This is the season when congregational leaders are getting set in their roles. And thus it is that I am frequently asked at this time of year for my wisdom on the subject. When confronted with this question, one temptation is to give a lecture whose length is only determined by the attention space of my listener. Our family is currently renting not one but two storage units. A good portion of this space is devoted to books I cannot part with because each and every one give at least a piece of what I feel to be the essential and minimum answer to this question.Another, more helpful answer to this question begins at an entirely different point. I have observed an interesting phenomenon. I have on occasion turned the question around. I have asked the leader what advice that they would give someone else where they to take such a role. Here is the interesting thing: the answer I get from the leader themselves is often much more on target (and much more succinct!) than anything I might have said.
I believe this is so for three reasons. First, our leaders tend to be pretty smart people with great depth of experience, if not in the exact role they are currently beginning. Second, our leaders know themselves—their own strengths and weaknesses, what challenges and cautions they themselves most need. And third, there is wisdom in the choices that groups make concerning who will take key roles. Sometimes there is a perversity to this wisdom but there is frequently greater wisdom than appears on the surface concerning why a particular person was chosen for a key role at a particular point in congregation’s journey. We may joke that we were selected only because we did not run fast enough when the nominating committee came calling but things are rarely that simple.
What you might ask, is the wisdom that leaders give themselves when asked? Of course this depends on the person and situation but much of the advice is exactly what we would expect. Here are a few that people often mention:
- Do a better job of planning ahead. Set ahead a little time a week before the meeting to plan the meeting and to check the to-do lists.
- Remember that how you do the work is often more important that what you do. Attempt to model in the role those qualities we all want in our congregations—respect for each other, good listening, willingness to do hard things.
- Set good limits to the work. Consider, for example, only answering church email and voice mail once a day (and not during family time!).
- Think of your work as something you do with a team. Remember that, when you feel yourself alone with your responsibilities, you probably have lost perspective.
- Agree with your team on a few, a very few key goals and return frequently to ask yourselves how you are progressing.
- Cultivate in yourself and others not a sense of obligation and scarcity but a sense of Sabbath and gratefulness.
Since this is the advice that you, our leaders, give yourselves, I need not point out that the challenge is not in the giving of this advice but in the living of it.
I encourage you to take a moment and ask: what advice do you give yourself? And then how are you going to make space to follow that advice?
Congregational Services Director