Book recommendation: How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going

Surprise! The old ways of doing church are no longer leading to the outcomes we’ve been conditioned to expect. Instead, numbers in most congregations have dipped (well, at least the ones that are easiest to measure). Churches are so desperate to stop the skid that they often tell God to take a backseat and lean on strategies more suited for the corporate world. The result is that congregations no longer feel so much like sacred centers but frantic, fractured gatherings of people who’ll do anything to avoid looking mortality – the congregation’s and their own – in the eyes.

There’s no denying that the “Big C” Church and many congregations are at a crossroads, or what seasoned consultant Susan Beaumont calls a “liminal space.” The old is in the rearview, and the new is not yet in sight. There is no easy path forward. This is not a situation that churches can strategically plan their way out of or pour more resources into until the trend rights itself. Instead, this season calls for a new kind of leadership, one that lets go of attachment to outcomes, tends the soul of the gathered body, and notices what emerges.

Image courtesy of susanbeaumont.com.

What this transition time requires, in other words, is true spiritual leadership. In her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season, Beaumont lines out what this leadership looks like. It requires the ability to live with discomfort. Every congregation wants to know now what the future will look like now, and that simply isn’t possible without experimentation and discovery. Humans in a world geared toward instant gratification will buck against this purposeful not-knowing, and the leader must point toward the faithfulness of this stance and the opportunities in it. Liminal leadership also necessitates the willingness and capacity to tune into who the congregation is at its roots, what God is up to, and what the Spirit is nudging it to do and be. It invites the church as a whole to join in this untangling of its DNA, this discernment, this identification of purpose. In the process, dependence on God’s timing and attentiveness to God’s presence bring about spiritual transformation for those who engage in this challenging work.

Beaumont’s book offers as much of a guide as we have available for how to navigate this weird, wild time. It outlines the postures a liminal leader must take. It points to where the soul of each congregation reveals itself. It teaches the spiritual practices that add up to discernment. It helps leaders detect and elevate new, more helpful narratives about their churches. It highlights what congregations do (e.g., core values) and don’t (e.g., a 10-year plan) need to move ahead with faithful purpose. And it reassures and emboldens leaders and their churches by emphasizing that it is good and right to stand in wonder rather than on certainty.

I recommend this book to pastors and lay leaders who are stymied about how to put one foot in front of the other. It offers a balance of spiritual and practical, realism and hope that I believe can move churches from liminal languishing to empowered, impassioned purpose.

 

Celebration: I have leveled up!

Last week I received word that my application for the next level of coaching credential was approved by the International Coach Federation. Formerly an Associate Certified Coach, I am now a Professional Certified Coach. Logistically, this means I have more than 125 coach training hours and 500+ coaching hours, have been mentored by my own coach for no fewer than 10 hours since my ACC credential was awarded, have passed a Coach Knowledge Assessment, and have demonstrated PCC-level coaching (assessed according to increasingly rigorous standards) in two recorded coaching sessions. In a bigger sense, though, this designation means that I have committed myself to a higher standard of coaching and to continual growth as a coach.

I would like to thank:

my first coach, Melissa Clodfelter, who showed me what a difference coaching could make,

the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for inviting me to consider becoming a coach and then getting me started down that path,

all of my coach trainers over the years,

my mentor coaches in the process of attaining the Certified Christian Leadership Coach and ACC designations (Eddie Hammett, Brian Miller, and Bill Copper),

my mentor coach who got me ready to apply for the PCC credential, Janice Lee Fitzgerald,

and my family and friends who have encouraged me over the past 6.5 years of growing into this joy-filled ministry niche.

Above all, though, I am grateful to every person who has trusted me as a coach. I am excited to go to my office each day to find out about the good you are doing and to work with you on increasing the impact of your faithfulness, giftedness, wisdom, and experience. What a privilege!

Here’s to many more years of our journey together.

Repost: Thanks Living

Last week I posted a prayer calendar from 2017 extending the spirit of All Saints’ Day throughout the month of November. This week I am re-sharing a prayer calendar from 2015, one that invites thankfulness on each day of the coming month around a broader range of prompts. Here’s how I originally introduced the calendar:

While the goal is to live attuned to our many blessings all year long, in November we tend to be especially mindful of everyday graces. Below is a calendar of gratitude prompts to supercharge your thanksliving. You are encouraged to share widely the JPEG or the PDF (found here), and I invite you to record your daily responses on social media with the hashtag #NoticingGrace.

thanksliving

Repost: Rejoicing in God’s saints

[Note: Since All Saints’ Day is quickly approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share a prayer calendar for the whole of November that I created in that spirit.]

Sometimes I wish All Saints’ Day could be more than, well, one day. Our lives are shaped by so many people who have gone before, whether we knew them personally or not. I think we could all benefit from reflecting on their influence and considering what parts of their legacies to carry forward.

Since All Saints’ Day is November 1, and since we are already inclined toward thanks-living during November, I have put together a month-long prayer calendar with daily prompts to remember a departed saint whose impact has been significant. This calendar is available as a copier-friendly PDF and as a Canva PDF. Feel free to share the calendar on social media, print it for your church members or yourself, or use it as your November newsletter article.

rejoicing-in-gods-saints

Valuing staff that steps up

In churches that have more than one clergyperson on staff, it is good and right for the congregation to look to the associate pastor(s) for leadership when the senior pastor is away. That associate pastor has the training and the big picture understanding to keep ministry moving forward during the senior pastor’s absence.

Things get tricky, though, when we’re talking about the long-term leave (such as sabbatical) or the resignation of a senior pastor. In these instances the capabilities of associate pastors do not change, but their capacities do. A senior pastor’s two-week vacation typically means temporarily-added stress for an associate pastor, who might take on more worship leadership, preaching, pastoral care, and administrative (e.g. meetings) duties than usual. That is doable for a short span. Carrying those extra responsibilities for months, however, could easily lead to resentment and/or burnout on the part of an associate pastor. After all, she is doing more than the job to which the church called her. And all too often congregations don’t recognize, bring in help for, or compensate this essential yet supplemental work.

How, then, can these common gaps in senior pastor leadership be navigated well? Here are a few thoughts:

Senior pastors can

  • Make the effort to communicate to church leadership how much time they spend on the various aspects of their ministry so that those leaders can make good decisions about coverage.
  • Invite their associate pastors to ask questions, share concerns, and state needs around the responsibilities that might fall to them during long-term senior pastor absences.
  • Secure temporary assistance for their associate pastors during sabbatical periods and advocate for additional compensation during and time off after the leave for their associate pastors.
  • Help the church be pro-active about budgeting for temporary assistance and additional compensation so that the funds will be there when needed.

Associate pastors can

  • Talk with their senior pastors, pastoral relations committees, and/or personnel committees about their hopes and fears around their senior pastors’ absences.
  • Keep track of all of their responsibilities and the time needed to do each well. Be prepared to share this information with church leaders and to help them do the math. (“If you want me to pick up X responsibility, what would you like for me to drop?”)
  • Ask for what they need. What kind of help would be most useful? Who might provide it? How much recovery time will be required after the church is fully-staffed again? How much additional pay would be fair for taking on senior pastor duties?
  • Go on vacation beforehand. Have something to look forward to afterward.
  • Ensure they have breaks built into the time when they’ll be running point.

Congregations can

  • Recognize their associate pastors as pastors, all the time.
  • Take care to appreciate their associate pastors’ extra effort and to note the toll it takes when the senior pastor is gone.
  • Acknowledge that associate pastors pick up extra emotional labor when senior pastors are absent due to added anxiety in the system.
  • Mobilize to pick up some of the duties that would otherwise fall by the wayside when the senior pastor is away.
  • Listen to associate pastors when they say that expectations are unreasonable. Even better, invite them to share concerns in advance of the leave and work to resolve them.
  • Give associate pastors some choice in what they pick up and what they hand off to others during senior pastor absences. Some associates might be eager to preach more. Others might want to stay closer to the areas of ministry to which the church called them.
  • Budget for additional pastoral help during stretches without a senior pastor in place. In other words, be ready to call at least a part-time interim minister following a senior pastor’s resignation, and be prepared to pay for temporary help during a senior pastor’s sabbatical.

A senior pastor’s absence can be a time of growth for the associate pastor and the congregation. In order to harness this opportunity, though, it is important to be thoughtful and pro-active. Otherwise, expect the associate pastor to begin imagining herself elsewhere.

Photo by Felipe Furtado on Unsplash.

I appreciate you, pastors

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, but let’s be honest. You deserve to be noticed and thanked year-round for the ways you have committed your lives not just to the tasks but also to the intense spiritual, emotional, and mental labor of ministry. I want you to know that…

…I see you when you get up at 4:30 am for a pre-surgery visit after crawling into bed late the night before due to a meeting that ran long.

…I see you when you struggle over whether to take that much-needed vacation, knowing that a beloved church member is on hospice care.

…I see you when social media tells people in the pews to “walk out of worship if your pastor doesn’t preach on [insert current event here],” yet your sensitivity to the Spirit and to your congregation’s capacity tells you that doesn’t need to be your focus today.

…I see you when the lectionary is serving up softballs for addressing the world’s ills, and you go there, knowing some of your parishioners will be angry.

…I see you when it’s hard to date or make friends outside of work because of the assumptions about and demands of your vocation.

…I see you when you are pulled between wanting to be a whole person (including showing up for your loved ones and yourself) and wanting to be the best pastor possible.

…I see you when you feel like you have to hide part of yourself, whether a belief or an aspect of your identity, because you want to be able to continue in this vocation to which God has called you.

…I see you when you work so hard to encourage your church’s progress, only to have conflict burn it all down.

…I see you when your calendar looks like a box of markers exploded on it, with color-coded appointments leaving precious little blank space.

…I see you when you have to wear the mantle of spiritual leadership even as you wrestle with your own faith.

…I see you when you are moved to enter search and call and have to deal with the ickiness of feeling like you are betraying your current context.

…I see you when you are confined by circumstances to a ministerial role you have outgrown, and you keep showing up despite the chafe.

…I see you when you have no idea what to do next after a metaphorical bomb goes off in your congregation, so you keep putting one foot directly in front of the other.

…I see you when the Church or your church makes you representative of all of a particular demographic, such that you bear the weight of excellence on behalf of all your peers.

…I see you when constructive feedback is hard to come by, no matter how much you seek it out.

…I see you when others discount your voice because you are too something, yet still you keep raising it because your message is faithful.

…I see you when you toil in obscurity, leading small congregations, because you are making big impacts that will ripple out far beyond what you will ever see.

…I see you when you make (or lead your church to make) decisions that are hard but good.

…I see you when you offer care to people who disappoint or even hurt you.

…I see you when you want more for the Church, because it is Christ’s body here on earth.

…I see your love for God and neighbor, your tenacity, your creativity, and your wisdom.

Thank you, dear ministers, for all the seen and unseen work you do to bring more peace, connection, and understanding into this world.

Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash.

 

 

 

The importance of context

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be an astronaut. That was not an uncommon goal in those days. The space shuttle program was relatively new, and the teacher-in-space program – as disastrously as it ended – made space travel seem more attainable. I’m still not so sure what was so enchanting about this dream. Maybe my budding introversion loved the idea of so much, well, space. Maybe it was the enchanting solar system photography that captured my imagination. Maybe I just didn’t know what all my career options were. Maybe I watched the movie Space Camp too many times. (The answer is probably all of the above.)

My parents encouraged me in this low-likelihood endeavor. They took me to the Marshall and Kennedy Space Flight Centers. They helped me write letters to request the scientist equivalent of head shots. They signed me up for Space Camp (which, by the way, was fun but nothing like the movie). My space fixation went strong for several years until I realized I didn’t enjoy science and math nearly as much as English. When I hit junior high, most of my astronaut posters and training manuals (yep, I’m a nerd) were put into drawers as artifacts of nostalgia.

I still love space, though. One of my favorite places continues to be the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. My husband, who went to Space Camp the same summer I did, gets giddy about it too, and now our son looks forward to going. On our most recent visit there was a new (to me) experiment about the context of the space race. As a child, the history of space travel was interesting, but it was just a timeline of progress. But the space program was never just about exploration. It was set against the backdrop of wars (hot and cold) and a struggle for the identity of the country, and the choices, the pressure, the setbacks and achievements cannot be fully appreciated without putting them in this larger context. Suddenly the stakes were clearer to me, as was the tenacity of those engineers who made the improbable happen with very little tech.

So it is with our congregations. The ebb and flow of membership, the beginnings and endings of ministries, patterns of pastor tenures, and even the architecture of church campuses must be set against the backdrop of all that was happening locally, nationally, and globally in particular eras. Then we are able to look for God’s presence through it all, identify values and legacy, and discern future direction.

When looking ahead, don’t forget to direct your gaze backward first, noticing cultural and political trends in the process. Only then, with a full grasp of context, will you be able to get clear on the character and gifts that will launch your church into a future in which the sky proves no limit.

Photo by Niketh Vellanki on Unsplash.