Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Parish Leadership: Discernment


This is the first of a series of Blogs about Parish Leadership. While it is intended for new Vestry Members, feel free to share this with leaders of your congregations. 

In these blogs, I will not be writing about the canonical responsibilities but will leave this up to parish clergy to communicate.  I will be writing about the issue of leadership as we enter the post-COVID period and the role of lay leaders working in partnership with their clergy to develop healthy, vibrant, and growing congregations. I will be covering the big picture issues and the practical steps needed to lead in today’s world.

Many Episcopalians think that the role of the Vestry is to manage the business affairs of the parish.  More specifically, they believe that while the clergy manage the spiritual affairs, the lay leaders manage the budget.  In other words, the role of the Vestry is to maintain the congregation, balance the budget and see to it that the grass gets mown.  Perhaps back before the last 40 years that was central to their role, but no longer.  In today’s world, we need congregational leadership to lead the local parish into the future.

The Current Realities

The demands of leadership are greater today than ever as the number of church members in our country drops from its historic post World War Two number of 40% to today’s number of 20%.  For the Episcopal Church, the last 20 years have seen significant loss of membership and decline in attendance.  To try to maintain our churches and continue business as usual is no longer possible. We need our current leadership to move to the future in creative and innovative ways. In short, we need our leaders to lead.

Let us start with the primary question, “What is the role or purpose of a Vestry?” What is their first task?  As I said above that, while they are responsible for the operations of the local Church, this is not their primary role as leaders.

Put in Biblical Terms and in the language of the early church, the purpose of our elected and appointed leaders is “discernment.”  They are to discern the will of God for the local church.  One way to start this process is to ask what is the mission of this local body that we are called to by God and which the Holy Spirit is directing our mission.

Not Just a Mission Statement

I am not saying that our churches need to write another “mission statement!”  I often say to vestries that if writing a mission statement helps you to discover your mission, then write it. Sadly, many congregations have a mission statement, often written in calligraphy and posted on a parish hall wall, but have no clear sense of mission, our “must do” as a local outpost of the Jesus Movement.

Nether am I saying that every congregation needs to start this process from scratch. We do not need to put up newsprint or come up with some ideas about what we might be doing.  As an historic and creedal community, we have much direction put before us. 

The Mission not a Mission

What is the mission of the Church the Prayer Book Catechism asks?  The answer is “to reconcile all people to God and one another through Christ.” And we have two core values that direct this ministry of reconciliation.

          The Great Commission to make disciples and,

          The Great Commandment to love one another.

With this mission and these core values to guide us, the question every Vestry should be asking is this:  How is God’s calling this congregation to live out this mission and these core values in our local, diocesan, and world communities? 

Each congregation has a unique community of people, a unique setting, and a unique opportunity to live out this mission.  As disciples of Jesus, we do not think that we are gathered in our local setting by accident.  We are sent by our Lord to be witnesses to Jesus and live out God’s Kingdom, God’s reign on earth as in heaven. And we have been promised that we will be guided by God’s Spirit and given all the gifts we will need to accomplish this work.

The first thing, the main thing, is discernment. What is our Church’s unique calling at this moment and how do the needs of the community around us point to that calling?

Where should the lay and clergy leadership start?  We start with the right questions. How are we currently carrying out God’s mission and what more are we called to do at this moment given to us by God’s grace? 

Of course, we can only discern such an important set of questions by beginning in prayer. Then with the scriptures and our worship to guide us, we move forward in discernment trusting that as Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, once said, “God’s mission shall never lack for God’s provision.”

As we grow in this discernment should we write down our mission?  Yes, we should! We should write it on all everything; our buildings, our bulletins, our website and our hearts.  And something else. The most vibrant congregations are constantly inviting and looking for others who will join us in the singular most important work of our life together.

Remember the first work of leadership is discernment and learn to “Make the main thing, the main thing!” 

In my next blog, I will explore how we build our leadership team and how we become the community the great commandment calls us to be.  

(you may contact me at deankevinmartin@gmail.com with questions or comments on these blogs.)






No comments:

Post a Comment