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.