Governance, Volunteers, and Boards, Oh My!

In this second week of learning about church administration, I read about boards, governance and planning. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on chapters 3 and 4 of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.

There was a great deal of helpful and practical content in this section on a variety of topics: the role of a council, its theological foundation, how to call and orient new members, how to manage risk and conflict, how to have good meetings, and how to keep on track.

As I read through these sections, I recalled specific situations and people from my congregation currently, but also churches in the past; good and not so good situations.

On page 55, Bacher and Cooper-White articulate the need for the chair (or president) of a council to draw from the quieter members who otherwise don’t speak up very often in meetings. Likewise they also encouraged the chair to intermittently, especially during discussion on “hot” issues, to do a “round table” and ask for the thoughts and/or questions of each council member before proceeding with more formal discussion or decided-upon action through a vote. Using a reference such as Robert’s Rules of Order is helpful to keep meetings moving, but the authors warned to avoid “heavy-handed legalistic meeting conduct.” At a previous congregation, I observed that one council member in particular was helpful with referring back to Robert’s Rules of Order when the meeting got stuck. She was outspoken and confident, helpful but also made me nervous.


I couldn’t help but listen to the question rolling around in my head as I read these chapters:

How do you trust people to be leaders and bring their expertise and gifts…and trust them?

I could take on all the work myself… I could waste time searching for sixty name tags instead of asking my co-worker where the box is. I could cold-call dozens of people to help with my project instead of asking my co-worker for a list of her all-star adult volunteers. I could plan for five hours of large-group teaching content about vocation instead of having students learn about vocation by also serving and talking with a trusted adult.

These are some of the administration-related questions that surfaced during my internship project a few months ago. I had a dream that students and adults could discover and feel affirmed in their vocations by learning together, serving together, and debriefing together over 5 weeks. There were (and still are) 30 students. So with my 30 mentors, that’s 60 individuals’ contact information (& parents’ email addresses), schedules, assessment results, assessment codes, and booklets to track, manage, and somehow get into a tidy bin for the confirmation pastor at the end of five weeks to demonstrate their learning.

How do you trust people to be leaders and bring their expertise on a board, on a council, or for an internship project?

I’m still not completely sure, but I think it has to do something with this: It’s not about making people do things for you, it’s about seeing and pointing out an opportunity for that person to try out a gift that you’ve seen in them over and over again.

I’m so lucky to be in this work, because when I hear that someone at church is really into mentoring, and wishes that our church was more into mentoring, I can tap on their shoulder and say “Hey, I heard that you were really into mentoring, and I could use someone with your passion and presence as I try out this project for a couple weeks, could you help me?”

As an intern, I’m probably doe-eyed thinking that all things governance and administration can be significantly altered if we just identify and invite people into opportunities. Rather than the bulletin announcement, “NEEDED: 1 council member,” maybe it’s a tap on the shoulder that affirms someone’s quiet but persistent leadership, and without that tap on the shoulder, they would have never known they had that gift, or a gift.

Has there ever been a time when it was necessary to trust another leader and it was tough to do? Was there ever a time you trusted a leader with a responsibility, volunteer or otherwise, and they betrayed your trust? Why do you think it’s so hard to trust others and delegate responsibility? What are the gifts of trusting others with responsibility?


The Cost

I had a curious interaction yesterday. It was Sunday, I was at church (this happens often). The church my husband, Timothy, is working at is going through some growing pains, thinking about who they are and who God is calling them to be as the community changes around them. It’s hard, beautiful, inspiring work of a courageous community of faith. I’m so proud of them and to be one of them.

They’ve realized that they hang out in cliques, like most churches. Choir people over here, teenagers over here, knitters over there, 1937 local high school graduates over there. So to work on blending together, at the coaching of Timothy and other leaders, we paired up for one whole Sunday morning with someone of a different generation of than us.

An adult my parents’ age sat in worship with a chemistry-loving 11th grader. A high schooler had breakfast with a choir member my grandparents’ age. It was kind of neat. I got to hang out at breakfast, during worship, and in a think-tank conversation after worship with an 8th grader named Emily*. Emily is the most motivated 8th grader I’ve ever met. She looks into your eyes when you have a conversation with her. When I asked her what the most important part of worship is to her, she did not say “the music” or “if we had a contemporary band.”

She said the most important part of worship is the children’s sermon. She’s in 8th grade.

She’s bright and empathetic. Her lack of hearing requires her to wear two hearing aids and you have to wave in her line of vision to chat with her.

Before worship, we chatted for a bit, but not very long. Her mom helped us interpret each other. Emily darted off before worship to hang out with her friends. So as much as I want to be best friends with everybody, I had a hard time getting to know Emily. We didn’t know how to communicate and we live in different worlds.

She’s in 8th grade, adopted, super into sports, friends are her life, mostly-hearing impaired hearing. I’m 27, married, discovering my vocations post-grad school, changing definitions of home, career, purpose, can hear.


But I tried. We didn’t communicate super well. I didn’t use my limited American Sign Language skills but I totally should have tried. But the point is we tried.

By the post-worship meeting, I figured out that we could communicate through writing – so I asked her:

“Why is the children’s sermon the most important thing in worship to you?”

She quietly mouthed back, kind of loud, but mostly quiet, “Because it helps kids understand about faith and God, and it helps adults remember what’s important.”

I wrote back to her, “Ok, what other parts of worship would you change, so that kids understand about faith and God, and it helps adults remember what’s important?”

She took out her bulletin from the morning and flipped through page by page. Her eyes scanned and I felt a fire within her moving through the guide, that, as someone who is hard of hearing, is essential for her worship experience.

She stopped at the readings, the Bible stories that are read before the sermon, and she started circling words like “Thus” and other “old English” words that are scattered throughout a NRSV translation. She said these words didn’t make sense to her.

I bring up my morning with Emily because without the pairing-up we did at church as an intergenerational experiment, I probably wouldn’t have talked to her. We don’t look the same. She has hearing aids and we’re 10 years apart. But we tried anyway. I listened. I gave her a thumbs up after she lit the Advent candles during worship.


Something has been heavy on my heart lately. The shootings and killings of black people in the US in the last couple weeks, without due trial, have made me so angry and sad. My Facebook feed has been a cacophony of justice-seeking pleas and Christmas shopping deals. How do we do live life like this? Reading through comments on blog posts where people pour their hearts out, calling for racial justice, make my stomach turn as I read the most black-phobic hateful speech.

Because I’m empathetic to a fault, I try and step into these people’s shoes. Why would they say such hateful things about black people? I don’t know if I’ll ever know.

But I know it’s cheap.

Saying hateful words is easy, it’s quick, it briefly releases energy, it’s at no cost to the writer/speaker.

You know what’s difficult and costs a lot? Being in relationship. Asking, “What’s your name?” Asking, “What’s at stake for you when you do/say these hurtful things? Asking, “What’s important to you?” Asking, “What’s your dream for this world?”

This is hard work because it requires listening, vulnerability, and humility. Costly, and difficult traits of the human experience, but traits that spur the most beautiful and strong movements of love around us. Love that our world is crying out to embody. Typing hateful racial slurs behind a keyboard is easy. Being humble and putting yourself into someone else’s shoes, someone who believes differently, someone who belongs to a different ethnic and/or social community: that is hard work. But it’s work that we deep down know we are driven to do.

We long to connect with each other, and God call us to connect with each other in deep and meaningful relationships. One day, I’m hopeful that God “will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…. See, I am making all things new” (Rev 21: 3-5). This season that is described in the book of Revelation is coming, but honestly, I don’t think it’s coming soon enough.

In the church season of Advent, in December where we wait all month for Christmas and Jesus’ birth, we cry out “How long, O Lord?” How long until we see justice for the deaths of young black men across the country? How long until the judicial system changes so that racial injustice is a crime, not an expectation? How long until we stop cramming prisons with non-Caucasian individuals, so that the statistic of 1 in 3 prisoners are black, is an ancient artifact?

Beautiful picture of the Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs) in Oahu, HI

I spoke with an 8th grader named Emily on Sunday. She’s adopted and has hearing aids, and has the cheerful energy of a teenager. It was hard to communicate, and talking/reading lips was not perfect, but I hope to call her my friend one day. It’s hard work, but I think we can do it, and I hope she keeps talking with me when I ask, “Why is this important to you?”

*Name changed but story’s true.


I’ve been staring at a blank page for a couple days now. I think partly because the days are growing shorter and winter is coming (gasp), and that just doesn’t make me that excited for life. But if I look past those things, there are some big things I’ve been dreaming about lately.

My thinking pose which apparently requires a beach.
My thinking pose that requires a beach.

Yes, this is another, “Allison is going to rant about a church thing” but it’s also not. Because I think there’s something hopeful and constructive about this line of thinking — which I don’t think has been as present in my thought-process for a while now.

Timothy started an interim worship and music directing position, and it’s led us to think about a lot of worship-y and music-y things. I’m trying to be grateful to him and this community and our larger church that’s all over the world, but I can’t help but see things that make me want to rip my hair out.

Surrounded by questions of “Did enough people come to worship today?” and “Where are the swarm of kids that filled up the church during the children’s sermon a few weeks ago?” – I wonder if we’re measuring success in unhelpful ways (great articles herehere, and here). These questions are asked at churches and in church leadership in LOTS of places: East coast, Midwest, West coast, urban, rural, contemporary (whatever that means), traditional (whatever that means). Fear, anxiety, counting heads, and trading in imagination for job protection…. the lists go on, the tensions go on, and they all seem to really be inward looking. Needless to say, I don’t think they’re helpful.

I think we can be imaginative. I say “we” as in people who go to church and people who don’t go to church very often – because we all have something to contribute when imagining about what could be since religion and society are so intertwined and influence each other significantly. There’s no “us and them” in these questions. There’s “us”. Together, we can contribute to the conversation about church. You don’t have to be “Christian-y” enough to speak up, at least that’s what I think.

We can ask: What’s the point of church? What’s the point of communion? What’s the point of baptism? What’s the point of faith?

I know, giant questions. But let’s take a shot.

Pinterest, if you say so.
Pinterest, I hope you’re right.

What if instead of inviting people into church buildings to experience God in their life (most likely once a week, if we’re being honest?), we bring practices and small tweaks to people’s daily lives that encourage an awareness of God in their daily lives – you know, the ugly and pretty daily walk in which God promises to be with us more than just once a week (see Isaiah 43:1-2)?

For instance: Communion. Often happens in a church building, yes? We hear that Christ is for us as we experience God’s presence in daily things (for most of us): food & drink. We remember the last supper, when Jesus had supper with his closest friends, with people he loved (Mark 14, Matt 26, Luke 22, John 13).

Depending on the size of a congregation, this is practiced by handing each person a wafer or small piece of bread and a small cup wine or grape juice. An experience that might last 5 seconds and often includes standing in line and going back to your spot, in a pew (you’re back in a line, but sitting).

Does anyone else see how distant this practice has become from Jesus’ last supper?

What if we actually had supper/dinner together and that was communion? Imagine it: Everyone comes together and brings their favorite dish (see: pot luck). We hear words of blessing from a non-pastor that remind us that it’s not all about us and God is for us, the haves, and the have-nots. We all dish ourselves and sit down with our full plates. As friends, we listen and share about our day today. We look at each other’s faces as we talk (great reflection here). Is this not communion? Sharing a meal we all want to have anyway (dinner) and hearing God is for you, the Christian, and you, the non-Christian?

Eating dinner or some meal together. I could see it!

This is just one idea. But bringing an awareness of God into a daily thing – I think it’s what an honest-to-goodness walk with God looks like – not a once-per-week 60 minute experience on a Sunday morning, but a daily reminder that God is for us! God is for you! I don’t care who you are, that’s news we need EVERY DAY.

My question – could this be church? Is it already church? If so, where is it, because I want to see it! And I think this is so important to me because my research and observations tell me that church needs a major revamp and perhaps needs to get back to what’s important. The church (the people who I associate with it) have invested in me, and I want to give back. I think this conversation about church and success needs some help.

I’m hungry for a church where success is not measured by the number of butts in the pews but the depth at which lives are changed because they know:

  1. You’re enough.
  2. You deserve love and connection.
  3. You matter.

Is that so hard? It must be – because I can’t point a church that’s living these messages out right now. Perhaps other communities are? For-profit organizations? Non-governmental organizations? Creative communities? Online communities? For me, these values are the root of the message I read in the Bible. How might someone learn these messages/beliefs/values?

Because here’s what I think:

If Jesus led you to these beliefs…

If Muhammed led you to these beliefs…

If a “divine spark” led you to these beliefs…

That’s great. These things are still true:

  1. You’re enough.
  2. You deserve love and connection.
  3. You matter.

These values are what Jesus was all about. Saying and being these things over and over again. Not boxing people in; not loving some and ignoring others; not liking — but LOVING, and LOVING – a lot, to everybody. All are welcome, right?

So why do churches (your church, my church, your grandparents’ church, churches that I have worshiped in, led, preached at, you name it) draw lines — physically draw lines to direct people to walk up to the front of a church to receive communion, to experience God’s presence; we play in boxes, we think in boxes, we preach that Jesus is THE answer, implying that other answers are not only wrong but outside of human imagination and experience.


We live in a post-9/11 society. The world has seen many shifts, and we must treat this time in history as a time of significant shift – a shift in political views and policies, economic and social privileges, values and prejudices. Likewise, there’s a shift in religious and spiritual thinking and dialogue. This means the church has a massive opportunity to speak into this new reality. But does it? Will it?

What does it mean to be a Christian in a post-9/11 society? This a huge question, but one whose answer might make or break the future of Christianity — it would surely re-shape it — and I hope for the better. With genuine hope, I believe it could re-shape our values, our vision, our practices, our understanding of leadership and our daily lives that usher in a new way of being a Christian person in the world.

We can’t keep doing business as usual. I’m not saying “The church must stay relevant! Everybody’s forgetting about the church!” We don’t need contemporary bands, traditional liturgy, new pews, or pastors with more experiences at “The Celebration of Biblical Preaching” than they know what to do with (no offence, but when the majority of pastors use their entire continuing education budget on this one event every year, we have a problem. What I am saying, is that if the only answer to “Why are we doing it this way?” is “Because that’s how we’ve always done it,” then we have lost sight of the church’s reason for being. We have lost the vision, the mission, and the values that guide a response to God’s grace — a response that is an opportunity, a celebration, of warmth, humor, vulnerability, courage, and connection. THAT’S a response to God’s UNLIMITED love and grace that I can get behind.

Everyone in my generation has “the story” of where they were on 9/11. I was going into the 9th grade and my mom curled my hair as we watched the buildings burn on TV. On the radio we listened as the Seattle DJs watched the first tower fall as my sister drove us to school. My world didn’t change all that much, 2,800 miles away from New York, but the world changed. The world changed. And it’s changed since. As I write this I can see the flight path out of MSP as I sit here at the nearest Starbucks to Timothy’s work.

On a journey.
On a journey.

Now, all this reflecting and questioning of mine – it’s by no means a guide to make the church healthy or grow exponentially. Like countless church staff around the country (around the world), they (we) face big challenges with often too little support. It’s easy to become cynical, but we must fight that with critical thinking, trust in each other, and faith in Jesus’ unrelenting love and hope.

I think there are just too many good ideas and kind people out there to throw up my hands and say, “I give up.” I see so much beauty and joy going on in the world (God’s created and sustained world), in our own lives and in the lives of neighbors and communities all over the world. It’s happening everywhere, literally, everywhere. I wonder, when will the church see it?