Wednesday, January 06, 2016

New Leaders: Mission -- Landrum

The staff of MidAmerica Region of the UUA has put out a statement about what the "New Leader" of congregations will need to succeed, and they've begun a blog series about their bullet points.  The blog posts will be coming out about every-other week, and the first one, on "Mission," is now available.  It's worth noting that theses are qualities of the new Leader not just the new Minister
1.  Mission driven: Leaders know why they are active, and how they are seeking to make a difference in the world; they understand that congregational life is not about making people “happy,” but by knowing how the congregation is called to serve their community, and are then faithful to that calling.
 In his exploration of this point, Ian Evison rightly names one of the tensions as being between visionaries and realists, and the good leader is one who can hold the tension between the two.  We often assume that what the "new era" of congregations needs is innovative ministry, but being visionary and innovative is not the same as being mission-driven.  And there's a good case to be made that innovative ministers is not what we want.  Take, for example, the article "The Church Needs More Innovative Pastors like MTV Needs More Twerking*" by Patrick Scriven.  In it, the author explains a bell curve of people accepting an innovation, and shows that clergy are needed to be in the gap space where we understand and hear the innovators and early adopters, but hear the needs of the early majority and can translate to them and influence them.  A clergy person who is too far ahead of their congregation, too far from the majority on the adaptation of new ideas, may lose their following. 

This is where I think Patrick Scriven is exactly right.  We need clergy to listen to the innovators, maybe have a foot in the early adopter camp, but bridge the gap.  And we need strong lay leaders or other staff to champion innovation.  What our congregations need for the "new era" is strong congregational leaders who understand that a church needs to be Mission-driven, and that a congregation serves the larger community and is not about making people happy.  That leader then needs to work harmoniously with the minister who can do the work of bringing the congregation to understand this mission. If we don't understand the reluctance to change, and ignore the fact that 3/4 of the people haven't gotten on board with a new initiative yet, then we're going to have struggle.  This is the work of the ministry -- not always being the bold visionary, but sometimes being the person who knows how to bridge the gap.

It's also important for laity to understand that for clergy, being in this mission-driven space is a tightrope walk.  On the one hand, we quite often understand ourselves as mission-driven, answering to a larger calling of serving communities and our movement.  On the other hand, a congregation calls a minister to minister to them, to serve their needs, which often looks like "making people happy" in the eyes of a board or committee on ministry.  People unhappy with their minister complain about the minister, those complaints go up a chain of command, and even if the minister isn't explicitly ordered to address the complaints, they can pile up or lead to a feeling of walking on eggshells.  It's an easy job for someone who has been around to name names of ministers who felt their ministry ended because of a handful of people who fought against a new direction the minister was taking.  The work of ministers needs to be partly about educating the congregation that their purpose is mission-driven, not about personal satisfaction, but this needs to be the work of other leaders, as well, particularly in regards to supporting the minister and ministry. 

When a congregation turns its focus from making its members happy to serving the larger community, there will be people upset.  And there will be people who leave.  And they may not say it's because of the change in focus and direction.  They may say that they felt like they were insulted by something, or that something was done wrong, or that they dislike the preaching style.  If you watch your back door too closely, afraid to let anyone slip out of it, and worry too much about each member's unhappiness with the system, you erode the confidence in taking a bold direction. 

I'm not saying to throw away "green eye-shades" completely in favor of "rose-colored glasses."  You need to be aware of the risks you're taking, and to take them carefully and with consideration.  Jumping radically into each new idea without foresight and planning is certainly as dangerous as stagnation.  But listen to those early adopters as well as the innovators and yes, ultimately this statement is true:
Mission driven: Leaders know why they are active, and how they are seeking to make a difference in the world; they understand that congregational life is not about making people “happy,” but by knowing how the congregation is called to serve their community, and are then faithful to that calling.

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