Archive for February, 2010

Ego vs. Arrogance

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

2715108258_1eb6a6703b_mOne of the core competencies for effectively pastoring the large church is sufficient ego strength to fill the role. Here’s how I would define ego strength.

Demonstrates strong and appropriate personal boundaries in relationships; has a healthy appreciation of self as differentiated from role; is emotionally mature; can maintain a nonanxious presence in the midst of turmoil; is not overly dependent upon outside affirmation; maintains a strong personal support system.

One could make an argument that all church pastor’s need ego strength.  However, there are dimensions of large church leadership that require ego strength above and beyond levels required in smaller sized congregations. The pastoral role in the large church is decidedly different. The pastor’s relationship with the congregations is not managed via one on one teaching and pastoral care relationships, but is projected as a persona from the pulpit and larger teaching platforms. From the very essence of her or his being, the large church pastor must communicate an identity for the church. Because large church leadership is more publicly than personally based, it is much easier for people to distort the relationship and turn on the pastor for reasons that have nothing to do with the pastor. Any dissatisfaction with the larger church experience may be projected onto the person of the senior clergy. Conversely, the pastor may also be placed on a hero pedestal that no human being could live up to. People make assumptions about how well they know the pastor and who the pastor is, when they really have no relationship with him or her. The large church pastor must have rather significant ego strength to withstand the ups and downs of the leadership role, to avoid being held hostage by public opinion, and to rise above the isolation of being visible to many and known to very few.

While on the subject I must also go on to comment that some (well, maybe more than some) large church pastors develop a tremendous sense of arrogance along with the required ego strength. They  operate with an aggravated sense of self importance and self worth. (This of course applies to none of my current clients! ) And I often find myself wondering why the two seem inextricably bound. Isn’t it possible to develop healthy ego strength without becoming arrogant?

Here’s what I’ve noticed about those who wander into arrogance.  They start believing that the public persona is real. They begin believing that they are the fully embodied essence of the leadership presence that others project onto them.  Granted, some of the adulation is deserved. Most large church pastors possess remarkable preaching and teaching skills that garner a lot of attention.  But I’ve yet to meet a real pastor who fully embodies all of the leadership qualities attached to the pulpit presence. Those who remain humble in the role are constantly working to self correct the public image so that it more genuinely represents the real person. They manage to do this without diminishing the authority of the role or lessening the ego strength required to wear the mantle of large church leadership. Those who cross over the line into arrogance spend more of their time tending to the preservation of the public persona. They begin thinking that the public persona and the real person are one in the same.

Let me hear from those of you who are in the role. How do you tend to ego strength without losing yourself in arrogance?

Photo Credit: michelle cat’s  photo stream at

Saving for a Rainy Day

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

2628532097_7fe117ee54Lately, I seem to be running into conversations about endowments everywhere I turn. This weekend I was with a group of denominational leaders who were grappling with policy around establishing and drawing down on endowments. This coming week I’ll be at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes in Austin, TX and the planned curriculum has lots of options for participants to explore endowment issues. Many of the client congregations I’m working with are operating with provisional budgets for the first several months of 2010 while they come to terms with the economic outlook and get clarity on how much of their endowments that are going to draw down during the upcoming fiscal year.

Almost all of the conversations I’m dropping in on are exploring whether or not it’s okay to dip into endowment reserves in an economic downturn like this one. Some church leaders are highly resistant to using any part of the endowment beyond the investment income generated by the fund.  Others are arguing that the endowment was created for seasons like this and the funds should be used to protect the integrity of the ministry and our buildings. Everyone seems to be grappling with two basic questions: How large of an endowment would be enough for us? What is an appropriate plan for spending now vs. protecting our future?

The current issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review  has a thought provoking article entitled,Endowment for a Rainy Day” by Burton Weisbrod and Evelyn Asch out of Northwestern University.  Here are some key points from the article that I found interesting:

  • Instead of husbanding money for the future, nonprofits should treat at least some portion of their endowment as a rainy day fund, a source of money that is available to make up for those unexpected, yet predictable, times when income drops or demand for services increases.
  • The holding, let alone the expansion, of endowment is a matter of weighing the relative importance of today’s and tomorrow’s users.
  • The basic rationale for adding resources to endowment rather than using them to achieve immediate goals is simple; to save for a rainy day when revenue falls sharply.
  • The current economic crisis certainly constitutes a rainy day.
  • Some organizations have substantial endowments that would allow them to ride out the current economic crisis with little or no cuts, if they choose. But instead of drawing down their endowments to cover the rainy days, they have focused on cutting budgets in ways that are seriously damaging the infrastructure of the organization, and demoralizing their staff teams.

The article presents some compelling arguments for using endowment monies more liberally, but in the world of congregations the issue isn’t quite this black and white. The problem with many of our congregations is that we’ve been over relying on endowments for some time now. So, when a period of serious economic decline hits, like this one, we are left wondering just how much more our endowment’s can bear. Rainy day or not, there has to be a limit to how much of our operating budget we allow ourselves to finance through endowment income or principle.

Where is your congregation settling in on this argument?

Photo Credit: nikkinoguer’s photostream at

Interim (or not?)

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

4158547805_1207cf6201_mChange in the senior leadership of a congregation is fraught with opportunity and danger. A congregation in the midst of senior clergy transition is likely to experience high levels of anxiety and energy manifested in stagnation, conflict, or in brilliant creativity and rebirth. The Interim period has long been viewed as a special time in the life of a congregation, a time requiring a “different” sort of leadership. Rather than moving from one ministerial relationship immediately into another, the long standing practice generally involves the employment of an Interim Minister, a temporary shepherd who leads the congregation through the murky waters of transition. 

Increasingly, large congregations are questioning whether or not pastoral transition is sufficiently unique in the large setting to warrant a different way of thinking and different practices. Many large congregations today are considering direct pastor to pastor transitions that eliminate the practice of interim ministry.

The congregant in the small to medium sized church must use the interim period to let go of a personal one on one attachment to the departing pastor.  In the larger church those personal attachments are likely to be more present among the staff team and among key lay leaders. The larger population of the congregation is attached to a persona, not to a personal relationship. There is still important transition work to be done in transferring attachment, but the transition experience will be different from that of a smaller congregation.

Issues of identity and distinctiveness are fundamentally different in the larger church. Smaller congregations often describe their core identity as caring communities of support. It can be difficult for the small or medium sized congregation to describe the unique nature of its ministry, the distinctiveness of context, or who it is seeking to serve. These congregations have a great deal of identity work to engage during pastoral transition. In the smaller church the interim time is designed to be a neutral, resting time where the congregation can stop action and engage these important identity conversations.

 The healthy large church already possesses a unique way of talking about its identity, its context and the unique niche that it serves. The persona of the current pastor projects that uniqueness. The vision work of the large congregation during the interim generally does not involve re-inventing the church, but looking for fresh ways to articulate what is already present, and looking for evidence of vision drift. During the interim period the large church will claim 3-5 strategic priorities to project the established identity into a preferred future and to name the attributes of the pastor who will manage and personify the identity. In the large church the interim time period is not a vision neutral time zone. Leading the large church is like steering an ocean liner. The vessel turns slowly and with great deliberation. It is not flexible and nimble and if momentum is lost during an interim time period it will take huge amounts of energy on behalf of leadership to get the vessel moving again. The interim time period in the larger church is not a time to stop action. It is a time to review, reflect and refocus while maintaining important momentum.  Typically the momentum is maintained by the staff team and board leadership while the search committee engages leadership in reflection about future focus and strategic priority.

Anxiety and conflict express themselves differently in the larger church than they do in the smaller congregation.  Smaller congregations are constructed around simpler relational cells and networks. When anxiety surfaces in the smaller congregation it is quickly experienced throughout the entire congregation, and must be managed systemically.  In the larger church anxiety is likely to express itself in increased interest and speculation across the congregation, but outright conflict is likely to be localized and experienced in leadership pockets. During the interim period the overall anxiety of the congregation will be higher, but it can be managed through clear and transparent communication and by involving congregants in important data gathering activities that will shape the choice of future pastoral leadership. Outbreaks of conflict are best handled from the center and at the source, engaging the staff team and key lay leaders in the important work of conflict management as needed. Stability on the staff team and governing board are critical to keeping conflict healthy and anxiety at a minimum. Stability on the staff team and governing board may be best served by a single transition from one senior ministerial leader to the next, not by entertaining two major transitions (one from the retiring senior minister to the interim and then a second transition from the interim to the new senior minister).

In future entries I’ll explore different models of pastoral transition in the large church. In the meantime, what do you think about the notion of doing something other than an interim pastorate? Is the large church significantly different enough to warrant different models of pastoral transition?

Role vs Style

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

4170030173_bfa9dbb5c7Recently, a coaching client asked me this provocative question, “What are some common leadership mistakes that you’ve seen female heads of staff make?”  The question was posed by a woman who is considering applying for the senior pastor role in a large congregation. Here is how I answered her.  “The most common leadership error that I have seen female heads of staff make is confusing role and style.  In an attempt to demonstrate collaborative leadership I’ve witnessed women diminish the impact of their role by relaxing role boundaries that are important for effectiveness in large church leadership. It’s much more effective to establish a collaborative spirit through the style you embody.”

 Let me say more. Your leadership role is the specific set of tasks and duties that you are expected to attend to on a regular basis. These are the essential functions of the job that belong uniquely to the role of Senior Pastor. These functions differ from one congregational system to the next but they include things like vision casting, claiming strategic priorities, aligning the work of the staff team, establishing worship themes and preaching schedules, etc. By contrast, your leadership style is the collective embodiment of behavioral attributes and personality characteristics that establish a tone for working with and around you. Your leadership style can influence the culture of your staff team in areas like information sharing, communication practices, shared decision making, motivational practices, emphasis on teamwork, etc.  

The error I’ve seen many women make is this.  To be perceived as a more participative leader they choose to relax the boundaries around their role. They take on too many administrative tasks to illustrate their willingness to do tasks that some might call menial. They let go of other critical tasks that are uniquely theirs to do in an effort to let others on the staff team or in lay leadership feel like they have a voice, things like: creating agendas for staff team meetings, planning worship, setting preaching and teaching themes, setting priorities for the staff team.  I’m not saying that staff members shouldn’t have input into these things, but the head of staff must retain a strong sense of ownership about those essential functions that are uniquely hers to do. or the alignment of the church’s mission suffers.

You can be a strong leader with a firm grip on your role and a clear awareness of what is yours to do in the congregation, and still demonstrate a participative leadership style.  Let’s not confuse leadership styles and leadership roles!