Friday, April 13, 2018

Lessons Learned: Can a Bishop Make a Difference?


In this blog, I am going to address a provocative question for Episcopalians and other Church bodies that have a Bishop.  The question is this; can a Bishop really make a difference?


In 1992, I was the Director of the Leadership Training Institute located in Evergreen, Colorado.  For 5 years, I had coordinated and lead a series of weeklong leadership development course for over 500 Episcopal clergy and around 800 lay leaders.  Then, the Board of Directors of Episcopal Renewal Ministries, the umbrella organization of the Institute, called a new Director.  Even though the new Director wanted me to continue my work, I knew that my time at the Institute was over.  What was I now to do?


What had I learned running the Institute?  I learned that we had dynamic and creative Episcopal Congregations throughout North America with outstanding clergy leadership.  I used many of them for our teams that presented at each event.  I had no doubt that TEC had a vibrant future given the quality of such leadership and so many capable leaders.  However, having spent my entire ministry from 26 years of age onward in the Episcopal Church, I had a churning question.  “Did it matter that we had Bishops?”
  

Let me be clear.  I had and still have a high doctrine of the Church and the three fold ministry of Deacons, Priests, and Bishop, or as we like to say it, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.  Yet I found that many of these creative congregations were notable outliers to their dioceses and often at best were tolerated by their Bishops.  I certainly had experienced this when I was Rector of a congregation in Southern Ohio.  Now, let me re-frame the question then forming in me.  “Could a Bishop really make a difference for the mission of a Diocese, or, were they merely obstacles toward the accomplishment of such a mission, or even worse, ecclesiastical remnants that had worn out their use? I realized that to answer this question, I had two choices.  I could attempt to become a Bishop or I could go to work for one. 


While pondering this and my transition.  A friend nominated me to enter the election in the Diocese of Texas for Bishop Coadjutor to follow Bishop Benitez.  I had no illusions that I could be elected there.  I knew folks in the Diocese and had spoken there on several occasions, but I was an outsider.  What I wanted was the experience of being in an election and telling people what I thought the ministry and work of a Bishop should be.


Ironically, and to make a long story short, Bishop Benitez and Claude Payne, who was elected as Coadjutor, were impressed with answers and ideas and to my surprise and delight, Bishop Benitez invited me to join his staff as the Canon for Mission. 


I spent the next year working directly with Bishop Payne and he extended to me the opportunity to continue in that position with even greater responsibility and authority in the training of our leaders in Texas.  As a personal side note for those interested, Bishop Payne would probably never have hired me had we not had that year together.  As one member of the staff said once to me, “Bishop Benitez had the wisdom to hire you, but had little idea how to use you.  Bishop Payne wasn’t sure he wanted you, but he learned quickly how to use you and your skills.”  Serendipitously and in God’s timing, it worked out and I spent almost 10 years working with an outstanding Bishop, leader and person who along with his great team made an incredible difference in the Diocese of Texas and its future.
  

When elected, Bishop Payne had been the Rector of St. Martin’s, Houston.  He was 62 years of age and I suspect for many in the Diocese he was seen as a somewhat short term interim.  However, the story he always told was this.  He and his wife Barbara were planning their retirement when he was asked to stand for Bishop.  He decided that he would only stand for election “if I could really make a difference.”  You may wish to pause right now and stop to think about the significance of that statement!  


I think many people seek election to the office of Bishop as a natural progression of their vocation and a fulfilment and affirmation of what they have done.  There is a big difference between these two attitudes.  What did Claude Payne do to create momentum and make a difference?  This, as you can imagine will take more than one blog, but let me begin with this.


In the interim period before becoming Diocesan Bishop, Claude Payne built his staff.  He worked through with us the articulation of the core values of the Church and the Diocese and prepared to hit the ground running.


He recast the image of the Diocese in one sentence that he shared at the council where he took over as Diocesan.  “What would happen if we stopped seeing the Diocese as an organization make up of 156 parishes and missions, a hospital, 40 some schools, and numerous committees and commissions and saw ourselves as ONE CHURCH with one mission lived out in local mission outposts of congregations, schools, outreach ministries, specialized chaplaincies, board and commissions?” 


Then he articulated the Mission of the Church, “To reconcile all people to God and one another in Christ” with its two core values of The Great Commission – to love one another, and the Great Commandment – to make disciples of all nations.  


From that moment onward, he never stopped articulating that vision of One Church with One Mission and Two Core Values and directing that all we did in the Diocese on every level was guided by and measured by that vision. 


For his first seven years, the Diocese of Texas was the fastest growing in TEC in in average Sunday attendance BOTH numbers and percentages.  We started 7 new congregations.  And the Net Disposal Income of all Congregations from stewardship DOUBLED!


In my next blog, I will expand on one of his greatest strength.  As Bishop Payne would say, “it is true that the devil is in the details, but so are the Angels!’  In other words, he knew how to put legs on this vision, to do the hard strategic work that had to follow from such a high vision. 


Monday, March 19, 2018

Lessons Learned: Schaller on Leadership


I considered Lyle Schaller a teacher, mentor, and a friend at critical moments in my life. There is much I could say about him and his insights about congregational life were of great help to me as a leader and especially when Bishop Payne gave me the opportunity to work with the 156 congregations in the Diocese of Texas.  Almost all the teaching that I have done on Congregational Development came from him.  However, this series of blogs is about lessons I learned from others on leadership, so I will limit my comments here to four things that I learned from him that directly relate to leadership. 

When Stuck, Change your perspective

I learned from Schaller, that when a leader is stressed, we do the counterproductive thing of doubling down.  We do this with our intentions, by repeating them over and over.  We do this with our personality, overusing one of our strengths. We do this with our energy, working harder and harder and getting smaller results. Schaller taught models that allowed one to see things from a new perspective. 

For example, “Does this issue make sense if I, as a leader, apply the typical congregational life cycle to our situation?”  Another example is “Is this strategy going to be effective in a small pastoral sized church?” 



The big one that I often see in churches is that when the leader is challenged, he or she responds by once more repeating their intentions.  The assumption we make is that a challenge can be answered by clarifying what we have already said.  Seldom is a challenge to leaders about what we are saying.  Many times, it has to do with an inconsistency in what we say verses what we are actually doing.   Many of Schaller’s books give us tools to make just such a shift in our perspective. 



When I started working with the Vestry of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, I was struck by how may intelligent people kept saying, “Dean, but what do you think we should do?”  I thought I was doing team building. As I reflected on this, I realized that I was acting like a consultant to the Vestry and not as the leader of a program sized congregation.  The Rector of a large parish acts more like the Director of a non-profit than a participative leader typical of smaller parishes. Once I started giving suggestions and saying which one made sense to me and my staff, it helped us get unstuck.





When It Isn’t Working, Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Quite honestly, when frustrated many clergy leaders ask “What is wrong with me?”  This is the wrong question.  The better one Schaller gave me was “Why am I frustrated and what can I do about it?”  This is also true for congregational leaders.

 

Once when working with a conflicted Vestry, I stopped an angry discussion and asked them to go around the room and define what each thought the issue really was.  We had 6 different answers from 9 Vestry members.  Realizing this, I challenged them to choose one of these and start from there. 



Manage both Content and Process

Schaller taught me that when a leadership team or any group is working, there are two dynamics going on.  One is the content and the other is the process.  His advice was simple; “If you are stuck on content, then ask a process question.  If you are stuck on process, ask a content question.”


In a divided Vestry discussing the need for a new building and getting nowhere, I asked, “What would be the best way to resolve this matter?”  After further discussion, they delegated this to a special committee and asked them to come back with a recommendation.



Good Leaders Ask Others the Right Question at the Opportune Moment

Schaller taught that a good leader knows the power of asking the right question at the right moment.  Here is one of his classic ones: “If we decide to go ahead with this plan, what do you think the predictable resistances will be?”  


Here is what I said to my senior warden at a critical moment.  “I understand that you are against what I am recommending, but I am wondering why you are so angry about this.”  His first response was classic.  “I don’t know.”  Which do you think more important at that moment, his position or his anger?



And here is a question Schaller asked me, “Kevin, is this the most serious crisis that you’ve ever faced in ministry?”  “No, not at all,” I blurted out.  Then he asked, “So why are you so preoccupied by this?”  It didn’t take long for this question to bring an irrational fear to the surface that had me stuck.



And here is my favorite one that I have had to ask myself and others many times; “Is this a people problem or a system problem?”  Because as Schaller liked to point out, people problems need people solutions and system problems need a system solution, and it is not always clear at any moment which solution is really needed. 



It is painful to note how many congregations try to solve their dysfunctional systems problems by firing the Pastor.  Smart Leaders learn the difference.



As I reflect on this, I realize the wisdom and tools that Schaller gave me as a leader and how passing these on have helped many pastors and lay leaders become more effective. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lessons Learned: The Power of the Pulpit in Leadership


Years ago, I subscribed to “Preaching Today.”  They would mail out a monthly tape cassette with two sermons.  Between them were workshops and interviews that were quite helpful. There I found two great preachers and teachers who influenced me both as a preacher and a leader. One was Fred Craddock.  I used his book “Preaching” in workshops and when I taught preaching at the Stanton Center in Dallas.  My favorite, however, remains Bruce Thielemann.  If you have never heard one of his sermons, do a web search and listen.  You will be richly rewarded. He not only preached well, he also helped many of us learn the power of the pulpit in the arsenal of the clergy leader.  

Here are some important things that I learned from Thielemann.


Christianity is about BIG and IMPORTANT things. Do not waste your time explaining minor points from this Sunday’s lectionary.  Preaching allows us to set the main agenda and what is demanded from us as Christians and as the Church.   

I add a subset to this by always reminding Episcopal Clergy that if we don’t preach on the mission of THE church and our mission as a congregation, no one else will. And guess what, once a year is not enough to communicate its importance. 
  

Thielemann taught that our 15 to 20 minutes in the pulpit is an incredible opportunity for the preacher to be both a pastor and spiritual director to our people.  What did he mean? 


Thielemann pointed out that folks in our congregations suffer from a relatively common list of problems and affections. For examples:

            Relationship issues; love, betrayal, forgiveness, dysfunctional behavior, revenge, resentment

            Addiction, either in ourselves or in those we love

            Depression and its opposite, anxiety

            Anger

            Grief and loss

You get the idea.  Then he would point out that the Scriptures are ripe with examples and stories that touch on these topics.  He suggested that the wise pastor should make a list of these maladies and periodically ask if our preaching helps those afflicted with these issues.  Sure, there are great saints who have wrestled with “the dark night of the soul,” but congregationally speaking, not so much.  However, depression? You can count on it! 


He added to this what we Episcopalians would call “Spiritual Direction.”  If we conceptualize any way of understanding spiritual growth, we realize that we have many parishioners moving along this path. We need to ask if we are helping them take that next step or even know there is a next step.  C.S. Lewis pointed out that Jesus offered unconditional forgiveness to the woman taken in adultery, but he demanded something of the rich young ruler.  Jesus understood that people need different directions based on where they were at that moment in their relationship to Christ.  


I hear a great deal of preaching in TEC about inclusiveness, grace, and unconditional love.  But Jesus didn’t say to James and John, “You fisherman understand that God loves you just the way you are?  Have a nice day fishing.”  He called them to intentional and sacrificial discipleship.  Many in our churches need to hear that call. 


This is how I ended my sermon on the 1st Sunday of Lent in my home congregation this year.

“We Episcopal Clergy often suggest that our people give up and/or take on something for Lent. Most of these things, if we think about it, generally benefit us.  Wouldn’t all of us be better off having a little bit more of quiet time?  The problem is that this makes Christianity about what we do, not who we are.  If we really want to revolutionize our spiritual life this Lent, why not ask ourselves a much more penetrating question?  How am I not yet the person that God has called me to be in Christ?  Of course, this will require repentance and amendment of life, but you see Christianity is not about doing something, it is about being someone!


What does all this have to do with our leadership?  I can tell you.  The Priest who keeps the big issues before our people, demonstrates our compassion and love by addressing their wounds and hurts, and who applies the appropriate spiritual direction to the souls committed to our care, gain a place of influence in their hearts.  John Maxwell said it often and best, “They don’t care what you know till they know that you care.” 


Bruce Thielemann understood this and we should too. 





 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Lessons Learned: The Main Thing


Jane Hansen was one of the most remarkable Christian leaders I have ever known.  She was for many years the President of Aglow Ministries International headquartered in Seattle.  Most of my readers will not know her or much about Aglow Ministries, but I sat as a member of their advisory board for the 7 years I served as Rector of St. Luke’s in Seattle.  Aglow is an independent evangelistic ministry aimed at women and strongly associated with The Assemblies of God and also other various Pentecostal denominations.  For those 7 years, I watched one of the best managed Christian organizations that I have known.  Jane’s ministry team was very professional and at the same time a wonder example of a Christian team ministry.  Ironically as a woman, Jane would not have been allowed to be a pastor in her own denomination though she ran a ministry that vastly outnumbered any of their churches.


I was on the Advisory Board because my predecessor at St. Luke’s was before me.  I sort of inherited the position.  The board of Aglow has a bit of an unusual organization.  It was comprised of Jane and her Vice Presidents all of whom headed up a major division of Aglow.  The Advisory Board was made up of six area pastors most of whom headed large, 2000 plus ASA, congregations.  I wish I could say more about Aglow’s work back in the 80s, but it would take too long.  I want to focus one of the primary things that I learned from Jane.   


During one Board meeting a group made up of local fundamentalist and evangelical organizations made a presentation on abortion.  They represented a national organization that was trying to get every conservative denomination and para-church ministry to sign a common declaration opposing abortion in the strongest terms possible. After an hour of presenting their point of view, they concluded with how important it would be for Aglow Ministries to sign on and how strange it would be if they refused.


Now remember, all the board members were women, most were grandmothers, and all would have been clearly opposed to abortion.  After the group left, Jane asked the advisors for comments.  Three of the pastors were strongly in favor of them signing on. Three others of us weren’t so sure.  For me, it felt like the presenters were a bit intimidating and certainly they were pushing to get Aglow to sign on.


After we had spoken, Jane paused and looked at her board members.  Several of them were members of two of the Churches represent by advisors in the room.  She then asked if we would mind stepping out of the room for a few minutes while she had an conversation with her fellow leaders.  Half an hour later, we were invited back in.


“Well what did you decide?” asked one of the pastors who had been vocally in favor of them signing on. Jane pause, smiled, and then said gently, “We have decided that it would not be right for us to sign on to this declaration.”  


That Pastor looked stunned.  “Why not,” he angrily replied.  Here is how Jane answered: 


“Pastor, you know how all of us feel about his issue.  It was a difficult decision for us.  However, when we thought about our mission to introduce women to Jesus Christ it caused us to stop and ask this question; what if one woman decided not to attend an Aglow meeting because she once had an abortion? Then we would be failing to carry out our mission.” 



What did Jane and her associates grasp?  Long before secular writers wrote about this, they knew that a ministry, denomination, and congregation needed to remember to keep the main thing the main thing.


I have consulted with many congregations and worked with three dioceses and time after time I had to remind myself of the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing.  This is often a difficult discipline for leaders to keep.  Keeping it means that leaders need not to dilute their effectiveness by adding more and more good things to what they are called to do.  Next, leaders need a way to say “no” to what they are not called to do.  Of course, the discipline is dependent on two other things. 

1.      You have to know what the main thing is!

2.     You have to organize everything around it.  


Most Episcopal Churches that I’ve worked with have no idea what their main thing is.  When I ask leaders to share their mission and core values, I often find the mission is so vague that they are not able to build a strategy around it.  In addition, they will list 20 or more core values and some of these congregations have less than 100 people present on any given Sunday.  


The congregation that I served in Seattle was just like this.  They had way too many good things and no way of centering on what the main thing was.  So my first work was to find the main thing.  Then we set to work carrying out strategies that made the main thing the main thing.  In three years, the congregation, already large by Episcopal standards, became the largest it had ever been in its history.  Then we launched a daughter congregation as a part of our strategy. 


My advice to every leader is to always Make the Main Thing the Main Thing! 




Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Leadership: Lessons Learned


I am starting a series of blogs on lessons on leadership that I learned from others.  As you can imagine, with 42 years of active ministry, I had a chance to learn from a number of great teachers, mentors, and peers.  I do hope you will respond and possible even share stories of your own. 

My second year at Berkeley Divinity School, the seminary called the Rev. Michael Allen to be our Dean.  It was a very tumultuous time for both or society and for our School.  Michael led the school through the process of merging with Yale and becoming The Berkeley Center at Yale Divinity School, making Episcopalians the largest denomination at YDS.  He was an unusual choice for Dean because he did not come from an academic background.  He had been Rector of St. Mark’s in the Bowery in New York.  It was a cutting edge activist congregation with a very diverse membership and a strong commitment to serving the needy of that area.


Dean Allen had been a reporter who responded to a call to consider ordination by Bishop James Pike after he had interviewed the controversial Bishop.  He attended the EDS and ordained in the Diocese of New York.  I do not think it fair to call Dean Allen a Progressive, he was much too radical than that.  He was either liked or hated by both the faculty and students who were very polarized about the future of the Seminary and his leadership style.  I liked him and he was very helpful to me in a number of ways.  Later in life, we drifted apart over a number of issues, but I always remained grateful for what I learned from him.



Michael believed passionately that faith and courage were inseparable!  He taught this and modeled in in a number of ways.  He would point out that being a leader of the Church demanded courage.  Often for him this meant courage to speak out against injustice and courage to speak up for those who had no voice.  This brings me to his main message and the key lesson that I learned. 



Faith demands courage on our part.  If our faith is not demanding this from us, then it really isn’t faith.  I learned from him that where I was called to be most faithful as a Priest and Christian was the area where courage was being demanded of me.



“What is faith when everything is going well?” he would ask.  Whether this mean standing up to someone in power (say a Bishop, and I’ve needed that at times!) or facing up to cancer, or facing up to people who disrespect your, or those who even hate you for your beliefs, or standing up to members of a congregation that speak ill of you, all need courage. 



I have often shared this with parishioners and friends when they faced difficulties.  It always had a way of strengthening them.  Instead of seeing the “faith” as something they had to hang on to no matter how they felt, they could see faith for what it was, a call to be courageous, a good soldier of the cross, no matter the circumstances. 



Not a surprise that two of Dean Allen’s favorite hymns were “They Caste Their Nets in Galilee” and “Am I a soldier of the Cross.”



This leads me to two important aspects of this truth.  First, I was working with a congregation where the Vestry and Rector were in conflict and they had brought Peter Steinke, a great teacher and consultant, to work with them.  The Rector had definitely pushed the leaders beyond their comfort zone and they had decided that the best way to deal with this was to force him to resign.  Eventually, he did.  He just couldn’t take their criticism and hostility and who could blame him.  Steinke came in to debrief the Vestry in the aftermath and carried out his listener and consultant role well. After the meeting, I asked him what he really thought of all this.  In summary, this is how he described situation.  


The Rector was like a lot of clergy I have worked with over the years.  He saw what needed to be done and he took action to make it happen.  When he got resistance and sabotage, he was at first naively surprised thinking he could just charm his way through it all.  When this failed, he became angry and discouraged.  He was leading change beyond his capacity to deal with anger, criticism, and pushback.  They read that from him and pushed even harder. He failed to count the possible cost of the changes, rally allies to his side, and have the courage to persevere.  In the end, they just wore him out and then they bought him out.    



Faithful leadership takes courage.  Dean Allen understood this.


Second, What is the greatest obstacle that many clergy (and yes I include myself in this at times) face in leading; the desire to have people love us, and the inability to accept that often when you do the right thing, many will NOT!


I would have followed Dean Allen into any battle.  Ironically, I would also say this about Bishop Ben Benitez.  I didn’t always agree with either of them, but I would have followed them to the gates of hell. 










Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Leaders: Born or Made?


One question that often gets asked about leadership is whether leaders are born with some sort of leadership gene, or are they made by teaching and experience? 

Since I am in the business of teaching leaders, you can probably guess my bias, but the question allows me to introduce my experience with developing leaders, especially clergy leaders.  This blog will then serve as an introduction to a series of blogs on things that I learned about leadership.   

Do We Have Lots of Bad Leaders in the Ministry?

When I went on the staff of the Diocese of Texas, Bishop Payne had just been elected coadjutor.  Our offices were adjacent and this gave us a good amount of time to discuss congregations and clergy leadership in the Diocese.  We found that we were being asked an evocative question by many of our clergy and lay leaders; “What are you going to do with all those ineffective and troublesome clergy you have in the diocese?”  About three years into Bishop Payne’s tenure, I had worked with enough diocesan clergy that I had a much different perspective.  This held up for all my time on the staff in Texas, and it continued to be my experience in working with clergy leaders since that time.   

First, let me say this.  We did have problem clergy.  However, they were very few in number.  They had poor leadership ability and they often generated conflict in their congregations by both their style of leadership and their personality.  They were the source of much of that question we were being asked. They were few in number, but they generated a lot of attention from parish and diocesan leadership and thus created the impression that there were “lots of them” out there.  They, of course, had to be dealt with one at a time as the next crisis arose, and there was always a next crisis. 

Training and the Three Types of Leaders

What I found interesting is that I could divide the clergy in this large diocese into three distinctive groups.  Here is how I came to see them. 

The Instinctive Leaders

We had about 10% of our leaders that I would describe as Instinctive Leaders.  They had instinctive and intuitive leadership skills and mostly these worked well for them.  They were not much interested in what we taught or shared about leadership.  This was because most of them believed they already knew how to lead.  Now note that I am not denigrating these folks.  Some were very talented and I often tried to have them teach or share with our other clergy.  When I did the problem I encountered was that many times what they thought that they had done as a leader had little to do with what they actually did, or it was so instinctive, they could not really describe the how and why.  They were essentially saying “do what I did in this situation and you will be a leader too.”  Unfortunately for some of these instinctual leaders when their natural instincts didn’t work, they did not know how to adjust.  They just kept plugging along with what they had always done before.  A very few hit a wall hard enough that it opened them up to learning new behaviors, but mainly we found it best to let this 10% just run with what they knew.  

The Majority of Leaders

Most of our clergy leaders, I would say about 70 to 80% were teachable. It was this group that I worked with over my 9 years there.  They had some skills, wanted to lead, and were willing to learn especially when what we presented helped them.  We weren’t teaching them a single style of leadership.  What we tried to help them understand was the kind of leader their personality and experience tended to make them.  Personality profiles are helpful in this and so was the DISC profile.  I believe the Meyers-Briggs info is best for intrapsychic understanding and the DISC was best for organizational or outward understanding.   

So, I liked leaders who had self-awareness about this information.  Then the issue became how to maximize their assets.  I am a strong proponent of the Situational Leadership Grid and often use this tool to help leaders come to understand both their preferred style and what a group might need from them at any given time.  For 9 years we gave these leaders sound theory and practice, and watched so many of them grow and do wonderful and effective work in congregations. 

The Agent Leader

I also found that there were clergy who were unteachable on the other end of the scale from instinctive folks.  These clergy did not function well in most any leadership role.  We started sending these for evaluation at the Clergy Career Development Center in Fort Worth.  They were often anxious that they would be told they shouldn’t be priest, but this never happened.  What did happen for most was that they came to understand that they worked best in a structured environment that provided strong and clear organization roles for them.  Several of these went into chaplaincy in medical institutions and schools.  They were happy to take communion to the sick or lead a school devotional service.  I call them Agent Leaders because they loved carrying out many of the tasks of priesthood, but had trouble handling the leadership role demanded of them in the open ended and precarious world of parish ministry.  Sometimes these folks ended up on the staff of larger congregations, but again their job carried definite structural boundaries.  One could hardly doubt their dedication and spirituality, and once finding the right environment, they flourished.  

Why Seminaries Cannot Teach Leadership

What I did come to understand clearly during that time was that most of us come out of a seminary environment where the model of leadership is that of “knowledge leader.”  This is what our professors were, well most of them.  They honestly believed that the task of clergy is to deliver scripture, theology, church history or whatever and our knowledge will win trust, impress our laity, and have them willing to follow us as their “ordained” leader.  Most of us learned quickly that this model just does not translate into the community of the Church and our parishes.  We often learned this painfully.  Sometimes the pain of this initial learning causes clergy to withdraw and lose confidence in the abilities and potential they do have.  They get stuck.  This is why dysfunctional congregations make such a poor context for young clergy to learn and grow. All the learnings are negative.   

I know what you are thinking.  Then why don’t we teach folks leadership in Seminary?  My answer may make some of you mad, but I have come to understand that one learns leadership in the field and by attempting to lead.  We learn it by taking initiative and learning from experience.  Good leadership theory helps, but leading is learned in a community because leadership is both relational and behavioral.  It is not an office or title, and it is certainly not something as simple as “the ten characteristics of a great leader.”   

I say it this way.  Developing leaders is the work of the Church.  It cannot be delegated to seminaries. I am not saying that seminary education isn’t important.  I believe strongly that to be an effective parish priest requires learning in these areas.   

Effective Leaders

So what kind of clergy leadership do I find helpful?  I like Leaders who think and pray through what needs to be done while interacting with the key lay leaders of their churches. Then they take initiative, and have the ability to stop periodically and ask a profound question, “Is what is happening, what I intended.”  Then they ask, “How do I need to adjust or enhance my leadership to be more effective?  Leadership is not about good or bad leadership.  Leadership is about effectiveness.   

What kind of leadership is often ineffective?  Those leaders who do everything instinctually and with little self-awareness are sometimes great in the right situation.  However, some times they are dangerous.  I’ve found some who have a sense of entitlement and this can be very damaging to their congregations and ultimately to themselves.  Ineffective also are those leaders who are so introspective (I did not say introverted, the majority of clergy are introverts) that they are unable to act.  They are much too analytical or self-critical to be able to take initiative and stay with it long enough to have it work.  A good leader cannot ever have all the facts, nor can one wait to “feel” good about making a decision because most important decisions have some inherent risk in them.   

My advice? 

If you are called to ordained leadership accept that with this comes a commitment to life-long learning.  Along the way you will also find that having good mentors and honest colleagues will help you become the leader God and your people need you to be.




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Evangelism and Vibrant Congregations


As someone who has been passionately committed to Evangelism in the Episcopal Church for almost 40 years, I am very pleased with our Presiding Bishop’s emphasis on The Jesus Movement and the need for more Evangelism in our community.  Many of our leadership signing on to this Jesus Movement idea, however, are quick to say that this is not about building churches or adding to our membership.  For them it is about proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom of Justice, equality, and inclusiveness of all people.  While I understand some of these comments, I want to underscore the important of healthy and vibrant congregations to the Jesus Movement and the work of Evangelism.


Put the Movement First

First, let me assert that I am 100% in agreement with the statement by Bishop Curry that we are the Episcopal/Anglican expression of the Jesus Movement.  I think it is extremely important to acknowledge that Christianity has and always will be about Jesus and it is a movement much more than an organization or institution.  The Church is essentially the Community of Christ, and Christianity is a transactional experience where one or more follows of Jesus communicate through the power of the Holy Spirit who the Resurrected Jesus is, what he has done, and what he is doing in our lives and in our world. 



As Richard Chartres the now retired Bishop of London said recently, “Christianity is first and foremost a way of life.”  To be a Christian is not just to hold to a set of theological positions and truths.  We have truth and we have theological beliefs – the content of the faith once received and passed on by the Apostles - but at the heart of Christianity is the way of life that Jesus has modeled for us and given to us by his Spirit.  This is why the Church talks about “formation” and not just teaching people.  As Paul insisted, Christ is in us and the fullness of Christ is being formed in us.  This is true both for individual Christians and for the Christian Community which we affirm is the living body of Christ.  To affirm these things is in no way to denigrate the place and role of the Church for Christians, it is merely to put first things first. 

We Have Thought About This Before 

Now the relationship between Evangelism and the Church is something that TEC has given serious consideration in the past. While many current leaders tend to speak negatively about the Decade of Evangelism, It is important to remember that one accomplishment of the emphasis on Evangelism during that time was the careful thought given by TEC to what evangelism is and what it is not.  Unfortunately, much of this work has been forgotten.  However, two things came out of that Decade. 



First was a thoughtful and comprehensive Episcopal definition of Evangelism that is still the official definition of our Church.  Building on Archbishop Temples’ definition, the official definition remains “Evangelism is the presentation of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit so that others are led to receive him as Savior and follow him as Lord within the fellowship of His Church.”  Some, especially English Evangelicals, seriously objected to the “within the fellowship of His Church” statement.  They contended that Evangelism is primarily about proclamation and had little to do with bringing people to the Church.  I sense that some of our Progressive leaders have come to this same conclusion when they state that “Evangelism is not about numbers or building churches.”  For example, the Rev. Michael Hunn speaking of current efforts toward evangelism said recently “The fundamental goal is to spread the good news, not to bring people into the church.”  While this may sound good, it really makes little sense in practice.  People do not just hear the good news and end up formed in Christ.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it no doubt takes a community to form a new soul in Christ. 



Second, during the Decade of Evangelism, we grew and expanded TEC.  In the last five years of the Decade of Evangelism, 1995 to 2000, we were the only mainline denomination in the United States that had increases in the number of baptisms, attendance, and membership.  It is important to recognize that this was the result of intentional efforts at Evangelism and intentional efforts at expanding membership in congregations.  Of course, other things have happened since then.  There were difficult and controversial decisions that divided the Church and led to losses in membership, but there was a time when the work of Evangelism was being done and was bearing fruit.  It is still being done in 15 to 20% of our congregations and they are still bearing fruit.  That fruit is new believers brought into Christ’s Church. 



And this is still being done in congregations despite the growing secularization of our society, the death of many out dated institutional structure of the church, and a huge number of congregations (dare I say even Dioceses) that are focused on institutional survival.  Let me say this even more plainly.  In many of the declining congregations that I have known and many I have tried to help, the current membership is singularly fixed on what the current members like and do not like.  They focus on what members want without ever asking the missional question of what the community around them and the people in these communities need.  So, numbers for numbers sake?  Many of these declining churches would love to have more people giving more money, but their inward focus makes getting new folks almost impossible. 

People Will Be Drawn by Our Good Works 

Lastly, I need to say something about another issue that is implied by many of our current leadership.  It goes something like this.  If our churches do right, just, and fully inclusive things, people will be drawn to our communities.  Of course, some of us remember the famous statement by one of our Bishops that “affirming homosexual persons and agreeing to marriage equality would lead to hundreds of thousands of new members joining our churches.”  Such hyperbole is misleading and worse, said often enough, people who say it come to believe it. 



In commenting on the potential that we have as a church, one leader said that if the Church were to take on human trafficking or sexual exploitation of Children that this would be an incredible opportunity for Evangelism.  People would see our work for justice and helping the marginalized and flock to our communities.  There are two reasons why this is mistaken.



First, churches in the U.S. already do an incredible among of work for both justice and on behalf of marginalized people.  We do this because it is part of that whole “following him” perspective that we carry.  I have known a few folks over the years that were attracted to Episcopal churches because of such good work, but this has never been the primary thing that has drawn people to Christ and his Church. What draws most people is well, how should I say this without being offensive, something spiritual.



Second, who are all these people who are going to flock to us because we are taking on these important and worthwhile causes?  You see for people to want these issues corrected and are willing to labor, give, pray, and sacrifice to have them happen would in itself take a conversion. The problem is not that we have all these good people who want to join churches that are doing good and just things.  It is that we have huge numbers of self-centered, self-indulgent, and indifferent sinful people who do not care about these issues and the people caught up in them.  For them to care, would take quite frankly a transformation and conversion to another set of values.  In other words, we have this formula backwards. 

Evangelism and the Converted Life 

The Church’s own history teaches us this truth. Take Francis of Assisi’s conversion from smug and indulgent dandy, to Christ-centered revolutionary.  Contrast this to the babble on TMZ and the superficial folks they hold constantly before us.  Or take John Newton’s conversion from slave trader to evangelical preacher and reformer of English society.  Take Paul’s conversion from self-righteous persecutor of the early Christians to Apostle to the Gentiles.  Take John Wesley’s conversion from Anglican moralist to radical conversionary.  Take Simon Weil’s conversion from comfortable middle class bureaucrat to radical witness to Christian solidarity with Jews during the holocaust.  The list goes on and on.  In most of the Church’s history, radical justice and good works are the fruit of conversion to Christ; they are not the magnet that draws the indifferent human heart.  If you believe that most people are well intentioned and just looking for a Church making a difference in our world, you are either naive or diluted.  Our world needs what Jesus has given us, the compelling icon of self-sacrificial love and compassion. 



If our community wants to do Evangelism, it must move deeper and more closely to the Christ who is the good news for our broken world.  His cross is both a judgement on this world and its values and the cure to heal the human soul and society.  People who have discovered this truth have formed a Movement that has been converting, reforming, and healing our world for 2000 years.  We find these people in the Church, the Body of Christ, the Household of God, the Fellowship of the King, and the communion of the saints. 

If you think we can do Evangelism without such local vibrant communities, you will be sorely disappointed.  We cannot have vibrant Churches without Evangelism, and we cannot have Evangelism without vibrant congregations.