Go slow to go fast

[Note: a version of this post first appeared on Searching for the Called.]

When we onboard members to a committee or team or launch a new program – as many of us will do in January – often the tendency is to capitalize on initial enthusiasm to get as much done as quickly as possible. That’s totally understandable. After all, novelty begets energy, and we don’t want to waste it. But if we haven’t taken the time to build our team and outline our processes, even a small bump can drain that momentum and derail our collective work.

That’s why it’s important – even though it’s counter-intuitive – to start slowly. Develop relationships among the key players. Learn where each person is coming from, what their reasons were for signing up, what skills and experience and ideas they bring, what they need from others in order to make their best contributions, and how they deal (or don’t) with conflict. When those involved have this kind of context for their collaborators, they will be able to engage one another more quickly and effectively when difficulties arise.

In addition to interpersonal processes, agreeing on procedures at the outset can make work go faster. What is the future story we’re striving for? How does everyone plan to participate in the work? What is our timeline? How will we come to agreement on major decisions? How will we ground our work in God? How will we hold one another accountable? What will we do if we come to an impasse? Intentionality at the front end can ease – if not prevent – many stresses that pop up as humans, with our anxieties and agendas, cooperate.

Note that slow movement at the start might prompt questions such as “why are we wasting time on this ‘soft’ work?” Be prepared to explain how deliberateness serves both the overall goal and the speed of the work that is to come.

In what situations do you need to pump the brakes in order to do some of this foundational work? Though it might seem tedious at times, your relationships and your efforts will greatly benefit. If you need help with going slow, this trust-building workshop is worth your consideration.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.

Building effective teams

Committee 1 gathers monthly – more or less – to maintain one of the church’s ministries. It has a dedicated core group, plus some other participants that drift in and out. The meetings tend to be needlessly long and rehash a lot of the same issues each time. Action items are unevenly distributed, and implementation is hit-or-miss.

Committee 2 gathers monthly to carry out one of the church’s ministries. The members are clear on their task and have spent time agreeing on how to accomplish it. Before beginning their work each time, they revisit the covenant they created that guides how they interact with one another. Sometimes there are differences of opinion during discussion times, but each committee member makes an effort to understand where others are coming from. At the end of each meeting, the chair ensures everyone is on the same page about the action items, point people, and timelines they’ve agreed on.

What’s the difference between the two committees? Committee 1 is a group, a loose collection of individuals who share an orbital pattern. Committee 2, by contrast, is a team. In teams the members share a purpose, a grasp on the process for accomplishing it, and responsibility for seeing it through. Someone has taken up the mantle of leadership (which may be passed among the members) and someone has given this group the authority to move on their plans. There is a cohesiveness among the members that allows them to build on one another’s strengths and hold each other accountable.

There’s nothing wrong with being a group, if that’s what the situation calls for. The people gathered for a class or training, for example, co-exist well as a group. They’re all there for the learning, but there’s no project to require interdependence. However, church leadership teams will be much more effective if they embrace a team identity with all it entails.

To start making the move from being a collection of individuals to a true team, build mutual understanding by discussing together these four questions:

What is our shared purpose?

What is our process for living toward that purpose?

Who will be responsible for which pieces of the process?

How will we know we can trust one another throughout the process?

These aren’t the only considerations for team-building, but they’re a good start.

What groups in your purview need to evolve into teams – or be disbanded and re-formed as teams from the start?

Creative Commons image “Clever Cupcakes” by Our World, Our Home Cupcakes is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Benefits of coaching: leading processes

The church, like the culture around it, is evolving quickly. This means that strategic plans have a very short shelf life and that ministers are called upon to lead visioning-type processes more frequently.

But where do you begin? The thought of not just structuring the process but also inviting helpful participation and managing congregational anxiety around change can be so daunting.

I have worked with several coachees who were leading their churches to discern what God is calling them to be and to do – in this time and place. Coaching offers space for ministers to consider both the big picture and the tasks that will move the congregation toward realizing it. In our conversations we talk through interpreting the work theologically, making space for the Spirit to speak, involving various parties in healthy ways, naming available assets, sparking creativity, troubleshooting obstacles, managing polarities, and taking concrete steps.

Coachees are able to lead change processes with increased boldness and sensitivity when they feel more equipped. If your church is stuck in a rut, or if you’re already knee-deep in a visioning time and not sure what to do next, let’s talk.

Creative Commons image “Vision…..” by Kamaljith K V is licensed under CC BY 2.0.



A preacher’s work is never done…or is it?

I suffer from the terrible scourge that is perfectionism. Until recently, this affliction meant that I’d still be editing my sermons until I stepped onto the chancel, no matter how long I’d been working on them.

Something has changed over the last couple of years, though. I’ve been able to stick a fork in my manuscripts and enjoy playing or even (gasp) just kicking back in the recliner on Saturdays. Maybe I’ve gained a smidge of insight about my process through experience and the passage of time. Maybe I have a different sense of priorities now that I sit across the breakfast table from 28 pounds of pure curiosity, cuteness, and mischief. Maybe I simply trust the Spirit more than I once did.

I don’t think the quality of my sermons has declined, but even if it has, God can hit the override and still speak through me. So if you are a long-suffering perfectionist preacher, here’s what I recommend:

  • Get an editor. I’m lucky to have one required by the marriage laws of our state (or something like that) to give feedback on my sermons, but in-town friends and online communities are great resources too.
  • Make plans for Saturday. This is counter-intuitive for many ministers, but it may provide the inspiration needed to finish writing early and set the manuscript aside.
  • Learn when to call it. Not every sermon will draw Barbara Brown Taylor comparisons. Know when to say, “I’ve worked hard, I’ve tried to be faithful to the text, and it’s up to the Spirit to do the rest.”
  • Ask for post-sermon feedback. Approach a cross-section of parishioners for their honest, constructive reactions. Knowing what they heard and where they engaged will help with the next week’s preparation.

Thankfully, while it is essential to approach homiletical work with all due reverence, the Word is proclaimed in so many ways – through music, communion, prayer, the passing of the peace, and so many other experiences of the divine. So preaching is not all about us as ministers, and it is certainly not all done by us!

Channeling conflict

No one – well, no healthy person – loves conflict. But since we are neither clones nor automatons, conflict happens.

Creative Commons "Conflict Resolver" by Bopuc is licensed under CC 2.0.
Creative Commons “Conflict Resolver” by Bopuc is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Actually, I’ll take it a step further. We need conflict to grow as individuals and as communities. That tension prompts us to reflect on and clarify what we’re passionate about and why. It (ideally) makes us more carefully consider our positions and interactions and keeps us engaged with those who believe differently than we do. Conflict also shakes us out of complacency by spicing things up.

But conflict is still uncomfortable and potentially destructive if it’s not managed well. Here are some questions to ponder when dealing with conflict in a ministry setting:

  • What is really driving the conflict? Often the presenting issue is not the real issue.
  • What does your role need to be in managing the conflict? Know where your involvement should begin and end. Don’t enable others’ bad behavior by stepping in out of your own anxiety.
  • How can the passions at play be redirected? Apathy is a much bigger problem than conflict. So what are some positive outlets for the care being shown?
  • What culture changes need to occur so that future conflict is productive? Be proactive about teaching your people how to fight well. It will be worth your effort!

The endgame is not to eliminate conflict but to do conflict well. If you know people or churches who model this, find out what their conflict hacks are and try them on for size.