Archive for February, 2011

Admin Staff & Mission Ownership

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Most of us expect our clergy staff to demonstrate a strong sense of commitment to the mission of the congregation. We use the language of “called, not hired” to describe the over the top commitment we seek. We also expect our non-ordained program staff to embrace the mission of the congregation.  Most program staff are members of their congregations, and consequently are called upon to demonstrate some passion for the congregation’s purpose and identity. 

What kind of expectations do we carry about missional ownership among our administrative support staff? Many congregations are very intentional about not hiring church members to serve in administrative support roles. They believe that the relationship is neater and cleaner if the people serving the church administratively have a pure employment relationship with the congregation. That way it will be easier to fire people that aren’t working out (or so we tell ourselves). That way it’s always possible to determine which part of time spent on church activity is paid activity versus volunteer work. That way it’s easier to prevent members from knowing things that could get dicey, like the giving patterns of other members. That way we can keep relationships with administrative staff purely professional and avoid the unpleasant triangulation that can occur when staff wears employment and membership hats simultaneously.  

Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of separating the employment and membership relationship is that our administrative staff often fails to embrace the mission of the congregation. When working with staff teams I frequently ask members of the team to evaluate the extent to which the following statements describe their team:

  • As a staff, we have a compelling vision of the future for the church, and our place in that future.
  •  We have a clearly defined and well communicated statement of purpose as a staff team.

I am surprised by the frequency of negative responses that administrative staff members provide in response to these two statements. Administrative staff will often tell me that they don’t think the mission of the congregation, or the staff team, has anything to do with them. After all, they are employees, not members. They believe that missional commitment is something that belongs to the clergy and program staff, not to them. Their job is simply to keep the members of the congregation happy.

Is this really the mindset that we want to promote among our administrative staff members? I can appreciate that our employees who are not members will have less of an attachment to the mission of the congregation. But can they ever really remain detached from the mission and still be effective employees? Doesn’t an administrative staff member need to embrace the mission of the congregation on some very basic level in order to serve as a member of the team? Have we gone overboard in trying to protect ourselves from the potential downsides of combining membership and employment?

I believe that every member of the staff team should have an awareness of the congregations’ mission and strategic direction. They should be able to articulate an ownership of that mission in a way that feels genuine to them personally, and in a way that clarifies their relationship to the mission. That doesn’t mean that our employees need to share our theological, religious or polity orientations. They do need to support the basic work that the congregation is engaging, and they do need to understand how their role functions in support of that work. One of our jobs as heads of staff, and as supervisors, is to help our employees articulate how their role connects to mission, vision and values. Are you doing that with your employees?

Photo Credit: darwinbell

A Word of Thanks

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

I began this blog a year and a half ago, in part to help give birth to a book I had in mind about the large congregation. My hope was that the blog would allow me to actively try out ideas and find my voice about life in the large congregation. This week I finished the manuscript and sent it along to my editor (Phew!). The working title of the book bears the same name as this blog, “Inside the Large Congregation”, (although any of you who have published a book can appreciate that the title will change numerous times between now and publication).

The book is about five leadership systems that remain in motion in the large congregation, and how those leadership systems must be right sized to accommodate different threshold limits of complexity.  The book defines four new large church size categories. For each of the new size categories it explores: clergy leadership roles, staff team function and design, governance and board function, acculturation and the role of laity, and the formation and execution of strategy. I expect that the book will be published through Alban sometime in the fall of 2011.

I want to mark this moment by stopping to thank you, my readers, for your part in helping me get this manuscript written. The discipline of crafting weekly entries for the blog has kept me on task, forcing me to articulate what I am learning. Many of you, and you know who you are, have contributed to the birth of this book by presenting me with interesting case scenarios, by challenging me to think and talk about things that weren’t being addressed elsewhere, and by encouraging me in my consulting, teaching and writing. Thank you.

I fully intend to continue the blog, even though the manuscript is done. I have discovered that the discipline of noticing what my clients are struggling with, and translating those observations into written commentary, is invaluable to my own learning process. I hope you’ll stay with me and continue to challenge me with your ideas and observations.

I also want to invite you to consider joining me, in person, this fall to explore the collective learning that came with writing the book.  I’ll be facilitating an Alban sponsored seminar, Inside the Large Congregation on October 25-27, 2011 in Norcross Georgia.  You can read more about the event and register online at  I hope to see you there!

Photo Credit: maher berro

The Ultimatum

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Put yourself in this senior pastor’s shoes. You’ve had some supervisory challenges with your Minister of Music over the past two years, but she’s a person that you value having on your team. Let’s call this employee Connie.  Connie is a brilliantly gifted musician and widely respected within the local musical community. She is liked and admired by the congregation. She is not a good team player. She repeatedly fails to show up for staff meetings and she doesn’t work well with you or others in the planning of worship. The choir members respect her, but she hasn’t been effective at creating a sense of community within the choirs.  You’ve had several conversations with her about her lack of team orientation, but she doesn’t seem to be improving.

Yesterday Connie asked to meet with you after staff meeting. She began the meeting by saying that the stress of the job is doing her in. Specifically, she can’t take “the continual hounding about being a team player”. She wants to be left alone to run the choirs the way that she sees fit; after all she is the musical expert on the staff team.  After talking about her frustrations Connie issues this ultimatum. “I will not participate in staff meetings any more. They are a waste of my time. I also want to be able to make all musical choices, including hymn selection, without the oversight or input of any other members on the team, including you. Finally, I want you to quit bugging me about approaching the development of the choir from a community perspective. We are musicians plain and simple, and the community building stuff is just getting in the way.  You have thirty days to think about this request. If you do not agree to these conditions of my employment, I am finished here.”   

What is your response?  Would your response change if I told you that Connie is an African American and 58 years old?  (You are Anglo-American; your congregation is 90% white and seeking to become more diverse). Does it make a difference that you’ve also had two other really difficult staff terminations in the past year?

Dealing with a staff ultimatum is easy if the staff member is a problem employee that you’ve been trying to figure out how to terminate. In fact, it’s a gift. You simple thank the employee for their service and show them the door.  But when the ultimatum is issued by someone like Connie, it’s more difficult. You don’t want the employee to leave, but she does have certain shortcomings that can’t be ignored. You don’t want the risk of a bad departure, particularly one that is skirting around the issues of ageism and racism.  

Situations like this one make me grateful to be a consultant. I admire those of you on the frontline, trying to deal with real life, while I sit on the sidelines and offer commentary.  For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the general approach to a situation like this one.

  1. Yielding to an ultimatum is almost always a bad idea. It’s a set up for subsequent manipulation and hostage holding. General rule of thumb: don’t ever accept the demands of an ultimatum as presented (unless you are blatantly wrong about the situation and the employee’s demands are entirely justified.)
  2. If the employment situation is one that you want to maintain, find a creative way to invite the employee away from the line they have drawn in the sand. You can do this with a few good techniques:
  • Invite the employee back into conversation and seek first to listen and truly understand; see if you can identify the root cause of the frustration that caused them to become positional in the first place.
  • Affirm their value in the congregation in a way that is genuine and honest.
  • Unpack the various elements of their ultimatum. Identify: what is this about, what is this not about, which parts of the situation can be changed, which parts of the situation cannot be changed?
  • Make distinctions between what the employee is able to do (skill), willing to do (motivation) and has the opportunity to do (environment).
  • Invite the employee to join with you in thinking creatively about alternatives other than resignation. What other solutions exist that don’t involve the ultimatum?
  • Emphasize the mutuality of what you are both seeking to preserve. What do you mutually value in the situation that ought to be preserved?

    3.   At the end of the day, if they will not back away from the ultimatum, prepare for letting them go and prepare for the damage control that you’re going to need to do in the congregation as they depart.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Weigh in.

Photo Credit: war.tix