Every one of us has a unique identity. As James Taylor said in an Instagram post about Jimmy Buffett’s death, “We all … invent, assemble, inherit, or fall into our inner identity.” One important source of identity is our associations—the social groups we join, including congregations. It’s important to appreciate new forms of association that are emerging in our time.
Few of us are ready for a death—whether it’s our own, someone’s we love, or the death of an institution like our church. When we see death on the horizon, we tend to clutch at whatever we can, blaming others for our loss and strategizing about how to postpone or prevent the end. But in our effort to avoid suffering, we may be disregarding some deep truths of our faith—that nothing created lasts forever, that fear and worry may be natural but are not necessary, and that letting go is possible.
Pastors can be in a tough spot—on the “losing” end of an evaluation process—whether they’re the evaluator or the employee. Unclear expectations and flawed accountability structures create stresses that can threaten any pastor’s ministry. Fortunately, the church can do better.
As the Covid era passes, employers and churches face some similar dilemmas. Employers struggle to decide how and whether to transition back to in-person work. Churches wonder whether they should try to bring everybody back into the sanctuary or accept remote worship as part of the new norm. Since going backwards is hardly ever successful, we need to benefit from one another’s thinking about how to move ahead.
In 2014, I wrote a post outlining eight managerial skills ministers should be good at. Today, I want to add another skill in light of the pandemic—ministers need to know how to receive criticism appropriately. Skilled ministers need to remember that it’s not always the minister or the church that people are upset with.
I still dread performance management, especially annual evaluation of staff. I’ve built a structure that makes evaluation conversations doable, but they still make me so anxious that I want to run away and hide. Recently, Frederick Buechner collided with Harvard Business Review in my morning brain, and I started to wonder about adding a new question to the evaluation process—Should we alter course?—that could draw me out of my anxiety into a richer and more meaningful evaluation conversation.
How many people should your church hire? At least since the 1980s, when Lyle Schaller proposed average worship attendance as a useful indicator of program staff size, churches (and church consultants) have used ratios to decide how many staff to hire. This mathematical approach has merit, but as a nonprofit executive I never used it—instead I made staffing decisions based on the specific work that needed to be done and what I hoped each staff member would contribute.