Methods of making Christians Excel

A key question facing the workplace today is how to manage the performance of staff. Staff costs such as salary, work environment, superannuation and insurance, are usually the most costly expense in any workplace. This investment in staff can return little or much depending on the staff and the way they are managed. Employers are focused on getting the best return from this investment.

So why am I talking about this in the context of a Christian article? I see the same issues within the church. From a people management viewpoint, a church is a very interesting context. The large part of the human resources, people to do things, is unpaid. Yet a core statement of the Christian faith is that all Christians have been paid for by the ultimate cost of the cross.

This cost has paid for a group of people who range from people who are very motivated and active to people, who I recently heard described as consumers and who I have always described as pew warmers. Around this group of people we wrap things that, in many cases, guarantee them failure: lack of accountability, lack of support, lack of training, lack of resources etc.

This article describes one approach to dealing with issues of accountability and emotional and spiritual support. For a while now the church has been very interested in accountability and accountability relationships. These are seen as very important because they are the basis on which to maintain church discipline – discipline ranging from ensuring that things are achieved, to correct behavior. This can be a very negative approach in that it tends to encourage the person not to do things – don't be late, don't be slap dash - rather than encouraging them to be the best person they can be.

The thing that every church desires is a membership that is self starting, active, spiritual, works hard and adds to the kingdom. In other words every church desires a membership who are actively being the best they can be. Yet there is very little in the culture of many churches to allow people to excel, there tends to be slightly more for paid ministry than lay people but even paid ministry tend to get less than they need.

A church that has people who are less than they should be is incredibly wasteful. Paul in 1Corinthians 12 describes the church as a body with each part a valid and valuable member, each contributing their all to the function of the body. Applying this analogy to many churches today would be to describe a diseased, cancerous body with many vital systems on the point of failure.

Paul makes two things clear in this passage – each member is valuable and each has a specific purpose. It follows that a key area that needs to be addressed in making Christians the best they can be is in the area of their individual purposes. Historically the church has described this as a person's calling or vocation. It is what God made the person to be and do.

Equally important is the understanding that none of us are perfect, each is on a spiritual journey to be the people God wants us to be. Part of helping Christians be the best they can be is to actively work with them and address the areas in their lives that need growth. These areas may be anything from ministry development to ethical behavior.

A third area is things that the Christian is directly responsible for. There may be things that are related to the person's calling that they are also responsible for, but there will also be others. Being a responsible Christian tends to mean that you also end up being responsible for and doing things that have nothing to do with your calling. However without your active, mature effort the kingdom will be impacted. In the past (and no doubt in the future) I have been on church cleaning rosters and have diligently cleaned not because my calling is in wielding mop and broom but because the church's ministry and mission could be impacted by the bad impression of a dirty and messy building.

These three areas of Christian life are easy to think of and identify, it may be that there are other areas that are important in specific contexts. The challenge now is to help the Christian to address each of these areas so that they can improve and become the best that they can be.

Working in each of these areas is intensely personal – they are a subjective measure of the person, presented in the person's view and framework. Each is a key area in which the Christian can excel. Obviously there is a whole tapestry of other things that may have a bearing: training, opportunities, ministry to the person, prayer and study to name a few.

Having identified the areas that need to be addressed, the question is how to make the change a living process. Any of us could sit down and describe our Christian lives in those categories. In most cases we will then file the description and return to our difficult and failure fraught efforts at being the people God wants us to be.

In the sporting world or the world of personal fitness, there is a role called the "coach". The coach is responsible for transforming the desires of the person or team into reality. They use a variety of methods to do this. They hold the team or person accountable for their performance both in preparation (training) and also in the delivery of their sport. They supply expertise in how to achieve the outcomes required. They push the person or team to operation beyond the comfortable. They listen and look after the player.

There is a well known role in the church called "mentor". This role, or title, has many different flavors ranging from spiritual direction through to a more pastoral approach. The role of Christian coach in this context is another flavor of mentor bringing together aspects of accountability, encouragement, wisdom and direction.

In our process of helping Christians excel, we now have the three areas of calling, assigned ministry and personal growth, and the key figure of the mentor-coach. In some cases this is all that is needed and, depending on the maturity and focus of the Christian and mentor-coach, the relationship will achieve a Christian who excels.

In most cases more is required. In the sporting world, the outcomes are very clearly defined: you specifically want to beat all other athletes that you can. To this end you will train and learn skills. It is usually useful to specify the role that the Christian is to excel in. It could be anything and will relate to the calling, ministry and maturity of the person. It may be practical helps around the church building, leading a small group, intercession, arranging rosters or simply being involved in various areas of church life.

I believe that it is necessary to formalize these items. The relationship should be forged in a document describing the role, the parties to the agreement and the items in the three areas that are going to be addressed. There are several reasons for doing this:

  • The document captures the focus and aim at that point in time
  • The process of creating a document makes the relationship formal and helps all parties to take it seriously.
  • The process of creating a document promotes clear discussion and identification of what are the areas that the relationship will be working on.

The document should include one other thing. If the relationship is successful, one would hope that after a time things will change in the Christian's life. Area's identified for growth will be mastered, roles within the church will change as responsibility increases and so on. For this reason the document should identify periods for review. My suggestion is that the mentor-coach and the Christian should get together to discuss, review and celebrate the changes required in the document on a six monthly basis.

This describes some of the formal aspects of the relationship. It is important to note that there are considerable informal aspects. A formal document that is visited once every six months will do nothing to help a Christian excel! The document can only provide a framework in which the real work happens. The Christian and the mentor-coach need to be in relationship. They should be in contact on a regular basis and have the opportunity talk through how the Christian is going in addressing the areas in the formal document. Short term plans – this week I/you/we are going to... - can incrementally move the Christian into excellence and promote growth. Issues can be discussed and the mentor-coach and the Christian can identify solutions.

The frequency of contact will very much depend on the people involved and the current issues within the Christian's life. Even when things are going well, the Christian and the mentor-coach will need to be in contact to maintain relationship. Method and context of contact will very much depend on what is possible and what is desirable. It could range from face to face meetings, chats at church, correspondence or phone calls. The methods should release the relationship rather than constrain it.

One area of discussion between the mentor-coach and the Christian will be learning opportunities. These can range from formal training, conferences, ministry/mission opportunities, books or articles or even someone for the Christian to go and talk to. It may be useful to actually document a learning plan or it may be more useful to play it by ear and look for opportunities.

In the workplace, the employer has a range of responsibilities – providing a safe workplace, providing accident insurance, providing superannuation, training etc. There are also relationship responsibilities that are addressed in a variety of ways ranging from a labor union approach through to consultation frameworks.

Returning to Paul's body analogy in 1Corinthians 12, the church – including the local church – operates based on the activity of its members. The members of the body are supplied and connected to the body. From this, the church has a responsibility to supply the members, to be in relationship with the members. If the specific local church agrees with the statement:

"The thing that every church desires is a membership that is self starting, active, spiritual, works hard and adds to the kingdom."

then that church has to be prepared to enter into a social contract with its members that it will be in relationship with them. The church has responsibilities equal to those of an employer.

Within the local church there is a tension between two poles: that of ministering to the people of that church and that of the people being involved in the ministry and mission of the church. In one the relationship is from the church to the people, in the second there is partnership between the church and the people with a direction to the world. Any church will balance between those two poles. For some it will be more of one than the other.

Local churches that are actively trying to work in partnership with their people will face issues around leading, managing and directing their people – the term "herding cats" comes to mind. The relationship between mentor-coach and individuals provides an opportunity to address some of these issues. By using this methodology as a key discipleship and leadership development tool, the church gets the opportunity to speak into the document ensuring that the things that are important to the church are included and that the Christian is developed in a way that fits with the church's ethos.

This is one side of the social contract. The other side is the responsibility to provide an environment in which the Christian can be released and also to act in a way that maintains relationship. Depending on your implementation the mentor-coach can be a key enabler of this. They can be the church's representative, enabler and resourcer in the relationship. In addition they can hold the church accountable to meet their side of the social contract.

This paper has outlined the high points of a methodology for encouraging and managing performance of church members. If you choose to implement a management process based on this methodology you should be aware that it needs to be done in the specific context. Questions such as number of mentor-coaches required, whether to split the role, privacy requirements and linkage to a local church polity structure have either not been addressed or brushed over.

The methodology is based on current management practice and has been contextualized for the local church.