I Heart Non-Profits

It occurs to me that all my Midwest friends are pastors, seminarians, pastor spouses, or the children of pastors.  Yes, this is true.

I love my clergy/clergy-related friends and yet it also occurs to me that I need friends who are not church people.  Voila:  the Kellogg Non-Profit Management classes.

After my fourth Kellogg non-profit management class, I am filled with joy over theBrainLightBulb-300x300 dessert that is People-Who-Do-Non-Profit-Work-Who-Are-Not-Clergy.  I took a class this week here (shameless plug) that – as I was sitting at my classroom desk – I wished all my creative colleagues could attend.

Imagine a group of non-profit leaders from the fields of law enforcement, education, art history, health care, finance, and peacemaking  from five nations plus the United States all talking about things like crucible experiences and “error blindness” correction and failure management and orthodoxy assessment.  I’m reminded of Nadia Bolz Weber sharing that her connection with cross training partners helped her remain sane-ish.  It’s crucial for emotional and theological reasons to have friends with no connection to The Church.

And so I wholeheartedly encourage you to seek out non-profit dreamers and leaders who are Not Like You.  It’s a privilege, a feast, and a soul-saving practice to compare notes with people who work in other nonprofits. I heartily recommend this.

Ruler Breaker? Not so Much.

I was talking with a stranger at a party and we were exchanging stories about allWhat We Want to Be kinds of things – our kids, what we did as kids, what we do now.

Some of the stories were from my collection of personal classics:  taking our kids out of school to attend epic movie openings, that time I sneaked out of the house the night the Western Sizzler burned down.  Some of the stories were about my current work which often involves working the system to help congregations and pastors discern and act upon God’s calling.

So you are a rule breaker,” my new friend said.  Actually, I’ve never thought of myself as a rule breaker.  On the contrary, I’m a good girl who follows (most of) the rules.  Or maybe I’m not.

Yesterday I attended another class with the Kellogg School Center of Nonprofit Management.  Note: Do yourself a favor and take one of these classes.  More about that later.

The brain candy this week is about innovation with professor Rob Wolcott who invited us to consider this:

What are the orthodoxies about how things must happen in your organization?

What would it look like to do the opposite?

For congregations “orthodoxies” have special weight because they are about God. God commands/demands/expects certain things.  The Bible tells me so.

And then there are the other orthodoxies that have more to do with custom than faith tradition:

  • We always dress up for Sunday morning worship.
  • We never drink coffee in the sanctuary.
  • We always elect somebody from the ___ family to leadership positions.
  • We never show film clips in worship.
  • We always serve ham at the mission dinner.
  • We never use real wine for communion.

I’m not saying we should dress down, slurp pew coffee, elect strangers to run things, replace sermons with movies, serve sushi, or tempt alcoholics, but I am saying that challenging what we’ve long considered to be the one and only way to do something is a good idea.  It’s not an easy idea to pitch sometimes, but it’s a good idea most of the time.

Counter-intuitive church is one of my favorite things.

So am I a ruler breaker?  Maybe.  But we all need to be challengers of the kind of “orthodoxies” that keep us stuck and out of touch.  Our institutional health depends on it.

Check this out.

What Are Your Intentions?

Ceiling of Chicago Cultural CenterAs a single pastor, I was vaguely dating someone who attended worship one Sunday and a helpful/nosy parishioner about the age of my grandfather asked my semi-significant other:  “What are your intentions with our pastor?”  Oh, the joys of being The Single Pastor.

It occurs to me many years later that intentions are huge in life and ministry.  I marvel at the way my own twenty-something children are being intentional in their work and money decisions, while I had many years of just “letting things happen to me.”

I wonder, though, how much less intentional we are about our spiritual lives.

There are days when – honestly – I could leave The Church.  The so-not-important stuff seems to overwhelm the important stuff.  My ministry reveals that dark underbelly of humanity – only in spiritual communities which feels even darker. My job responsibilities involve getting called when somebody lies/cheats/plagiarizes/throws things.  (Really. I’ve been called when somebody threw things.)

But then I remember that being part of The Beloved Community involves being intentional:  I am going to be intentional about giving thanks, confessing my sins, reflecting on the sins of the universe (i.e. racism, sexism, greed, meanness) and discerning how I might live in a way that reflects the love of God.  I am going to be intentional about studying Scripture and telling the stories of my faith.  I am going to be intentional about singing what I believe.  I am going to be intentional about praying with and for people because it brings us closer to each other and to God.

I am pathetically lame at being a disciple of Jesus unless I make the commitment to be intentional.

I also wonder about our church people who cross the thresholds of countless church buildings on Sunday mornings and throughout the weekend because It’s What They Do/It’s What They Have Always Done, but there is no intentionality about this particular activity.  They/we sort of wander in and wander out.  A good experience means we saw some friends and got to sing a song we like.

What if we expected a profound experience?

What are our intentions when we gather as God’s people?  I believe that the answer to this question determines whether or not our faith communities will thrive in these changing days.

Image of the ceiling of the Chicago Cultural Center, mostly because I just like it.

Calls of Convenience

Dear churches looking for pastors and other staff — sometimes the most convenient choice is not the best choice. This coming from someone who has been the convenient choice.  Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly, PCUSA

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  Genesis 12:1,2

ancient city of Ur

In the 21st Century Church, we are all about permission-giving and getting out of the way so that God can do what God does.  It’s often been considered a clear sign when something is so easy:  the painless process, the unmistakable clarity, the obvious decision.  I’m a big fan of getting out of the way when everything is right.

But I’m also aware that we can confuse what’s right for what’s easy.

  • “It’s easy to call our Transitional Pastor to become our Called Pastor since we already know her and like her.”
  • “It’s easy to call our ready-to-be-ordained Director of Education to become our Pastor of Education because he wants to be here, the parents like him, the kids like him.”
  • “It’s easy to contract with the retired pastor who lives across the street to help us with pastoral care because . . . he lives across the street.”

In all those situations, the easy solutions could in fact be the best choices.  Or they could be the wrong choices but we are too tired to dig deep and figure out what our congregation really needs and if – in fact – there’s a call.

I increasingly experience people who are limiting their calls for the sake of convenience.  Note:  some of us are tied to a specific geographic location because of family considerations:  the spouse whose job is based here and only here, the grandparent who is on the cusp of eternity, the child who finally has the right oncologist.

I would ask those who say that they cannot move to ask themselves:

  • Is it that we can’t move or that we really like our house and our lives here?
  • Is it that we can’t move or that we don’t want to move farther away from our grown kids or our parents?
  • Is it that we can’t move or that we basically hate the thought of moving?

Again, some of us truly cannot move.  But I have special admiration for those who channel their inner Abram:  The Texans who move to Michigan.  The Mainers who accept calls to Arizona.  The Pacific Northwesterners who follow God’s call to Florida. Only God moves people to leave everything they’ve ever known and become strangers in a strange land.

It’s so much easier to accept a call that doesn’t require that much transition.

Image of The Ziggurat in Ur near modern day Nasiriya, Iraq – the birth place of Abram.

What If Pastors Weren’t in Worship Every Sunday Either?

We’ve all seen the stats.San_Pedro_Church_002

Pew tells us that in their 2013 study,  only 37% of church members claimed to attend worship every Sunday.  And we can assume that some of those “every Sunday” Christians report that they attend weekly, but actually they don’t.

Church attendance trends are troublesome to most of the pastors I know, but here’s something you might not realize:  some pastors are also jealous.  We would love to take some of those Sundays away from church too.

Most clergy I know get six Sundays off each year:  two for study leave and four for vacation.  Six. Sundays.

We, too, have children’s soccer games and grandma’s birthday party and groceries to buy and sleep to catch up on and wedding showers and tickets to the concert.

Friends who take sabbatical often find it difficult to transition back into the working-every-weekend routine.  I confess before you and the Almighty that one of the things I love about my work is that I have a bit more control over my weekends.  I preach almost every weekend for church transitions and other occasions.  Or I attend worship with – blessedly – no responsibilities (like yesterday) or I sleep in.  There – I said it.  Sometimes I stay home on Sunday mornings, especially if it’s been a busy week.

One of the primary reasons churches pay their pastors is to lead worship and other activities on The Lord’s Day.  Even tiny congregations with no other programming want to ensure that Somebody Preaches On Sunday.  Maybe they don’t have mission projects or small groups or even Bible studies, but – by golly – they have a preacher.

A few people still think it’s funny (and true) to say that “the preacher only works one day a week.”  The truth is that  the responsibilities of pastors have increased enormously in terms of community care and administrivia.  Most effective pastors not only minister to church members and friends, but they are also called upon to minister to strangers with every physical, mental, emotional, psycho-social, and economic health concern imaginable.

Seminarians considering professional ministry in church contexts are not only choosing to give up their weekends for the foreseeable future, but the realities of professional ministry will also require giving up most evenings and weekdays as well.  One stellar pastor I know recently announced to his congregation that he is giving up professional ministry to seek secular work – and not because he was an unsuccessful or unloved pastor.  He wants his weeknights back.  He wants his weekends back.  He wants to be the Dad on the sidelines at soccer games on Saturday or in the kitchen making Sunday pancakes.  He wants to be able to travel on weekends to see his extended family – sort of like everyone else.

I get this.  But I have an idea:  What if pastors were not expected to be worship every Sunday either?

I know some seasoned pastors who finagle one Sunday a month “off” and we all call them slackers (or geniuses.)  But what if we gave every pastor one Sunday a month off for self-care or family time or the ability to feed her/his own soul in another church’s worship gathering?   A rested/emotionally satisfied pastor = an effective pastor.

Other benefits:

  • It enhances ministry to hear more than one voice in the pulpit.  Imagine hearing a seminarian, a retired pastor, a lay leader or an ordained ruling elder share a sermon or faith story.
  • It teaches the congregation that the pastor is not The Professional Minister.  All baptized people are called to serve – maybe not to preach – but to serve in some way.  In my denomination, some ruling elders are indeed called to preach.
  • It pushes the ordained clergy to fulfill the Biblical job description of a teacher/pastor according to Ephesians 4: 11-12.
  • It reminds us that – in a thriving 21st Century Church – the Sunday morning worship service is not the sole portal into the community, nor even the most important.  Thriving congregations have multiple entry ways into the spiritual community (e.g. Monday Bible Study, Tuesday small groups, Wednesday Logos, Thursday Faith on Tap, Friday potluck, etc.)
  • Worship becomes more about collaboration than performance.

Yes, this would shift “the way we’ve always done things” but – unless a church is on the cusp of closing – this would energize both pastors and congregations.

Do Job Titles Matter?

The Priest Mario Ortiz Martinez 2008

Quick answer:  Yes.

We professional ministers call ourselves Priests, Pastors, Preachers, and the ever popular Teaching Elders.   I also have friends who are called Conveners, Abbesses, and Vicars.  It’s possible that all these folks do essentially the same work.  So why different job titles?

Sometimes new worshiping communities choose a unique title for the leader because  traditional names carry baggage that turn people off.  And sometimes we are trying to be playful.

I know churches that seek out fun names to give the mundane some zip.  Coffee Hour Hosts become Ministers of Baked Goods.  Youth Leaders become Basic Trainers.

In denominational middle judicatories (I can almost see your eyes glaze over now) the leader used to be called General Presbyter or Executive Presbyter.  Today they might be called Congregational Consultants or Ministry Coordinators or Missional Presbyters or Pastor to Pastors.  Does this matter?  Possibly.

Sometimes we change job titles to clarify duties and vision.  Sometimes we do it to convey that things are fresh and new (whether they are or not.)

Today garbage collectors are called Recycling Operatives and school cafeteria workers are called Nourishment Consultants.  But I believe what we are called professionally makes a difference.  Sometimes it identifies our duties.  Sometimes it makes us feel important.  Sometimes it reflects a paradigm shift (hello Missional Consultant.)  Or a job title can have little bearing on what we really do.

In these days, it seems best to use job titles that are easily understandable for the least churchiest among us.  Most people don’t know what a “Commissioned Ruling Elder” is.  And as cool as it might sound “Kinetic Connector” is confusing for everybody.

I was once in a coffee shop wearing a collar after a morning funeral and someone approached me and said, “Are you like a priest?”  “Yes,” I said, “I am like a priest.” And that was enough for him to join me for a chat.  Clear and easy.

Image source.

Bib Quotient

Mad Men wearing bibsIf you divided up the people in your congregation/organization, how many would
be on The Apron List and how many would be on The Bib List?  The numbers could determine the level of exhaustion felt by your pastor.

  • Lots of People Wearing Aprons = A Culture of Service
  • Lots of People Wearing Bibs = A Culture of Being Served

This post is chock-full of old news.  But it bears repeating.

All of us have to wear bibs occasionally:  when we are babies, when we are sick, when we are eating lobster.  But many of our congregations are filled with people who almost always wear the proverbial bib.  This is regrettable.

Maybe we’ve made the mistake of teaching our people that church is an organization comprised mostly of victims, the needy, and the entitled.  (Where is the resurrection if we are stuck in those narratives?)

Maybe we’ve become so pastor-centric that nobody knows how to do anything but the person with the seminary degree – and the pastor has failed to realize that this is not effective leadership.

Maybe we have people who have served faithfully for decades in particular positions, but it’s more about them (the power!) than a call to service (the dirty work!)

Leadership is the single best predictor for success in ministry.  Pastors who know how to equip others for leadership will excel.

To be fair, many gifted pastors serve people who erroneously assume that it’s the pastor’s job to be the professional Christian.  That’s what we pay her for.

In wealthy communities, where people are used to hiring out everything from their housekeeping to their lawn mowing to their dog walking, church staff are often considered spiritual vendors.  We pay the pastor to marry, baptize and bury, to deliver pastoral care and a decent sermon.  They work for us.

Adventures in missing the point.

In all kinds of communities, there is a different kind of assumption that it’s
The Pastors Job to do all the preaching, teaching, praying, visiting, and caring. This kind of thinking will not only close down your church fairly quickly, but it’s not even Biblical according to this simple job description.

Great communities are filled with more people who wear aprons.  Maybe the aprons are real and maybe they are figurative.  I’m thinking about the homebound lady who phones other homebound parishioners for a daily check-in.  I’m thinking about the mom who helps another mom when one of the kids has a meltdown in Target.  I’m thinking about the person who naturally walks the church guest down the hall to the nursery or the person who reflexively wipes off the tables after a spill.

I actually wrote about this three years ago.  But now more than ever, we need leaders who know how to train others to lead – not as a grab for “power” but for an expression of gratitude.

Image is from Mad Men.  Halloween hint:  Don’t dress like a big baby for Halloween.  It’s sad.  

Kill the Meetings. Set People Free.

One year when I was a parish pastor, we gave up meetings for Lent.company higher consil

Seven weeks.  No meetings – except for prayer and study gatherings.  We prepared ourselves for this (traumatic) shift by getting business done in advance and giving people permission to do what needed to be done between Ash Wednesday and Easter without calling the Boards together for debate and discussion.

Two things happened:

  1. People loved it. (We were free to be with our families and friends all those week nights and weekend days.  Church became more about “get to” and less about “have to.”)
  2. People hated it.  (There were complaints of “I don’t know what’s going on!”  and some of our leaders felt like their power had been taken away.)

We in Church World have entered the season of Meeting-Palooza.  Stewardship Meetings. Capital Campaign Meetings.  Thanksgiving Service Meetings.  Advent Planning Meetings.  Christmas Pageant Meetings.  2016 Budget Meetings.  Staff Review Meetings.  And then all the usual staff/elders/deacons/trustees/area clergy meetings continue as well.  We complain about them perhaps but then we keep meeting.  It’s what we do.

This article recently jolted me back to organizational sanity.

Our lives include both horizonal and vertical meetings.  Most are well-planned. Some are not.  Many have clear purposes.  Some are a waste of time – except for the fact we can say we met.  Management happened.  Order was maintained. Sacred assumptions about What-We-Are-Supposed-To-Be-Doing were achieved.

Dear Pastors and Other Leaders: what if – instead of scheduling and requiring meetings and more meetings –  we managed our ministries in a different way?

John Donovan, Executive VP of AT&T defines the role of a manager as “removing roadblocks and recognizing excellence.”  What if we set our people free to do their work, with quick check-ins or planned “stand up meetings” at the coffee pot (“What’s going on with you this week?”)  Healthy churches, for example, set leaders free to do ministry with two basic parameters:

  1. Is what we’re doing within the budget?
  2. Is what we’re doing within the core values of the church?

Beyond that, leaders have permission to do their work.  Excellent.

What are you finding about the culture of meetings in your church?  Do committees even meet anymore? (Or is everything done digitally?)  Are meetings well run?

Imagine an institutional world in which formal meetings were rare and ministry was set free.  Would that work in your context?

Big Decisions for Our Small Churches

The median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday Small Church Mosaicmornings, according to the 2015 National Congregations Study.  (The median church size is the point at which half the churches are smaller and half the churches are larger.)

I have great affection for several churches with less than 50 members/regular participants. I’m thinking of one with 25 members.  Another has 11 members.  Yet another has 32. What will those congregations look like in five years?  Here are some options:

  • Live Until We Die – The congregation could keep going until they can no longer pay their utility bills, not to mention afford any semblance of professional  leadership.  The inability to afford regular pastoral leadership means that – while the church might continue to offer the most basic features of community life together (weekly worship, emergency pastoral care) –  it’s virtually impossible for a church to expand its mission with part time pastoral attention.  Without intentional neighborhood outreach, discipleship training, and leadership development, a church will eventually die.  Life expectancy is directly determined by the size of the church endowment (to keep paying those utility bills.)
  • Live With Volunteer Leadership – Maybe our congregations cannot afford full time leadership, but our volunteer leaders are strong and spiritually mature.  Or maybe we have a theological commitment to embrace First Century ministry in that we’ve decided that we’ll have no paid leaders.  Everyone will serve according to her/his gifts and abilities.  The problem here is that after working a 40-50 hour week in their secular jobs, they will have little energy to offer their church the level of commitment needed to thrive.  Many of our members are so utterly busy and weary that we are grateful for anyone who can commit to “two hours every Tuesday” or “an hour once a month.”   Unless the congregation is comprised of many healthy retired members or independently wealthy younger members, this ministry cannot be sustained indefinitely.  Life expectancy is directly determined by the availability and willingness of members to devote many hours of healthy leadership – in addition to having balanced home and work lives.
  • Live with an Idealistic Pastor  – Maybe the congregation is blessed with an energetic pastor who works full-time but is paid part-time, in hopes that the church will grow to the point of being able to afford to pay more in the future.  Filled with vision and the Spirit, this pastor make personal sacrifices  – perhaps to the point of martyrdom and exhaustion.  But life expectancy is determined by the willingness of the congregation to make their own financial and personal sacrifices.  The congregation will also have to make cultural sacrifices (e.g. giving up the way things have always been if new people join the church.)

Most of our churches under 50 members will probably close in the next five years or less, but there is nothing shameful about this.

In their earlier history, some of congregations transformed their communities. In some cases, once thriving churches were always social clubs and it was never about Jesus.  They were doomed to shutter one day. Other churches could not survive issues beyond their control (a fire, a flood, an economic downturn.)

But none of this means that The Church of Jesus Christ is done.  It’s simply shifting.  Either we also shift or we make way for something new.

What decisions are the small churches in your lives making in these shifting times?  I’m especially looking for good news stories.

When the Head of Staff is 30-something & the Associate Pastor is 60-something

In the past week three 60-something friends have commented to me that they2 shepherds crooks would love to serve under a Rock Star millennial Head of Staff/Senior Pastor before they retire.

Maybe these comments were of the toss-off variety.  Or maybe not.  But then this article popped up in the Washington Post yesterday:  I’m 60.  My Boss is a 20-Something.  It’s Awkward.

It doesn’t have to be awkward.  In fact it could be transformative for The Church.

What would make it awkward:

  • A young, unteachable head of staff who is completely unaware of what she/he doesn’t know and a seasoned, incurious associate who thinks he knows everything.
  • A young head of staff with less than 10 years experience earning 2-3 times as much as the seasoned pastor with 30+ years of experience.  (Note:  often the opposite is true in that the “senior” Senior Pastor earns 2-3 times more than any associate pastor on a church staff.  This is not necessarily just either.)
  • Rivals on the same staff.
  • Pastors with no sense of humor.
  • Resentful colleagues (i.e. an older associate pastor who felt pushed out of his/her last position or a younger head of staff who felt threatened by parishioners who felt more comfortable with the older pastor.)
  • Clergy of any age with limited eye-roll control.

What would make it awesome:

  • A seasoned pastor – who has done the whole preaching-every-Sunday thing for decades is totally ready to relinquish the pulpit – even for Easter and Christmas Eve – to a younger voice.  And he/she relishes hearing that millennial’s take on scripture.
  • A younger head of staff who seeks mentoring from the seasoned pastor as she/he navigates a new way of being “the senior.”
  • Parity in setting salary and benefits based on the fact that 1) the head of staff is both the face of the congregation and has more responsibilities but is less experienced and 2) the associate pastor has more experience but less responsibility
  • A team of pastors whose shared goals are 1) to make disciples, 2) to bolster community, 3) to equip the saints for ministry — not to strive to be “the cool one” or “the most popular one.”  Emphasis on team.

This could alter so many things that need to be changed, like . . .

  • Boomer pastors who won’t step down from churches – often at the congregation’s expense.  (By the time some retire, their congregations will have had such sluggish leadership for so long that they may never recover.)
  • Wage disparity between clergy on the same staff.

One of the issues in all this concerns the fact that – as our congregations continue to reduce in size –  more and more churches are staffed by a single (exhausted) pastor.  More about that tomorrow.

I’d love your feedback, folks.

Image of matching shepherd’s crooks.