MORALE IN THE RURAL CHURCH (PART TWO) By Glenn C. Daman
When the present pastor arrived, the church had dwindled down to a handful of faithful attenders. Those who came, came only because it was their families that started the church fifty years earlier. But now, even they were having second thoughts. Although they could not pay the pastor a full time salary, he still agreed to come. Everyone knew that if things did not turn around quickly, the church would soon close its doors. Past failures had convinced the people that a vibrant church was no longer feasible. Not knowing where else to begin, he decided that the first priority was to repair the church. Keeping costs to a minimum, he convinced the church to repaint the building and repair the parsonage. In the process, the people renewed their ownership in the church and were reminded that they needed to plan for the future. Since VBS had been successful in the past, in the month of July he organized a VBS for the children in the area. While the Sunday School had dwindled down to eight children, to the surprise of many, twenty-seven children came. Afterwards, one family with four children started to attend. For the first time, the people began to gain a glimmer of hope that the church would continue to minister to the community. Raising and maintaining the morale of the rural church is not a luxury for the rural church leader. It is vital to its health and existence. When morale become low, not only do the people become discouraged, but the church no longer attracts new visitors from the community. To raise and maintain the morale of the church, the leader needs to be intentional in his activities and creative in his leadership.
1. Build upon a theology of divine presence. The foundation of morale is the awareness that God is present within the church. The presence of God is what gives vitality to the church and validity to the ministry, not size or number of ministries. In the rebuilding of the temple after the exile, the people became discouraged because the new temple could not match the size and glory of the previous building (Ezra 3:12). Through the prophet Haggai, God reminds them that it is the glory of the Lord that brings life to the temple (Haggai 2). People who are discouraged because the "glory years" of the church are in the past, need to be reminded that it still can be effective, for God is still present.
2. Identify the causes of low morale. With the leadership of the church, identify the various possible reasons why the morale of the church is low. Then determine which cause is the most likely and develop a strategy for addressing and solving the problem. Through the process, the leadership should encourage the whole church to be committed to raising the morale.
3. Remind the people of past successes. We are not to live in the past, but we can learn and be encouraged by the past. Joshua recognized the importance that past successes can have upon present and future generations when he commanded the Israelites to build a rock monument to celebrate the Israelites crossing the Jordan (Joshua 4:1-7). Remembering how God has used the church in the past can encourage people that God can use the church in the present.
4. Plan for the future rather than dwell on the past. God reminds Israel through Isaiah that what has happened in the past does not necessarily dictate what will happen in the future. God can renew his work even in the most barren wastelands (Isaiah 43:18-19). Leaders within the church should have a future orientation and need to point people to what the church can and should become. Past heritage plays an important role in the rural church. But when the past heritage is marked by problems and struggles, it can defeat the present and future ministry of the church. While the leader needs to affirm the past heritage, he must not allow the church to dwell on the past.
5. Recast the vision for the church. Vision is the awareness of the distinct and divinely ordained present and future purpose and ministry of the church based upon its sociological, theological, and cultural setting. When morale becomes low, people need to be reminded of the purpose of their ministry. When Elijah became discouraged over his apparent lack of success, God reaffirmed and reminded Elijah of his call to ministry (1 Kings 19:15-18).
6. Plan for success. When a church is discouraged because of successive disappointments, the leader can build morale by planning for small 'sure- fire' successes. Planning for 3-4 small, fruitful events and ministries help the people see God still working in their midst and that they can accomplish significant and meaningful ministries. Having built upon the small successes, the people will be more ready for a larger, more challenging ministry.
7. Celebrate present successes and achievements. When a ministry or event succeeds, celebrate it. Celebrating a fund-raiser to replace the carpet gives people a sense of accomplishment and success. One of the reasons people develop low morale is they stop noticing the accomplishments of the church. Celebrating these, no matter how small, renews the sense of hope within the church.
8. Refocus upon ministering outwardly. Churches which struggle can easily become inward focused, no longer ministering to the community outside the church. An inward focus of ministry brings with it a preoccupation with problems and failures. Refocusing upon the community at large helps the church realize its mission. Paul, in 2 Cor. 4:7-12, had a positive perspective, even in the face of great adversity, because his whole desire was to minister to others rather than maintain his own comfort. This is equally true for the church as well.
9. Develop clear organizational communication and responsibilities. Keeping people informed of what is going on enables them to have a sense of ownership and involvement in the ministry. Clearly defining the responsibilities of people for their ministries not only gives them clear direction, it avoids the misunderstandings which cause conflicts to arise.
10. Allow people to rejuvenate. Elijah was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted after the triumph on Mount Carmel. A component of his rejuvenation was a period of physical rest (read 1 Kings 19). People and churches which had been through traumatic situations need time to restore their emotional batteries. One way to avoid burn-out is to provide people a time for a physical and emotional break so that they can regain their spiritual perspective.
1. Affirm a "small" theology. Throughout the history of God's work, he has used both large and small groups to accomplish his plan. A church of 100 people in Acts 2, reached 5000 with the gospel of Christ. God trimmed the large army of Gideon to 200 men in order to demonstrate his power by using a small group to accomplish an impossible task. God called a small group of twelve to be his disciples. While God uses the larger church, he uses the small church as well. Small churches should neither be discouraged or apologetic because of their size.
2. Maintain a positive perspective of the ministry. Even though Paul experienced many trials and failures in ministry, he always had an optimistic outlook (Philippians 4:10-13). This was based upon his awareness of God's empowerment within his life. The attitude of the leader greatly influences the perspective of the people. If the leader has a positive perspective, the people will develop a positive outlook.
3. Develop goals and direction for the church. When a church lacks clear direction and purpose, it will be difficult to maintain morale. Goals give the rural church an awareness that it has a future. People can become discouraged when they think they are not accomplishing anything. Having goals and direction enable the church to have a sense of accomplishment when those goals are achieved. This builds morale, and confidence that the church can achieve even more challenging goals.
4. Resolve conflicts. Unresolved conflicts within the church drains the spiritual and emotional energies of the congregation. Paul recognized the importance of resolving strife when he stated, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Ephesians 4:26b). By resolving past divisions the church experiences spiritual renewal as they see God's work within the lives of individuals.
5. Define success. Clearly defining the meaning of success brings a clear sense that what the church is doing is important and is influencing others for Christ. Too often success is left undefined or is measured by numerical growth. When growth does not occur, people become discouraged. Instead, success should be measured by the spiritual health of the church and its effectiveness in transforming people into faithful disciples of Christ.
6. Encourage new ideas by allowing people the freedom to fail. To achieve effective results, the church needs to encourage innovative ideas. A church that is caught in the rut of past tradition will slowly bog down in the quagmire of ineffectiveness which brings frustration and discouragement. Implementing and encouraging new ideas not only breaks the church out of the rut, it encourages people to think of ministry effectiveness rather than ministry tradition.
7. Reward faithfulness, not just accomplishments. It is easy to notice what people have accomplished and overlook those who had been faithful in ministry regardless of the difficulties encountered. Christ in Matthew 25:24ff points out that the assessment of one's ministry is based upon the faithfulness by which the task is performed, not just by the accomplishments that are achieved.
8. Help people utilize their spiritual gifts. People who are performing ministries in which they are not gifted will become frustrated and discouraged. Helping them determine what their gift may be, and aiding them in utilizing their gifts properly, will bring a renewed confidence in ministry. This process includes understanding our personalities, talents, and gifts as well as training in the specific area. One of the tasks of the leadership is to provide people with training in the area of their ministry interests and spiritual gifts.
9. Confront a critical spirit. Just as Sanballat criticized the building of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4), so also there will be those within the church who will always be critical of the programs and ministries of others. A faultfinder can easily cause "the strength of the laborers to give out" (Nehemiah 4:10), so that people become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. The leadership of the church should lovingly confront such a spirit and seek to build a positive, uplifting attitude within the people.
0. Affirm the importance of every person. 1 Corinthians 12 points to the value and importance each person plays within the ministry and health of the church. Affirming that every individual and every church, no matter how small, has an important part to play within the universal body of Christ, encourages the church to continue to be involved in the ministry of reaching people for Christ.
1. Provide clear goals.
2. Give prompt feedback.
3. Reward performance quickly.
4. Treat them like winners.
5. Involve in decision making.
6. Seek their opinions often.
7. Provide autonomy in work.
8. Hold accountable for results.
9. Tolerate impatience.
10. Provide varied work opportunities.
11. Keep them aware of upcoming challenging goals.