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In this valuable church leadership resource, Kevin Martin examines the five aspects of congregational life that are key to the development and growth of a strong congregation. Based on the author's popular church growth seminar, The Five Critical Systems, the five keys to ...
In this valuable church leadership resource, Kevin Martin examines the five aspects of congregational life that are key to the development and growth of a strong congregation. Based on the author's popular church growth seminar, The Five Critical Systems, the five keys to congregational growth are:
Five Keys for Church Leaders distinguishes itself from other such resources with a focus on the "systems" of congregational life rather than the "programs" of congregational life.
THE PASTOR AS TEAM LEADER
The Myth of the CEO Pastor
Warren Bennis says in his book On Becoming a Leader that America is too fixed on what he calls the myth of the CEO. This is the belief that the main issue in every business, government, or not-for-profit organization is the leader. If the organization is in trouble, either we try to fix the leader or change the leader. The same is true for the church.
For five years, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas sponsored a conference for church leaders called "The Clear Vision Conference." Leaders from all over our denomination came to hear what we had learned about growing a diocese and servicing our congregations. Many participants told me, "We could do this too if we only had your bishop!" While it is true that we had an extraordinary bishop, this attitude reflects the church's fixation on the leader. Congregations act the same way. They believe that somewhere out there is a dynamic spiritual leader who will bring life and vitality to their local congregation and fix all its problems. They too believe the myth of the CEO.
I am not saying that ordained leaders and their behavior are not important to churches. What I am saying is that ordained leaders are most important in relationship to the rest of the leaders and the particular needs of their unique local congregation and its development issues. I have consistently found that most pastors do have the potential skills and abilities to lead churches. While I know that many judicatory officials believe that they have too many poor or dysfunctional pastors, I find many pastors who, if given the proper information and training, can adequately lead their churches.
What Is Going Wrong?
If most pastors have the ability to lead their parishes effectively, why do so many relationships between pastor and congregation either not go well or not go on for very long? I suggest:
Pastors are trained poorly. They are not trained as leaders. They are often trained as "experts." Many of their models for leadership involve either telling people what to do or making everyone happy.
Most churches have vastly unrealistic expectations of their pastor. This is often reinforced by the judicatory during the search for a new pastor. Present church systems feed the myth of the CEO.
Pastors are often called to churches where the present lay leadership is in conflict over expectations and agendas. After the initial call, these agendas make it impossible for the pastor to establish his or her own personal style. The leaders measure the pastor according to their own concerns and agendas. Simply said, the new pastor never has a chance to build trusting relationships.
Few pastors know how to systematically build what John Kotter calls "a guiding coalition" for the future. They are too quick to establish themselves in the "expert" role.
Younger pastors frequently try to prove their leadership, both to their congregations and themselves, at the expense of longer-tenured and trusted lay leaders. This is especially true for younger male clergy.
Few present congregational leaders have the corrective balance that is needed. They create unrealistic expectations that no pastor can fulfill. They need a new model. Furthermore, they need to understand that our changing culture has made the old profession model of ministry that worked so well during the first half of the twentieth century obsolete. Kennon Callahan says it this way, "The day of the professional pastor is over, and the day of the missionary team leader has begun."
The Missional Leader
The American church needs to abandon its culturally fixated view of the pastor as CEO and return to the biblical view of ordained leaders as "a leader of leaders of the missionary community." In the present model, the pastor is seen as meeting the needs of the congregation. In the alternative model, the leadership is seen as helping the members of the congregation connect with the outside community and its needs.
Unfortunately, the present path for training future ordained leaders is dominated by those in the academic community. They often believe the problems of current church leadership can be solved simply by adding one more course at the seminary level. Professor Will Spong of the Seminary of the Southwest said it best when he said, "Every time the General Convention meets, we end up with one more course to teach our students." This follows the old model of clergyperson as expert.
Furthermore, it is difficult to bring about the changes we need in leadership development in an institution that entrusts its leadership development to organizations (seminaries) that benefit most directly from the old model of leadership. The more "students" they have training to be clergy, the better off the faculty and school. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming our current situation on seminaries. Actually, I believe strongly in the academic training and ability of clergy. It is not the academic training that I am critiquing. It is the belief and the model that such preparation is all that a leader needs.
So what kind of training do we need? This question is really secondary to the primary question: What kind of leaders do we need? When we look at the present realities of the church, we see a harsh truth. We no longer need leaders who stand alone as experts and whose knowledge commends people to follow. We desperately need more leaders who clearly understand that ministry belongs to and is centered in the baptized members. Such leaders need to be able to function in teams and with teams of people. Of course, theological knowledge is important to such work, but it is not the only ingredient.
I have worked with many clergy over the years. Most have been theologically knowledgeable. However, I have not noticed a direct relationship between theological knowledge and effective parish leadership. Actually, I have observed just the opposite. Those clergy who see themselves as knowledge experts often make poor leaders. The many effective clergy that I have known seem to keep one basic truth before them. Ministry is about Christ and the people of God. The myth of the CEO declares that it is all about the leader. The reality is that it is all about the mission and the team.
ACTING LIKE A TEAM
Who Is on the Team?
Most American congregations are led by an ordained pastor with an elected board of lay leaders. In the Episcopal Church, we call this "the Vestry." In addition to the elected leaders, there are also lay leaders who direct important ministries and organizations of their congregation. When I talk about building the team, I mean this mixture of elected and appointed leaders who cooperate with the ordained pastor in giving direction to the work of the local congregation. However, even when the leadership is organized as a team, the sad truth is that often they do not act like a team, at least not a winning or effective one. This is why I describe the developmental issue as "Building the Team"!
Let's stay with the metaphor of "the team" a bit longer. What do most good teams spend most of their time doing? I would contend that for every minute in a game, the team spends hours in practice. What are team members doing at practice? They are improving their own skills, but even more important, they are learning how to play together as a team. Professional sports teams often issue their players a "play book," which contains the various plays and strategies that the players are expected to know. The coaches expect each player to "be on the same page" when executing a play.
Being on the Same Page
Over the years, I have become increasingly aware of how typical local church leadership circle fails to be on the same page. It could look something like this. There are nine Vestry members.
Two people are there because they believe the best year in the congregation was 1968, and they want to return to that year.
Two other members are concerned about the low numbers of children in the church school.
One person has a pre-teen and wants to see a full-time youth pastor hired.
Two members are intensely loyal to the present rector and want to support the rector in all things.
Two other members believe that a change in rectors might be a good idea.
Often these agendas are unspoken, and many times they are in conflict. This leads to predictable problems. As the group proceeds along, there is an assumption that they are working together. This assumption seldom gets challenged until a decision is made. Then the agendas come into play, but they are expressed around the decision and not around the unspoken agendas.
Knowing this, I always ask Vestry members to share with others what they believe is the bottom line or the most important things to accomplish. This makes public what is frequently unspoken. Sometimes I do this by asking people why they are willing to serve as a leader at this particular time. Sometimes folks joke with "nobody else would do it." I respond by pointing out that this may be so, but they were willing to do it. I am amazed how people will share their reasons if given permission.
The Needs of the Team Members
Another common mistake is failing to allow individual members to share the issues and concerns in their lives at the present moment. I always like to have members share concerns and prayer requests early in a meeting. Would it not be important to know that a member:
has just learned that a parent was diagnosed with a serious illness?
has just been told that his company will be downsizing?
has just discovered that her child has a problem in school?
When the emotions behind these situations are not acknowledged consciously, then they express themselves in unconscious ways.
One rainy evening in Houston, I made my way to one of our small and struggling mission churches. I was there because the congregation was on the brink of collapse. While surrounded by thousands of people in their geographical area, the congregation had never been able to get beyond seventy people in attendance on Sunday.
During coffee before the official meeting began, I discovered that one member of the Vestry was being treated for cancer. When the meeting began, the clergyperson started with a prayer. The minutes were approved, and then the budget was reviewed. I was then introduced with the idea that I would be helping the congregation learn how to grow. I began by discussing what we knew about healthy growing small congregations. About fifteen minutes into my presentation, I was interrupted by an angry member of the Vestry. He slammed his hand down on the table and said, "Grow, grow, grow! That is all you and the bishop talk about. Well, I don't care about growth. I like our small church. Here people care about us. We are not just a number. I've visited one of our large churches, St. John the Divine here in Houston, and people there are just treated like a number." With a sort of "let's see you answer this" look upon his face, he folded his arms in defiance.
Fortunately, I had just attended a Vestry meeting at St. John's. So I looked at the gentleman and said something like this:
When I attended the Vestry meeting at St. John's last month, the meeting started very different from yours. First, there was a devotion led by a lay member of the Vestry. Then there was a time for Vestry members to share their concerns and needs. This was followed by a time of prayer when members laid hands on those in need and prayed for God's support. I noticed that when I came to your meeting, you started with a perfunctory prayer, minutes, and the budget. All this while one of your people (and with this I looked at the member suffering with cancer) badly needs your common concern and prayer. It seems to me that you are the people treating each other indifferently, while at St. John's they actually love and care for one another.
The room became very quiet as my antagonist continued to glare at me. Finally, the tension was broken when another member of the Vestry began to cry. "Kevin is right," she said. "I've been coming here for years and while I know everybody here, I can't say that anyone here really knows or cares for me." Confusing smallness with intimacy, these congregational leaders had forgotten how to practice. They were not modeling for the congregation the kind of Christian behavior that is essential to normal church life.
Learning from a Great Team
Let me share an illustration from the sports world. The year before the Chicago Bulls won the 1991 NBA championship, they were defeated in the playoffs by the then champion Detroit Pistons. One of the Piston players, Isiah Thomas, said this about the Bulls: "There is no doubt that the Bulls have one of the finest players in the NBA, but they will have to learn that they cannot win the championship as long as Michael Jordan has to carry the team. We just have to focus our attention on him, and we can beat them every time."
In other words, they could not outplay the superstar, but they could outplay the team. The next year the Bulls made several improvements to their team and won the championship. No matter how talented the ordained leader, your congregation cannot prevail as long as it is too dependent upon the ordained leader. It is about the team, and teams do not just happen. They are intentionally created and purposefully developed and trained. They learn the importance of being on the same page!
STRENGTHENING THE TEAM
"What We Have Always Done"
How do we build the team? There are many ways. First, however, we must acknowledge that a typical format of a monthly business meeting simply isn't enough quality time to build relationships or practice at being a good team. The following can strengthen team life:
Hold a regular retreat in a neutral setting to plan and share.
Use tools like personality profiles to understand individuals and what they bring to the team.
Allow plenty of time for prayer, scripture study, and sharing concerns in a non-legislative setting.
Keep meetings short (no longer than two hours).
Keep meetings sharp with a planned agenda.
Keep discussions "on topic" and focused.
Hold members accountable for their behavior, including attending meetings and being on time.
The most important issue is to focus the team on common vision, values, and goals. Too many leaders focus on maintenance and operations instead of the big picture. I frequently find Vestries that persist in micro-managing every detail of congregational life, while they fail to take time to understand what they are actually trying to accomplish.
What is vision? Vision is the big picture. It is who we are trying to become and what we are trying to do. I like the Christian definition of vision that a friend once gave me:
Vision is a compelling picture of future events that have been assured by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let's look at these vision components. First, vision is literally a picture, something we can see. It is something we can imagine. Effective leaders often are able to draw a picture of the future. They are able to help us see this vision invading our present reality and bringing transformation.
Next, vision is compelling. How does a vision become compelling to a local community? It must be directly connected to the community's core values, those values, often unspoken, that form the glue that holds the community together. These values are not the same as official statements of beliefs or common activities such as liturgy or ritual. Core values are the values that this particular community holds that make it unlike every other church, even within its own denomination.
And for Christians, the following future events have been assured:
We know that justice will someday happen for all.
We know that love will triumph even over loss.
We know that goodness will prevail.
We know that the needy will be cared for, the hurting will be healed, and the poor will find mercy.
These outcomes are assured, and Christian leaders have that special New Testament quality of "confidence" as we work for these Kingdom goals. Jesus Christ, the living Savior and Lord, assures them. Christian vision is always Christological. It is always Christ-centered. It always relates to Christ's mission. He must direct it, according to his commandments. We have confidence and assurance because "he is with us always, even to the end of the age."
What Is Mission?
I am often asked if I think a church should have a mission statement. My answer is this: "I am more concerned that a church has a mission than that it has a mission statement. If writing a mission statement helps you articulate your sense of mission, then write one." Unfortunately, writing a mission statement in a low-commitment congregation with an unclear sense of purpose and direction is a waste of time. The statement may sound good, even theological, but it will not take the place of a sense of mission.
Excerpted from 5 KEYS FOR CHURCH LEADERS by Kevin Martin. Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Martin. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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First Key BUILD THE TEAM....................
1. The Pastor as Team Leader.................... 7
2. Acting like a Team.................... 13
3. Strengthening the Team.................... 19
Second Key PAY ATTENTION TO THE GENERATIONS....................
4. Which Generation Is in Charge?.................... 29
5. Five Generations of Americans.................... 33
6. Tomorrow's Congregation.................... 39
Third Key TEND THE TWO DOORS....................
7. Joining the Parade.................... 47
8. Inviting People.................... 51
9. How to Have a Special Event Sunday.................... 61
10. Closing the Back Door.................... 65
Fourth Key KEEP THE SYSTEM HEALTHY....................
11. Dysfunctional Churches.................... 73
12. Creating Health.................... 77
13. A Healthy System.................... 81
Fifth Key RAISE THE STEWARDSHIP LEVEL....................
14. Raising the Commitment Level.................... 87
15. Raising the Bar.................... 91
Getting Started with the Five Keys.................... 97