INTERVIEW: Cathi Linch, LifeChurch Redefines Short-Term Missions

In a previous interview with Brian Fikkert of the Chalmers Center, I was pointed toward LifeChurch as an example of a church committed to detoxifying their approaches to charity, specifically in reference to short-term missions.

LifeChurch is a multi-site church with 22 campuses stretching across seven states drawing in approximately 65,000 worshippers each Sunday. With a significant online presence and commitment to developing redemptive technologies that equip all churches, you just might have a piece of LifeChurch in your pocket right now - the YouVerson Bible app.

One of the board members for the Chalmers Center is Cathi Linch, who is LifeChurch's Financial Operations Leader and Treasurer as well as one of the core leaders in their Global Missions Strategy. Cathi agreed to share with Charity Detox the story of how LifeChurch was able to successfully navigate the disruptive process of detoxifying charity.

Our conversation offered one of the most important elements for successfully making it through the process of detoxifying charity: leadership - specifically leaders who possess conviction and the skill of organizational management



We don’t need a different missions strategy, we need a different paradigm.
— Cathi Linch

When LifeChurch had about 15,000 members they envisioned one of the driving forces for their continued growth and development to be a more robust commitment to short-term missions. However, at that time, only 1% of their members were actively engaged in STM. So, they got to work creating some of the most innovative approaches to STMs that one could imagine. As they dreamed and strategized, though, an important realization dawned on them. It wasn't their strategy that needed fixing, it was their paradigm.

The leadership team at LifeChurch had been introduced to three books: Lupton's Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, Fikkert and Corbertt's When Helping Hurts, and McNeal's Missional Renaissance. As they read through these texts together, they came to the realization that they could no longer do what they had been doing.

We knew it was the right thing to do. We knew there was going to be fallout, but we were committed to doing it anyway.
— Cathi Linch

Navigating the disruptive process of detoxifying charity requires leaders that know that this is not simply about making improvements on an already good model. Leaders that can create lasting change know that accepted models of charity can no longer be practiced, and they know that it would be better to do nothing at all than to continue on the same path. Cathi and LifeChurch did not simply find good ideas to improve STMs, they discovered truths that required them to put an end to the old and innovate the new.        



Forget about charity and STMs for a moment. Detoxification is about change management more than it is about anything else. Whether the context is business, government, or a family system, navigating change requires a particular skill set. It is not enough to have the awareness that model "A" is unhealthy. It is still not enough to innovate a compelling model "B" for people. The real test for the detox process is in getting from A to B. That messy middle is the discipline of organizational change. LifeChurch's team of leaders possessed the acumen in this area to make change successful and sustainable. I share with you 4 lessons learned from Cathi about how LifeChurch managed the disruptive process of change.

  1. Anticipate pushback and have a plan to engage it in healthy ways. The leaders of LifeChurch knew that people would be unhappy. There is a lot of emotion tied up in what people are currently doing. They had staff members that did not really understand and staff members that passionately disagreed. They faced questions about their faithfulness of biblical mandates (ie. "go into all the world"). They knew a vocal minority would oppose their vision. They planned to have personal conversation with every one that had questions or concerns. They appointed the staff member with the most natural and personal connection with the concerned member to speak with them. They also were ready and able to help members transition to other places where'd they find what they were looking for. There is not way to get around the pushback, but you can plan for it. You can also reduce it if you...
  2. Educate in a careful and inclusive ways. LifeChurch's leadership had a long time to read, discuss, wrestle, think, learn, and grow. They knew that they could not simply come out of that with a decision they dropped on their people. They had to respect them enough to offer them the same careful process of education. They could not give in to the temptation of arrogance for people who haven't learned these things yet. So, LifeChurch first spent a year with the staff from all their campuses studying When Helping Hurts. They gave them room to doubt, challenge, and question the material. They worked through it until they were on the same team. Then they created a video curriculum that all of their small groups would use to bring the rest of the congregation along. People need to know that they are included in the thinking and decision making process. Top-down decision erode trust and do not embody respect.  
  3. Be guided by principles that protect the process. The anxiety of conflict and the stress of change can easily derail the process. Good leaders have to know when and where they can compromise and where and where they cannot. Without a clear set of rules, a working filter, and some agreed upon guidelines, the process will be thwarted. They came up with 5 principles that would serve as their guide. Whatever decisions were made, programs implemented, partnership created, etc., that had to fit into these rules. It has been tough and it has limited what they can do. They know, though, that it is better to do less well and responsibility than to do a lot.
  4. Lead with a vision of where you are headed not with a posture against where you've been. This is the one lesson that LifeChurch learned after the fact. They discovered that something was terribly wrong and could not go back to the status quo. They did not know, though, where they were headed! So they led with a posture of what they were against rather than with a vision for what was ahead. Because they were skilled at leading well, they still managed to moved forward and find their new models. However, Cathi reflected on the need to give people a compelling vision for what is ahead to get them on board.

This is going to be hard. Your leadership team has to have an absolute commitment to the need for change. They have to be committed to leading and leading with a skill for managing the disruptive, emotional, and conflict-ridden process of change.





Posted on March 13, 2015 .