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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ask the Matriarch: packaging God edition

Please note: The original text of today's Ask the Matriarch question has been edited at the request of the person who submitted it.

Dear Matriarchs:

My senior pastor (SP) has hired a “management consultant” (MC) to work with all of us on staff in defining our goals for 2009. I’m a systems person and a planner, so it’s not a stretch for me to write out a strategic plan and use mission/vision/values or goals/objectives/strategies. I’m part-time because I’m full-time in seminary. The idea of not managing by panic is a great thing.

Where I am uncomfortable is that the “consultant” is a pastor who was first employed in sales in the (no lie) used car business, then got an M.Div.

SO. My SP now says that the MC wants copies of our reports and weekly stat’s. MC’s style is slick, market-driven and – worst of all – sexist. I can’t stand him interpersonally or professionally. He just grates on my nerves.

I want to increase my abilities in communication.

I also want to do a better job of preaching the Word, but I am NOT in agreement that God is a “product” to be “packaged.”

I’ve persevered at this job because I have a year until I graduate and it would be helpful to have a long-term pastoral job on my resume. But at what cost? Am I selling my soul here?

Is this an opportunity for me to develop patience and perspective on “how not to lead the church”?

Ceramic Episcopalian writes
This one is pushing too many of my buttons for me to formulate a good answer, but if the situation is as the questioner says then my basic advice would be to start looking for another job right now and Do Not Engage with this situation. It sounds like a recipe for disaster-- get out with your faith intact while you can.

Jacque commiserates:
Oh, my sister, I ache for you. Unfortunately the Church has a bad habit of employing people as 'consultants' who are available precisely because they have not made it in other areas of ministry. We have seen this multiple times in our denomination -- often the good-old-boys hiring them because they are buddies. Well .... so much for that.

Three thoughts
1.) Yes, you could do it as an exercise in "patience" and to be able to have conversation with other staff members about his approach and any differences you all may have with it. Sometimes that can be helpful.

2.) The question you could raise is this: Since you are in seminary full time and are part-time student on staff, perhaps you would not be required to work with this consultant. After all, you are in the midst of intensive study and development for ministry in the seminary context and are working on these very issues through that process.

3.) Depending on your relationship with the Senior Pastor, you could choose to share your knowledge of this "consultant" and your concerns. Obviously, this is the most risky approach.


Rev Abi offers some suggestions:
Here is my suggestion.
I suggest you go to the Senior Pastor and ask him, what he wants you in particular to write, since you are part-time. How he envisions this to help you help the church. Play Columbo if you have to get clarity. And use that as then your guiding standard for what you then write. Keep the Senior Pastor informed as well as seeking his guidance.

You are part time; you are in a learning situation. Use it as such, to learn the good and bad of church, church politics, and church management. Even ask the guy what he went through at the previous church and what did he learn from that experience so you can learn from him. Again be a bit like Columbo. What would he have done differently? What advise would he have given himself if he was his MC?

I don't know what denomination you are in to know how this all works in your particular situation. But as Methodist we write our goals and objectives with the Staff Parish Relations Committee into a format that is called a Shared Covenant. This goes to our District Supervisor and becomes the means by which we are reviewed and evaluated. You can look to outside resources to help you put this together if need be, but it is always with the knowledge of Staff Parish Relations Committee. I only say this to share one pattern for doing this. There are many.

In fact yesterday I spoke to a friend of mine who has written a format for this that I am going to be looking at using called 360.

I don't know that you are selling your soul, but you are showing that you are cooperating as a team player even though you are part time. And when this MC gives you advice and consultation, you have a means to ask questions. You can say, I want to know how this helps me help the church? How does this fit into the vision of the church? And ask it in the name of learning since you are still in school. Of course you may be learning how not to do things, the effects that may have on people and churches and how to not do at a later time and why. Find friends, and colleagues you can complain to. Keep the Pastor informed of where and how things are going for you. Don't join the gossip; encourage them to like wise tell the Pastor.

And as far as to who this person is and how he does things, people like this usually cause their own downfall eventually.

From Abi who has had to deal with a few too many of these people in life.

Add your thoughts and ideas for questioning pastor.

PS from Ann and revhoney – the question barrel is near the bottom for ATM – please send along your questions for the Matriarchs. Write to askthematriarch at (replace the at with @ - no spaces)


Dear all - this is my last edition of Ask the Matriarch as I discovered that I have been breaking the guidelines of ATM. I did not realize that a 10 year ordained person was the definition of Matriarch. Although I have been ordained over 10 years I do not have 10 years of service. Some whom I have recruited to answer ATM questions are long time lay ministers and therefore do not qualify either. I am sorry that this happened. I have enjoyed my time as an editor of this feature but feel I need to withdraw. Ann


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  2. My thoughts..

    Perspective is everything. I am also part-time staff, full-time everything else (school, life) and I have recently started working with a Spiritual Director. She asks the really hard questions (why do you react that way? what is the root of this response? how is God informing you in this situation?) And she also has tissues and a fondness for vanilla lattes. It works.

    I don't have answers to my own questions, but I do have support in an outside voice who also keeps God in the picture.

    P.S. Ann - I don't know guidelines or whatever, but I appreciate all who write/answer for ATM.

  3. I like Abi's approach of being Columbo. I find myself asking a whole lot more questions in frustrating situations myself these days. It "forces" the other parties to articulate expectations (assuming they answer the questions) and gives them something else to think about other than their own power/authority in the situation.

    I've also started openly taking detailed notes of the answers to my questions, taking time to make sure I have quoted the person carefully, ("Did I catch what you said accurately?" when reading back their answers to them) and clarifying with "Say more about that..." when the other party is being vague.

    It shows the other party you are being actively engaged in what they are saying, and you just might find new understanding.

    Plus, if it all turns out to be baloney, you can shred the notes and be done with it. But they will feel heard.

    It's fun to play detective!

  4. I just want to say how much I love and depend on this feature...I'm a lay person but it gives me both a view into the lives of clergy, my own and all of you, and how laity can support you; and also often relates in astonishing ways to my own, secular, job.

  5. Ann, it is up to your own discernment about whether to continue but I don't know if the qualifications need to be interpreted that strictly rather than being guidelines aiming at ensuring wise advice from those with a deep pool of experience to draw from.

    Experienced lay leaders have much wisdom to share with clergy about spirituality, ministry, and church policy and I have always thought it is shortsighted and rather offensive to bar them as matriarchs. And as a clergy tentmaker myself, I also question why being paid for one's ordained ministry is considered essential to having wisdom and insight to share with this community. There are some technical questions where the present strict definition of matriarch might have more insight/personal experience many which are much better answered by a diversity of perspective. uiries where other perspectives are of no worth.

  6. Sorry for the garbles in my last comment--didn't finish editing before hitting publish. Last sentence should read:

    There are some technical questions where the present strict definition of matriarch might have more insight/personal experience but many which are much better answered by a diversity of perspective.

  7. Well, I never had 10 years of ordained service when editing this column as Gallycat. For that matter, I hadn't even been back in the church that long.

    But you're still my matriarch, Ann. Thanks for all your contributions since I had to step down to meet personal obligations--which, of course, have only gotten crazier in the meantime. Not sure who will see this, but... er,... GALLYCAT (now known as @vagabondfaith on Twitter) IS PREGNANT AND DUE IN NOVEMBER. :)

    Tee hee.


  8. Regarding the original question:

    Get out. Get out now. (Just my two cents.)

    Regarding the matriarch definition: I've always found the advice in this column to be helpful. I say we go with a 'pirate' (as in, of the Caribbean, not actual hijackers) interpretation: "they're more like guidelines."

  9. In terms of the seminarian/part-time pastor's preaching development. Is this is your own self-perception - you want to continue to develop in this area - or external perception - SP/MC think you need help? It sounded like the former. I suggest gathering preachers and listeners whom you trust to share your sermons, both manuscripts and delivered. And take as many preaching elective and continuing education courses as you can. Ultimately, time and practice will help you develop.

  10. This brings back memories of a rector who required clergy staff to record how we spent our time each month, mostly in pastoral matters but others, as well. We referred to it as the rectal report. I'm crining now just thinking about it, and that was ten years ago!

    That said, I would negotiate with the SP about this. The purpose of the "master plan" may be desirable, but the methodology needs to work for you for it to be fruitful. As long as you are working toward defining and striving toward goals (how about desired outcomes?), a way to be accountable to those is what matters.

    Who are we trying to please here? If the SP wants this to work, then it would serve him well to make this work for you. Just a thought.

  11. Ann,
    Say it isn't so, you have done a great job, and those you have recruited have had some marvelous ideas and advise.

    Wish you would stay.

  12. Helen, great news.
    Awesome we are all going to be Aunts and some of us are Uncles!

  13. I think I'd take a look at how you might turn this situation to your advantage; if nothing comes up, and the SP is determined you do it, then maybe it's time to bow out. But perhaps there is some area in which you would like to take a systematic approach to goals, or maybe there's an area in which his slick packaging method doesn't seem so far-fetched (I've learned a lot about website content from material that would otherwise drive me nuts!).

    Someone mentioned the UMC approach where a church committee is sees the goals; at the very least, I'd try for something like that, or a small group you pull together--again, all in the name of learning!--so that there's a little wider forum for discussion if you and he disagree significantly or he is inappropriate in his advice/criticism of you and your work.

    As for the matriarch definition, I definitely fall in the category, with 22 years serving in parishes as a priest...and I'm loving learning a lot from many of you who are lay people or much more newly ordained!

  14. Well, I'm the questioner. :)

    No, there is no option on the reports or the MC. There's two of us who are associate pastors. Both of us (one with his M.Div. and me almost) feel like this is babysitting by the MC so SP can finish his book. We're a staff of 3 plus a secretary in a church of about 650. Our elder board won't "go there" - what SP wants, SP gets. I'm not sure I want to take this any higher in the church food chain.

    My hub pointed out that I can use even the negative to make a positive difference in my life. His prompt, your advice and a glass of chardonnay (have some?) made life seem a little better tonight.

    I'm working on my resume. And will try to work through my stuff so that I don't take it to the next job. Some things you don't want to pack.

  15. I don't believe that you need to withdraw but I respect your decision. Thank you and the matriarchs! And don't stop the column, we need it.


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