Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Parish Leadership 2: Building Community


In this second blog on parish leadership, I want to talk about building the community. The community of the leadership and of the congregational community.  Remember that one of the two core values of the Jesus movement is the Great Commandment to love one another.  These are meaningful words and almost all Christians would affirm them, but realistically, how do we build community?

Some years ago, I wrote a book, 5 Keys for Church Leaders. It is available from Church Publishing at Amazon and is also in a Kindle edition.  In it I talked about how important it is for church leaders to “Build the Team.”  What I pointed out is that to effectively carry out the mission that you have discerned, then the leadership need to work like a team. The team image is powerful because no team just shows up to play. They spend time together. They practice and they learn how to work cooperatively and not competitively.

Rather than give a series of bullet points on how to do this, I want to share with you the most significant experience that I have had in my years of ministry with a Vestry that did this intentionally. It was the Vestry of St. Luke’s in Seattle when I was the Rector. Here is what we developed.

First, we would meet twice a month.  The first meeting was about the mission and the strategy and ministries to carry out the mission. (More of this latter in my next blog.)  The second meeting was the business one where we reviewed the budget and the oversight of buildings, staff, and operations.  This was second because the first of the month made it hard for the treasurer and the administrator to put together the month information.

We would begin both meetings at 6pm with dinner.  Often members came in late because of their business hours, their commutes, or family obligations.  At 7pm we would move to our meeting room and I would begin the meeting with an opening prayer.  Then we would go around the room and check for any prayer concerns or needs.  Our deacon would keep notes of the concerns and then at the end, the deacon (and others as they felt led) would hold up the concerns in prayer.  Often members of the vestry would move to lay hands on those with needs for healing or strength. 

At the first meeting of the month, we would open the scriptures and I or one of our members would lead a study.  This was not just a bible study.  This was a bible study centered on the issues of leadership.  That was after all why we were there. It is amazing how many passages throughout the Scriptures deal with this topic. (There is an NIV Leadership edition of the Bible organized just on this theme.) We would discuss these passages and explore the applications to our community.  The second hour of the meeting, we would turn to the main thing, our mission.  Twice a year, we would review our goals and set new ones. Often at this meeting, we would bring the leaders of ministries or staff members into the meeting to discuss their work and seeking ways that we could support their areas. 

The second meeting of the month also started with a meal, gathering and prayers. We did not do a Scripture study, but now had a report from the Rector, the Wardens, our Administrator, and the more typical reports you would expect.  The meeting portion was limited to two hours.  At the end of both meetings there was informal time over coffee and dessert. Over the years, and after holding and visiting hundreds of Vestry meetings, I am convinced that everything that happens after two hours is either redundant or ineffective.  Vestry members are, after all, volunteers.

In addition to these regular events, we held a day long retreat in February to welcome new vestry members and bring them up to speed and then to say goodbye and thank you to the off-going members.  Then in June we held a longer retreat to review and focus on our mission and strategies. 

Hard work? Yes!  Worth it? Without question.  People often said that the time on our Vestry was the most meaningful experience of Christian community they had ever had. A common feedback was that the Vestry had become a second family.

Now, I am not saying that you should operate this way, but I am suggesting that you structure your life together to allow time and use strategies that will allow the Vestry to become a community. 

Lastly, let me make this observation. While every parish has some dear saintly person whose spirituality and Christian witness is exemplary, and often some small group ministry that has rich fellowship and support, the corporate spiritual life of the congregation will not be greater than the spiritual life and witness of the leadership.   As Philip Turner said recently to a group of clergy, we must become the incarnation of the community that we are called to be. Modeling this is not a way to make this happen, it is the only way to enable it to happen. 

If you want more practical steps and ideas to move toward such a community, I have some in my 5 Keys book, or your Diocesan Office and Bishop should be able to help you.

In my next blog, I will discuss strategy and structure or how to organize to accomplish the mission.  Remember, a mission without a strategy is, after all, only a dream.

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