What Are Your Needs?
by Brian H. Hughes (January / February 2000 — Volume 16, Number 1)
Addressing pertinent needs was one route in helping to fashion an Asian ministry in an Anglo congregation
"No" I answered Mr. Kim, a Korean lay leader who was part of an independent mission congregation, "I don't think the congregation is interested in renting space. I personally don't like that arrangement, starting out our relationship as one of contract, of law. I don't like what it says about our understanding of the church."
"But I'm thinking," I continued, "that I would welcome a partner in ministry. Go back and tell your pastor I would welcome him as a guest and hope there would be ways we could work together."
"What does that mean?" Mr. Kim replied.
"I don't know. Let's find out together," I answered. So began our multicultural outreach. Or did it?
I'm not entirely convinced we engage in multicultural ministry in Orinda, California, though from the outside it probably looks that way. Our Sunday school classes are now one third Asian, and our combined confirmation program is half Anglo and half Asian. Five years ago we numbered four children in worship and of that impressive number two of them were my own kids. During Easter 1999, there were 79 children in worship, including 35 Korean.
Obviously Mr. Kim's pastor, Dr. Paul Chung, and the congregation did join us. Dr. Chung has begun the candidacy process for joining the clergy role of the ELCA. Earlier this spring, he toured places such as Wittenberg, Germany, the Lutheran World Federation headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and Taize, France with 14 of his former doctoral students.
Most of these students are also pastors of independent Korean congregations in Northern California, and all have expressed interest in learning more about Lutheran theology and liturgical worship. In the near future we're hoping to add a Chinese American pastor to our team, preferably someone from Hong Kong. 1
Still, I can't say we self-consciously engage in multicultural ministry. Rather, the we are creating a team that self-consciously engages Total Quality Ministry (TQM). I think there's a fundamental difference. I further believe the TQM process could profoundly impact how we structure multicultural ministries for the ELCA in our future.
First a little history: Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church is the product of a six year-old merger. Like some other congregations, the two pre-merger predecessor churches were declining numerically, financially, and physically.
In 1993 they were ready to make a change and thus members of the two congregations made a bold decision: "We will merge and make a final stand." The decision was bold in that Orinda is 90 percent unchurched.
Until recently Orinda boasted the highest per capita income in the Bay Area. High tech industries have shifted that honor to elsewhere in Northern California, but Orinda is still comprised mostly of CEO's, company presidents, engineers, physicians, lawyers, financial advisors, University of California at Berkeley professors, and the like.
Smart, well educated, and with high personal incomes, residents fit well Schleiermacher's "cultured despisers" of religion. How do we share a message of good news and grace to a community filled with people critical of Christianity's claims? How do we attract individuals into our Christian community when the beach, the mountains, and all other manner of Sunday activities compete for their time? Enter Total Quality Ministry. 2
Total Quality Ministry is little more than the principles of Total Quality Management translated into congregational life. A TQM process seeks to determine an individual's needs and then seeks to meet them with excellence.
The feedback mechanisms for determining how accurately an organization has met real needs is probably the second most important piece of implementing TQM. The most important piece is one of mind-set: "We are concerned about others and will do what we must to meet their needs."
Question of Needs
Before discussing how TQM has played out in Orinda, I think it is important to step back and address the oft-spoken concern about so-called "consumer driven" ministries. Whether it's understood as "dumbing down" or "selling out," there seems to be a visceral reaction whenever TQM-styled language is used in the church.
When I've used language like "who is the target audience and what are its members' needs?" at public meetings, I find myself having to defend my Lutheran roots or my level of Christian discipleship.
Though I try to be supportive of church efforts beyond the congregation, I've lost count of the number of officially sponsored conferences or convocations I've attended which seem to have been primarily designed to bash mission efforts based on finding and filling needs.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, I don't find this a new phenomenon in the church. Asking "What are the needs?" and "How can we serve?" have been part of my understanding of mission since when I first thought I would spend my life in urban ministry.
While a student at Gettysburg Seminary in the early 1980's, I took advantage of their House of Studies program in order to study in Washington, DC. I wanted to spend time at Catholic University as part of my education, but I also wanted to work with Dr. John Steinbruck at Luther Place Church. One thing led to another, and John asked me to join him as a part-time student assistant for the year.
In the late-1970's Luther Place congregation had begun a rather unique ministry for homeless women in the center of our nation's capitol. The overall theme of Luther Place's outreach was rooted in hospitality, of welcoming the stranger among us.
Just a few weeks into my working with John, I was required to attend the annual meeting for seminarians for the old Maryland Synod of the LCA. During a break, a member of the vocations committee pulled me aside and said something like, "You know, it's probably not a good idea to work with John. It will go badly for you in the examining panel."
I asked him what that was all about and he replied, "John's ministry is out on the edge and not many understand what he's doing. They don't understand his emphasis on hospitality and many think he's too far out there." Having been intrigued by Luther Place's strong homeless ministry, I ignored the advice and went on working for the congregation.
By the way, the warning was correct. It did go badly for me in the examining panel. The concerns seemed to have had little to do with theological expertise or pragmatic pastoral ability. While seated before the examining panel, I could almost see the hands come up to the ears every time I used the word "hospitality." "You will be called to Word and sacrament ministry, not hospitality" was something I seem to remember hearing. Among the mission oriented I did hear a few, "Hmm...interesting…"
When encountering resistance to "needs"-based mission, I remind myself I've heard it before. The notion that we are freed by the gospel to care for others is, I believe, deeply rooted within a Lutheran ethical praxis we might call "hospitality" and is at the heart of TQM ministry.
When I sit with the council members at Holy Shepherd and say things like, "Who are the customers here, both internal and external?", they immediately understand what that means from their corporate life. "How do we insure that others feel welcomed and their questions are answered?" is standard fare for them.
Admittedly, the various companies employing council members have an overall objective of profit, but it's my experience the lay leadership of the congregation is quite capable of understanding the distinction between their work environment and our collective efforts to spread the gospel and transform lives as a congregation.
Given that the lay leadership can immediately embrace the secular language, it's a rather short step to add a theological basis from Matthew 25. "Where is Christ here and how can we serve?" When we internally ask, "Who is the target audience?" the actual question is, "How do we see Christ in others and how are we called to respond?"
As suggested above, it's my sense the oft-times negative reaction to TQM language around our church isn't new. The language itself might be different, but the concepts have been with us for years. For me, TQM helps put a systematic framework around a method of mission I've come to know as hospitality.
At Luther Place we found ourselves worshipping with homeless women. On Capitol Hill, where I was primarily called to evangelize young professionals who worked for members of Congress, we packed the place because the Church of the Reformation was also open to meeting the needs of the community.
Listening to people where they are and then reaching out based on discovered needs has always been an effective mission strategy. Helping a congregation's members grow as disciples to the point they put the needs of guests before themselves (or at least on the same footing) has been part of mission education for decades.
How Change Occurred
Bringing a church to a new level of openness is not an easy task. Even when the process is gradual, it generally entails a major transformation of a congregation's self-understanding as a gathered community.
The seeds for transformation in Orinda were sown during the merger. Congregational leaders knew they had to change the way they "did" church. They knew they had to rethink their way of welcoming strangers, as well as how they gathered around Word and sacrament. The goal was to become a gathering of baptized members who understood their primary reasons for assembling were not only to receive Word and sacrament, but to be the body of Christ in the world through service and hospitality.
There were significant barriers for our congregation. One of the most difficult pieces of change was moving from a "permission seeking" to a "permission granting" organization. Moving power and authority away from the council to the committees and eventually to ministry teams were major shifts. We've had to think through how we would govern and manage our dreams.
I likened our early efforts to "planning by temper tantrum." Changing that mindset wasn't fun, but once a significant number of the leadership and membership understood the TQM principles, the transformation happened rapidly.
"Who is the target audience and what are their needs?" The answers to those two questions had already begun to make an impact before Mr. Kim walked through my door looking to rent space.
The congregation has seen a Christian preschool go from teetering near closure to finding itself full. Our Valley Adult Day Care Center, a program for persons in the early stages of memory loss, opened its doors in direct response to a member's stated concerns about her husband. There is functional interaction between these two programs as the preschoolers paint pictures with the grandmas and grandpas. The congregation started a contemporary worship service and has hired a part-time retired pastor to fill a visitation need. These ministries are in addition to opening the doors to numerous community organizations.
When Mr. Kim first approached our congregation, we were already well versed in asking TQM questions and thus, the leadership of the council didn't require merger nor were they interested in becoming landlords. Tenants cannot be guests. But we asked, "what can we offer and how can we work together?"
Hospitality ministry assumes welcoming a guest will change the host. Guests have stories to tell and, in our case, our Korean guests have had some wonderful stories and gifts to offer.
We discovered that while working on his Doctor of Theology degree in Switzerland, Dr. Chung had worked with a number of German Lutherans. Part of his background material for his thesis explored the spiritual formation of Martin Luther and John Calvin.
His second dissertation traced the history of liturgical worship and its possible impact on Asian spirituality. Later published in Korea, it has become a current best seller.
Before we met, I had no way of knowing that Dr. Chung had became convinced of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I also knew nothing of his growing interest in liturgical worship as a means of expressing a traditional Asian spirituality.
In the spring of 1999, Dr. Chung quit teaching spiritual formation and direction at the San Francisco Theological Seminary to concentrate full-time on his growing ministry. In welcoming this stranger and his congregation, we have been given a chance to learn much in the area of spirituality and contemplative prayer.
In the months we've worked together we've discovered multiple target audiences within our mutual ministries. Dr. Chung is currently offering a liturgical worship service in Korean. However, the young children of his congregation are culturally oriented toward becoming "Californians" and generally aren't interested in worshipping in Korean. Our Sunday school is offered in English, and they feel right at home with their fellow Anglo students. Korean and Anglo teachers continually express support and excitement as they have come to value their time together in the classroom.
This past summer we invited a highly talented contemporary worship leader to join us and almost immediately young Korean musicians offered their talents. On the other hand, there are Korean UC Berkeley students who are worshipping partially at the contemporary service and partially at the Korean service. This group is "caught between two cultures" and feels a need to worship at both.
TQM is about meeting needs with quality and service. Thus, these multiple needs within a culturally diverse ministry can be met by thinking outside the box of one kind of ethnic specific mission outreach. Each group has needs, including multiple needs within each ethnic community. These range, for example, from those who appreciate a very traditional worship service, to those who are more comfortable with contemporary forms, to those who are caught between Anglo and Asian culture.
Embedded within the TQM process is an understanding of teams and their effectiveness in providing service. As these various cultural needs arise, our internal management and governance structure (council and staffing patterns) allow us to quickly pull together the leadership required to meet a particular need.
Synergistically working together in teams, asking about needs amid our growing cultural diversity, we can share our strengths as well as reach out in new ways. I don't think any of us know where this will eventually lead.
Once Dr. Paul Chung becomes an ELCA pastor and his congregation is ready to come into the ELCA, will we have to merge? Is it possible to have two distinct ELCA congregations at the same site? What if we are able to add a Chinese outreach along the same model? Can we have three ELCA congregations that share space and ministries as a team?
The use of TQM process always begins with the goals and then designs the structure required to meet the stated purpose of the organization. As this model continues to unfold, I'm sure there will be more discussion and conversation.
I'm convinced it's a model that can guide mission outreach across the ELCA into the next century. It can become the basis for a Year 2000 ministry.
Brian H. Hughes is pastor of Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church, Orinda, California. He has a doctor of ministry degree in Christian education, specifically Christian Parenting Education.
1. As this goes to print, we are in conversation with the Rev. Dr. Royan Yuen and Tony Wong of Life Lutheran Church, an ELCA Cantonese congregation located about 7 miles north of us in Pinole, California. We are mutually exploring the potential for a Chinese satellite outreach ministry in Orinda.
2. In 1996, Holy Shepherd received a Lutheran Brotherhood grant as part of a pilot TQM training program. Steve Schey from Community Church of Joy in Phoenix, Arizona (and co-author of Total Quality Ministry), trained our council and TQM team.