Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The View from the Balcony

Many years ago, when I first was elected District President, I used the image of a person on a balcony to describe the work of the “episkopos” (literally, “over-seer,” “super-visor”). While the action in the church took place on the dance floor of the local congregation, it was necessary that someone see the big picture of the entire “dance.”

This week, while at the Gettysburg Seminary library, I picked up a copy of Pathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations, by Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon (Alban Institute, 2008) [Click Here for reference] and see that they use the same image for what they call the “Balcony Team”. The Balcony Team plays an important role in the process of missional renewal. In a congregation a balcony team:
  • keeps a big picture view of the congregation and its journey through renewal
  • helps the congregations leaders continually reflect on how their congregational life can contribute to achieving its vision
  • encourages and supports leaders in making needed changes
  • monitors the congregational “temperature,” (satisfaction, conflict) keeping the board apprised of the impact of renewal efforts on the congregation.
  • keeps the vision before the congregation and monitors the actions against the adopted values
The concept is this: If you go to a dance and spend the entire evening on the dance floor, you’re aware of only what happens in your immediate vicinity. You focus your energy on dancing—and on not colliding with the people next to you. At the end of the evening you might come home thinking, “What a great dance! Tons of people, wonderful music.” If you’d gone up to the balcony, you would have seen something different. All the people were clustered at the far end of the hall away from the band, many sat on the sidelines, and most danced only when the music was fast. By viewing the proceedings from the balcony you’d come away with a very different perspective of how the evening went.

I remember working conferences with Shelby Andress from Search Institute, where she would appoint certain people to be “village philosophers”. They would simply wander around during the day and then report to the group from time to time on what they saw happening in the big picture.

Call it what you may, the point is that there needs to be a group that looks at the broad perspective of how the renewal effort is going in the congregation as a whole, how it might be improved, and what people are not being reached. They are the bearers of God’s vision and the trustees of God’s values. This could be the church council or the board of elders, but the idea of an independent “balcony team” may be even better.

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