Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let Me Explain This One More Time

How do you as a leader mind the gap between your intentions and the consequences? 

One of the most critical issues of leadership on any level in an organization or society is the gap between a leader’s “intentions” and a leader’s “behavior.”  As I have taught leadership and consulted with churches over the years, I have seen this issue repeated constantly.  There also can be a gap between one’s intentions and the consequences.  I want to content in this blog that such gaps are inevitable and that how a leader deals with this issue is directly related to the leader’s ultimate effectiveness.  I should remind my readers that when it comes to evaluating leadership, the key ingredient should be not whether a leader is a good or bad one, but whether a leader is effective or ineffective.   

The Gap
First let me describe the issue more fully.  All humans have a similar characteristic, namely that we see most clearly “our intentions.”  We see less clearly our behavior and its consequences.   

For example, as a parent my intention may be to enable my children to be successful.  What I may not see is that my anxiety for their success may communicate to them that they are not able to take responsibility for their own lives.  I may be overly emotionally involve and as a consequence of my behavior undermining my own intentions.  As I said, this is just natural, I cannot easily observe myself.  The problem gets worse when I am confronted with a disconnect between my intentions and the consequences.  The issue is what I do when I am confronted with this.   

Initially, most of us protect our own egos by simply explaining to someone what our intentions are.  Often, as the gap between intentions and consequences widen, two things tend to happen.  We become more anxious and compensate with justifying and rationalizing by explaining more and more our true intentions.  Meanwhile those observing us become more and more emotionally put off and then begin to surmise, some would say project, what our “real” intentions are.   

Leaders are of course human.   When we extend this natural behavior into an organization and what do we see?  We see a leader presenting her or his intentions and others watching the leader’s behavior and consequences.  The issue for a leader is how we handle the gap, or said another way, how we handle the feedback over this gap.  As I said, most naturally we explain once again our intentions. 

Sometimes this is all that is needed.  Sometimes a leader has simply failed to communicate clearly what our intentions really are.  With better communications, this problem can be helped.  However, this is not always the issue.  Often the issue is that our ego tries to protect us from looking at the gap between what we intended and what is actually happening.  In my experience, if a leader can objectively process feedback about this gap (what I call minding the gap), then make some adjustments in strategies and behaviors, the leader can become more effective in accomplishing one’s intentions and goals.  If you are following me, I will now give some examples.

When I when to work for the Diocese of Texas, if was in the last years of Bishop Benitez’ 15 year tenure.  I quickly realized that the organization of the Diocese of Texas was stuck on several levels.  For example, no one believed more in evangelism than the Bishop.  It was one of the reasons he had hired me.  Yet, the Diocese at the end of his tenure was almost exactly the same size it had been at the beginning of his tenure.  There was a gap between his intentions and the consequences.  What the good bishop did was to deal with this disconnect by simply explaining “once more” his intention to have the Church be effective in bringing new people to Christ.  Many times during those last months of his tenure, I would hear him respond to a challenge by saying “let me explain this one more time.”  Meanwhile his followers had become divided.  There were those who believed his intentions made him a “good leader.”  Then there were others who were frustrated by his inability to receive feedback and tended to see him as a “bad leader.”  These folks would often explain to me as a newcomer what the Bishop “really intended.”   

Or take President Obama for another example.  After watching him as a leader these past six years, it is clear how he manages the gap between his intentions and its consequences. Mostly he explains once again his intentions.  I know this is an area of some passion with partisans loyally and lovingly defending him while critics are more and more questioning his “real intentions,” but step back from this situation and you can see much of our societies’ stuckness.   

I believe the President when he says that his intention in the health care act was to see to it that more of the 40 million uninsured Americans be provided effective healthcare through insurance.  However, when confronted with the failure of the legislation to effectively reach a significant number of those who had not been insured he returns to his intentions.  Add to this that there have been some unintended consequences of the new law.  For example, many lost their insurance despite his promises otherwise.  What did he and his administration do with this gap between intentions and consequences?  Naturally, he explains one more time his intentions.   

Will he be effective in improving the health care system and insuring more of the uninsured during the remainder of his tenure?  It is unlikely given the growing polarization and his inability to mind the gap.  A more creative response would be to admit that such a complex piece of legislation will naturally need to be reviewed and adjusted.  Yet to admit this seems to question the integrity of his intentions.  When reason departs and rhetoric and spin become the end game, it usually means that the leader or leaders have failed to mind the gap.    

My point is this; explaining one more time one’s intentions only further polarizes the situation, confuses many, and adds fuel to those eager to project “one’s real intentions.”  Any casually reading of the internet or visit to talk news programs shows us how sad this has become and why it will take another leader to make the necessary adjustments and strategies that could make the health care act more effective.   

TEC and Its Intentions
Now take the example of TEC’s current national leadership.  As we all know by now, our intentions for the past ten years have been to make TEC more inclusive of others and more able to relate to our culture.  I would suggest that some of the consequences are that we have actually lost lots of people (thus becoming more theological exclusive and we are rapidly becoming less connected to our culture by evidence of our inability to recruit others to our community.  How do our current leaders deal with this?  They explain “once more” their intentions.  Until new leadership emerges that can mind the gap, we will continue to be a stuck community destined to repeat unproductive behavior.  Mostly today our leaders are seen as good by their supporters and bad by their detractors. For me they are mostly ineffective.   

The bottom line for leaders is this.  An effective leader has the ability to mind the gap between our intentions, our behavior and the consequences.  An effective leader is able to receive feedback and process it in effective ways.  The effective parish clergy and Bishops that I have known actively seek feedback (“How am I doing?  How are we doing?”) and makes continual strategic adjustments.  Even more effectively, such leaders actively involve followers in this process of feedback and adjustments.   

This was one of Bishop Payne’s great strengths.  For most of his tenure as Bishop of Texas, he and the Diocese make strategic adjustments while keeping the vision of “One Church United in Mission” before the Diocese.  He effectively minded the gap.  Did he have his distractors?  Yes, of course he did, all leaders do.  However, he was effective in accomplishing his goals because he avoided “having to explain one more time” his intentions.  He was able to use a diverse group of leaders in the process of making effective adjustments to his strategies. 

So, let me ask.  How do you as a leader mind the gap between your intentions and the consequences?  Your ability to do this openly and creatively will determine to a major extent your effectiveness.  Let those who have eyes to see and ears to hear take note. 


Monday, May 26, 2014

Strategies for the Town Parish

How do we presently deal with the aging and declining Town Parish in TEC? 
We send them a part-time or bi-vocational or retired clergy person.  What are the odds that such a strategy will actually grow the congregation? I would say less than 10%.  This means that such models of ministry may be good at maintaining the congregation for a season, but not very good at growing it.
What would happen if a diocese used the following strategy in the redevelopment of a Town Parish?
1.            Reduce the assessment/mission asking to 10% during a stated time of “re-development”
2.            Then train and provide clergy who are willing to make a long-term commitment (at least 5 years)to the parish and community and who are trained in family systems
3.            Create an incentive for the lay members in recruiting new members
4.            Create an incentive for the clergy (in salary and benefits) based on the development and growth of the congregation, this would include outreach ministries (In today’s world.  Most clergy in growing congregations pay the price for much of the growth by not receiving increases in compensation. Most clergy can only get an increase in salary when they move to another parish.
This last of these points to a critical issue about many current clergy who are graduates of Episcopal Seminaries who often share some of the following:
1.            They have been trained in self-care, taking their day off, and considering themselves to be a professional person rather than developing a pastoral heart for people.
2.            They expect “church” to be given to them, they do not believe that they must build up a community and know how to recruit people to it.
3.            They  see no relationship between their ability to recruit and evangelize others and their financial remuneration.  They believe they should be rewarded for tenure alone
4.            They expect to move every 4 to 5 years
5.            They tend to devalue the older/long-tenured members of the congregation
I once asked the Bishop of Oklahoma, who revitalized and grew three Episcopal Congregations in Town/Small Cities, what he would do if he found himself serving a congregation with an average attendance of 30 people.  He said, “I would go out and find other people who did not have a church and recruit them to join our congregation.”  Then he added, “That is what I did in each of the churches I served although they had more than 30 people in them when I started. “
The bottom line to all this is simply that to reverse the trends in our current Town Parishes, TEC needs to radical rethink our strategies and the recruitment and training of clergy to serve them. 
Or we can continue to do what we have always done and continue to get the results we presently get!
 In my next blog, I will discuss the training needed for such developmental clergy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Town Parish Continued

I could go on about the plight of many of our Town Parishes, but allow me in this blog to begin to explore what is needed and what could be done with these churches.  Let’s start with what these churches need in ordained leadership.  What do most Town Parishes need in the clergy who serve them?  I would list the following as crucial:

1.        Like any congregation, they need an ordained leader who communicates an enthusiastic and hopeful vision of God’s Kingdom and the good news of Jesus Christ.

2.       An ordained person who is willing to stay 7 to 10 years in the same church

3.       A person who is willing to become connected to community organizations and activities that are not directly related to church work

4.       A person who functions as a generalist rather than a specialist.  (Think Family Practitioner rather than Internist)

5.       A person who sees the congregation as made up of families and not just individuals (even single people are from families and often relate to others based on their families of origin.)

6.       A clergy person who is willing to spend 15 to 25% of their time with un-churched people.

7.       A person who can relate to at least 4 different generations of people

8.       A clergy person who honors the elders and mentors and teaches others

9.       A clergy person who will marry those needing marriage, bury those who have died, baptize those who need baptizing and trusts that such sacramental acts are opportunities to build relationships with others, rather than a clergy person who will only perform such functions for church members.

10.   A clergy leader who sees the development of lay ministries as more important than their own preferences on the ways things should be done.

11.   A clergy person who does not try to make everyone happy, does not fear conflict, and is effective at facing and resolving conflict and getting people to work harmoniously together.

12.   A clergy person who will give up her day off if a parishioner is having emergency surgery

13.   A clergy person who can honor the pastors who have served before them and leave their successor a healthier and more functional parish than the one they found.

Where would be the best place to teach new and younger clergy how to grow and develop a Town Parish? 

In a mission training center where those who have demonstrated an outstanding ability to do this in a Town setting do the teaching and mentoring.  This does not mean using dearly beloved longer-tenured clergy who love to tell anecdotal stories.  It means using effective ordained clergy who have learned how to develop such churches demonstrated by their record.

In my next blog, I will discuss how we presently deal with such churches and why this is not working!


Monday, February 10, 2014

The Fate of the Town Parish

     With this blog, I start a series on the state and fate of the “town parish.”  By town parish, I mean the Episcopal congregation located in a town of less than 50,000 people and usually the only congregation in the county.  For many years these congregations were the stable support of many dioceses.  For example, in the Diocese of Texas, where I served on Diocesan staff for ten years, our town parishes were some of the earliest congregations planted in the missionary diocese.  They were often the business and agricultural center of the area.  Sometimes church leaders mistakenly refer to these as “rural parishes,” but in the greater church scene in North America, TEC has few actual rural churches.  These smaller rural congregations are almost always family size, less than 50 in attendance, and are often located in farm areas at major crossroads and not necessarily in a town.  
     Long before larger cities congregations took over as the mainstay of congregational life in a diocese,  the stable pastoral sized town congregation, often with longer-tenured clergy, provided on-going stability to dioceses.  These congregations started as missions and only became a parishes when they could support the full-time services of a seminary trained clergy person.  This gave the local lay leaders a clear set of goals to work toward. 

     The town parish would have to build a facility that would hold at least 125 people in worship.  They would need adequate church school classrooms and a functional parish hall and kitchen.  Since this type of congregation peaked before 1960, they often had limited off street parking.  The Episcopal Church in Duncan, Oklahoma is a good example of such a parish.  As you drive on the main street to it, you will pass a pastoral size Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian Church.  This was, in other words, the mainstay of mainstream churches in such communities.  By the way, the largest churches in such communities were often the ones most culturally identified with the majority of the population.  This is why TEC has very few program or resource size congregations in smaller cities.  Only in Virginia or South Carolina were Anglicans in such a majority. 

     During my lifetime, I have visited hundreds of these congregations.  When I was a student at  the University of North Texas, my home parish was St. Barnabas in Denton, Texas.  It was this congregation and Rector that nourished my wife and I and prepared us for attending seminary.  (Denton actually had two parishes, one high church and one low, but that is another story.)   

Three recent dynamics have caused the town parishes of TEC to face a number of serious challenges to their future.   

     First is the general decline in membership.  From 1965 to 2000, the Episcopal Church lost 1/3 of its membership.  This combined with the migration of many people in America from smaller towns to cities set the stage for trouble.  Than from 2002 to 2012, TEC lost another 1/3 of its members.  This has led to some church closures, but most significantly has been the decline of many town parishes from 100 to 150 Sunday attendance down to less than 50 which is known as the family size congregation. 

     Second is the higher cost of clergy and utilities.  In the 1960s, a parish with 60 pledging units could support the services of a full-time seminary trained clergy person, pay its bills, meet the diocesan assessment, AND have funds for some local outreach.  Today, the escalating costs of benefits for clergy, not actual salaries, but especially medical insurance and housing costs combined with the cost of utilities which have grown faster than inflation means that the same congregation will need 80 to 100 pledging units or a large endowment.   

     Third is the growing number of Episcopal clergy who would rather serve in a city than a town.  Often this is because the clergy spouse has employment needs that cannot work in a small town.  I was astounded as a member of the Standing committee in Dallas at the number of aspirants that informed us that they could only serve a parish in a major metropolitan area because of their spouse’s needs.  However, we can add to this the simple fact that most seminary trained clergy came from city parishes and prefer the benefits of large city life.  Now, let me be clear about this.  There are many benefits of a longer tenure in a small town especially for families with younger children, but this is not what most professionally trained clergy want.  Speaking of tenure, the shorter tenure of clergy in parishes hasn’t helped the situation of the town parish either. 

     Generally speaking, how have leaders, Bishops and Dioceses, responded to the challenge of once larger town parishes with decreasing and aging congregational membership?  In a word, they have responded badly.  Perhaps in fairness I should say that they have responded by finding practical ways to solve the problems.  This almost always means providing part-time, or bi-vocational, or retired clergy to serve such parishes.  The worse solution is to allow the church to drift to supply clergy.  A few dioceses that could afford it have tried to subsidize full-time clergy in such parishes, but because of the shorter tenure of such clergy and their desire often to “get out of Dodge” and get back to a larger city, this has proven futile.  

So let me close this first blog on the town parish with this observation; part-time or bi-vocational, or retired clergy may be a solution to the financial challenges of the declining and aging town parish, but these almost never provide solutions that will re-grow the congregation.  Hence, many of TEC’s town parishes are stuck in a declining cycle and their lay leaders do not know how to change this.  Meanwhile, their diocesan leadership seems stuck in merely trying to solve problems without looking toward long-term and strategic solutions.