[ Community Impact • Justice ]
The #ReimagineFORUM Coaching Session with
Joy Skjegstad + Heidi Unruh
Why is it important for Christian leaders to begin a journey of rethinking ministry?
[Joy] - The past few months have been a time of rapid change and challenges—but the reality is that our communities are changing constantly; we probably just notice it more right now. In times of national distress or challenges in our local communities, Christians need to be at the forefront of offering comfort, and churches should strive to be a place to belong. We are also called to meet real needs in our community and to be a prophetic voice about injustices. In order to accomplish these goals, Christian leaders need to rethink ministry in response to the changing world around them. The “why” of what we do remains constant, but we will need to regularly look at the “what,” “who,” and “how” of our work in order to remain relevant and responsive.
When Heidi and I have shared with churches about “caring for your community from a distance,” we start out by saying:
The Church is not closed.
Our mission is not on hold.
Our calling to love our neighbors has not changed.
How we do it is changing.
Why will a "reimagine-journey" be difficult and potentially dangerous to the status quo?
Our status quo is that somewhere in the world, a child dies every five seconds from hunger, disease and violence. Nearly 50 million children worldwide have been uprooted from their homes by wars, famine and extreme weather. In our own country, about 60,000 families with children are homeless, a number which will rise steeply due to the pandemic. Over a million children worldwide are trafficked for sex trade every year. One in ten youth in the U.S. are victims of sexual abuse—many at the hands of people who call themselves church members. In every community, rising unemployment is pushing more families into poverty and food insecurity. Children of color and migrant youth are especially vulnerable to every type of harm.
For those of us with extra barns, the journey feels extra risky. There is a price to insisting that every human created in God’s image is equally precious. There is also a reward and a glory beyond our imagining (Eph. 3:20-21).
Agree/Disagree ~ We live in an extraordinary world: Globalization (and a global pandemic). Immigration. #BlackLivesMatter. Gender reclassification. Marriage Redefined.. #MeToo. The rise of White Supremacy. Terrorism. Unpredictable Weather. The impact of the Industrial Revolution gives way to the Technological Age. . . . This a time of epic change that requires the Church to rethink how we apply biblical truth to the traditions-programs-models-systems that format everything we do.
[Heidi] - Agree … with an asterisk! As Joy said above, the reality is that the Church always operates in a context of change, uncertainty and risk. But in “normal” times, some of us are privileged to camouflage this truth. Current events have stripped away illusions of stasis or being in control. In the midst of the pain and stress that this generates, we may also find the gift of learning to lean on God alone as our anchor.
What does it actually mean to "reimagine?" Please unpack the word as you understand it and the components of a reimagining process.
[Heidi] - To “reimagine” means to be able to pivot around our center in Christ, to be flexible yet focused in response to the context. It means being capable of changing, and changing again, while remaining deeply rooted. It means the freedom to lament loss, without being herded by fear.
The capacity to reimagine enables us to find ways to nurture relationships and act with purpose, even in the midst of uncertainty and waiting. It is the capacity to experiment creatively with ways of being the church, with the grace to learn from experience. A culture of reimagining is not driven to return to “normal.” Rather, it allows “new” to become normal, so we have spiritual and relational support to adapt together to whatever comes next.
I also believe “reimagining” involves listening to others across all kinds of barriers and experiencing their stories. God is inviting all of us into greater empathy with those enduring various frontlines of suffering, which may have been invisible to us before.
In Philippians 1:29-30, Paul encourages the church in a time of crisis, “since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had.” He urges them to choose to respond by seeing their struggle as something “granted to you on behalf of Christ.” He then calls them to rethink their perspective on their situation—toward “being likeminded, having the same love … not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:2-4). We don’t seek newness for its own sake; we are led into transformation of thought and action for one another’s sake.
All this builds upon learning to trust radically in God, who is both Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9) and the one who makes all things new (Rev. 21:5).
What roadblocks or resistance, barriers and boundaries, inhibit or prevent leaders from pursuing a discerning assessment when they commence a journey to reimagine ministry?
[Joy] - The roadblocks/resistance include:
-- Fear of the unknown and of failure
-- Grief over losing what is familiar and comforting to us
-- Leaders are already tired, so they may be reticent to face the resistance inevitable when change is proposed
-- Loss of people, money, relationships if changes proposed are controversial
"Where do I begin? Where do you recommend a leader looks first to ensure they commence a truly Spirit-led, Scripture-fed journey?
[Joy] - For myself, I have usually started a re-thinking journey by choosing a person or two I can talk to—typically Spirit-led Christians who can see the big picture and who know me pretty well. Good conversations with people like this can help me clarify my thinking, point out things that I didn’t notice, and avoid pitfalls. Then I ask God to start giving me some pictures or thoughts about what the “new thing” would look like and to direct me to Scripture passages that will guide me.
I also encourage church leaders to be intentional about listening broadly to members of their congregation and also to people outside the church, such as community leaders and residents in the neighborhood around the church. It’s important to gather information to stay up to date on the needs, issues and assets in the church’s context. Otherwise churches may be acting based on assumptions rather than current reality, and may miss where the Spirit is leading the church to be effectively engaged.
Who are the thought leaders the Holy Spirit is using to help the Church reimagine?
[Joy & Heidi] - A book we recommend for pastors and ministry leaders right now is Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (IV Press, 2015). This is a helpful resource for adaptive leaders seeking to grow their skills and redefine their role for the work of reimagining church.
For thought leaders on reimagining, we encourage churches to listen to millennials and migrants.
Listen to young adults … The millennial generation supports creative entrepreneurship and reinventing systems based on what works rather than “the way we’ve always done things.”
Listen to migrants … Who better to learn from about how to adapt while holding fast to God and community when everything has been uprooted? The churches with the most radical new growth are often immigrant congregations.
How does your ministry help Christian leaders equip those they serve to begin the reimagine-journey?
Joy Skjegstad (firstname.lastname@example.org): I provide consulting and coaching for groups that want to grow or move to the next level. I work with them on:
Developing a learning posture as an organization—always listening to the people in the organization and also to the surrounding community to hear about the best and hardest things that are happening and what people are passionate about.
Solidifying clear vision for the organization: Why are we here? What is God calling us to do? Where are we headed?
Finding ways to engage the most creative people in the organization in contributing to new vision and program ideas. These are people who are unlikely to join a committee, but may be full of ideas or perspectives that are needed as you are working to re-think things.
Developing ways to evaluate ministries that can help the organization discern whether they are making the impact desired.
Communicating in regular, effective ways with members/participants to bring them along into the change process and gain their support
Heidi Unruh (UnruhHeidi@gmail.com): I specialize in helping churches care well for their neighbors. As a trainer and coach, I offer practical resources to support community outreach, and walk with ministry leaders from ideas to action. My special passion is asset-based, relational ministry with vulnerable children and families.
My personal mission statement is to come alongside people and their good ideas, so good works can shine! (Eph. 2:10) My goal is to see the body of Christ actively partner with God for the fruition of shalom—life that is abundantly safe, sufficient, and connected, with reconciliation among people and with God.
I find that as churches begin to reimagine mission, one area where they often seek support is in developing relational ministry. Scratch the surface of many problems in our community and you will discover relational brokenness. The epidemic of social isolation suffered by many communities has been made even more acute by the Covid crisis. I love helping groups reach out to build personal relationships that are
strengths-based, trauma-informed, justice-seeking, culture-appreciating and life-giving … and fun!
Books and resources that I have partnered on include:
As a “High Impact Ministry” team of Joy & Heidi together, we combine our strengths to provide coaching and customized training for churches on a variety of topics, including: Community listening; Discovering congregational assets; Discerning focus; Planning effective programs; Building collaborations; Engaging volunteers; Implementation from ideas to action; and Evaluating ministry fruitfulness.
We have collaborated on:
- Seven Ways to Make a Difference—Without Leaving Your Home(Missio Alliance)
- Caring for Neighbors From a Distance(Missio Alliance)
- Helping without hurting in the time of COVID-19(Made to Flourish)
- Webinar: Caring for Neighbors from a Distance(Judson)
- Dialogue: Pivot: Shift from Surviving to Thriving in a Crisis(New Church Hacks)
- Dialogue: Create & Continue Community Connection from Your Couch(New Church Hacks)
- Dialogue: How to Care for Your Neighbors from Afar(Missio Alliance)
We believe in the value of coaching to provide insight and ideas for community connections and re-purposing ministries. Coaching encourages ministry teams to move past barriers and see new paths for effective engagement.
We work with denominational bodies, groups of churches, individual congregations, or church-community partnerships. We offer flexible services and timelines.
We have also developed webinars and resources specifically to help churches to adapt their ministry strategies, to care effectively for their community in this time of uncertainty and social distancing.
Joy Skjegstad Heidi Unruh
Additional coaching insights to share? Questions we must pursue?
[Heidi] - I that think many Christian leaders are afraid of making a mistake (maybe, even more afraid of being criticized by other Christians for making a mistake). We can cultivate grace for the journey together. When Joy and I talk with churches, we try to offer a lot of encouragement: Leading change is uncomfortable and really hard. You’re not going to know what you’re doing or where you’re going. You’re going to get it wrong sometimes. That’s OK! The Spirit will not abandon you. Focus on loving God and loving people, say Yes to following Jesus wherever you are now, and take the next step.
Please write a prayer that sets us onto a reimagining journey . . .
“The Eternal who made the earth, who formed and fashioned it, the One whose name is the Eternal, has this to say: ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you. I will tell you of great things, things beyond what you can imagine, things you could never have known.’” (Jeremiah 33:2, The Voice)
Jesus, by your grace give us eyes that see, ears that hear, hearts that seek understanding, a willingness to turn, and a deep hunger for healing and wholeness for all. (Matthew 13:15)