By Dannica Olsen
It’s no secret that the world is vastly different than it was 20 months ago. Ministries that were rich soil back then are seemingly just a dump heap now, and so it has me wondering about this unique time and how it gives us opportunity for a fresh perspective on the ways ministry is measured and defined in our congregations and contexts. What does measuring ministry success involve now?
Before we jump to that, I believe that it’s important to acknowledge the undercurrent of grief. Grief that exists for us as leaders, grief that’s present in our members, in our families and communities. It takes just a brief time in conversation with someone to unearth this deep well of loss, uncertainty of the future and stuck-ness that I believe actually communicate grief without actually saying we’re grieving. Sit in that with each other, take a minute to listen into the things not being said because it is there. For all of us.
Once we have named our grief, we then have a place to start from—a common language, a definition of what is. There are so many definitions right now, wouldn’t you say? Definitions of “news”, definitions of who or what is in and out, definitions around politics, race, climate, religion, but none of those definitions are the same from one person to another. As leaders in a divisive time, it feels important to talk about definitions as we try to imagine a new way forward.
- What is our definition of success?
- How do we define metrics that help us rather than get used as a tool for judgement/comparison to the old world?
- What do we mean by the word “enough”?
- How do we define self-care as we create new benchmarks?
- What are we defining as “worth doing” versus “worth letting go”?
A Culture of Grace
I believe a culture of grace is the answer to all these questions! When we get clear about these definitions, we can have honest conversations about the metrics we are using to measure what’s happening right now, instead of measuring what used to be. When we get clear about those benchmarks, we operate out of grace rather than judgment, or in many cases out of reality rather than assumption. As leaders we need to be willing to have courageous conversations about the ways we used to measure our success, and then have hard conversations about what the lived experience is right now so that we can adjust expectations of one another and maybe more importantly, of ourselves. Having common definitions among your team takes a layer of unknown out of the picture and allows a way forward together.
When we move forward together with a similar definition of success and common measuring sticks, our imaginations are opened to creating something new that fits for right now. It isn’t revolutionary or magic, but I want to invite you to use a word we use when we’re trying something new or examining a change in something that already exists that needs redefining—pilot.
The word “pilot” is a game changer! Naming something as a pilot program or a pilot event takes the pressure off the permanency of something and allows us to try new things without the idea that they need to stick around forever. Sometimes we have piloted something that serves us for a season, or a short time period and then we feel no shame or failure when that season ends, or we learn something that gives way to something new! Pilot is a built-in grace culture word!
In a world where nothing feels like solid ground, and where consensus seems hard to come by, creating a grace culture by clear definitions is the only way we can make room for experiments and the only way we can offer each other a bit of solace in a divisive time. If we model grace culture within our staff teams, get clear on our definitions of success and create space for courageous conversations, we will more easily offer it to our congregation, our families and hopefully ourselves.
When we’re clear about the benchmarks, what emerges from this pandemic is not a bunch of burnt-out faith leaders heading toward mass exodus but rather a bunch of resilient, and innovative pioneers helping to usher in what God is already up to in the world.
Receive this blessing, oh tired ones: In your baptism you have been both claimed and called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. May you live out that call with the assurance that you are already enough, and maybe most especially when you don’t believe that to be true. You are defined as beloved.
About the Author
Dannica Olsen serves as the Director of Youth Ministry and Vocation at Westwood Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park, MN. She has served at Westwood for 13 years and is passionate about helping parents and kids understand their call as God’s hands and feet in the world, in all the roles they have in their lives. Her most beloved vocation is that of mom to two littles, Brindley (6) and Briggs (3) and wife to her husband, Patrick. Dannica believes that sharing homemade chocolate chip cookies could be a solution to many of the worlds problems!
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