I used to run laps—now I am more apt to walk. Either way, I find that if I can muster the will power to begin, I can almost always finish the first lap. But if the loop is too short for a full run, I’m faced with a decision: should I quit or start my second lap? Lap number two is where adrenaline leaves off and perseverance gets its test. As we move out of 2020 into 2021, clergy and lay leaders face the challenge of rekindling energy for a year of new and different challenges.
This is an updated version of a diagram in Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, 2d ed., page 118: A key annual event is the board’s planning retreat. The senior clergy leader always participates, and depending on the planning focus in a given year, the board invites others to participate as well. The retreat agenda …
Around the world this fall, boards gather at their online tables to ask, “What kind of congregation can we be in this strange time? When and how can we return to ‘normal,’ and what will that even look like?” Some deny the possibility of planning in such times, but without deliberate planning, habit and momentum rule. Without structure, planning conversations run in circles or explode in conflict. At this time even more than most, boards need structured ways to talk about the future.
“I wish we were more transparent about our finances.” For almost every problem congregations face, transparency is one proposed solution. Treasurers and business managers—who work hard to produce honest, accurate reports—often are surprised by the implication that they’re hiding something. Transparency is good, but flooding people with more data rarely solves the problem. True transparency requires a plan to give financial information to each of four distinct audiences.
Last March as we began to realize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, congregations entered a creative frenzy. We found ways to offer worship, pastoral care, group fellowship, and education online. Long-range plans went out the window as we rose to short-term challenges.
Governing boards—even those that generally spend time planning and discerning—have understandably become preoccupied with short-term matters. Board members are busy finding groceries, caring for children out of school, and helping out with this or that around the congregation. But “this or that” is not the work of governance. Eventually boards and clergy leaders must return to their core work and formulate a fact-based and compelling vision of the congregation’s future.
Everybody knows that congregations require money, and most leaders know that to receive gifts, you usually have to ask for them. But sometimes donors offer gifts without being asked. This is a good thing—usually! But unasked-for gifts often have strings attached. Accepting them blindly risks letting donors choose the congregation’s course. Paradoxically, one of the most effective ways to encourage gifts is to adopt clear policies about when you will say no to them.
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.