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The Congregational Consulting Group, organized in 2014 by former consultants of the Alban Institute, is a network of independent consultants. We publish PERSPECTIVES for Congregational Leaders—thoughts on topics of interest to leaders of congregations and other purpose-driven organizations. —  Dan Hotchkiss, editor

From Decision Making to Discernment

The beginning of the pandemic was overwhelming, but our focus was clear—figure out how to worship, connect, and teach in an online environment. The boundaries marking what we could not do provided clarity. Now, in-person engagement is returning and we face another kind of overwhelm—too many options. How do we make choices when some boundaries have been removed, but not everything is possible? To meet the needs of this season, we must help our leaders shift out of decision-making mode and into a discerning mindset.

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Tending the Soul of the Institution

by Susan Beaumont
The human brain favors binary thinking. We are naturally drawn to the two-sidedness of the world, the fact that everything has an opposite, a polar complement. Leaders of faith-based institutions tend the spiritual needs of our organization with the soft skills of care, prayer and discipleship. Then we turn the soft skills off and guide the organizational side of the church with the hard skills of supervision, governance, facilities and financial management. Two fundamentally different kinds of work. Two very different skill sets. Right? Wrong!

The Problem with Meetings

by Susan Beaumont
The problem with meetings in congregation is that they focus on building and sharing knowledge. What if we focused on cultivating collective wisdom instead?
Think about the agenda in your typical church meeting. Staff meetings, board meetings, and committee meetings all incorporate the same elements. I tell you what I know, you tell me what you know, we consult with outside sources that know, and then based on our shared knowledge we wrestle our way toward decision making. If we can’t all agree, then majority rules. And most of this happens in the form of sharing and receiving reports, making motions, and approving actions. Boring, not very creative, and certainly not soulful!

Discernment and Decision Making

Think about some of the major decisions you’ve made in your life—whom to marry … or not; whether to have children … or not; where to attend university … or not; what congregation to attend … or not; what profession to pursue; and where to retire. From the day we can think independently until the day we stop doing so we constantly make choices and decisions. “Life is the sum of all your choices,” said the French philosopher Albert Camus.

Now think about how you made those major decisions. Did you gather information before deciding? Did you consult with certain trusted individuals? Did you pray about it? Whether as an individual, a family, or a congregation, how we go about making decisions will largely determine the quality of those decisions. Process matters as much as outcome primarily because the process that we use tends to shape the outcome.

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Who Speaks on Behalf of Soul?

Who speaks for the congregation’s soul? When it comes to discerning mission, vision and strategic direction, who gets to name the congregation’s giftedness and vocation? Is it the senior clergy leader, the governing board, the congregation, or someone else?

Seagul - Anglesey 2009 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Airwolfhound, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

By the congregation’s soul, I mean the source of its calling, character, and destiny—the charism, the bedrock where its sacred memories reside. Who speaks for soul?

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Free to Discern

by Susan Beaumont

“This is a congregation, not a business.” If only I had a dollar for every time a congregational leader made this bold assertion in my presence. Typically, right after making this claim leaders go on to conduct the meeting at hand, exactly as if the church were a business. Oh yes, someone begins by offering a 5 minute devotional, followed by a prayer, but then it is business as usual.