First Third Conversations

Capitalizing on the Ordinary

By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

Is this the right time? Are these the right people? Can we agree on the right move? When leading change, it’s easy to get lost in searching for “the right thing” and “the right time” while missing transformational moments. Yes, it’s important for leaders to coordinate efforts and set the stage, but leading change rarely takes place within the confines of a strategic plan. Let me explain.

Leading in the midst of life

Life is messy and leadership moments show up in inopportune times. Those times when you are tired, your mind elsewhere and you’d rather be home. Those times when hospital visits need to happen, a financial issue challenges ministry plans or conflict arises at a meeting. And you have a choice – go by the status quo or lead into a new way. The ordinary moments of ministry provide opportunities to lead in real time within real ministry challenges.

Think about it. Change that gets embedded into life, happens in the midst of life. As a mom, when I’m tired and ready for bed, and one of my kids shows up with questions or as I walk in the door from a tough day, and the family has several decisions to make, what I do makes a difference. How I engage such situations make more of an impact, then any of the intentional conversations I start.

Ministry in the ordinary moments

Now think of ministry. Teams can read about creating a teaming culture, practice working together and discover each other gifts, but in the midst of preparing for Rally Sunday and two leaders don’t communicate or three days before the confirmation retreat when the other adult leader cancels, those moments not only define one’s leadership, but can change direction in ministry. 

When leading change, yes – give attention to planning, strategizing and getting everyone aligned. But don’t miss the ordinary moments. Capitalizing on the leading in the midst of everyday ministry can be just the think you need to embed change into the life of a congregation.

Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.

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