the Western Carolinas, can help you and your ministry navigate congregational unity and effectiveness. He is Associate Pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders as a coach and consultant in communication, visioning, administration, and spiritual formation. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at paul@barnabaspartnership.com

Who’s “We”?

By Dr. Paul Raybon

One of my favorite boyhood jokes goes like this:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by an Indian war party; they sent their horses Silver and Scout away to safety, and now were down to their last bullets. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says “I don’t think we’re going to make it out of here, Tonto!” Tonto replies: “Who’s ‘we,’ Paleface?”

Though the language is out of touch with modern sensibilities, like any good joke, it begins with our expectations for how things should be, and then reminds us that may not be the case. Two people in the exact same situation can experience it very differently, and that difference hinges on identity.

2020 will go down in history as a “plague year” in so many ways. 2021 is already off to a shaky start, but we have expectations that things are really going to turn around when the pandemic ends. Our patterns of life will return to some sense of normalcy; we will get to spend time with friends and family; folks will return to church and we’ll “sing and shout the victory!”

But I’m wondering. When we all get back in the same rooms together, some for the first time since last March, what will it be like? As we begin to share our stories, I think we will find that many folks in our churches experienced 2020 very differently from each other. Some were isolated at home while some went about their lives with little change. Some were without work, some prospered. Some doubted the validity of COVID, some suffered mightily. Some found their political perspectives validated by victory, some see their views reinforced by defeat. Common ground may be hard to find. Congregational identity and fellowship could be at risk. Will “we” fall victim to the social discord that has divided our nation? Who’s “we?”

We don’t yet know the answer to those questions. But if we are not prepared to address them, we may be setting up our congregations for a period of discord or spiritual impotence.
So, what can we do to prepare for that wonderful day when we will gather in Sunday School rooms and fellowship halls? Here are a few ideas that I’m pondering:

Model and teach healthy communication

Even before you gather, your communication should exemplify best practices and good theology “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Most people have never talked about how they talk to one another. Invite someone to come and lead a session or two on healthy communication.

Create conversational experiences

Not just for visioning processes! This can happen in special gatherings or ongoing small groups. There are several models to consult, and having people gather for focused conversation with clear guidelines and trained facilitators is a healthy way to encourage listening to and learning from each other’s stories.

Do ministry together

You already know this, but don’t forget that working side by side in worthwhile work can create new bonds and restore damaged ones. Even when very large groups are not able to gather, small work parties will be able to work in open spaces. This can also be an effective means of integrating folks who have come into the fellowship during the pandemic.

Focus on common faith and worship

Gear worship and teaching to remind the Body of what makes us a body. What connected us before 2020 has not changed.  “Is Christ divided?”  Celebrating the Lord’s Supper/Communion and baptism together will be especially sweet, savor it. Hearing each other’s voices joined in song will be powerful. Take time to honor that experience.

Create new traditions

We will all be glad to experience the traditions of worship and fellowship that we had to forgo in the time of pandemic. We do well to remember that every tradition was once done for the first time. What can you do that will mark this moment in the life of your church and create a reminder of the faithfulness of God and unity of God’s people?

Revisit mission and vision

Even if you completed a visioning process in 2019, the world really has changed in the last 12 months. Congregations have learned lessons about new competencies and old shortcomings that we did not know a year ago. We have made and lost connections with people in our communities. How will these changes affect how we fulfill God’s purposes?

Who’s “we?” Who are we now? Still the same, now and forever, the redeemed children of God called together to bring God’s grace to the world!

Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry in the Western Carolinas, can help you and your ministry navigate congregational unity and effectiveness. He is Associate Pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders as a coach and consultant in communication, visioning, administration, and spiritual formation. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at paul@barnabaspartnership.com

 

Public Health and Safety Emergency Continuity Planning For Your Church

by Dr. Paul Raybon

We hope that the following ideas from our partner, Paul Raybon, can help guide your church in these challenging days of the pandemic.

Who is empowered to make decisions? Health and safety issues may develop too quickly for deliberative processes.

What are triggers for implementing changes? Deciding these up front can prevent rehashing at every point. You might want to consider these areas:

Connection/Communication

What information/encouragement do we need to convey?

How (by what means) will we communicate both online and offline?

Who is responsible for communicating to whom?

When/how often do we need to get the word out?

How will contact persons communicate feedback to people who need to know?

Worship/Faith Formation

What worship and formation experiences can be extended beyond and instead of physical gatherings?

What elements are crucial/helpful for helping people worship?

How do we encourage interactivity and connection?

Who do we know that can help us extend worship/formation to our congregation and community via web/radio/mail etc?

When/how often can we provide those experiences?

Pastoral Care

What are visiting guidelines for local institutions?

How do we convey care and prayer for those we cannot physically visit?

Which staff and deacons are able to make contacts and communicate feedback?

How will we deal with deaths/funerals/weddings?

Ministries

What ongoing ministries, on which people depend for sustenance and care, can we maintain?

What ministries need to be suspended?

What resources are available to meet needs? How limited are those resources?

How will we communicate with ministry participants?

How can we find safe alternative means of meeting needs?

Who is available/able to meet those needs?

Administration – Who is responsible for answering these questions and delegating responsibilities?

What digital backup copies of financial, membership, and operational files are in place?

What documents/materials are needed for remote operations during a campus shutdown?

What contact information is available to leaders during campus shutdown?

How can phone/computer systems be used to receive and forward calls, and check messages?

How can offerings be collected and deposited? Are online and bank draft methods in place?

How can we pay bills/do payroll/check mail?

Who is back up for bookkeeper/treasurer?

How will sanitation be maintained?

What parts of building need to be secured? When? By whom?

How will we take care of hourly employees?

What are alternative sources of funding?

By what mechanism can we access savings, designated funds, and endowments to keep church operating?

These thoughts above are from Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry for Western North Carolina. He is an associate pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders in the Western Carolinas as a coach and consultant. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at 828.713.6986 or paulraybon@bellsouth.net.

How’s Your Vision: What’s Working/Not Working?

One of the key tools in assessing the health of a congregation is asking the questions “what’s working?” and “what’s not working?” This is NOT the same as “what do you like?” and “what don’t you like?” There could be a ministry that you passionately support that is not doing what it needs to do. There could also be a program that you don’t care for that is meeting all expectations. I like to rephrase the questions in terms of energy:

  • What are some sources of energy and excitement in our church where God is at work in and through us to make a difference? Where are we being and doing our best?
  • What are some issues that seem to consume energy without being resolved, or efforts that consume more energy than the ministry value they generate? Where do we want to be and do better?

Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry for Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, is Associate Pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders as a coach and consultant in visioning, administration, and spiritual formation. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at paul@barnabaspartnership.com.

How’s Your Vision

by Dr. Paul Raybon

I made my annual trip to the eye doctor last week. When you read for work and pleasure as well as spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, you take care of your eyes. I’m always fascinated by the whole process. Having pictures taken of the inside of your eye, trying not to blink when the puff of air comes, and then sitting in the big chair while the doctor smoothly manipulates the lenses on the phoropter (new word for the day!) asking repeatedly “Which set of letters is clearer, this one or this one? Then “Tell me when the letters line up,” and “Tell me when the two images merge into one.”

As I prepare to lead a visioning process at my own church, my visit to the eye doctor reminds me of a few truths about the vision of the church.

  1. Health is the first concern. Before my doctor and I talk about glasses, we talk about the health of my eyes. Are there signs of eye disease or cataracts clouding my vision? Are there indicators of other serious health issues showing up in my eyes (like diabetes, cancer and stroke)? When we gather to talk about casting a vision for the future of our congregations we need to take time to look at the spiritual health of our church. What’s working? What’s not working? Are there signs of emotional and spiritual illness that need to be addressed?
  2. Get an accurate picture before you start correcting. My doctor takes the time to ask how I’m feeling and what I sense is going on with my vision.  He also takes precise measurements of my eyes and vision. Together the subjective and objective examinations present a more accurate picture of what is needed. As we begin to look at our churches’ future we don’t depend solely on our feelings, our observations, or crunching numbers, but a combination of information that allows us to see where we are right now.
  3. Don’t consider at all the options at once. That amazing phoropter has over 200 lenses which can produce multitudes of combinations. But the doctor only presents you with two choices at a time. “Which one looks better?” In congregational visioning we use discerning consensus to determine which options we want to consider first. Hold the other options in reserve in case the chosen paths don’t lead where we need to go.
  4. Look for congruence. The doctor is making sure that both eyes are going to be seeing the same thing. If the congregation doesn’t sense that things are coming together and we are moving in the same direction together, then pause and make sure that we are all looking at the same target and moving with the same intent. Sometimes, maybe always, when a person say “yes” they are agreeing to their interpretation of the choice before them.
  5. Don’t cheat. When the doctor asks “Which line can you read clearly?” The part of me that wants to do well on a test is tempted to squint and guess at a line too far down the screen.  That is a good way to end up with lenses that don’t do enough correcting for clear sight. As we pursue a congregational vision we are tempted to squint our eyes, or maybe put on our rose colored glasses, and try to imagine things are better than they are. Being honest in our assessments helps us know what really needs to be done to move us ahead towards God’s calling for our congregation.

Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry for Western North Carolina and the Upstate South Carolina, is Associate Pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders as a coach and consultant in visioning, administration, and spiritual formation. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at paul@barnabaspartnership.com.

Not Enough

For he said to me “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” II Cor. 12:9  
The Message

I understand when I see the memes and hashtags that say “you are enough

So many people in this world are drowning in messages of self-loathing and inadequacy, from internal and external voices that constantly remind them that they are not smart enough, not rich enough, not old or young enough, not big or little enough, not healthy enough, not male enough, not white enough, just not enough to matter in this world.

When I see people crumble under the weight of images thrust upon them by others, I just want to take them in my arms and say “you are enough”.

But that’s not enough.

Because I know in the deepest part of my soul, it’s not true.

I am not enough.

When the young man takes his life because he thinks he has disappointed those who love him one time too many.

I am not enough.

When the cancer recurs in dozens of places in the body of one who has been cancer free for decades.

I am not enough.

When the friend who had lunch with you on Sunday is killed in a fiery car crash and you hug his wife and children with no words to say.

I am not enough.

When the parents of a young adult are wondering what has happened in the month since they last heard from him.

I am not enough.

When the young pastor has been called to save a dying congregation and the church bullies are sharpening their knives to cut one more preacher to pieces.

I am not enough.

Not because I lack self-esteem, or a loving family, or adequate training and education, or even financial resources (on a global scale) or the right pedigree or gender or social connections or skills.

I am not enough because none of us were ever created to be enough, on our own. We were created, “fearfully and wonderfully made” to live in relationship, with God and with each other. The church was created, as a living body of Christ, so that together, we could be enough, for each other.

So as we partner with churches and with each other, do not try to be enough within yourself. Do not try to be enough for someone else.

Trust God, who will place others in your life’s path, and you in the life path of others, so that together we can draw on God’s Spirit, whose grace was, and is, and always will be, enough.

Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry in the Western Carolinas, can help you and your ministry discern how to get from here to there. He is Associate Pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders as a coach and consultant in visioning, administration, and spiritual formation. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at paul@barnabaspartnership.com.

After the Keys Are Yours

One of the issues that churches fail to consider when building or renovating new space is the

future cost of operating that space. A new space presents potential increases in utilities,

cleaning supplies, janitorial services, insurance premiums and maintenance costs even if it is

never used! 75% of the lifetime cost of a building is in maintenance. Add to that the expense of

doing ministry in that space- expendable materials, equipment and staffing, and your church

could spend many thousands of dollars over the coming years. Maintenance costs can be

estimated by square footage (in our region $5- $7 per square foot annually), projecting from

current costs, or by more complex tools like a lifecycle cost analysis. I suggest using a variety of

tools and seeing how they compare with your current pattern of expenses.

What can you do about these costs? Here are three ideas.

1. Build green: While you have the money in construction funds, install LED fixtures

and more efficient HVAC systems. For an upfront cost of $60,000, my church is saving

$10,000 a year on utilities. Solar is another option and there are ways that donors can

legally get the tax credits for significant upfront investment while your church benefits

from the electrical output.

2. Develop multiple sources of income: rental on use of space, dedicating other

rental income, and setting up an endowment for future costs. Fees for services like

exercise classes are permissible as long as they stem from the ministry and mission of

your church.

3. Escrow funds for known future expenses: Elevators have to be serviced ($2000 a

year or $400 an hour) and gym floors have to be refinished ($6000). Better to set aside a

little each year than try to raise it all at once with a “love offering” that cuts into budget

gifts.

It’s a great day when the contractor ceremonially hands over the keys to your new space. Plan

ahead for the days to come and you can enjoy many years of good ministry.

Dr. Paul Raybon is the Barnabas Partner covering the Western Carolinas You can contact him

at paul@barnabaspartnership.com