Our Latest Perspectives
The Congregational Consultants are taking a break from publishing Perspectives till after the 2023 December holidays.
’Tis the season for clergy transitions in many of our congregations. I am one of those clergy who happens to be transitioning. After a decade as a denominational executive, I am heading back, full-time to consulting, coaching, trainings, and psychotherapy. I am ready and excited!
While I was ready and excited, I forgot that major transitions are hard. Once I made and communicated my decision, the machinery of major life transitions rolled into motion, and I found myself on an intense roller-coaster ride with some unexpected dips as well as highs.
Six months ago, I announced my intention to retire at the end of this academic year. I’ve worked at the same university for 20 years—as a professor, a department chair, and a dean. But it’s time to step aside and let others move into these roles. How do we know when it’s time to let go and retire? For me, there were three key indicators:
- When I realized that I was running out of fresh ideas.
- When I noticed how much talent there was around me.
- When I accepted that I could afford to do so.
I don’t intend to retire completely—I plan to submit a book manuscript by December (on congregations engaging their communities), do more consulting, and spend more time with grandchildren. But it’s time. As the Swiss-German poet Hermann Hesse noted, “Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”
Many congregations and judicatories make do today with smaller staffs than they had ten years ago. How are they doing? Where I’m working, I would say, “Not always well.” Members want the same or even more “services” in the past from a smaller staff. They say, “We can do more with less.”
I don’t know about you, but my experience with “Let’s do more with less” is not positive. This is the hard truth: When we have less, we generally do less. How can we do more with a smaller staff? Too few admit the obvious, painful reality: We can’t. But we can focus the resources we do have on meeting the most pressing needs we see around us now.
Have you ever thought of trying congregational consulting? Lots of people think of this—and for most, the fancy passes. But if you have energy, the right experience, and strong speaking and writing skills, consulting could be a good sideline, or even a career, for you. I’d like to share some tips and principles that have helped make consulting work for me.
Most churches of any size have a process for saying “yes” to a set of goals we believe are in response to God’s call, whether that call be to grow in size or grow in the Spirit or to be more active in the community. But when we say “yes,” do we say it like we mean it? Or do we approach our goals as if they were New Year’s resolutions—expendable as soon as we get tired or busy or bored?
In my non-profit work, the answer was clear. When we set goals, we meant it! Goals adopted by the board were commitments, expected to be executed by me and the staff unless the board subsequently made a different decision.
Most congregations have ideas about how they’d like to innovate. However, things fall flat when it comes to recruiting volunteers to carry out those ideas. Discover how you can strengthen the practice of influence, ethically persuading others to invest time and energy in a new idea. If you follow the right principles, more volunteers will say yes.
In my fifty years of ministry, I have never seen so many opportunities for the church and clergy as I see today. Indeed, I am jealous of those of you who have the opportunity to pastor in the current environment. My belief in the opportunities in no way discounts or downplays the huge challenges to ministry today. I detailed some of those challenges in Part 1 of this two-part piece. But in this time of instability, the church is ready for innovation.