At a Macedonian Ministry convening this week, two dozen pastors, leaders, and scholars came together to discuss diverse dimensions related to the economics of ministry, ranging from the peril of uneconomic buildings to the promise of new revenue models. Participants talked about the priority of collaboration, of catalytic capital, of providential and persistent relationships. Colleagues from Birmingham shared a case study of ministry across denominational lines—and quite literally across the tracks. Colleagues from the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving shared contextualizing data from the National Survey of Congregations’ Economic Practices.
And then we asked those gathered: What are the questions you are tired of asking in church (because they are not getting you anywhere)? And, what are the questions that are untouchable – questions you dare not ask in your congregation?
The conversation at the “untouchable questions” station felt especially energetic and prodigious. There was a strong feeling among these gifted leaders, representing many traditions, that they face a force field of resistance to certain crucial questions in their church life.
What power is your own church board giving to “untouchable” questions by not talking about them?
One of the striking things about the gospels is that Jesus seemed to thrive on asking questions that others would not touch.
Who do people say that I am?
What do you want me to do for you?
Why are you so afraid?
But even as Jesus braved ahead, his disciples fell into the trap of avoiding the untouchable questions. As Jesus encountered “the woman at the well” in John 4, the gospel records:
25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!
Jesus’ own presence and power, his persistence, and his focus on going toward people, left the disciples uncomfortable and unwilling to ask their questions.
What are the questions that your church board needs to be asking but are considered “untouchable?” Are these questions about faith? About how the board functions together as a group of spiritual leaders? Are they about strategy or direction for your congregation? Are they about uneconomic buildings or unsustainable budgets?
And why are these questions off-limits? Are they untouchable because you are afraid that if a large and hard question is asked, there will be conflict? Are they untouchable because the board is reluctant to ask a question for which they do not know the answer?
If your board isn’t ready yet to answer the “untouchable questions,” can you at least begin discussing what makes them so hard to ask?