Family or Institution?

by Dan Hotchkiss

A church or synagogue always is two congregations at the same time. One is the formal institution, governed under bylaws by elected officers and ministers and staff. This congregation has procedures, rules of order (whether Roberts or some new alternative), and stated decision-making methods. Each newcomer who joins has the full rights and privileges of membership. If you want to know how this congregation runs, you read its bylaws, policies, and job descriptions.

The other congregation is more like a family. Its leaders are selected for charisma and respect, and remain indefinitely in office. Decisions are made informally, according to unwritten rules. Newcomers are accepted slowly, and until they are accepted have little or no voice in the deliberations of the group, even if they hold high office. Some things are “done” and others are “not done,” and there is no introductory brochure to clue the stranger into the folkways of the tribe. read more

The Short List

by Dan Hotchkiss

Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that are the most useful. I am continually struck by the way multiple priorities, distractions, interruptions, and alternative perspectives cloud my view each day. It is part of ministry, of course, to be “accessible”—which is to say, open to interruptions—but over months and years it is important to maintain sufficient focus to be able, at the end, to say, “This is what we did.”

The Short List is a concept I use to keep myself on track. The basic idea is that no one can keep in mind more than three or four major priorities at once…. (click to read more)

Governance and Ministry: Why Worry?

by Dan Hotchkiss

Why should congregations worry about governance and ministry? When there’s so much important work to do, why spend precious time defining boundaries, tinkering with bylaws and policies, delegating power, assigning duties, setting goals, and holding one other to account?

Succeeding in a Paid Position

by Dan Hotchkiss

Each year, thousands of musicians, educators, clergy, office workers, and custodians start new jobs in congregations. If all goes well, the new staff member will eventually become an energetic, well-respected, and productive member of the team. The staff member helps to make this happen, but so do the governing board, the head of staff, and other supervisors. I will share some thoughts first for the top leadership, then for the new staff member directly.

What Makes for a Strong Partnership?

by Dan Hotchkiss
Nothing is more important to a congregation’s dynamism than strong partnership between the clergy leader and the governing board.

By a strong partnership, I don’t mean one in which the partners are necessarily comfortable or happy all the time. A strong partnership is one that produces results in keeping with the congregation’s mission. To accomplish that, the partners need to agree about the mission and their plan for achieving it. They need to know what to expect of one another, so that over time they can build trust. They need to communicate frankly about what is going well and what needs fixing. And they need a way to make decisions that allows the work to move ahead.

How to Give Away Your Power

by Dan Hotchkiss
It’s relatively easy to find people willing to do tasks. It’s hard to cultivate real leaders—people to take charge of projects and gather others to get something done. As one pastor put it, “We have willing workers, but I can’t seem to create leaders. I can delegate work, but I don’t know how to delegate authority.” To delegate effectively, you need to balance three things: authority, guidance, and accountability. This is true for delegating tasks, and truer still for delegating leadership. Until we learn to bring people to full competence in little things, we can’t lead them to full competence in bigger things. Learning to delegate tasks completely is a necessary step toward readiness to delegate power.

The Rabbis

by Dan Hotchkiss
The job was to facilitate what may have been the most diverse and ecumenical gathering of rabbis ever. For this three-day rabbinical retreat, I had prepared three days’ worth of material. But I became an awed spectator of a learned debate, with lasting admiration for the willingness of fourteen rabbis to struggle with their differences in the name of a shared purpose.