Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Honeymoon

We still talk about the period after a couple is married as the honeymoon. This is more than a short period of time to get away to a resort or vacation spot.  This is the time when the couple begins to get to know how each other thinks, acts, and believes.  For the most part, couples bend over backward to avoid any conflict during this time, and the good will lasts until a conflict develops that makes the wife see the husband as an unfeeling oaf or the husband see the wife as a nagging shrew.  The conflict is often around some major issue like which way the toilet paper should hang on the dispenser (over or under?) or who takes out the trash.

Churches have honeymoon periods when a new pastor arrives.  This is good.  Everyone is cordial.  The congregation is happy to have survived through that uncertain time without a pastor.  The new pastor feels affirmed that these folks have placed their trust in him or her.  This honeymoon period is important.   The church needs the time to get to know the new pastor’s leadership style, pulpit presence, and interests.  The pastor needs time to find housing, get family settled, become comfortable with worship, learn people’s names, and learn where the paper clips are in the office.

Eventually the honeymoon period has to come to an end, of course.  Although pastors are often told by mentors, “Don’t make any changes until you have been there a year” (or something similar), this may not be practical.  In a marriage, the honeymoon period often ends with the first big fight, job loss by one of the partners, sickness, or pregnancy.  The couple has moved from the honeymoon to real life.  The same happens in churches.  A staff member leaves, a budget crisis hits, an unexpected ministry opportunity emerges, or something else significant happens in the life of church or community that must be addressed.

What should a new pastor do during the honeymoon period?  First, get to know the people and give them opportunities to get to know you.  Encourage them to introduce you to friends and colleagues.  Take advantage of invitations to attend community events or activities.  You may never go back, but you may discover something important there—a contact, an opening for ministry, or a new perspective on what people in the community think about the church.  Although a pastor may not be able to sustain this pace for long, investing time in such contacts initially is important to gain a better understanding of your new church and community.

Second, listen a lot.  All information will not be equally valuable, but just by listening you communicate an attitude of accessibility and a desire to be informed.  As you get to know people in the congregation, you will be able to determine how much weight to place on the information received.  You will also discover who really knows what is going on in the congregation.

Third, begin with clear expectations about the use of your time.  If you plan to take off one day a week for sabbatical, start doing that at the very beginning of your tenure.  If you usually block out time early in the week to begin sermon preparation, protect that time on your calendar from the start.  If you plan to have weekly staff meetings, begin as soon as possible.  If you plan to set aside Wednesday mornings or afternoons to visit the hospital, nursing homes, or shut-ins, find someone in the community or congregation who knows where to go and get started. 

Fourth, don’t be forced into making changes in the life of the church until you feel that you have sufficient information and resources to do them effectively.  Certainly some changes may be necessary as emergency responses in a crisis, but do things that don’t restrict future decision making.  For example, if the minister to students leaves early in your tenure, look for an interim and give the church time to think about the best way to staff this position in the future.  This allows time for discussion, evaluation, and a little dreaming.

Honeymoons are great, but they are not real life.  Enjoy them while they last.

This blog originally appeared on the Associated Baptist Press web site.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Birthing Communities of Faith: A View from the Field

Several months ago, I wrote a blog about laity carrying the primary responsibility in startingnew churches.  My friend Frank Broome, the coordinator for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, responded positively to that post.  He reported that CBF of Georgia has had a dozen successful lay led starts with only two failures. 
 In an effort to gain some realistic feedback on this approach to staring new work, I asked Frank, “What factors contributed to the success of lay lead church starts in your state?”  Here is how he responded:  
  • "They began with a committed core of between 30 and 40 individuals who understood that they needed to give money and time.
  • "They were willing to begin in a home, fire station, metal shed or even Jewish synagogue, thus keeping rent to a minimum.
  • "They found an interim (usually through me) that was willing to preach at a small salary.
  • "They made sure the nursery was staffed with volunteers.
  •  "They were willing to relocate on average five times before they found a more permanent home.
  • "They linked with CBF/GA early on and began to give a little something to us thus helping to create a sense that they were giving as well as receiving.
  • "When CBF/GA gave help in the form of money or volunteers it was very targeted help.  We did not pay for bad decisions like excessive rent. 
  • "Finally we put successful starts in touch with new starts so the five to ten year old congregations could encourage the one to two year olds.  In other words the more established starts could tell the new start things that I could not.  In that way they created a sense of accountability over each other."

In this situation, the role of the state CBF leadership was to provide a supportive framework in which a lay led church plant could grow at its own pace with no strings attached.  They set their own expectations and lived into them.  This is a healthy, organic approach that assures local responsibility as well as local autonomy without a large investment of outside support and interference.  This sounds like something worth duplicating.

Friday, April 19, 2013

How Do You Use Social Media?

Events of recent days and weeks have reminded me that each of us chooses how we will use the social media available to us—platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  They are readily available for us to express our opinions but we sometimes fail to realize the extent of their reach and the impact of our postings.

Of course, I understand that people choose to use social media in a number of ways.

Some use their accounts to express their anxieties, desperation, and general dissatisfaction with life.  Their social media connection becomes a confessional where they can “dump” their “stuff” with little or no fear of facing the consequences.

Others use their accounts to share their political views.  They share comments, links, and blogs that deal with topics such as the government trying to take away our guns, their disapproval of “government schools,” and a president that they resent or even hate.  They are quick to repeat ideas and information with verifying either.  Again, they either expect little feedback or feel that they can do this with impunity.

Others use their accounts to engage others in games, post information about celebrities, share jokes and funny pictures, or even provide links to pictures of kittens.  For these folks, social media is a soft and fuzzy, fun place to be, but they can overestimate the safety of this digital environment.

I decided several years ago that I would stop griping and whining on Facebook (my primary online platform).  This came only after I realized how some of my comments were taken and that what I wrote could end up anywhere!  I am sure that I even offended some people.  Although I do share political views from time to time, I try to keep it respectful and only share links from reliable sources.  I celebrate my family through posts and pictures. I try to provide encouraging and informative quotes and even scripture.  For purposes of full disclosure, I also promote the work that I do with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

Now, each of us is free to post what we want on social media (within the guidelines of the provider).  In most cases, this is a safe and non-threatening place to do what we feel comfortable doing.   At the same time, each of us also has the freedom to close the door on those whom we perceive as overly opinionated, rude, and disrespectful of others.

When I put something on the web, I realize that I lose control of that material, but I can decide what I am going to post and consider its impact on others.  I can also decide what I want to access and allow on my screen.  I don’t “unfriend” folks often, but I am free to do so when I feel it is appropriate.  In like manner, others can decide they don’t want to receive anything from me.  That’s one of our freedoms.  God bless America!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Coaching Church Leaders During a Time of Change: Reflections

In two previous blogs, I shared the responses of Charity Roberson, Leadership Communities Coach on the Emerging Leaders team at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board on the philosophy and strategy behind her position.  Her comments led me to several observations.

First, people in most congregations know more than they are doing.  We have individuals who possess not only significant gifts and skills but also innovative points of view.  If they are not doing what they do best, what’s the problem?  Perhaps the structures that we insist on maintaining are getting in the way.

Second, people in our congregations want to be involved in decision making but they don’t want to waste their time on minutiae.  They want to help set the direction of the church and then get down to work.  They don’t want to be micromanaged.

Third, there are many people in our churches who have both a teachable spirit and want to share what they learn with others.  As Charity said, “A learning community is one in which each participant is not only teachable but also willing to teach others.” These folks want to live and serve in a learning community.

Fourth, although the people in our churches have unique strengths, they must be empowered and mobilized in order to use them.  This is the work of leaders.  Charity commented:  “Churches need leaders who can assess the strengths of the church and community . . . and find a way for each church to intentionally be faithful in their own unique and individual ways.”

Fifth, without a doubt we are stronger together than we are separately.  This is called synergy.  This is the genius of the Body of Christ.  Charity nailed it when she said, “[The key] is realizing that none of us have all of the answers and we all have to continually find new ways to grow.”

The bottom line is that in most churches, there is vast untapped ability and potential within the members, but it takes a special kind of leader to mobilize and release these strengths.  This requires a leader who understands that his or her primary role is to unleash and encourage God’s people to do God’s work. 

I wish Charity and others like her the best as they model this way of doing church.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Coaching Church Leaders During a Time of Change: Part Two

This is the second part of my interview with Charity Roberson, Leadership Communities Coach on the Emerging Leaders team at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.  In this blog, Charity responds to questions about developing intentional communities of ministers.

We hear a lot today about “leadership communities” or “learning communities.”  As a coach, how would you define a "learning community”?

“I know it sounds trite, but I define a learning community as any group of people that is committed to learning and growing together.  Again, these communities may be a short one hour online conversation, they may be a group that studies together for a set length of time, or they may be groups that journey through a longer learning process.  The goal is also to create a large learning community of all of us in ministry, tapping into resources that already exist and learning how to better communicate and share them.”

What are the key ingredients to making a community a "learning community"?

“I think the key ingredients to making a community a ‘learning community’ is that each participant is willing to learn, they are committed to being open to new possibilities. A learning community is one in which each participant is not only teachable but also willing to teach others.” 

Why does the church need this?

“The church needs this because I really believe this is how our churches need to be functioning in the future.  All of us are aware that the church needs to make some big changes in the ways we do ministry.  Churches need leaders who can assess the strengths of the church and community, assess the areas that are the weakest, and find a way for each church to intentionally be faithful in their own unique and individual ways. That's exciting and overwhelming all at the same time.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Coaching Church Leaders During a Time of Change: Part One

When you see a Baptist organization do something right, you just have to say something about it.

The Virginia Baptist Mission Board recently called my friend Charity Roberson to a new position.  Charity will use her skills as a life coach to develop church leaders, something she has done previously as a campus minister and pastor. This is an example of putting the right person and the right position together.

I asked Charity several questions about her new position and will share her responses in this blog and one later this week. 

What is the exact title of your new position and to whom will you relate (target group)?

“I am serving as the Leadership Communities Coach on the Emerging Leaders team at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.  My primary target group as I start will be children and youth ministry leadership, lay and staff positions. Over time, the goal is to create leadership development communities that expand to other areas of ministry as well.” 

What skills, background, and preparation do you bring to this ministry? (Don't be shy!)

“Leadership development has always been my passion. As the North Carolina State University/Raleigh Area Baptist campus minister, I spent nine years with leadership development as the central mission of the campus ministry. I received training as a life coach through Coaches Training Institute, a world renowned coaches training program. I also received training as a church consultant through the Center for Congregational Health. I am working on my Doctor of Ministry studying the ministry of leadership. I also served as pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Smithfield, NC. “ 

What makes this position innovative or novel?

“The most innovative aspect of this job is that it is so organic and creative. It is about getting out into the churches, seeing their needs, talking to those serving in ministry and then creating opportunities to meet their needs as leaders.  It is realizing that none of us have all of the answers and we all have to continually find new ways to grow. There are so many resources out there and we will find new ways to tap into those resources, while finding new ways to be connected to one another.  

“It is also innovative because these leadership development opportunities can take whatever form they need to and can exist however long or short they need to exist. It may be a conference call or online chat about one particular issue.  It may be taking a group to a weekend or week long training event. It may be creating a more in depth leadership development program that continues for years. 

“The reality is that the churches are feeling the need to be organic and creative. What we've always done is not working the way it used to.  The reality is that the world seems to be changing so quickly that our church and denominational leaders' heads are spinning.  The philosophy is that hopefully we are creating a new way of thinking about not just ministry development but also a new way of looking at ministry and church life.  The reality is that no one person has all of the answers for all of the churches about their needs for effective ministry. The strategy here is to raise up leaders that can assess the realities of their individual ministry settings and to provide them with tools to help meet those needs.”

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Tough Choices

Several years ago while I was working for a state Baptist convention, I received a phone call from a woman who had been recently accepted the call as pastor of a church that participated in the convention.  She was about to attend her first annual meeting of the convention.  After receiving a less than hospitable welcome from the local Baptist association, she was concerned about her messenger credentials being challenged on the floor of the convention.  Someone had suggested that I might walk her through the constitution and by-laws and identify any mine fields.  We had a pleasant conversation, and she thanked me for my guidance.  My response was, “Don’t mention it.  In fact, please don’t let anyone know that we talked.”  Not my finest hour and certainly not a “profile in courage.”

The results, at least, were positive. She did attend the convention, was introduced as a new pastor, and experienced no problems to the best of my knowledge.
About five years ago, I was visiting with a friend who was associate pastor of an African-American church in our area.  She was actively seeking ordination and the opportunity to pastor a church.  Her national denomination would soon be meeting in her city, and I asked if she planned to attend.  She responded very quickly, “I don’t go where I am not accepted and respected.”

She did become a senior pastor shortly afterward, but she had to move to another denomination first.
Juxtaposing these two conversations, separated by about twenty years, helps me to reflect on how women who are called to ministry respond to their circumstances and what it means to the denominations that birthed them. 

In the first instance, I believe that the pastor who went to the state Baptist convention was acting out of hope (perhaps with her church’s encouragement) that the system could change and that women would be welcomed as pastors in a traditional Baptist convention.  Eventually, this woman found that this was not going to happen and she left to join another Baptist group.  But she tried.

My friend of recent years had invested herself in a traditional Baptist denomination, pushing the edges of acceptance, and had finally come to the same conclusion.  She moved on.

What does this say to us about the possibilities for women in ministry today?  First, I believe it says that we still have a long way to go.  Even moderate Baptist churches who voice support for women ministers are slow to consider them as “senior” pastors—that is, the person who preaches from the pulpit and is head of staff.  Second, the lesson is that there are alternatives of women called to preach.  They may have to leave and join a more progressive Baptist group or another denomination in order to fulfill their calling but the option is available. 

Both of these observations create some frustration on my part.  On one hand, moderate Baptists are making progress, but it is painfully slow.  On the other hand, moderate Baptists lose out when our gifted women must leave the churches that nurtured them in order to live out their call. 

At least I am grateful that both of the women cited in my stories have gone on to fruitful ministries but I am sad for those they left behind.