Taking Your Son/Daughter to Work: Clergy Edition

We were first encouraged to Take Our Daughters to Work  in 1993 Ben Fred Jan 1989
so that they could experience the working world. Obviously taking our daughters to work was difficult if we neurosurgeons (“Look Honey, this is how we remove the bone flap”) or letter carriers (“Here, you take the even numbers on the street”) or window washers (“Don’t look down.”)  By 2003, we were also encouraged to take our sons to work.

We clergy take our children to work at least once/week. [Note: Imagine the gossip if we didn’t take our children to church with us on Sundays.]

I can’t think of another vocation which expects professionals to take their children with them to the work place where their children will be present during what many consider to be the highlight of the pastor’s week.  Imagine if advertising execs took their children to ‘the pitch’ they’d been working on for several months or if tech consultants took their kids to the sales presentation they’d prepared for a big client.  My children went to work with me almost every Sunday for 20 years.

It was not easy.  To be perfectly honest, some parishioners made it easier.  And others made it more difficult.

Some congregations would love to perpetuate a 1950s model of parenting when the (male) pastor never worried about his children seven days a week, because his wife was home all day raising them.  The man who baptized me decades ago shared that his wife singlehandedly raised their children, including a son who died of a childhood cancer so that he would be free to Follow God’s Calling.

I, too, have tried to Follow God’s Calling, but as half of a clergy couple, it never looked like the 1950s at our house.  Or in our churches.

The palpable stress of those Sunday mornings has faded now that our kids are grown, but there are things parishioners can do to hurt or help:

Things Not to Do When Your Pastor Has Small Children:

  1. Expect them to keep watch on their own children while leading worship.
  2. Criticize their parenting/their children to other people. (“Can you believe she lets her kids run free in the balcony?”)
  3. Offer constructive comments in inappropriate moments.  (Someone once asked me to tell my child to stop running in the Christian Education wing while I was greeting guests.)
  4. Confuse professional and personal lives.  (“That was a good sermon but I wish your children wouldn’t squirm during worship.“)
  5. (There are about 100 more things I could say here.)

Things to Do When Your Pastor Has Small Children:

  1. Hire a nursery worker who arrives when the pastor (and her children) arrive  – even if it’s 7 am.
  2. Recognize that the future spiritual lives of those children will be positively or negatively impacted by the way they were loved (or not) by the congregation that hired their parent(s).
  3. Recognize that the church didn’t hire the pastor’s children.  Yes, you wanted “a young pastor” but check yourself if you liked the idea of a pastor with children more than the reality.
  4. Remember that the church necessarily controls your pastor’s child’s schedule. Some parishioners stay home for a few years after the birth of their children so as not to disrupt nap schedules on Sunday mornings.  Your pastor’s children have to adapt to napping  around worship and church school times.
  5. Treat those kids (and all the children of your congregation) like gold. Don’t talk down to them.  Ask them about their lives and listen to their answers.  This will connect them to God more than the Sunday School lessons.
  6. Remember that when you expect your pastor to attend a church meeting at night or on Saturdays or at 6:30 in the morning, they will be paying for childcare.  It will cost them money.  If you have a clergy couple, offer to cover babysitting when you ask both of them to officiate at your wedding or your loved one’s funeral.
  7. Give those kids a break.  Yes, they are cranky. They were the first to arrive and they will be the last to go home.

I love the idea of Taking our Daughters & Sons to work, but most of us do this as a special event once a year – if that.  Professional church work is unique.  Please don’t make it difficult for our young pastors.

Image of a clergy couple with their FBC their first year as co-pastors.

Forcing Fetch

Gretchen Wieners
Gretchen: That is so fetch!
Regina: Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!*

[Note:  This post will make no sense unless you’ve watched Mean Girls, preferably multiple times.]

It occurs to me that much of the conflict in our churches is a result of forcing fetch.  This is  true for secular life as well.   We sometimes try to make fetch happen.

“Fetch” could be anything from Trying to Make A Call Happen (we want so much to be the pastor of a particular church even though there are clear indications that it’s not right) to Trying to Make a Relationship Happen (we can’t make someone fall in love with us) to Trying to Be Something We Are Not (it’s simply too exhausting and sad.)

Creative, visionary pastors – especially those called to “help the church grow” – try to make fetch happen all the time.  We try to make changes in worship, organizational structure, mission, and culture but our people aren’t ready or they don’t understand the why behind the what or we fail to love our people and they know it.  We try to force the fetch and we fail, and the church often suffers for it.

So how do we indeed lead change that helps our congregations grow in post-Christendom?  How do we love our neighbors and make followers of Jesus in a 21st Century Church?

We refrain from forcing fetch.  Instead we pray, we discern, we collaborate, and we depend upon the Holy Spirit to lead us.

We cannot Save the Church.  We cannot Fix the Church.  We can’t make fetch happen.  Regina was right.

*From the movie Mean Girls (2004)

What Does It Mean to Be “A Class Act”?

dean-smith_si-cover_sportsman-of-the-yearA man who represents a huge chunk of of my life passed away over the weekend. Many – including his rivals – have called him A Class Act. His funeral will be a festival of inspiration.

Those are the best kind of funerals: the ones that inspire and make us want to be better people. The most inspirational funerals are usually not for those whose passing is reported on the national news however. Among the most influential I’ve ever attended have been the funerals of a music teacher, a postal worker, and a lawyer turned denominational moderator. You don’t have to be famous to be a class act.

So what about Church People? Class Act = Image of Christ, if you ask me. And how are we doing with that?

This is one of those posts I am writing to myself, just like there are sermons I write for myself. I could do a better job trying to live in the Image of Christ.

People watch us for signs of authenticity if we say we are Christians – especially when we are leaders. If we claim to follow Jesus and then act like divas, jerks, trulls, and @#*!s our behavior destroys more than our own souls. But enough preachiness. How can we aspire to be not so much like Mike, but a little more like Jesus?

It’s not enough to excel at our job responsibilities. Being a Class Act includes:

  • Speaking the truth without fearing repercussions. Example: ‘Dean Smith appeared at a clemency hearing for a death-row inmate and told then-Governor Jim Hunt, right to his face, “You’re a murderer. The death penalty makes all of us murderers.”‘
  • Living a life that includes the excluded. Example: ‘When (Smith) was still an assistant coach, (he) walked to the restaurant with (his pastor)and a theology student . . . who happened to be black. Then they did something radical for the day: The three stood by the door waiting to go inside. “The manager looked through the door and saw that we were there. There was a look of consternation, but the door finally opened and we were served like everybody else.”‘
  • Looking out for each other even when there is no benefit for ourselves. Example: ‘I thought I wanted to coach, so I coached Chapel Hill High School for a season and then I went to Virginia Commonwealth. He was very much involved in helping me get the job,” Dick Grubar (’67-’69) said in 2011. “Then I went to Florida for another job and he had his fingerprints all over it.”‘

For more leadership tips from Dean Smith check this out.

Even pastoral ministry sometimes seems bereft of authentic leaders. But every once in a while, we see someone who inspires us and we remember what A Class Act looks like.

Thanks be to God for the life of Dean Edwards Smith (1931-2015)

Communication (Or: Please Talk to Your Pastor)

TalkToMe-01Years ago as a parish pastor, I left a congregational meeting so that the congregation could talk freely about my compensation.  Some pastors do this and some don’t.

I went down the hall to my study and waited for someone to come tell me that it was time to return to the meeting.  I waited . . . and I waited . . . and I waited . . . until finally I opened the door to listen for what was going on in that interminable church meeting.  When I couldn’t hear anything, I tiptoed down the hall to check out what was happening.

They had left.  Everybody was gone.

Apparently, they had talked, voted, and departed.  It hadn’t occurred to anyone to retrieve me or to inform me what had happened at the meeting.  But this is what I wondered:

  • Did someone have a heart attack and so they waited for the ambulance to arrive?
  • Did they need more copies of the agenda and so they spent an extra 15 minutes making copies?
  • Was there a lengthy discussion about How Awesome The Pastor Is?
  • Was there a lengthy discussion about How Lame The Pastor Is?

This happens all the time to my colleagues.  Conversations happen About Us.  We leave meetings for Awkward Discussions About Our Salary & Benefits.  And when we return to the meeting (if we return) people look at their shoes.  It doesn’t occur to anyone – it seems – that the pastor who stepped out has no idea what just happened.

Here’s a little secret I’ll share about me and my clergy colleagues:  it doesn’t take much to crush us.  Our egos are often fragile.  And yet, it’s better to share Difficult Conversations with us honestly and lovingly (remembering that a healthy church makes decisions that result in What’s Best For the Community) than it is to withhold constructive criticism.  It’s much better to share honestly what’s going on.

Just a helpful reminder to church leaders who want their congregations to thrive. Thank you.

Image Source.

Hey Boo

booradley2Sometimes when we clean out our dead loved one’s closets and safety deposit boxes we find a nice brooch or a set of mystery keys. And sometimes we find a manuscript written by Harper Lee.

Okay, maybe it’s true that all the best parts of Go Set a Watchman were inserted
into To Kill a Mockingbird and it will be a yawner. OR maybe we’ll find out that

  • Dill became a New York writer and celebrity who hosted masked balls,
  • Calpurnia and Jem marched together in Selma,
  • Maudie led a popular book group during which she influenced The Ladies of Maycomb, Alabama to wake up and smell the coffee.

And will we find out what became of Boo Radley? I certainly hope so.

I also hope that Jean Louise Finch still calls herself Scout, even though she graduated from law school at the age of 23. And now – at the age of 25 – she has her father’s sensibilities and her long-gone mother’s dreams of adventure. And maybe she’ll visit Dill in NYC and meet Errol Flynn.

This newly discovered manuscript has the power to disappoint us terribly. But the joy of life includes surprises like this one and – while I’d love this book to be exquisite – just knowing that it exists is lovely.

When We Are #2

I am a bossy firstborn. I decided early on never to serve as an totem_poleAssociate Pastor after an internship that left me feeling like an idiot. (During one-on-ones with The Real Pastor, I sat in a child’s chair because “it was the only extra chair he could find.”) Sadly I was too intimidated to suggest that we look for A Grown Up Chair down the hall. Instead, I stewed and realized that I was a terrible judge of character (“He seemed so supportive in the interview!“) and I vowed never to be an Associate Pastor.

So now I am #2 (or maybe #3 or #4) on a staff of leaders, all of whom have their ideas and their vision for how things should go. The buck doesn’t stop with me – which is lovely. But the buck doesn’t stop with me – which can be frustrating for a bossy person who indeed has A Vision.

When we are leading without formal authority, we need particular skills:

  • Knowing when we are free to act and when we need to run something by the #1.
  • Reading the room. (When can I speak up? When do I stay silent?)
  • Knowing how to collaborate and build coalitions.
  • Keeping good boundaries. (What do I report to the supervisor? When do I ask permission?)
  • Persevering (when someone insists we sit in the child’s chair.)
  • Discerning priorities.
  • Understanding our roles. (Am I here to back up the #1? Or Do I have a different mission connected to my own job description?)
  • Self-confidence
  • Trust-building
  • Knowing when to move on (and be the #1 if that’s really our calling.)

We covered this topic in a break out group last week at Kellogg so many of these ideas are not my own.

As well, I’m reminded by my professional coach that it doesn’t matter if “I wouldn’t do it that way.” If we really want to steer, we need to find a different vehicle. We were hired to help navigate and perhaps to suggest respectfully that our tank’s running low if the driver hasn’t noticed yet. We are called to work together in partnerships and it’s important to keep this in mind and not to take it personally when our ideas are not included in the vision.

I talk with frustrated Associate Pastors occasionally who want to be taken seriously, respected, asked their opinion, and set free to do their jobs. If parishioners have connected with them in ways that they haven’t connected with the Senior Pastor, well, Thanks Be To God that connections have been made at all. Staff members who sabotage each other should be pummeled. Seriously. Don’t do that to each other.

Yes, there are totem poles in our spiritual communities.

But increasingly, this is not the best model for 21st Century ministry. Flexible teamwork that builds skills, focuses on the mission, and allows for safe collaboration seems to be a better way. Being #2 is pretty great when these things happen.

Calling a Start Up Pastor in `Traditional Church World


Maybe you’re sick of me referring to Kellogg, but I’m a little obsessed after a good week here.  As I continue to ponder shifting church culture so that our congregations might thrive, I came across an article in the Kellogg Magazine (sorry but no article link available) about Andreas Pecher.  He was hired by Zeiss to incubate new ventures within it’s traditional (and very successful) corporate world.

Two things:

  1. In a previous life, I worked the Zeiss projector at the Morehead Planetarium in college.  Yes, I swirled stars.  And yes, maybe I know people who borrowed the Van Gogh painting to “give” as a birthday present once.
  2. We can learn amazing things from Andreas Pecher.

Pecher says, “The key to success is to create a startup-like culture in a corporate setting by attracting entrepreneurially  minded individuals out of the organization and providing them with a protected environment alongside the “normal” organization.”

Yes.  For the love of God.  Yes.

Startup culture is not like traditional culture:

  • Values are lived very  intentionally.  (Sometimes we have mission statements and core values but they are something printed in a handbook, not lived every day in the way we make every decision.)
  • Staffing for the right personalities/attitudes is much more important that staffing for the right skills.  Skills can be taught.  Fit cannot.
  • Evolving is assumed and embraced. Growing means letting go of programs and practices that no longer work.  Trying new things without fear of failure is expected.
  • People will make tremendous sacrifices for an inspiring vision. When we started a church within a church called Holy Grounds (again in a previous life) very busy people made it happen. They had babies at home.  They traveled for work.  They were in grad school while working two jobs.  But they believed HG would change lives for good.

I frankly do not know a single church on the planet that wants a Start Up Pastor to come in and thoroughly change their traditional church.  But I do know churches that might consider – if they could afford an associate pastor – to call someone to join the staff specifically to start new ventures and incubate new ideas within and alongside that congregation’s community.

What would this proposal need to be successful?

  1. The Senior Pastor/Head of Staff would have to be on board, never threatened, never threatening, always ready to back up the Associate Pastor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
  2. Key leaders in the congregation would have to be ambassadors and cheerleaders for the new AP for I&E. Their tasks would include saying and saying again that the new ventures introduced by the new AP would constitute “Real Church.” The new ventures are not “Pretend Church” with the assumption that those participating will eventually come to 11 am worship and join committees.
  3. Traditional leaders would have to commit to praying and spiritually supporting the start ups like their lives depended on it.  Financial support would be essential, both in terms of funding new ventures and coaching the leaders of the new ventures on sustainability.
  4. Co-mentoring would be essential. An attitude of curiosity would be assumed, especially been professional ministers on staff. The established pastor could offer traditional wisdom (“How do you finesse pastoral care with the long term member who sabotages even simple changes?) while the “start up pastor” could offer the latest in cultural updates (“This is why we need HootSuite.”)

Friends, our DNA is in serious need of alteration and we can do this.  For the sake of the gospel, bolstered by The Great Commission, we can do this.  Who wants to be the Pastor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship?  And how can we train our new pastors to do this?

(Note:  Register now for this class.  Image source.)

Managing Congregational Pain

NervesAny of us who’ve lived in Cancer World know all about pain management. Sometimes simple verbal venting helps relieve the suffering.  And sometimes a morphine pump is required.

If the pain is joint-related, moving those very joints that slow us down alleviates the suffering.  If the pain’s excruciating, we might want to numb out with narcotics.

Many of our congregations are experiencing chronic pain these days because the church has changed/is changing.  And change hurts.

Pastors retire.  Church friends die.  Families leave.  Children fall away.

Boomer pastors rue the fact that the rules of institutional church leadership have changed and they don’t know how (or don’t want to know how) to shift.  Lifelong parishioners wonder why their children and grandchildren have forsaken church (i.e. God.)  Churches are invisible in towns where they were considered essential for the well-being of the community.

Yes, there is pain in our congregations, but the pain can be managed in a way that brings new life.

Last week at Kellogg , we discussed leadership in light of the need for some pain management.  How can we manage the pain that change brings?

  • We can ignore it.  “Maybe if we ignore this ____ (toxic person, hole in leadership, monumental budget shortfall)  it will simply go away.”  Or it could worsen.
  • We can numb out.   Some of us go through the motions of following Jesus.  We still ‘come to church.’  Or we simply disengage. If we are serious about our spiritual lives, this is probably not the best method of pain management.
  • We can keep moving.  To get out of bed hours after surgery sounds like a terrible idea, but that’s what the doctor recommends. Yes, it hurts, but moving makes us stronger.  Maybe we are slow to move towards changes in worship.  Or maybe we don’t particularly want to exercise our faith in new ways.  But it makes us a stronger community.
  • We can change our daily routines.  (Who doesn’t hate this one?)  Diabetics must shift what they eat or die.  People with damaged hearts have to make lifestyle changes.  Addicts have to quit doing what we do that makes us sick. It used to be that we in the Church could ‘eat anything.’  Now we need to be more intentional about our spiritual practices.  Sorry, but this is totally true.
  • We can become curious. Some pastors are frankly too tired or stuck to want to learn how to lead a 21st Century Church.  But what if we became as proactive as the cancer patient who wants to learn everything about her disease?  It’s not just about reading new things. It’s also about talking with people who are not like we are – with the intention of learning from them, not criticizing them.  Why do you like to tweet?  What do you love about organ music?  What does it mean to you that the choir members no longer wear robes? Why do we go to Mexico for mission trips?  Don’t get angry.  Get curious.
  • We can have hard conversations. Read this and then talk with each other.  Transparency, pastoral care, and creativity are essential when people are in pain.  We need to have those tough conversations to move forward in ways that honor and support each other. With the longtime church treasurer:  “After giving 40 years of your life to the church, what if we looked ahead to five years from now? Would you be willing to mentor an assistant so that you will be free to pass this responsibility on to someone else after you no longer want to do it?  And it would be more efficient for the church and safer for you to shift from doing the books by hand.”  With the new pastor:  “You are doing a good job in a difficult situation since everybody loved the retired pastor and he still lives in town.  They are used to a pastor who does home visits every week and your style is different.  How can I help you get to know the church better?”  To the cranky elder:  “I know that you love this church and even though we haven’t always agreed with each other, how can we work together to build this congregation?  I know you want to leave a strong church for your grandchildren.”
  • Pray.  Sometimes there is nothing we can do but sit with each other and/or sit with  God.  Pain is part of life, and – for followers of Jesus – we believe in a God who knows all about pain.  But prayer can alleviate suffering in ways that we cannot understand.

I’d like to make a specific pitch here.  I believe that pastoral leaders of all levels of experience could use a coach.  I’m not talking about a coach that tells you how to be as awesome as he/she is.  I’m talking about someone with training to encourage you through painful seasons in your congregation’s life.  It’s not too late to adopt this as a new year’s resolution.

Every parish pastor I know is serving in the thick of congregational change.  Yes, it’s painful.  But we can not only manage it.  We can thrive in it.

What I’m Learning Outside the Church Bubble: Day 3

Bryant Park Square DanceI’ve become a big fan of the Kellogg School’s Non-Profit Management program which is very faith-friendly while also expanding our Churchy horizons. I strongly recommend that you check them out.

On Wednesday we learned about partnerships.

Kellogg’s School of Management has partnered with the non-profit community via this program in a way that models how our congregations might also partner with business, government, and other organizations to form multi-party coalitions serving common causes. In the congregation I once served, our church (via a 501c3) partnered with state and local government entities and international and local businesses to create a computer training program that – by the time I left – had equipped over 800 adults in computer skills. That, my friends, is an effective partnership.

Working with our the individual staff and officers of a particular congregation involves constant negotiation, coalition building, and team development. Here are the tips of the day:

  • It’s easier to be collaborative when there are lots of resources. But when resources are limited (or perceived to be limited), anxieties make us less collaborative and more individualistic. This is when a strong spiritual leader can step in and remind the team of their spiritual resources.
  • It’s impossible to be a strong staff or body of officers without trust. Transparency and clear communication bolster trust levels.
  • Partnering detail people with vision people is a good idea. Vision people can learn to pay closer attention to details and detail people can be coached to expand their vision, but it’s not their gift and it will exhaust them. Appreciating the gifts of and partnering with people who are our opposites is holy work.
  • Clarify the group’s goals. It’s possible that half of us have the goal of spiritually feeding the people within our walls and the other half of us aspire to reach out to spiritually feed the people outside our walls. Let’s not assume we all have the same institutional goals. We need to talk about it together.
  • Negotiations are not just about money. We negotiate at every meeting we attend about everything from agendas and priorities to procedures and calendars.

I’ve often felt allergic to business practices in church and I’ll admit that I’m still wary in some cases. But we in the Church need to hone our skills in leading meetings and understanding finances and training volunteers. It’s urgent that we are organizationally efficient so that we can be spiritually effective.

Image source. Swinging your partner involves clear roles and some choreography.


What I’m Learning Outside the Church Bubble: Day 2

My new favorite obsession is discerning a congregation’s true cultureBoard Room and then helping them make transformational shifts.

Sometimes small changes make big differences.  And sometimes the essential  changes feel impossibly huge.

We spent time here on Tuesday covering intergenerational collaboration, leveraging board relationships, and partnering more effectively with volunteers. Juicy stuff.  If you are feeling stuck in your ministry, integrating Church World and Business World (with a faith perspective) fuels all kinds of fresh ideas.

So, here are some truths to ponder with our boards and staffs:

  • Collaboration with each other takes a lot of time and energy.
  • Training leaders takes a lot of time and energy.
  • Making a congregation safe and ready for diversity takes a lot of time and energy.  (It also makes us smarter according to Katherine W. Phillips.)
  • We have to decide if collaboration and training are worth it.  (Some of us will say “no.”)
  • There are simple and effective ways to “manage the pain” of culture changes.  (A future blog post.)
  • Succession plans can (and should) be considered throughout one’s service.  (This is not the same as a retirement plan.)  We must consider who will come after us so that we can set them up to succeed.

More tomorrow.