Archive for February, 2015

Bridging the Staff Team Divide

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

4929686241_05a2e2dc5cWe are one team! Except that the administrative team often feels like a lesser partner in ministry. We do our best to honor and incorporate all voices in communication and decision-making, but somehow the administrative members of the team feel undervalued and marginalized.  Are we doing something wrong? Or, is this just the nature of staff team life in congregations?

Ministry is our reason for being. The ministry of the congregation is orchestrated by our program staff.  The administrative staff is an invaluable partner in the work, but not central to the work in the same way as the program staff. The program staff would be crippled without the admin team, but the admin team without a program team is meaningless.

Tension between the two parts of the staff team will always exist on some level. However, there are several factors that aggravate the marginalization of the admin team. These factors can be managed and mitigated to create a more unified team experience.

Missional Ownership

Clergy leaders have the strongest tie to the missional identity of the congregation.  The tie is so strong that we often speak of ordained employees as being “called” to the ministry of the church.  We expect our clergy leaders to model ownership of the mission for the rest of the congregation. Non-ordained program employees are also expected to demonstrate deep resonance with the mission of the congregation. The programs they lead are meant to embody and strengthen missional identity.

Administrative employees have different levels of buy-in to our mission. Some are members of the congregation and may demonstrate strong missional ownership.  Sometimes we intentionally hire non-members for key administrative positions, because we believe that non-members are able to keep better boundaries around money and membership issues.  They may think of themselves only as employees who exist to get a job done. They may feel no personal ownership of the mission of the congregation.

I believe that every member of the staff team, regardless of church membership status, needs to demonstrate a base level of missional buy-in if they want to be on the team.  They do not have to agree with our theology, but they do have to understand and honor our polity and our basic reason for existence. No staff member can be allowed to exempt him or herself from the vision casting or mission clarification work of the team.

Is it fair and appropriate to expect that non-member employees participate in the worship or devotional life of the staff team? Prayer is a foundational part of who we are. To remove one’s self from the spiritual life of the team creates division within the team. It is incumbent upon leaders to design devotional experiences that appropriately reflect the full spirituality of the team.  Many teams accomplish this by rotating responsibility for devotional leadership, so that every spiritual perspective on the team finds voice.

Sunday Morning Participation

The Sunday morning experience is the bread and butter of a Christian congregation.  Those who participate in leadership on Sunday morning build their work week around that day.  They have a lived experience of the whole church each and every week, an experience that is both energizing and exhausting.  The work week that culminates in Sunday morning is fundamentally different from a work week that is lived from Monday through Friday.

Those in the office during the week encounter key players in the church, but don’t share in the whole experience of the congregation.  The rhythm of the week is different, often culminating in deadlines that peak mid-to late week.  They don’t share in the energy buzz or the exhaustion of the Sunday morning experience. They rarely see the congregation fully gathered.

We can minimize this difference by being more respectful about how we impose our work on team members functioning with a different work cycle. We can also create meaningful opportunities to invite administrative employees into the Sunday morning experience, so that they can experience our work cycle and the energy of the church fully gathered. To do this we need to respect admin time off, paying employees or offering compensatory time off when they are asked to be present on a weekend.

Accountability for Hours Worked

The administrative team, by design, is composed of people who are good at organizational detail. Tracking and balancing are a natural part of who they are and what they are expected to do.  Additionally, many of our admin workers are non-exempt employees.  This means that they must be paid overtime if they work in excess of a forty hour work week.  Consequently, they are required to prepare time cards, track the hours that they work, and get approval to work over-time.

Most program team members are exempt employees.  This means that they do not get paid overtime for working more than a standard work week. Accordingly, exempt employees do not need to track hours worked and are not required to keep time cards. Many full time program staff work consistently in excess of forty hours per week, and so we grant them latitude to schedule their work as it makes sense. They may take off in the afternoon or come in late in the morning to compensate for evenings spent in church meetings.

This difference in accountability for time and attendance creates tension. We can manage the tension by being respectful of the differing practices around work hours.  I believe that it helps the tension in the office when every member of the team is expected to report time worked, regardless of exempt or non-exempt status. It doesn’t restrict the flexibility of program staff to ask for a weekly accounting of hours worked. It does create a culture of accountability and actually encourages program staff to be more thoughtful about self-care and about building intentional periods of non-work into their week.

We can also be more careful about honoring the tracking systems that help us know who is in and out of the building. An administrative employee is frustrated by the need to track down a program staff employee, who is nowhere to be found and non-responsive to email or voicemail messages.

The division that many congregations experience between program and administrative employees does not need to exist. In many congregations the divide is exaggerated by unexplored assumptions about mission ownership, accountability for time, and a lack of regard for differences in work cycles. Simple respectful practices can help us to bridge the great divide.

Who Speaks on Behalf of the Soul?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Who speaks for the congregation’s soul? When it comes to discerning mission, vision and strategic direction, who gets to name the congregation’s giftedness and vocation? Is it the senior clergy leader, the governing board, the congregation, or someone else?

By the congregation’s soul, I mean the source of its calling, character, and destiny—the charism, the bedrock where its sacred memories reside. Who speaks for soul?

Pastor Craig is a young and vibrant clergy leader with many fresh ideas that have not yet coalesced into vision. He and the congregation have successfully negotiated an eighteen-month honeymoon period. Now the people are growing restless.

Many are looking to Craig to articulate what the next chapter will hold. At the most recent board meeting, leaders suggested that Craig should exert stronger leadership, that he is the “one” who should articulate the vision for the next season. Leaders want their pastor to discern and speak on behalf of the soul of the congregation and declare a new direction, one they say they will gladly follow.

What would you do if you were in Craig’s shoes? Is this his job as the senior clergy leader, or is this request a set up for later scapegoating and blame if the vision doesn’t ring true? Craig values participative leadership and would like the discernment to incorporate wider input, but he fears that he is shirking pastoral responsibility if he doesn’t have a personal vision to assert.

Within scripture there are a variety of models for how a community listens to its soul and discerns and decides upon vision and direction. Let us explore three of these models and consider the pros and cons of each approach.

Let Moses Decide

The leaders of Craig’s church are asking for authoritative leadership. They want him to emulate the leadership of Moses. They are seeking clear and decisive direction from someone they believe has more direct access to the soul of the institution than they do.

When the time was right for the Hebrew people to leave Egypt, Moses did not pause to ask the people how they wanted to leave, or which way they wanted to go. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai and encountered Yahweh, and Yahweh spoke on behalf of the community. Moses told the people in no uncertain terms what God had directed them to do. The people complained, but they followed the directions given.

Authoritative leadership is decisive and quick. As soon as the leader knows, the collective whole can be marshaled to follow, if they are truly ready and willing to follow. This model of vision-setting carries the biggest potential for rejection. People love following Moses as long as the Promised Land remains in sight and things don’t get too dicey.

Authoritative leadership works best when the leader demonstrates clear expertise and when the leader has deep reservoirs of influence capacity. A reservoir of trust will carry the leader and the group through inevitable periods of trials and resistance. Authoritative leadership works well in crisis seasons, or when the community is still in formative stages.

Craig may encounter problems with this style of leadership on two fronts. First, his influence reservoir may not yet be deep enough to pull it off. Second, his church embraces a congregational form of governance. They value the voice of each individual and they honor democratic principles and processes. They want Craig to act in a way that is inconsistent with their polity. Craig should be worried about the disconnection between what his leaders are asking for and their governance practice.

Let the Leaders Lead

A second model places the responsibility for discernment in the hands of a small group of designated leaders. We can look to the Jerusalem Council in the book of Acts as an example of this form of leadership.

Early in the book of Acts, we learn that community leaders are struggling with group decision making. Can gentiles be practicing members of the community, and do they need to follow Jewish customs and rituals in order to participate? The leaders of various factions gather in Jerusalem to discern what the soul of the nascent movement requires. Through a process of dialogue and narrative story-telling the participants at the Jerusalem Council work towards consensus.

Applied to a congregational setting, this model of leadership recognizes the lead pastor as one voice among equals. A community emulating the Jerusalem Council would look to their governing board, or a group appointed by the governing board, to discern on their behalf.

Discernment takes longer in a group context than it does under authoritative leadership. If a congregation is in chaos or crisis, this form of discernment may not be a workable choice. However, if time permits and the board is healthy enough to form and honor a group discernment, this model offers stronger buy-in. In order for this model to work, the people must believe that their leaders share the personal values of the people, and that their leaders will operate in the best interest of the people.


Leader and Followers Discern Together

There is yet a third way for listening to the soul of the congregation; fully participative decision making with a visionary leader at the helm. This method is illustrated through the biblical story of Nehemiah.

The Jewish people are in exile. Nehemiah is a cup-bearer (a political servant) to the king of a foreign land. God places a vision in Nehemiah’s heart. He is to return to the city of Jerusalem and lead the people in rebuilding the wall around the city. Nehemiah has no clear authority to carry out this vision. The only way he can accomplish the work is by enlisting the support and help of those who live in the city. He must convince each resident to rebuild that section of the wall located most immediately adjacent to his home or place of business. Nehemiah must build authorization, requisition the resources, and convince the people that his vision and their vision are one and the same.

Notice that under this model of leadership no one has clear authority to speak on behalf of the soul of the community. Nehemiah elicits a passionate response from the people, and the wall eventually rises to half of its height, because the people have the mind and heart to do the work.

This third way of discerning on behalf of soul is the most complicated and cumbersome of the three approaches. It requires a leader with a strong sense of vision, but a willingness to let that vision be refined and owned by the constituency. It requires skill in group process. It requires a congregation non-anxious enough and healthy enough to engage in discernment and hold disagreements in tension. It takes a significant amount of time and energy. When all is said and done, this method of listening for soul produces the greatest level of buy- in and commitment.

What to do?

Before a congregation can design an effective visioning process, it must consider who is best positioned to speak on behalf of soul.

The selection of an approach for discerning and articulating vision depends upon a variety of factors. The governance tradition of the congregation must be taken into consideration. The influence capacity of the leader and the trust base of the leader must be factored in. The level of chaos/stability in the system is relevant, as is the group discernment capacity of leaders and constituent groups. Finally, the amount of time and energy available for discernment must be weighed.

A well designed discernment process that honors these factors will instill openness during discernment, and the eventual ownership and buy-in of the plan.