I know how easy it is for church life to get derailed by the silly or the peripheral. Someone’s hobby gets loud enough to dominate the collective energy of the church. A lot of time, this occurs because the church lacks a focus in the first place, other than to keep people happy. It’s possible, therefore, for the church’s focus to become praise teams or music styles or “invitation” protocols or budget matters or nursery concerns. And so for awhile, these things can become your life. Your focus becomes your life.
Here’s my obvious, not-so-obvious idea: The church’s life, and, therefore, its focus, should relentlessly be God.
This is tougher than it sounds. And one things that makes it tough is that our focus easily gets lost in “church.” And while these things are related they are not the same.
Occasionally, I am with congregations that was doing some discovery work within the congregation. And look, I applaud any efforts along these lines. Most leader groups in congregations do very little systematic listening. Still, their questions tend to be focused on the individual’s experience of church. What do you like? not like? What direction should we go with this or that? And they get lots of information, though much of it is conflicting. My point is that the questions we ask tend to be all about church and only by extension about God. This is what I mean by our focus gets lost on church.
As an aside, these types of questions often contribute to what Appreciative Inquiry people call a deficit or gap model of organizational life. In other words, when you ask people what they want, you create a gap between the church they have now and the church they want. Even if all could agree on what the future should be (very unlikely when the focus of your inquiry is on preferences), the focus of the congregation is on perceived deficits. The deficit becomes your life.
So, I prefer appreciative inquiry questions that are focused on God. Instead of asking, how would you change worship (that tick-tick-tick sound is you about to lose a limb), the question might be, tell me about a time when you knew this congregation was being led by God. What was going on? Who was involved? The focus here is on a life-giving memory that has as its subject, God. Hopefully, this sets an expectation within the congregation that the pursuit of God trumps any discussion of personal preferences. That the sole focus of a congregation is God. That would be an upgrade in my mind.
Now, Appreciative Inquiry is not the only tool a leader should have. Gap models leading to strategic planning are just the right tool for some things. For instance, I value strategic planning for anything that is fairly easily defined or of a technical nature. If the problem is easily understood and the consequences of certain interventions easily predicted, then by all means work a gap model. However, few things is congregational life are this way. God seldom yields to a problem-solving mentality. The more a congregation gives itself to a focus on gaps or problems, the less its focus is on God.