Aron and Joyce Tolentino, Pastor, Metro Manila, Philippines
Sometimes, one of the most challenging aspects of a project is that of getting started. Whether it is embarking on a fitness journey, shifting career paths, or in some cases developing an inspiring sermon, we may have an end in mind and some creative ideas on how to get there, but initiating the process of realizing such a vision can be daunting. The matter of how to start may initially overwhelm, but a few steps in the right direction can help overcome inertia and build momentum.
In the Philippines, we are excited about the denominational vision of Healthy Church through healthy leadership and healthy ministries; it is a meaningful and relevant vision. The question we were faced with was, how do we begin? While there is no single formula, especially in a context where local churches are coming from different starting points, with varying “fitness levels,” demographics, needs, and capabilities, there are some general principles that could be built on.
When it comes to the experience of our own local church in the Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues, we have traditionally found the Faith Avenue more challenging to roll-out and embed more broadly in the congregation. We are a small local church, inter-generational, and with a good mix of old-timers and attendees who are newer to GCI. Some mentoring relationships exist, and there are a number of members consistently participating in equipping opportunities, but the challenge was how to engage more members to experience, come to know, and become more like Jesus Christ and grow in koinonia (fellowship) with each other.
Teams as Building Blocks
The Bible often mentions the wisdom of building on a solid foundation. For us, a key starting point was the formation of Avenue teams and strengthening these as building blocks for healthy Avenues. This affirms our denominational approach of team-based ministry. For the Faith Avenue in particular, this also has several benefits. The establishment of a Faith Avenue team provides an opportunity for representation. By having a cross-section of members on the team, they are able to relate with different individuals at various points in their faith journey. This can help make Faith Avenue programs more relevant and inclusive. The team members are also part of different affinity groups – in our case youth, single adults, and women – which allows for firsthand insight, as well as natural influence when encouraging people to participate in discipleship and community-building.
The process we undertook in forming the Faith Avenue team in our local church can be summed up in the 3-stage G.E.M. process.
- Grouping (G)
While striving for inclusiveness, the drafting of team members was done according to discernment of best fit using FATE criteria (faithful, available, teachable, enthusiastic). Part of the grouping stage is also facilitation of strong working relationships and rapport in the team. As with other relationships, this takes time as the group develops its dynamic, and trust and collaboration are formed. This stage also involves an organizational element in terms of establishing communication channels and basic administrative processes to facilitate orderly interaction with other Avenue teams and the senior pastor. This may be less relevant for a smaller church, but it would still be good to agree on basic structure to help guide the workings of the group.
- Equipping (E)
While forming the team may be an organizational exercise, it is also an equipping endeavor. In our experience, this involved going back to the fundamentals of the nature of the church with Christ as the cornerstone and head, as well as the church’s mission to participate in God’s work of redemption, and the roles of the Avenue teams in this process. Integral to the equipping stage is educating the team on the meaning of healthy church and more specifically, the components of the Faith Avenue. Also included were practical tools on team-based ministry, consensus decision-making, and basic strategic planning, which provided handles to help enable a well-functioning team.
- Mobilizing (M)
The third stage involves mobilizing or activating the team. Team building is not just about people receiving knowledge but also their being given room to put concepts and tools to use. Strategic planning principles taught were soon applied as the team assessed where the congregation was in terms of the Faith Avenue and began to design program directions and activities to fulfill the Avenue’s emphasis.
There was likewise value in giving the Faith Avenue team a more public and formal mandate, especially since this is a new initiative. We launched the vision of Healthy Church and the concept of Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues over a series of video conferences for our congregation to start the year. Rather than having the pastor explain everything, representatives from the various teams were chosen to share what their Avenues were about. This “launch” stirred general interest while helping promote ownership and accountability among the Avenue teams, and as well as a level of authority in taking things forward with the congregation.
Getting on with Faith Forward
Building functional teams requires time, effort, and patience on the part of the pastor and the team members, but it is a worthy investment. While the team is an important building block for a healthy Faith Avenue, the formation process is already part of making disciples – of nurturing people to the point that their ministry as part of the Faith Avenue team is really the outpouring of God’s life and work in them that is flowing to the congregation. The catching of the vision, the character formation, and the relationships cultivated as the team comes together are wins worth celebrating.
The pandemic offers us unique opportunities to build Faith Avenue teams. People’s activities are limited, freeing up time for training and planning. Virtual meetings remove the inconveniences of a commute. Online prayer meetings and small groups are platforms for piloting discipleship programs and for avenue team members to apply concepts and frameworks, whether on group facilitation or Bible teaching methods. That people are learning together helps meet the need for connection in the midst of extended lockdowns.
We are seeing an increasing national and local focus on intentional discipleship. Faith Forward for us is very much a work in progress. We are learning from the generous sharing of others across the GCI global community, as well as from our own experiences. We are also learning by allowing people the space to develop and try new things, calibrating when these do not work out, and also by sharing lessons, which is the aim of this article.
There are multiple paths to the vision of Healthy Church. Our prayer is that our experience from the first few steps we have taken can somehow help others as they take theirs. It will be a wonderful convergence as God fulfills this vision for our denomination, but it is also beautiful to see what he is doing in the process of getting us there.