As a leader or a member of a Life Team, have you ever tried to host a life-affirming event and gotten shut down? Have you faced unexpected resistance getting the Team off the ground? Those questions might describe your experience exactly, or at the very least, can serve as signposts and warnings for people just getting ready to start a Life Team in their church. Wherever you are on this spectrum, this article may spare you some pain and help you navigate the dubious waters that surround life-affirming ministry. You must remember that until you have built the trust you need in order to have a thriving ministry that champions life, many people will suspiciously regard you as the typical "pro-lifer."
We suggest that you earnestly seek to become acquainted with, and build trust with, your stakeholders and gatekeepers — and especially with those who fall into both categories.
Identify the stakeholders and gatekeepers
Stakeholder here refers to someone who holds influence in the life arena, often closely related to abortion and other end-of-life issues. A stakeholder's influence is determined primarily by their expertise and experience. Here are some examples of stakeholders:
Can you see the common themes of expertise and experience? Because life ministry revolves around those in imminent peril (think abortion ministry), people with some kind of medical background suddenly possess more influence than those who do not. Similarly, because life ministry is replete with theological motivation and requires personal and gentle interactions, those with theological and/or counseling training are often perceived to be stakeholders, regardless of whether they see themselves as such!
Gatekeepers here refers to those who hold sway over a church office, church structure, outreach, and so on. They may sit on a Board that needs to approve an outreach or budget, and in general, they occupy some position of leadership, whether official or de facto. Here are some examples of gatekeepers:
The common theme here isn't so much expertise and experience — but rather position and proximity. Gatekeepers are often the main line of defense to keep the pastor's schedule from getting too hectic. They screen phone calls from people who may become time-sponges. They put the stamp of approval on new business for the trustees' agenda. In a very real sense, these people must be "swayed" before anyone else can be.
So, with those two categories of people on our radar and those definitions in mind — how do we use that information to build trust? And why is trust important? Let's start with that second question.
Why trust is important
If you attempt to establish a Life Team in your church with the approval of the gatekeepers but without the approval of the stakeholders, you may be resourced, you may be approved to do the outreach, but you may find that others are skeptical about joining the Team. They trust the expertise and experience of the stakeholders, and if you don't value and consider stakeholders' insight, you're likely to find that neither stakeholders nor others will value or support your outreach.
On the flip side, if you have the support of the stakeholders but not the gatekeepers, you might inadvertently create a ministry that appears to be kicking against the vision of the church. Additionally, budgeting may not grant you sufficient resources to be successful. You can imagine how frustrating this can be! You may not be able to get information about your outreach to the church email list, or be allowed to mention your outreach in the church bulletin, or make announcements on Sunday mornings. In other words, much of the needed support comes through structures that are already in place — structures gatekeepers are already utilizing, and likely managing.
Where do we start?
1)Locate overlap of the two groups
You want to identify people who are both stakeholders and gatekeepers. This might be someone who has a counseling degree (a stakeholder) who is also the pastor's wife (a gatekeeper). It might be an EMT (a stakeholder) who is also on the Board of elders or deacons (a gatekeeper). People such as these are likely to be your strategic priority for building trust. Such key people can likely either sink or launch your ministry, as whatever they say or do in relation to your Team greatly influences others in the church.
2)Build trust, patiently
Building trust takes time and requires your patience. Please read our previous blog to learn more about how to build trust with those in your church.
Implementation of these suggestions requires not only time but also consistency. The gatekeepers need to see that you are rooted in the gospel and not in anger. They need to see that you can competently and successfully grow something that starts small, and make a significant impact. Your patience will likely be tested, but the goal is worth it! You are not starting a Life Team simply to stop abortions (important as that goal is!), but also to display love for God and for those in need in all aspects of the life arena.
What do you think? Who are some other gatekeepers and stakeholders? How about examples of people who fill both roles? Please comment below or share on Facebook to get a discussion going!