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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - About Leadership

Our question this week is a reflection on leadership...

There is a plethora of books on the subject ranging from those in the corporate world to those which Alban publishes. How do you define leadership and what is your style of leadership? I know all the buzz words such as collegial, collaborative, participatory, etc. I have experienced leadership which has been autocratic and "my way or the highway".

My style of leadership is invitational. I invite those in the congregation I serve to take time to reflect if there is a sense of God in prompting them to serve in a particular role, to serve in the community, to volunteer for XYZ ministry. I also tell them there are seasons in our life when we must say "no" and that "no" is a complete sentence. This congregation has a history of using guilt to get people to serve or nominating them when they are not present and/or without their consent. I talk alot about sense of call, listening for the Spirit, paying attention to the nudging of the God, and being aware of where our blind spots are. Our areas of resistance can be just as information as our areas of affirmation. We have spent some time on gifts and the vast variety there are.

I hold fast to not filling slots with warm (or for that matter cold) bodies and also considering if those slots need to be "let go" of to make room for new ministry. I encourage them to explore areas to discover new gifts and how it is OK to discover new gifts or affirm that at this point in my life that is not my gift.

Here's the rub: It is much easier for someone else to do it. Everybody wants a ministry to kids and youth, or everyone thinks having someone besides the pastor visit is a good idea...but that is as far it is ever goes. There is ministry being done most of it which is focused inside our walls and that ministry which is outside the walls consists of writing a check to support various mission projects.

After being here 2 years I would say this congregation is very comfortable where they are and embrace the status quo.

My thoughts thus far: This congregation had not yet decided whether it wants to live or not. (Of course, they would be first to say....YES). Secondly, invitational leadership is part of my DNA but is it possible this congregation needs a different style. If I cannot not adapt, then perhaps I am doing them a disservice by staying in this call. Third: Is it possible for invitational leadership to work in any church?

Sharon at Tidings of Comfort and Joy writes in response:

I was a science major in college. In our lab experiments, there were instructions for how it was supposed to work and, if we followed all the steps, the results would turn out consistently and predictably. I see church life as a lab to live out what we pastors have learned/are learning and what our congregation is learning about our faith. Seminary, preaching, reading books, studying Bible, Sunday School class -- all the theory, lessons, God revelations and good ideas work themselves out in the lab of congregational life gathered and scattered. Our faith lab experiments -- it turns out -- have amazingly unpredictable results given the relatively clear mandates of our faith! Forgiveness lessons alone . . . but I digress!

About your first point, if your congregation hasn't decided whether it wants to live, they are the norm at this time in church history. Many of those congregations are predicted to die before the end of this century. Assume that yours does want to live and treat their "illness" aggressively. I recommend Paul Nixon's book I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church as discussion and planning fodder for your church council meetings.

About your third point: Yes, it is possible for invitational leadership to be effective. In my experience, it means letting happen the mess that happens when you deliberately let things fall through the crack. Some of that mess may be that you will be accused of being an ineffective leader and/or not doing the job they are paying you to do. Keep on inviting! Invite them to embrace that this is their church vitality, their ministry, and their own faith growth that is at stake.

About your second point: Simply stated: Yes, it may come to that. It's time to leave when you know (however you know) that God's invitational leadership is inviting you to somewhere new and inviting this church to embrace someone else's pastoral leadership. You gotta say yes to that if it happens.

Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions about leadership! In my experience, pastoral leadership turns out to be more of a dance than a science!

Muthah+, who blogs at Stone of Witness adds:

If there is anything that I have learned over the years that there are different strokes..., not only of how to lead but how to be led. And we need several different styles under our belts. The kind of leadership that we have naturally is not the only kind and clergy need to be proficient in many. I like your natural style. The invitational is the most important in most situations. But there are the cheerleading style, the 'let's do it together' style, and at times there is a place where the "my way-highway" style is necessary when you need to be protective in the face of a bully.

I am ashamed to say that naturally I have a coercive style of leadership and I have had to learn another form to keep from alienating folks. But sometimes a 'kick butt' style---especially when it is a total novelty can wake folks up to their responsibility as long as it is done with humor.
The big problem is that you have a community that is passive. They have somewhere along the line (probably by being a part of today's culture) either experienced the ministry as something that they were supposed to be the recipients of rather than the doers of. First of all you need to find where their passion is. What turns these folks on? What excites them about their faith? Then you need to get out of their way!

All too often we clergy types either present or try to keep on the ministry of some past cleric that is not exciting to them or to you. Or we have accepted a denominational pattern that has always 'looked like the way church is supposed to be'. It might be interesting to see what they want to do---and if they tell you they all want a vital youth group and they are all over 60 they aren't being realistic.

You don't say how long you have been in your congregation, but make sure that they trust you enough to 'disturb' them, to challenge them. There is nothing wrong with dying if that is what they want to do. And they are not going to tell you that they want to die unless they trust you well enough to know that that you are going to be there to hold their hand while they die. IMHO, churches are damned hard to kill off. And they don't want die especially if you are there to play step-n-fetch.
I have just started a bible study for a group of seniors in my parish and it is the most lively and 'subversive' group in this large, predominantly 40 something parish. They want to DO stuff after studying Amos. They want to talk to the youth about 'their eras'. They want to feed the hungry. They have found some energy simply because they have heard the word of God.
Start small and tend it well and it will grow. Trust your own relationship with God to be your guide and don't expect results in your tenure as pastor. Maintain your own integrity as a faith filled person. That is the most faith-filled leadership style that you can have.

I am a celibate lesbian who led a small country parish before I retired. I was the only pastor they could get and there was always grumbling during my tenure. The conservative farmers in the community didn't know what to make of me. But they 'suffered me' and we came to a grumpy respect. I did not discuss LGBT issues in the parish--they didn't want to. So we didn't. I retired 2 years ago and I have just heard that this parish has just called a young gay partnered man to serve them. They are the first in their judicatory to do so and they are so proud of themselves that they can't see straight. They are excited by his energy and his caring. I could never have led these people to this decision--it came from their own energy. Who would have guessed?

There are some excellent insights here...what can you add? Come, join the conversation.

We have no questions in the queue for the matriarchs, so please send your questions to

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. Thanks for such a great question!

    I'm currently an intern at a large suburban congregation, and my husband - though he grew up in the church - stopped participating in congregational life after confirmation. He has never held any kind of leadership position or served on a committee or even taught Sunday School. Until two weeks ago, he would have confidently asserted that he did not possess the skill set to do so.

    The associate pastor here, upon witnessing him interacting with a group of confirmation students, saw in him a gift for relating to young people. She approached him individually and invited him to consider becoming a mentor for a group of 9th grade boys. He had to think about it, but by the end of that day, he'd agreed to try it out. And, much to his surprise, he found out he not only CAN do it, but also that he LOVES working with the confirmation students.

    Though the pastor had invited members of the congregation to be part of the youth program, my husband would have never even considered himself a candidate. Yet after being personally invited to do so, he found he loved it. What's more, he's not the only one: there are at least 2 other people serving as confirmation mentors this year who NEVER would have been part of the program without this pastor's personal invitation.

    Are there members of your congregation that you think would be FANTASTIC volunteers, but they haven't gotten involved? Maybe they don't see what you see; maybe they need someone to tell them what a gift they have. It worked for my husband!

  2. I have no insights; just going to add that I am in a similar situation -- passive congregation not sure it wants to live or die, or perhaps more accurately, says it wants to live but is not (apparently) willing to work for it.

    I think my leadership style is collaborative/invitational and it isn't working that well, either. Things as simple as coffee hour aren't getting done because people won't step up to do them. There are about 5-7 families who do everything that gets done, and that just isn't sustainable. Even my best "leaders" sit back and wait for me to make things happen.

    Muthah+, love your story. I think you did lead that congregation to where they are now just by being who you are and meeting them where they were.

  3. I definitely am an invitational leader, and I agree that engaging other styles of leadership can be helpful.

    One thing I have learned in my 11 plus years of ministry is what Mutha mentioned--the individual ask can be really powerful. I do that a lot more than I used to.

  4. Muthah+, your story of your last parish is making my eyes fill up. It's so true that we can't always see what we're there for until after we're gone.

  5. Leadership was one thing that scared me coming into Ministry. I was sure I wasn't a leader because I am not autocratic - well I can be but it isn't nice:)
    This year for continuing education I attended a Leadership Intensive, and I found I do have a leadership style; collaborative/invitational, it has served me well. I had not realised how much being on a journey with people was changing the congregation. I do personally invite people to be involved in ministry areas I think they are suited to, and the congregation had a history of pastoral care, so that is not my focus.
    In the first year or two I did a lot of ‘cheerleading’, and some phrases appeared almost weekly. I had an idea of where I was going in the first 3 years, and I had that in mind as I prepared worship, newsletter notices, etc. I have been here for 5 years, and the congregation is much more confident of their giftedness and their ability to be in mission, they are more likely to invite people to activities, we have started some new activities [and some have been let go], and some people have changed the role they are serving in. For this congregation, it was important that they trusted I would stick around, that I was with them. If I had left after 2 years, I would have missed out on so much. I think it also helps that I try new things at times, especially in worship, not every week. Little things, like a few weeks ago I asked them to think of what they like best about being part of the congregation and tell someone sitting near them. If it is a big change, like having church over breakfast in the hall, I tell them a few weeks ahead it is something new we are trying and it won’t be all the time. We now do this once a year.
    OOPS, getting too long, but it is only this year I have been able to own my leadership ability.

  6. Wow, great question and great replies! So helpful for me. I guess I am also an 'invitational' leader. But I can see that it would be good to be flexible in that, and maybe mix it up a bit. I'm still working under the supervision of a training incumbent, but next year sometime I will be given a congregation of my own, so this is very helpful stuff indeed. Thank you.


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