Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Church Leaders Can Learn from Lou Holtz

            Recently, I heard an interview with Lou Holtz legendary football coach. He told the following about his development as a leader.  When he left as assistant coach of a nationally ranked program to become head coach for the first time at William and Mary University, he was full of certainty that the success his previous school had achieved would guarantee success in his new position.  “Unfortunately, I failed to realize that William and Mary had more Marys than Williams,” he said laughingly.  The team was a complete failure his first year.

            He went on to say that in the off season he sat down and took stock about what had happened and what he had learned.  From this he drew what he called “The Three Principles that have guided me all my life as a coach and leader of others.”  What were these?
1.       Always do the right thing.  He shared that a leader can never compromise his or her integrity in either the pressures of success or failure.
2.      Give the best you can of your gifts and abilities.  At William and Mary he simply didn’t have the talent that his previous program had.  He could not ask his players to be other people.  He could ask them to give the best of what they had.  He learned to know this about himself and his players.
3.      Always show others that you genuinely care for them.  He not only applied this to himself but to all the young people under his charge.  He taught them to always show others respect and that they truly cared.   

          I could not help but apply these insights from Coach Holtz to our context as leaders of Christian communities.   First, I thought about the number of situations where I had seen clergy fail because for some reason (or rationalization) they had lost their essential moral compass.  “Act with integrity in the moment” is something we must always live by.  Is there any better description of Jesus or the Saints than that they acted with integrity in the moment; they did the right thing.  I would content that at no point in American history has our community more needed its religious leaders to model this truth.

            Second, I have to admit that here have been many times in ministry that I have felt that I could be the right priest and leader if only I had the right congregation.  I have had to learn, like Coach Holtz, that we only get the people God gives us.  I believe that the shortening length of tenures of clergy in the past 30 years reflects this quest of many of us to find a geographical cure from our present lack luster people.  We only need to look at the Twelve Apostles to be reminded that Jesus built his Church on fairly ordinary people.  A friend of mine used to joke that “it is hard to fly with eagles when you work with turkeys!”  Yet the truth is that we are given who we are given.  In our theology, we believe that God has given to the local community the spiritual gifts and fruit to carry out what God wants in that place. 

            Third, as I often say to clergy at conferences and other occasions, “The ministry is about people, and people need to know that you, as a leader, genuinely care for them.”  Today, I find many clergy who think ministry is about ideas, theology, or some cause.  Some think it is about emails and blogs.  Some apparently even think it is about our success and careers.  Think about this for ourselves.  We have all known people, maybe even leaders, who initially fool us into believing that they really care about us.  However, we learn quickly and sometimes painfully the truth that they did not.  Genuine care is long-lasting.  This is why I think that the long-term pastor is often so effective at influencing a Church.  John Maxwell is famous for saying, “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  Amen to that!

            Let me close by pointing out that Coach Holtz never described his success as vested in a system, a strategy, or a way of organizing his teams.  He described it in being a model and in relationship to others. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Kind of Staff Person Should You Hire?

Skills and competency are essential, but before you hire someone there may be a more important question to ask yourself
If you are the Rector of a program size church, one critical issue you face is the hiring of new staff members.  Of course, smaller churches have staff too, but these are different from the staff of larger churches.  Large churches often have staff members that have responsibility for significant areas of congregational program and ministry. 
Over the years, I have hired staff and assisted other clergy in this task.  Of course, there are critical issues such as position description, compensation, expectations and the like that are important, however I think there is a much more fundamental question that the Rector should has herself before starting the search process.  “Do I want to hire the best and brightest person for this work, or would I rather have a competent person who can carry out responsibilities, but who will remember that I am the best and brightest person in this organization?”  Let me explain.
I have noticed that there is a fundamental attitude in leaders about how they see themselves in relationship to the people they hire.  For people like Bishop Claude Payne, my boss for over nine years, the critical issue was hiring people who shine out in their work. (Let us call this kind of person, the A Type Leader.)  People like Bishop Payne operate with a broad sense of delegation, delegating authority as well as responsibility.  They expect staff to perform to high standards and to take the initiative when needed.  They believe that compliments and achievements of their staff reflect positively on them.
For other leaders, the attitude is quite different.  They are very concerned that they are seen as the center or primary person of their organization.  (I will call this person, the B Type Leader.) They also delegate, but mainly responsibility, not much authority.  Personally and emotionally, they are uncomfortable when members of their staff act independently or take the initiative.  They can be uncomfortable when staff members are complimented or shine forth. 
Now, I want to be clear.  I have known very effective leaders of both kinds, but what I am suggesting here is that it is best to know which kind of leader you are.  Otherwise, hiring becomes more difficult, and expectations are often unclear or miss-communicated.  When such things happen conflict results.  Conflict with staff is often the most difficult and costly things that can happen in a larger congregation. 
Further, not all potential staff members are comfortable with both these kinds of leaders.  Some, like me, function best with high autonomy.  I work best with an A Leader.  Others like a greater sense of security and direction.  These people prefer a B Leader.
Unfortunately, both A and B Leaders tend to think that they want the best and brightest staff and want them to shine forth.  On three occasions, a B Leader asked me to help prepare a short list of candidates for a parish position.  He told me that he wanted the “best possible” person and I assumed this meant an outstanding person in the area of ministry.  I was confused when the leader chose the person that I felt was least able on the list.  On the other occasion, the leader passed over my recommendations and chose a person that he felt was just better suited for that congregation.  It took me a while to figure out that I had a B leader. 
I can take this further to say that this B Leader had and continues to have conflict with staff members.  He tends to hire people perceived as the best in their field and then becomes unhappy when they are perceived by the B leader to be either insubordinate or disloyal. 
However, I have also known A Leaders that got into conflict with staff members, particularly staff members who were correctly perceived as highly competent, but who wanted clearer direction or were low risk takers. 
I may have said enough in this blog to help you understand which type leader best describes you and how you prefer to operate.  Unfortunately, experience has shown me that some leaders, even quite successful ones, do not necessarily have insight about their own behavior or expectations.  If you are a leader who is unsure about which of these two descriptions best suit you, there are at least three ways to get meaningful feedback on this.
First, give a copy of this blog to your spouse and ask them which type best describes how you operate.
Second, give a copy of this blog to a trusted and competent lay leader, and then ask her which best describes you.
Third, and perhaps the most insightful, give a copy of this blog to a former staff person and ask him which best describes you. 
Did I mention that feedback can sometimes be difficult?  Unfortunately, it is often the best road to insight.   

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Advice Two

What is the best advice you have received as a church leader?  I continue with my second piece of advice given to me that I now pass along to you. 

“Give yourself to the dedicated few.”
When I consult with churches on stewardship, I often get a common question from the new stewardship chair, “What can we do to effectively reach all the people in the church who give so little?”  I know exactly why this question is asked.

The chair person has looked at the data and discovered that 70 to 80% of the income of the church comes from 20 to 30% of the members.  Looking at the large percentage of parish givers who give a very small amount, it is natural to start thinking about how well the church would do if all the people giving little stepped up to the challenge of the primary supporters.   My advice?  “Aim your principle efforts are the dedicated few!”

I have heard a number of different leaders give this advice in one way or another from John Maxwell to Bill Bright.  The most direct was told me by John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Church Movement.  When I told him that I was having trouble getting everyone in my parish to deepen their commitment, he pointed out to me that in scripture we constantly see God working by calling first the most committed to deeper commitment. 

Of course, we also have the example of our Lord himself.  He had many admirers, but he gave most of his energy and time to “the twelve.”  This inner circle became the first leaders of the Christian Movement after the Resurrection.  It helps to remember that Jesus ministered to “the crowd.”  He also taught his disciples. However, he chose the twelve to lead.  I have often noticed clergy who aim their energy and efforts only at the congregation in general (the crowd?)  Lasting and deep change seem to me to come when a leader gives herself or himself to an inner circle of more dedicated people.

As a student of history, I have also noticed that movements that have had long lasting effect usually have a leader who created and disciple an inner circle of dedicated people.   

Over the years, I have constantly rediscovered this principle.  If I want to get something done, or move the congregation forward, I start with the most committed.  This is also true for me.  When faced with a costly or sacrificial decision in my congregation, I first have to deepen my own commitment.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Here is Some Advice

Last year, the Golf Channel started a new series called “School of Golf.”  For each of the first 12 weeks they interviewed some of the most famous golfers such as Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Norman, etc.  Each week, the host asked each professional the same question,   “What is the best advice you ever got as a player?”  The answers ranged from technique to strategy to philosophy and even character formation.  It was very insightful.  

Over the years, I have learned a lot from other clergy leaders.  This blog starts a series on “The Best Advice I Have Been Given” as a clergy leader.   My hope is that each of these blogs will help you in your ministry, and I also hope that they will provoke some reflection on your own leadership.  Let me make this clear.  This is not my wisdom.  None of this is original with me.  This is the wisdom and advice passed on to me by both mentors and fellow clergy.  They are not presented in any particular order, but I want to start with this one.

“As a leader, eliminate the word ‘failure’ from your vocabulary.” 

I have heard and read this expressed in several different ways, but the most helpful came from Pastor Bruce Larson when he was Senior Pastor of University Presbyterian in Seattle and I served St. Luke’s Parish there.  Here is the story he told me that lead up to this advice.

When he was called to become the Pastor of this large and prestigious congregation, he was intimidated by the call.  He was known as an author and teacher for his work in pioneering the small group movement.  However, he had never served as pastor of a large church and worried that he just was not up to the challenge.  One morning at breakfast, he was continuing to discuss this call with his wife and his reluctance to receive it when his teenage daughter looked up from her breakfast and surprised him with a question.  “Dad,” she asked, “What are you afraid of?” 

He asked what she meant, and she went on to ask him what he thought was worst thing that could happen if he took the call.  After thinking about it for a while, he responded with how he could mess up badly, fail, and be asked  to leave.  “So, then what would you do?”  She went on. 

He thought for a while and then said that probably he would find something else to do and life would go on.  Then she finished the surprising comments by observing that “Then you would write a book about what you learned so you wouldn’t really be a failure after all would you?” 

He told me that she started off to school leaving him pondering the wisdom of what had just come from his daughter.  “I have since learned to eliminate failure from my vocabulary as a leader.  Leadership is about being effective and the best way to become more effective is to see your work not about success or failure, but about effectiveness.  If I see all my experiences as an opportunity to learn, then no matter what I face, or what happens, if I learn from it, I will grow as God’s intended leader.”

I took his words to heart.  This does not mean that I haven’t had my share of failures in life both professionally and personally.  I am, after all, a sinner in need of God’s grace.  But as a leader, I have learned that whatever God puts before me is an opportunity to learn and grow. 

Of course, we often learn most from our failures, but I think this an overstated principle.  I know plenty of clergy leaders who seem to have learned nothing from moments of failure but to think badly about themselves.  The problem is that this does nothing to enhance one’s effectiveness, and low self-esteem undermines the essentials of good leadership.  I do know this, being a leader who is willing to learn from whatever comes my way has given me freedom and moments of grace. 

When something doesn’t seem to work, when the challenges seem overwhelming, when I hit another wall, or when my best and most creative ideas seem to go nowhere, I try to stop and ask myself, “Well, what did I learn from this?”  Take my advice, stop seeing your calling and vocation as a matter of success or failure, and you will grow more effective as a leader!  Besides, in a community whose leader ended his ministry on a cross, success may not be the goal. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tiger's Achilles Heel

            Sometimes what a leader sees as a strength is really a weakness that needs change.

Actually, as it turns out, Tiger Woods’ Achilles heel is not his heel, but his knee.  He has had four surgeries to repair damage done to his left knee because at impact in his 120 mile an hour swing, he violently kicks his left knee strait.  This means his left knee has to absorb the full impact of his champion swing.  What does all this have to say about congregational leadership?  It says a lot if you stay with me.

In Tiger’s own book on the golf swing, he describes this “violent kick” as a distinctive part of his way of doing things.  Of course, today sports physiologists shake their heads at what he does and the damage it has caused him, but my point is that he told us 10 years ago his rationalization for doing so.  It is a unique characteristic of his swing.  Despite three well publicized coaching changes, he still repeats this action.  As Lee Trevino said recently, “Either he will stop doing this, or his career is over.” 

Often, I have found clergy leaders, even very outstanding leaders, who have a unique habit (dare I say flaw?) that they justify as simply part of their individual style.  In other words, they view, what is really a fault, as strength.  For example, I remember a Bishop with a notoriously bad temper who explained to me that “When I am mad at one of my clergy, I sure let them know it.  It clears the air, and afterward it is over and done as far as I am concerned.”  Of course, it wasn’t over and done as far as many of the clergy persons on the receptive side of the interchange were concerned, but my main point is that this leader saw such behavior as a unique part of his own style that was beneficial in some way. 

I also remember a vestry person in my first congregation that would regularly tell me her frank opinion about most church issues.  She would fire off a broadside followed by her comment that “You may not like it, but you always know where I stand.”  I can tell you that her husband, her children, and her employees also always knew where she stood, and most had long since stopped caring. 

In the long run, such justifications are just that, justifications.  They are used to rationalize behavior that one should change, but many leaders use their strengths to justify such things as a virtuous part of their personal style.  I know that I have done this.  I am a mild introvert on the Myers-Briggs personality index.  One day a clergy friend pointed out to me (painfully, I might add) that I sometimes used this as an excuse for not more positively emotionally engaging people on Sunday mornings.  At first, I thought my friend was unkind for saying so, and that he did not really “understand me.”  After time, I came to realize that I was using my introversion as a justification for not carrying out one of my primary jobs of a leader, namely, showing people that I genuinely care about them.  I cannot say it was easy to change this behavior.  I would say that realizing that it was a problem, and that I needed to address it, rather than justify it as a part of who I was, became an important step in learning to be a more effective leader.

Let’s face it, personal insight and commitment to change is hard.  God grant it to us, and God give us also truthful friends who care enough to give us such feedback.  Recently, a colleague shared with me a remarkable book about just such issues.  It is Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima.  If you are a leader committed to growing as a leader, you may want make this part of your summer reading.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Good and Bad News for TEC

Statistically there is good news and bad news for the Episcopal Church for the first decade of the 21st Century.  It should help us as leaders focus on the challenge for the future.

This past week, I attended the national TENS Conference (The Episcopal Network for Stewardship) at Camp Allen.  It was a very good event with keynote speakers and lots of workshops.  I came away with a number of good ideas.  If you are not familiar with TENS, visit their website and check out the resources.

I also attended the pre-conference for diocesan folks (figured that I qualified as Dean) and heard some very good presentations there too.  One of these was by Kirk Hadaway who is the congregational resource person for 815 who keeps up with all those statistics from our parochial reports.  I have known Kirk for many years and I have always found his work helpful.

He shared three pieces of information that specifically relate to our work as parish clergy that I want to share this with you.  The first has to do with the overall health of TEC.  For the first decade of the 21st Century, we have lost 20% of our pledging units.  This nearly matches the 19.5% loss of attendance during this same period.  What this says is that it is not primarily the economy that is the source of recent financial woes, but the loss of people. 

The second significant number is good news.  About 30% of our congregations show a 10% growth in membership at this time.  This number is up from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, this does not off-set the nearly 50% of our congregations that are showing a 10% decline.  Kirk added, “Many in significant decline,” to underscore his point. 

Kirk, like me, is also concerned about the significant number of Pastoral Size churches that have now declined to Family Size.  Remember that Pastoral Size congregations usually have full time clergy while Family Size ones do not.  This has a number of significant implications for our community as a whole, but this is a matter for future blogs. 

The third piece of statistical information is that after 20 years of increase in pledges by households running ahead of inflation, the past four years show an alarming trend of decline in financial support by current members. 

What does this mean for our congregations?  One thing is for sure.  We will all have to work a lot harder at stewardship in the days ahead.  This is where TENS can be of tangible help to many of us. 

Here is the great quote of the week that I got from another staff member from 815.  It is from Gus Speth, scientist, environmentalist, and former head of the Yale School of forestry and environmental studies.  It was directed to faith leaders.
I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science. But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that. We need your help."

As we say in my occupation, “That will preach!”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Movement Now

As a follow up to my last blog on movements, I want to share a few thoughts on what I see as the most significant movement in North American Christianity at this time. 
First, you might be surprised to find that I do not think it is the “Emergent Church.”  I do think that the Emergent Church may be a part of it, or a spin off from the main, but largely, I think the Emergent business is way too small to call it a movement.
For the past 20 years, I believe the movement has been The Discipleship Movement.  I would describe the movement this way.  As Christendom continues to crash, and the Protestant consensus that dominated American Church life until the 60’s ebbs, many church leaders have discovered the need to return to disciple making.  I would further describe this as a movement away from Church membership and toward discipleship. 
Discipleship is more than bible study or small groups, but it incorporates these tools.  This movement is the realization that one of the reasons Christianity is failing here in the U.S. is because nominal Christianity is detrimental to the spread of Christianity and nominal Christianity is the inevitable outcome of Christendom and its implied membership. 
All of this was foreshadowed by Bonheoffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” and many of the leaders of this movement have been affected by his pivotal work.  The question behind the movement is “How can we help seekers and un-churched in our world move toward wholehearted following after Jesus as his disciples.  In addition, the Post-denominational moment in which we live, allows churches of many different traditions to contribute to discipleship formation across old divisions.
I would define a disciple as a person who has heard the good news of Jesus Christ and has accepted him as savior who has decided to follow him in a discipline way.  Of course, in Lutheran, Anglican and Roman circles, this is often described with the term “Christian Formation.” 
All of this recognizes the need for Christ’s people to go deeper and more fully live out a life of witness “by word and deed” that is counter-cultural to modern secular consumer driven society.
The key question for the local congregation is to think through how we help form people beyond mere membership questions into this deeper relationship.  I like to say that each congregation needs a clear path to discipleship. 
Not everyone who is seeking or even who is attracted to the church is ready for this deeper relationship, but we should continually invite them to it while living out the values of God’s kingdom. 
How will your congregation meet the challenge of moving beyond membership and toward discipleship?  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What is a Movement?

This was the challenging question put to me by the Reverend Clay Lein when he asked me to be the first guest preacher in a series of sermons asking his members to consider the challenge of being a “Movement not a Mega-church.”  Clay is the Rector of St. Philip’s, Frisco, one our largest and fastest growing Episcopal Churches.  In my sermon, I asked the congregation to consider the early church as The Jesus Movement and what that meant for them and means for each of us.

In addition, all this got me to thinking about various movements that have affected my life, and thinking about how these movements have both challenged the Church and brought new life at the same time.  My American Church History professor at Yale used to point out that we could not tell the history of the church in North America by denominational history, as you can in Germany, France and England, but rather you had to tell it by movements and people.  Historically, he could point to the several Great Awakenings, the Sunday School Movement, and The Social Gospel Movement for clear examples. 

Many of these Movements have had an impact on the way we do church, so I think this a fit topic for Kevin on Congregations, and I am asking you to consider this too, and to stimulate your thinking, I am listing the movements that came to my mind. 

The Oxford Movement: as an un-churched person who became a Christian in a new planted congregation of the Diocese of Dallas, I can start with this movement which has consequently changed the whole nature of The Episcopal Church.  I jokingly like to say that I had to go to seminary to discover that I was a high church person.

The Civil Rights Movement:  I was raised in Texas in a segregated school system.  As I came to adulthood in the 60s, I was profoundly touched by the struggle for equal rights. 

The Women’s Movement:  I can say the same regarding this too.  My seminary class at Berkeley/Yale was the first to have a women D.Min student.   

The Liturgical Movement:  By being in seminary during the era of the Prayer Book Studies, and the transition to a new Book of Common Prayer, my ministry has been framed by much of this movement.

The Holy Spirit or Charismatic Movement:  My “post-seminary” renewal through the Holy Spirit still marks my understanding of personal faith and ministry.  Of course, there were sub-Movements in this too such as Cursillo and Marriage Encounter, both of which were movements too.

The 12 Step and Recovery Movement:  I have been significantly touched by those in AA and my participation in Al-Anon and in Adult Children’s groups.  So have many others.

The Men’s Movement:  I’ve greatly appreciated the contribution of authors in this tradition.  The most outstanding aspect of this was Promise Keepers, but it was not the only expression.

The Small Group Movement:  No doubt, this one has deeply affected North American Christianity. 

The 2020 Movement:  Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to see me list this one especially if you have read my distinction between the 2020 Movement and the 2020 legislation of TEC.

In my next blog, I will list what I consider to be the singular most important movement in the North American Church for the past 20 years and discuss why I think this is so. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Acts of Love Campaign

As I have coached Congregational leaders about stewardship, a frequent question is; what about time and talents? I always give them a few pieces of advice:
1.       Separated it from the financial appeal. This only diffuses the focus on financial stewardship. Financial support for congregations is difficult enough without diffusing the energy around three different things at one time.

2.       Never offer an area of ministry that is not available or is screened by an uncooperative gatekeeper.   When people fill out a sheet that contains the various ministries of the congregation, and they indicate an area of interest, that area needs to be available.  For example, a smaller congregation list for time and talents lay reader. However, the church already has seven lay readers, and adding more lay readers will only mean less opportunity to read. This de-motivates the leader of the lay readers from adding the person.

3.      Always follow up. This is closely related to the above.  A common complaint from many people is that they volunteered for something and no one followed up.  When a person experiences this, they are less likely to volunteer in the future.

In recent years, I've been challenged by the need to get people to sign up for areas of ministry.  Like many of you, I have put announcements in the bulletin and in the newsletter with little or no response.  Part of this can be explained by the high demand on people's volunteer time.  Recently, I gained some new insights into the difficulty of recruiting people for ministry, especially younger people.

First, I was reminded that for those under 50 years of age, membership in an organization is not a destination.  In the book titles “Bowling Alone” the sociologist author contends that many more people are participating in activities but refusing to join organizations.

Second, the younger people are, the more they want to make a difference, a hands on difference.

The combination of these two insights led me to create for the Cathedral The Acts of Love Campaign. Here are the steps I followed in creating and executing this campaign:

1.       I ask all my leaders to develop a one sentence description of what a person does in their area of ministry.  (It was amazing to see that some leaders were not able to do this.)We prioritized the list to one page. This allowed for 15 to 20 items.

2.      We balanced these between internal ministries (benefiting current members) and external ministries (reaching those outside the congregation.)

3.      We communicated the purpose of the acts of love campaign based on the theology of tithing; giving 10% of one's time and talents.

4.      To the left of each item listed, we had one box that indicated an interest in a new area of ministry, and a second box that indicated continuing in an area of ministry.

5.      I set a goal of having 25 to 50 new commitments. We created a thermometer of new commitments and continuing commitments to place in the entrance to our parish hall.

6.  We mailed the sheet to everyone in the congregation along with a reminder sheet that they could keep for their own benefit.

7.  We followed this for one month reminding people to make their commitments, providing additional sheets to those who needed them, and placing sheets at the front and side entrance to the Cathedral.

8.  We had a staff member follow-up all new commitments by communicating to the leader of that area of ministry the contact information on those who had indicated an interest.

9.  We followed up with leaders to be sure that they had contacted the person and invited them to participate.

The next time I do this campaign, I intend to incorporate short testimonies from volunteers in various areas into our Sunday liturgy. I also plan to track these commitments, particularly the new commitments, to see which areas of ministry are of most interest, and which are not. I hope by doing this to find out something about our people’s passions.

At this time we have had 114 new commitments and 116 continuing ones.  Amazing!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Long Tenure (part 3)

I want to finish my series on the long term pastorate with some observations about how congregations often make bad decisions due to the emotional attachment to a former Rector.
1.       Most write job descriptions based on “the skills not found in our former Rector.”  For example, Fr. Smith was a beloved pastor who was very good at visiting the sick, making house calls, and giving one-on-one pastoral care.  Unfortunately, Fr. Smith was not a very good preacher or teacher.  In addition, after 22 years, most of his sermon illustrations had been used plenty of times.  So, when the search committee gets together, they focus on needing a good preacher and teacher.  What they really should have done was start by affirming the skills in the former pastor that they wanted to see continued.  In other words, they wanted a new clergy with strong pastoral abilities who could preach well.
2.      The longer the pastorate, the more novelty seems like a good idea.  This could include such areas as age, theological perspective, personal characteristics and (as mentioned above) skills.  Using Myers-Briggs topology, an INFP is followed by an ESTJ.  Said in regular English, a creative, introverted intuitive is followed by an organized, extroverted administrator.  This looks good in the beginning, but it is not going to wear well in the long run.  (By the way, the tendency to seek opposites seems to almost always be the case in Episcopal elections.)

3.      The grieving process for a congregation – even when people believe the former Rector has stayed too long – is three to five years.  And, some long-time members may never successfully work through their grief!  This is why I believe the Episcopal Church over-estimates interim clergy.  The truth is that no interim ever stays long enough to work through these issues.  This means that the new clergy person will need to see his or her first few years as part of the grieving process and transition before the new pastorate can really begin.

4.      Lastly, we know from research that 50% of all clergy who follow tenures of longer than 15 years are forcefully removed within five years.  The reason is, of course, all of the above.  I often say that congregations fire the new clergy person in the 3rd to 5th year for carrying out the job description given them in the first year. 
While these land mines are predictable, I still remain amazed at what a poor job most dioceses do in helping congregations negotiate these issues.  I am convinced, however, that with careful intervention and guidance a congregation can navigate these issues and, given the chance, will go on to establish a good, long-term relationship with the next Rector.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Long Tenure (Continued)

             In my last blog I introduced the strengths and weaknesses of the long tenure in a congregation.  Generally speaking, I am a strong supporter of long tenures. By a long tenure, I mean 7 to 15 years.

There is evidence that tenure longer than 15 years creates problems for the successor. However, these problems can be addressed by both clergy and congregations if leaders are aware of the issues and are proactive in addressing them.

Several years ago, I heard Lyle Schaller say, "When you follow a long time pastor, it is important to ask yourself what role is available to you as the new pastor?" The departure of the former Rector often creates a void that cannot be filled by a new person. The older the age of the former Rector, and the more that person functioned as "patriarch or matriarch," this is true.  No new clergy person can possibly take on the role that has been created by tenure and age. In all probability, this role has now passed to a lay leader in the congregation. Beware if this person is either the senior Warden of the congregation or the chair of the search committee. This might predict a possible conflict in the third our fourth year of the new Rector.

You might think that the departure of the former Rector has created an opening for the new Rector as leader. Unfortunately, the primary role of leader of the congregation has probably been filled by someone else already too. It will take two or three years following the long-term pastorate for a new Rector to establish herself as a leader. I usually find this transition takes place in the third to fourth year, if it takes place and all.

Schaller suggested that the position made vacant by the departure of the long-term Rector is simply the “shaman of the tribe,” or what we Episcopalians would point to as the priest/sacramentalist of the congregation. Especially after a long-term pastorate, a new priest must take the time to build trust and establish relationships. This means showing up to marry the people who need marrying, bury the people who need to be buried, and baptizing those who need baptism.

Unfortunately, the earned esteem, and respect, and emotional attachment that the years provided to the former Rector have little carryover to the new Rector. The new Rector must take the time necessary to make this happen. Many clergy are not willing to take the time to make this happen.

We need to remember that the former Rector has almost always been seen as a person of religious authority "older and more mature then us." For many members of the congregation, the departure of the former Rector and the arrival of the new Rector, who may be one are two generations younger, now reminds the long-term members of how old they have become. And think of this, doesn't the term Rector really mean a person of religious authority older than I am! 

When I have a friend who is considering following a long-term pastorate, I often asked them this question, "How did you feel about your grandparents?" Many people do not have good feelings or regard for their grandparents.  However, if you enjoyed them, and if you enjoyed the stories they would tell, you may be able to handle the emotional issues and memories that follow a long-term pastorate.

Again, remember the landmine, many clergy who follow tenure of 15 years and longer often become unintentional interims. In my next blog, I want to identify some of the poor decisions that Congregational leaders make in the transition from a long-term pastorate to a new Rector.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Long Tenure

In my next three blogs, I want to share some observations about the dynamics of a long-term tenure, and some of the issues this creates for the congregation when an ordained leader leaves after one.

First, you should know that I am one of the strongest advocates of a long tenures that you will find.  I believe the overwhelming evidence is that long tenures by clergy are good for congregations.  One study revealed that significant growth, for example, often occurs after the seventh year.  Speaking of the seventh year, the Alban Institute considers seven years to be a long-term pastorate.  This is amazing commentary on how the mobility of our society has changed the relationship between priest and congregation.  I remember reading a comment that tenure in the English Church was “One goes to a parish, plants a rose garden, dies 50 years later, and they send someone else!’’ Well, those days are gone.

I would express my general feelings about the value of a long tenure this way.  IMHO, clergy greatly exaggerate what they can accomplish in a congregation in the first 5 years, and greatly underestimate what they can accomplish in the second five years. I once heard a Bishop say that five years is long enough to serve any church, because by five years, every clergy person has pretty much used up their energy and creativity in that congregation.  (Interestingly, that Bishop had never served a parish longer than five years.)   It comes down to this, an adequate clergy leader with tenure has the esteem and relationships that can make significant things happen in a Church, and the longer the tenure, generally, the more this is true.
What then is a good tenure in an Episcopal congregation?  I would suggest 10 to 15 years.  The reason I stop at 15 is because after 15th years a series of dynamics between clergyperson and congregation happen that makes the transition to new ordained leadership difficult, and the longer the tenure beyond 15 years, the harder the transition.  This becomes especially true when the clergy person stepping down is also approaching or beyond the age of retirement.  The combination of age and tenure make for some predictable land mines.
This can be best illustrated by the typical conversation that I have had with Senior Wardens or Search Chairs who have asked my help in managing through the transition.  Early on I would ask, “How long was your previous Rector there?”  A typical response would go like this, “Oh, for 22 (or 25, or 28, or 33) years.”  I would pause and wait, and then came, “Of course, lots of us feel that our Rector really retired about 5 years ago, and that we have been stuck since then.”  What does this express?  A tenure that has lasted beyond 15 years, and the aging of the clergy person both create a dynamic where the beloved clergy person has become a kind of matriarch or patriarch to the people.  The rector can then coast on the good will of the relationships.  Can the departing clergy person do anything to help off-set these dynamics.  I believe she or he can, and the answer is to continue to lead until the day you leave!

Does this mean that I think clergy should never serve beyond 15 years?  Absolutely not!  Although I would suggest that in a better deployment situation, clergy might be given a seven year term with the possibility that, after a review, this term might be extended for another seven year term.  But, I will save discussion on this matter for another blog.  For our purposes in this one, just think of the clergy person who has served for 15 years and is now 61 years of age.  Deployment after around 58 becomes very difficult in our community, so why punish a person for loyal service?  I would simply say that we should be aware of the difficulties that such a long tenures create.  Here is the key issue for this first blog:
The Congregation is normally in decline and is most likely to continue this pattern for a number of years.  There will be a predictable drop in membership especially during the second year of the new Rector!  Why is this? 

First, a large number of “marginal members” will use the departure of the old Rector as a time to change church attachment.  The departure creates a wider back door and many simply exit at that time.
Second, a number of “historically rooted” members will feel disconnected by the former Rector’s departure.  They will become less active and may eventually disengage with the congregation.  Many of these folks will also be close to the Rector’s age and will also retire or move on to their eternal reward, Sun City, Arizona. 

Imagine too that the new clergy person is a generation younger than the one leaving.  This further disconnects the older leaders.   From sermon illustrations to music, the new clergy person will continue to remind older members, not how dear and important they are, but how much they have aged!

Now add to this that most clergy learned in Seminary that they should “clear the roles of the membership” in their second year, and you have set up the new ordained leader to be branded with failure.  It is not failure.  It is understandable, normal and decline should be expected. 

Next blog, I will point out the void created by the long tenured person’s departure that cannot be filled by a new person.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Four Strategies Needed Now

            In my blogs on the seven reasons the Episcopal Church is in decline, I say that “if” we know why we are in decline – start with the current realities – it is possible for us to map a more optimistic future.  Here are four strategies that I think we need now. 

           Please note that when I say “we” that I have in mind mostly leaders on the diocesan level.  I believe that the most effective strategies can be carried out on this level.  Of course, our national office could assist this work by helping to coordinate it, but I am so pessimistic that this will happen that I find any discussion of this too theoretical.  Let’s stick with what local leaders can do.  However, the first item would need to be done by a coalition of leaders beyond the local community.

  1. Create a Mission Training Center (or Centers) for the preparation of missionary leaders:  This training would need three components.  First would be Mission/Apologetics.  Second would be Leadership; this would have a particular emphasis on helping people understand their own leadership style and to use it effectively in the service of the Church’s Mission.  Third would be an on-going follow up to support such leaders in their work including a kind of missionary order for the 21st Century..

  1. Recruit a Younger Generation of leaders:  Train these at the above centers and empower them for ministry to younger generations.  This means that Bishops and Commissions on Ministry especially must abandon the current strategies of waiting for people to come seeking ordination, and begin to search for younger leaders and challenge them to consider ordination.  

  1. Develop a Comprehensive Plan for congregational revitalization: this would include, but not be limited to, assessing readiness for revitalization, providing the right leaders, intervention into dysfunctional congregations, strategies for meeting the needs of our family-size congregations, and developing effective educational materials for the congregational leaders on all levels.  

  1. Develop a Systematic Plan for New Congregational starts; this would include reaching new people groups, developing parallel communities within the same church, and strategies to reach specialized communities.  All this is based on reaching those not currently served by the Church.  (And I will add again that for those of us in North America this must particularly focus on the Latino population.)

Will this work?  I certainly think that there is every reason to believe that just such strategies would work in the sense of helping reverse our decline and re-energizing the Church’s Mission.  

A critical question to ask is where can we predict to find the most resistance to initiating these strategies?  I would suggest the following:

  1. Many of the current leaders at 815.
  2. A number of current Bishops and Diocesan Staff Members who are stuck in current ways of doing things and threatened by suggestions that they change their current behavior.
  3. Many current members of Commissions on Ministry
  4. Most of the leadership of our current seminaries
  5. Leaders of dysfunctional congregations who wish use our current climate of congregationalism to prevent diocesan intervention
  6. All Episcopalians who believe that the Church is doing just fine and does not need systemic change – denial is a powerful human dynamic
  7. Many clergy who prefer the current system of low accountability

A second question is where we will find the momentum and support for these needed changes.  I would suggest some of the following:

1. The increasing financial crisis generated by the on-gong decline in membership, attendance, and the number of congregations

2.  A small but growing group of current Bishops who understand the depth of our current crisis and who want to make a difference for the future.

3.  The leaders of the 20% of our congregations that are healthy, vibrant and mission directed

4.  Current leaders who are willing to be accountable to Mission and have little interest in titles, status, and security.  This includes a number of younger, future leaders who would give their lives to be part of such a movement.  
5.  A core of able lay leaders who are willing to support the needed strategies and are willing to invest financially in making them happen. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

If/ Then

This is the first of a two blogs based on my seven reasons for the decline of the Episcopal Church.  I have received a number of comments, mostly positive, and several very insightful on the seven areas.  I have also received two posts from friends asking why I don’t say more positive things. 

My premise is that in order to do ministry better as a community, we need to understand our present realities.  I certainly do not point to the decline as something I want to happen.  I want the opposite.  I have worked as a priest for 39 years to attempt to build up the body of Christ.  I believe that knowing the present realities, and why we are in decline, gives us the opportunity to plan for a more hopeful future.  I hope that you will agree.

Loren Mead, who founded the Alban Institute, and who spent years building up local congregations, recently spoke to the Washington Area Clergy Association.  His title was “Tidal Changes in the Work of American Clergy over the Past Half Century.”  With the maturity of someone who has lived through this, he offers a very helpful imagery that I want to borrow, that of tidal shifts.  This will give us a helpful context in trying to understand our call of leadership today.

Loren points out that he entered ordained ministry in a time of rising tides, the 50s.  He then shows how he has lived through an immense time of change that has been a time of ebbing tide.  He says that he believes the tide is still going out.  He then gives eight helpful pointers on what ordained leaders should do at such a time.  I do not wish to repeat his points, helpful as they are.  (I got a copy from him by writing Loren, I do not know if there is any intention to publish his talk.)  I want to build on the imagery which I believe is helpful.

My first point is that I agree with Loren in that the forces that a driving much of our decline are tidal in dimension and this means that much of the cultural and social forces driving this decline are beyond our control.  One of his key points then follows, “Don’t take it personally!”  He also warns against thinking there is some magic program out there that will fix the tide.  One cannot fix the tide.  However, leaders do need to adapt to the new realities.  This is absolutely true.

            Also Loren points us that much of our judicatory life and current leaders act as if the tide is still coming in or at least is still at the high mark, when all of us know it is not.  He includes our seminaries in this dynamic too.  This too is absolutely true.  He suggests that the sources for help for clergy and their churches have to come from other places.  My experience is that General Convention and “815” (and the very fact that we have an “815” – the 50s model of a “national headquarters” located in New York) all function in a world that is long past.  I will tell you bluntly that the drastic budget cuts of 2009 are just the first steps in what will be a series of forced changes (one can’t fight the tide) until new leadership find more creative ways of living in the ebb. 

            However, Loren remains optimistic about congregations and the future of congregational life.  I do too.  And you will see that my “if/then” is based on several congregational strategies. 

            My conclusion from all this tidal analogy is that ministry at high tide demanded different skills from clergy than ministry at low tide.  I like to use the insight from John Kotter in his distinction between management and leadership.  When things are stable and going well, Kotter says that management is highly regarded.  In the past 20 years, he points out that leadership is most valued, because in transition and change, one cannot “manage” oneself or one’s organization out of trouble.  In other words, the status quo won’t work.  I like to say it this way; “Running a church well, (doing the Lenten program better this year), and growing and sustaining it are NOT the same thing.”  Unfortunately, our seminaries have taught most of us to “manage the parish” not lead it.

(BTW, I am working on a new book with the working title “Ordained AND a Leader: Parish Ministry at the Beginning of the New Millennium” to deal specifically with this issue.)

Loren concludes with the rightful exhortation to all clergy that the ebb tide means that we must work differently, but that we must also measure our vocation by its faithfulness and not its success.  I would add that the latter is true in both high and low tide. 

In the next blog, I will point more specifically to leadership strategies that address the context of decline that surrounds us.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reasons 6 and 7

My 6th and 7th reasons for the decline of The Episcopal Church both have to do with congregational development issues.

#6  The failure to plant enough new congregations to replace aging, declining, and dying Churches.

At the General Convention in Philadelphia, the Standing Commission on Evangelism offered a resolution that the Episcopal Church aim at a goal of planting new congregations at the rate of 1% of our present number.  Just two months earlier, I had attended a conference of denominational congregational development officers and heard Lyle Schaller offer that denominations need a 3% new church planting rate to maintain themselves.  Of course, fast growing denominations such as The Vineyard plant at a much faster rate, and ironically some of our off-shoot Anglican groups in the U.S. are doing much better too.  So Even if we would have been able to reach the 1% number in those days, approximately 76 new Episcopal Churches a year, we would still have lost ground.  Of course, this is also connects to an earlier point about reaching new ethnic folks by planting new churches among them. 
#7 The failure to develop a systematic approach to the revitalization of present existing congregations. 

There is, of course, a great deal of information on congregational revitalization, and a number of places such as the Alban Institute that can help this process.  My point is that seldom does a diocese create a systematic plan for this.  When I studied the history of new church planting in TEC, I discovered that the most recent period of extensive church planting was in the 20 years following WWII.  This means that many of these congregations went through a predictable life cycle peaking between 1975 and 1990, and that now we have a large number of churches that need planned revitalization.  This is not the same as waiting until such a parish has a serious enough crisis to ask for help.  This is creative and intentional intervention.    A diocese should not wait for leaders in the local community to come to the realization that their church is in decline and needs revitalization or re-visioning. 

As part of this, in recent years we have seen in TEC is a large number of formerly “Pastoral-size” churches (ASA of between 85 and 150 Sundays) decline to “Family-size” ones.  This will have a number of other important impacts on our community. One primary example is ordination because the Pastoral-size church is one able to sustain the services of a full-time seminary trained clergy person.
One last word on these two items: leaders often pit these two issues against one another.  For example, when we started planting new congregations in the Diocese of Texas, we got a great deal of resistance from clergy in present congregations.  They argued that if we invested such money in them, they had greater potential to grow.  However, studies have consistently shown that new plants grow much more rapidly than existing congregations.  More importantly is the knowledge that new plants (a) reach people that present congregations will not reach, and (b) new congregations often discover critical information on reaching new people that, when shared, help present congregations do better at reaching new people.  So, new church planting and present congregational revitalization are parallel and complimentary works not competitive ones.
Next blog, “If, Then” what to do and where to start changing the future of TEC.