Congregations are often confused about the power dynamics of supervision. Supervisors know they are supposed to ensure good performance. At the same time, supervisors want to model compassionate, kind, collaborative behavior. Employees want to know what is expected of them but don’t like being controlled or micromanaged. Congregants don’t want anyone abusing power. It’s tough to put all those expectations together into one supervisory approach.
Many congregations belong to and support denominations, both financially and through their leaders’ service on denominational boards, committees, and teams. The identity of many congregations remains rooted in denominational affiliation: Methodists still feel a strong tie to John Wesley; Presbyterians to the basic principles of Calvinism, and so on. But denominations have become less important to congregations and their leaders, and face declining revenue as a result. How might regional and national bodies become more effective in the future?
I was asked recently to speak to a smallish, bedroom-community congregation about what ministers are looking for when considering a new call. The answer is complex, and often has to do with circumstances over which the congregation has no control—cost of living, cultural opportunities, athletic facilities—but I believe that virtually all candidates for ministry are hoping to serve a healthy congregation.
Amid the conflicts and tensions that arise in congregations, we have more than enough opportunities to act on impulse. Too often, especially when we are upset, we lock into a reactive tug-of-war: “Yes, you did!” “No, I didn’t!” Before long, we’ve said something that we wish we hadn’t. Escalation seems inevitable, but instead of getting into a contest, we can simply—in the words of recent meme—“Keep Calm and Drop the Rope.”
Service is notoriously hard to measure. This is true for every type of service: checkout clerks at Walmart, geeks at Best Buy, and nurse-midwives. And it’s doubly true when the desired result is fuzzy, controversial, or unstated, as it often is for clergy, educators, organizers, or musicians working in a church or synagogue.
When the job is helping other people, measurement is difficult. That’s why you’re so often asked to fill out an evaluation after you get service online or by phone. Employers—who tried for years to measure service work with the same stopwatch-and-clipboard methods factory managers used a hundred years ago—have realized it doesn’t matter how much time it takes to serve a customer if the result is that the customer posts negative reviews all over Yelp.
Last week, Susan Beaumont wrote compellingly about when NOT to do strategic planning. As she correctly observed, “a hasty or poorly formed strategic plan is a waste of time and resources. A well-formed plan that isn’t executed is also a waste.” I would add that in times of crisis or high-level conflict, action or intervention is a better choice than strategic planning.
So when is strategic planning the right choice?
Strategic planning: in some congregations it’s the “go-to” solution whenever leaders feel stuck. We need to grow. We want more families with young children. We don’t know what to do next. Let’s plan! But strategic planning is usually a poor choice for getting unstuck. It takes a lot of time and energy—and in many cases postpones action when action is most needed.