HOW YOU CAN BE MORE EFFECTIVE
By: John Eldredge and Jason Skifstad
Many local churches have established impressive track records of effective social involvement. Protestant and Catholic, independent and mainline, these churches share a common trait: They each have a committee devoted to public policy issues as an official part of their ministry structure.
The committees are called by different names – Social Concerns Committee, Current Issue Council, Christian Citizenship Committee – but their function is the same: to provide in-house leadership for congregational response to the social issues of the community. Focus on the Family prefers to call them Community Impact Committees (CIC).
Why a Committee?
The experience of other churches shows that a committee helps the church to act corporately on social issues, in obedience to biblical standards, and thereby increases the church’s effectiveness. “Lone ranger” activists who do not work under pastoral accountability and who do not seek corporate involvement tend to be less effective.
The CIC is a lay-run committee whose responsibility is to keep the church leadership and congregation informed about social issues, provide counsel for involvement in them, and orchestrate various forms of action.
There are numerous roles and responsibilities that a CIC could fulfill in your church. These four are foundational: educating, equipping, alerting and orchestrating.
And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Phil. 1:9-10).
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).
Clarifying Christian duties toward the community and providing your church with accurate and pertinent information on moral, social and political issues should be first on your agenda.
Busyness is pandemic in our culture; most people just cannot find the time to stay informed. Members of the clergy are notoriously overworked and far too busy to keep up on every social issue. The CIC is first and foremost a friend to the clergy. By supplying your leadership with the information to direct the congregation in matters of public policy, you provide a desperately needed service. If your information is consistently balanced, thorough and reliable, you win both gratitude and trust.
All scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service (Eph. 4:11-12).
The second role of the CIC is to equip, to provide the resources necessary for action.
It is not uncommon for the novice to experience an overwhelming sense of frustration when confronting the magnitude of today’s problems. “Whom should I call?” “Where should we go?” “Are there any experts who can help us?” “Are there any organizations who specialize in this arena?” “Has anyone dealt with this before?” The CIC must expect these types of questions and be prepared to provide answers. Your job is not to be a resident expert on everything from soup to nuts, but a resource center for the church, the committee with the connections.
Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman… (Ez. 33:7).
For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (1 Cor. 14:8).
The third role of the CIC requires perhaps the most diligence and discernment. This is the role of a watchman, sounding the alarm when the time comes for the church to take action.
Submission to church leadership is critical at this point. Your role as watchman is to bring both the alert and your recommendation to the attention of the leadership. But the decision to act lies with the one in authority.
Be forewarned: The call to action is the most misused function of the CIC. Sounding too many alarms is perhaps even worse than sounding none at all. It is quite common for those who get immersed in social issues to develop a sense of urgency not shared by others less familiar with the subject. This deep sense of urgency can be a liability, intimidating to those who are “outside” the situation. The CIC must exercise restraint in its capacity as watchman, showing prayerful wisdom over when, how often, and in what fashion to sound the alarm.
And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly (Rom. 12:6).
…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:2).
Once the church leadership has agreed to a course of action, the clergy may return the ball to your court. Publicizing the action or event, coordinating volunteers, arranging for materials – these are types of activities that may require your orchestration. Knowing this could help to moderate the frequency and ambition of your “alarms.”
The most basic prerequisite for any CIC is pastoral consent. This is not to say that a pastor must run the committee or even attend every meeting, but to be under pastoral authority is a biblical necessity (Heb. 13:17, Rom. 13). Of course, it also stands to reason that the church that most exemplifies a respect for moral authority has the best chance of promoting it in the community.Given the great demands placed upon most pastors, a qualified lay leader should be identified to chair the committee. Committee leadership requirements may be different from what characterizes the stereotypical “activist.” The most important qualifications of a CIC leader should include depth of spiritual maturity and a gift for consensus building, a servant’s heart and no stigma of rebellion or fruitless confrontation (1 Tim. 3:2-12, Titus 1:6-9).
Size and structure play a large role in how your meetings will be handled. In general, you may wish to start with a meeting every other week. Some CICs meet as often as once a week, but few meet less than once a month. The Lord’s blessing should be invoked at the beginning of each gathering, and the essence of what takes place should be recorded by someone acting as secretary. These minutes should be kept on file for future reference, and a copy should be sent to the pastoral staff.
Prepare an agenda beforehand in respect for your own time and that of your fellow committee members. It should always allow time for prayer, review of the minutes from the previous meeting, updates on current issues and projects, discussion of pending issues, and prayerful planning of action items for the church. In discussing information brought to the meetings, small groups may wish to proceed informally. However, larger groups may find it helpful to consult a meeting guideline, such as the popular Roberts’ Rules of Order.
An effective CIC will have a regular flow of information from a variety of sources. Look for someone to follow meetings of the school board and city council (these are often broadcast live over cable channels.)
It is also useful to consider the various ways the CIC can communicate with the congregation.
* Pulpit. The most obvious is an announcement from the pulpit by the pastor. This vehicle carries perhaps the greatest weight, but should be used sparingly. Save this option for times when you really do need the “big guns.” There are better ways of setting up your regular dialogue with the congregation.
* Bulletins and bulletin inserts. These materials provide the broadest coverage of the congregation because almost everyone who comes to church will read one. A frequent drawback is the small amount of space available, but there may also be topical and stylistic limitations (e.g., modesty may prevent mention of certain concerns.)
* Newsletters. Periodicals are becoming an option for groups of modest means in this age of desktop and even laptop publishing. If your church already has an established monthly newsletter, you might consider seeking a regular column in it; or you could start your own.
* Class contacts. Leaders of adult classes are a natural network within the church. Building a relationship between the CIC and the various groups within your congregation is another way of getting the message out.
Projects on which the group might teethe itself include (with pastoral approval) a voter registration drive. Alert the congregation about upcoming elections and register them to vote. You may remind the church that governing officials are servants of God according to the Bible, and that we are therefore obliged to honor good candidates and fear bad ones (Rom. 13:6-7). You may also explain that the most basic way to show honor in a participatory government is to participate. As the time draws near, you may encourage responsible voting by distributing non-partisan voters guide, which provide the candidates’ stance on pertinent issues.
Is all of this permissible? Yes. Will you endanger your church’s non-profit status? No, because clear guidelines have been established by the federal government. Taking a stand on social issues, educating your congregation, calling them to action, and exerting grass roots pressure on officials are well within the law for churches as tax-exempt organizations. Pastors may even use the pulpit to take a stand on specific legislation, issues or acts of government. The only place where limits have been set is with specific regard to campaigns and elections. And even here a great deal can be done, more than most churches realize.
The following is a brief outline of “dos” and “don’ts” for churches and pastors at election time, based on requirements by the Federal Election Campaign Act and Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
What churches may do:
* Conduct non-partisan voter registration and education drives.
* Host candidate forums where all are invited and treated impartially.
* Distribute voting records and candidate surveys in compliance with the neutrality rules set forth by the IRS.
* Rent a church mailing list (at market value) to a candidate.
* Publish an ad in the church bulletin for candidates who request it, as long as the ad is purchased at the regular rate for such ads.
* Invite a political candidate to attend a church service or meeting. Should your church invite a candidate to church service, remember that other candidates for office, regardless of party, must also be given the same opportunity if they request it.
What churches may not do:
* Endorse political candidates or contribute to political candidates or political action committees.
* Participate in fund-raising projects for political candidates.
* Make an outright donation of a mailing list to a political candidate.
* Sell a political ad at a discount rate if no other advertisers are offered discounts.
* Distribute candidate political statements.
* Pay to attend a caucus for a state or national political convention.
* Make in-kind or independent expenditures in favor of or against candidates.
A special note about clergy: As private citizens, pastors have the same rights as all Americans. They may take stands on political campaigns and even endorse candidates. However, a pastor should always make it clear that any candidate-oriented efforts are those of a private citizen and not made on behalf of the church. Church funds must also be kept separate from such activities. Finally, although pastors may express personal opinions about candidates from the pulpit, it may be wise to avoid this practice lest the Internal Revenue Service argue that some use of church funds is involved and orders an investigation.
Even if you do everything correctly (you won’t), there looms the specter of burnout. You were never meant to do everything. Are you indispensable at your church? That’s a problem that should be addressed by training others both to work with you and after you. Is there time in your day for worship, prayer and study? Are you with your family at least four evenings out of seven? Are you in an accountability group that monitors your time management?
Keep your priorities. Be humble enough to compromise, delegate authority, and follow the lead of others. Keep a gentle sense of humor about yourself. Remember, panic solves little, and fear less. The problems of the world have been long in the making; solutions take time, too.
(The above material appeared in the June 15, 1992 of Focus on the Family.)
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