Although the statement, “First, do no harm,” is not actually part of the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, it was coined by the Greek philosopher Hippocrates to remind medical practitioners that, although they wish to heal their patients, they have an equal capacity to do harm. I think this directive also applies to church consultants. I have been known to share the statement, “There is no problem that a consultant can’t make worse,” but in my practice as a consultant, I certainly try to avoid this.
Churches call upon consultants for a number of services: staff development, visioning, transitions, conflict resolution, fund raising, security audits, building planning, and many other things. At Pinnacle Leadership Associates, we deal primarily with the first four. What has been your experience with church consultants?
If you are planning to contract with a consultant, let me suggest several things for you to consider.
First, does the consultant seek to understand and respect the DNA of your church? Another way to ask this would be, does the consultant try to understand and work with the values that are most important to your congregation? Every faith community is different. Their values differ as well. What is important in one congregation’s context is not as important in another. A good consultant knows this and tries to understand what the church considers important and work with those values.
Second, does the consultant respect the people and their opinions? Another way to ask this is, is the consultant a good listener? What percentage of the time does the consultant devote to telling and what percentage is given to listening? If your consultant does not build into the process the opportunity for the people to be heard, then he or she doesn’t really value those in the congregation.
Third, does the consultant see staff and church leaders as colleagues? The consultant will come and then leave, but clergy and lay leadership will probably continue to serve in the church. One role the consultant should play is helping present leadership to develop skills that will address the present concern and equip them to deal with future issues of the same type.
Fourth, does the consultant ask good questions? The only way that a consultant can be effective is to discover as much as possible about the congregation, how it operates, and the deeper dynamics that drive an issue. This requires asking not only questions to gain information but questions that will cause those in the congregation to dig deeper for insight.
Fifth, does the consultant communicate that there is not one just one solution but multiple solutions and the church must decide which one to follow? A good consultant does not bring an all-purpose, fits-every-need product to the congregation but a process that leads the congregation to discover and select its own path forward. Solutions are discovered together.
Sixth, does the consultant have a positive attitude and a spirit of encouragement? Several years ago, a church that had just experienced a split and lost half its participants invited a person in to provide insight and encouragement. Knowing only a part of the congregation’s story, he proceeded to point out what he perceived as the church’s failures and faults and berated them for their reluctance to change. He was not invited back. Instead, the church sought out an interim pastor who loved them, offered wise counsel, and walked with them through a difficult time. An effective consultant brings an encouraging attitude and shares that with others.
An effective consultant can help the church see its situation with fresh eyes and walk with the church as it moves forward, but the selection of a consultant must be pursued with prayer, wisdom, and discernment.