"Ministry-Minded" AND "Professionally Competent"

by Mary Peterson, Heartbeat Housing Specialistsocial network people

An interesting conversation sprang up in our Facebook group for housing leaders a few weeks ago. In essence, the question was on how to create a home-like environment. Many made very insightful comments based on the practices of their organization. (If you aren't a part of our Facebook group, you should be!)

My contribution to the discussion was to bring attention to the dynamic tension between "ministry-minded" and "professional-competent." As a former executive director of a housing nonprofit, I felt a tension between the two in a deep way, feeling as if I had to choose between one or the other. In my misguided thinking, it felt like a decision between Jesus and organizational excellence. And, of course, put that way, Jesus wins. It was a major turning point for me to embrace that I didn't have to choose -- that organizations could be BOTH. Rather than detracting from Christ, it glorifies Him to have dynamic, thriving organizations which are focused on serving His beloved with the love of Christ and excellent organizational practices.

Several years ago, I received significant funding to attend top-notch non-profit educational opportunities. I traveled to Stanford for a week of training on leading change, to Mexico for an international conference on reducing poverty, to Harvard for a seminar on social entrepreneurship...plus lots more. For a year, I was here, there, and everywhere to talk about big ideas. In those travels, I realized that many of the nonprofit organizations with missions opposed to a Biblical worldview are thinking deeply about topics like innovation, "best practices", improving impact, replication of a model for rapid expansion, capacity building, and more. They are thinking creatively and networking for a global impact, an impact that is in direct opposition to our Christ-centered missions of recognizing the deepest dignity of women and affirming the precious gift of life.

But, those topics are not just for the liberal agenda. Our missions can think about organizational excellence as well, covered in prayer and ordered to the glory of God. One way of referring to the work of leadership that I picked up from a spiritual mentor was to think of my job as "baptizing" the great practices that I encountered. In baptizing them, I wasn't "selling out" or "failing in my Christian witness." Rather, I was integrating them with the truth of Christianity.

I found that work extremely exciting...and also, exhausting. A major part of what I love about facilitating the National Maternity Housing Coalition is that I now feel as if that "baptizing" work is shared by a community of believers united in a common mission. Our learning community of Christian organizations helps everyone to improve and allows hard-won lessons to be shared more easily. It raises up new leaders and strengthens our industry as a whole.

I asked a few housing leaders their thoughts on this topic and those are below. I would ask YOU the same questions! Let's continue the conversation via Facebook!

  • What is hard about trying to be both 'ministry minded" and "professionally competent"?
  • What is something that has helped you grow stronger in one or the other or both?
  • How do you help your staff team to grow in both areas?
  • Any lessons learned about this dynamic that you would share with start-ups or new leaders?

These two priorities are sometimes going to be in tension due to limited time and resources. You can't avoid it, but you can use it. We have learned to embrace that tension as opportunities to refocus on our mission. Often a conversation based on professional competency versus ministry is not productive because they are independent goods. When we reframe the question to prioritize mission and vision - what's our mission and what will best help us accomplish it in this moment - that gives us a framework to evaluate our options and make a principled decision. This also gives our "ministry people" and our "professional people" an objective basis with which to discuss and resolve these questions.

Stephen Wallace, Gabriel Network

If you believe God is in control both will fall into place. Sometimes our staff is who God sends to create a balanced, insightful team.

Diane Schofield, Hands of Mercy Everywhere

As a Christian who aims to serve Christ every day, I tend to air more on the ministry-minded side. Humility, appreciation for others, and walking with Christ are all vital ministry components. Ultimately, one must be both professionally competent and ministry-minded to get the job done. In my opinion, being ministry-minded is actually more important, but make sure you are doing it for the right reasons!

Brianne Hansen, New Beginnings - A Home for Mothers

I feel professionalism as well as leadership follows Philippians 2 and Philippians 4. In our humility we become life long learners striving to learn what is good and strong and pure and right for our organizations, our ministries, our staff and volunteers, and ultimately the lives we serve everyday.

Carissa Figgins, The Sparrow's Nest Maternity Home