To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. – 1 Cor. 9:22
Lois Askvig stood in the shadow of her husband first in his recovery and then in his ministry. Grateful for both his transformation and his wife’s undying support Al entered into congregational team ministry as a powerful voice and champion for prevention and recovery. Now after eight years this ministry is still going strong. No longer helping organize from behind the scenes, Lois has become the guiding force at Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Here are some of her key insights in sustaining congregational efforts.
“No one is forced to do anything they are not able to do, do not feel qualified to do, or do not have the time to do”, declared Lois, parish nurse at Grace Lutheran, “But that does not mean I do not prompt people into different roles or find people willing to take on different responsibilities.” A congregational team functions more effectively when all of its members have a role to play and each accepts responsibility for the work and life of the ministry.
Over the years the Faith Partners team has had four team facilitators. The first team facilitator helped initiate this ministry by using his passion to move through the initial congregational resistance. The next leaders helped organize and stabilize the ministry and finally the current leadership has helped integrate the ministry into congregational structure and life.
Supportive Congregational Leadership
Lois describes, “When we first started, the senior pastor, feeling it was not important, wanted no part of this ministry. It took our associate pastor’s insistence and persistence to initiate the team ministry. Fortunately, we have had the support of successive senior pastors.” Clergy support is critical. A ministries’ staying power is the capacity to weather various staff transitions and a congregation’s changing priorities.
The early opposition helped create greater resolve and commitment for the ministry and a better appreciation for changing congregational needs. Activities have flourished with regular communication with the pastors, a presence on the church council, and regular reports to the congregational leadership. Articles in the monthly newsletter keep this ministry in the consciousness of congregational life.
Grace Lutheran has provided continued education for the team, the congregation, and other Faith Partner teams since the beginning using members from Twelve Step programs to local teen drama to prevention specialists to treatment professionals. These educational events have kept the Faith Partners team ministry visible. New volunteers for the team are a wonderful by-product of this exposure.
Grace Lutheran conducted their first congregational survey in 2000. In late 2006, the survey was repeated. The congregation urged the team to continue programming (82%) and keep the ministry alive (98%). The results were presented to the congregation and the church council after the last recovery worship service in February 2007. Seeking ways to improve, the team also evaluates each event. Lois’ evaluation, “Recovery has changed individual and family lives and the church is a big part of their on-going healing and recovery.”
One cornerstone ministry activity is the recovery worship service. The first year Lois recalls overhearing a member say that the service would not be worth attending. The team decided to not promote this service ahead of time but let people experience it as a part of congregational life and not something held up as unique or special.
A focal point of the service is the sermon and testimony. A moving dialogue sermon with the pastor and a recovering member on the team and a pastor’s personal experience walking with a family through the process of awareness, education, referral, and eventually recovery were both memorable. The pastor recalled how everyone was changed and transformed through the process. After one recovery worship service an inspired visitor volunteered to join the team.
“You cannot push a rope very far,” Lois continues. Youth prevention activities were one of the team’s initial goals. Over the years with gentle prodding and assurance of the team’s support the activities started to take place. The first activity, a teen drama presentation addressing situations concerning alcohol and other drug use, occurred at a weekend retreat.
This activity has become institutionalized into youth ministry life. Well received by both parents and youth there is now mandatory youth attendance and parent involvement is strongly recommended.
What used to be an area of strong resistance is a solid ministry foothold. In fact, the new youth director is an enthusiastic team participant promoting, along with the Christian education director, the team’s programs and progress in the monthly newsletter.
This ministry does not require a lot of money. Contributions are made to a church account, not a budget line-item, paying for resource materials and speaker honorariums. Donations received at the recovery worship service provide ministry funding for the year. Offerings have increased three or fourfold over the years. Extra donations are given to Faith Partners for their continuing work. Mission level giving provides an opportunity for Grace Lutheran to contribute beyond their individual congregation to support new congregational teams across the country. This arrangement has the blessing of the pastor and the congregation.
Relationship with Community Resources
A literature rack with community services has been another cornerstone of the team’s efforts. Refilled frequently, this literature rack communicates three things, 1) It is OK to have this information available, 2) there are resources offering help and hope, and 3) these resources can positively affect lives. Relationships with community resources have produced greater awareness, educational opportunities, and assistance in the referral process.
Lois recalls one congregational member’s story of transformation. Impressed by the literature rack’s presence, he used one of the resources to enhance his on-going recovery, and eventually approached the team to get involved. He later served as team facilitator and when he moved to another community he helped initiate this ministry in his new church. Lois and he continue to communicate and maintain a mentoring relationship with each other.
An old Twelve Step Program adage states ‘you cannot keep it unless you give it away’. Grace Lutheran team members have helped other congregations start a team ministry. Lois also educates her parish nurse colleagues on the ministry benefits to individual and family health as well as the whole congregation. Several Lutheran congregations now plan programs together to strengthen community efforts.
Even though the goal in sustaining these congregational efforts is creating a “ministry of presence” it is not uncommon to measure success by the number of people who attend events. This does not appreciate the accumulative effects of consistent work. Lois concludes, “This ministry is humbling in that it demands us to remain faithful in the face of fear, frustration, pride, ignorance, and despair. What we do in those instances will truly measure the ministries’ success and the ability to sustain its efforts. Our hopefulness comes from sticking to the task”.
–Grace Lutheran Church, Apple Valley MN