“We don’t have enough people to fill all of our positions.” I hear this complaint a lot, especially in congregations that are smaller than they used to be. Their official structure may call for a dozen or more boards and committees. Add it all up, and a congregation that sees 50 people on its pews feels obliged to fill up 60 or more seats around committee tables. Streamlining the official structure is a challenge, but with a clear plan and some determination, it can be done.
The End of the Race to Be Lax
The most lasting legacy of the Covid epidemic may not be the new ways people can show up, important as those are. The most lasting legacy may be new ways of thinking about when and whether to show up. For congregations, the era of attracting people by low expectations may have come to a belated end.
Craft and Creativity in Ministry
The world has changed—perhaps you’ve heard!—and congregations must adapt in order to thrive in the future. I agree, but want to add that adaptation requires creativity, and the seedbed of creativity is craft—attention to the basics handed down to us through time.
Preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration—the craft of parish ministry covers a wide gamut. Few of us excel across the board; all of us depend on others to supply what we cannot. The craft of ministry is ancient, though the specifics vary across time, geography, and faith traditions. Craft is a way of doing things rooted in the past—but without craft, how can we tackle future opportunities? To flourish long-term, leaders need to walk the paradox of craft and creativity.
Covid Policy for the Long Run
For reasons too familiar to go into, leaders in the political and public health realms have become allergic to pandemic mandates. Rules became advice, advice became guidelines—leaving leaders of school districts, universities, and congregations to make decisions based on gut feelings and political alignments. Community leaders need a firmer way to ground their Covid policies in science.
The Board’s Job in Times of Rapid Change
Congregations currently face many choices: How and when will we begin to gather in person for worship and indoor activities? What kind of worship, education, and outreach makes sense, after all that young people and adults have been through? Which postponed projects should take priority in this time?
Governing boards know they should be giving leadership, but many don’t know how. Instead, they spend their time as they did before: listening to reports, delving into the details that interest them, rehashing conversations they and others have had before.
Two Kinds of Customers
“I Love My Church.” It was the slogan for a capital fund drive at the little church where I belong. I turned to our treasurer, sitting in the pew behind me—he is, like me, a bit of a grump—and said, “I have mixed feelings about my church. What should I do?” To my great pleasure, he replied, “Get over it. Give money anyway.”
That’s the spirit! A church is more than a buyer’s club, a co-op that delivers maximum religious benefit to members at the lowest cost. A good congregation puts its shoulder to a bigger wheel: transforming lives in ways no one can predict, in harmony with the congregation’s purpose. Our success is measured by the good we do, not by how satisfied we are.
Learning to Underreact
Criticism: it’s ubiquitous in congregations. No matter how we leaders pretzel-twist ourselves to please people, we fall short—and there are always helpful, caring people who will take the time to tell us so!
The worst thing we can do is overreact. Whether by proclaiming innocence or by fighting criticism with more criticism, leaders who respond too strongly only up the emotional ante. That’s why underreacting is a key skill for every leader.