Leadership conundrums

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There are things we just don’t learn in seminary. Which is okay, in my opinion. You just have to learn them from other church leaders. It’s on-the-job training. Here are some of my quandaries:

How does one cultivate loyalty, responsibility, and ownership for a role, without nurturing controlling, possessive, turf issues?

Should the pastor always encourage term limits on positions? I mean, what if a job is really, really hard and there’s someone who’s really, really good at it? Can we let that deeper calling flourish without squelching opportunities for others? Is there a way to do it without creating some ingrown monster who hasn’t breathed any outside air for 20 years?

If we create jobs without term limits, then how do we let the people who aren’t so great at the job go?

How do you fire a volunteer?

How do you pry the matriarch/patriarch from her/his turf?

What’s more important in leading a congregation, efficiency or tolerance?

What’s more important in leading a worship service, openness and flexibility or professionalism?

What does one do about an elderly treasurer, whom everyone loves, who can no longer do his job?

Would you rather be a good administrator or a visionary leader? Is there such a way to be both?

Is there a way to accept everyone, even the people who are mean?

How can you tell if you’re spending a lot of extra time with a person to get him/her through a temporary crisis, or if you’re helping to create a permanent dependent relationship?

Also on the pastoral care front, without all of the ordinary boundaries of a counselor (mandatory appointment times, payment, no contact outside of the office, etc.), how does one make sure that transference or sexual attraction doesn’t occur?

How does a majority white congregation have discussions about diversity, without making people of color feel like they’re tokens? Should I begin with banning the use of terms like “people of color”?

We don’t have as much problem with ethnic diversity as political and theological diversity. Which leads me to wonder, is there a way to have political and theological diversity, without watering down our message? Is it okay that some people just don’t feel comfortable in our pews?

When should a pastor pursue an angry member, and when should she just let that member go? I mean have you seen this happen? The frustrated and often destructive member finally leaves the congregation. The pastor begs for him or her to come back (in the Christian hope of reconciliation), and then the person comes back like a tornado with a second wind. They have even more catastrophic power than before. Is there ever a time when the pastor ought to just wave goodbye?

Do you know what works? How do you answer these questions?

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6 thoughts on “Leadership conundrums

  1. Whew.

    All I know that my basic mantra is:

    “in a healthy church . . .”
    Healthy churches let fresh ideas in, keep sound boundaries, realize they cannot be all things to all people, realize there are seasons for all things, let people go.

    Healthy churches do not create monsters, do not let someone (other than Jesus) become the focus of the ministry, do not allow anyone (including pastor) to hold them hostage.

    The basic thing to ask seems to be, “What’s healthy here for right now?”

  2. What? You mean all these questions aren’t going to be answered next year in my final year of seminary? What? Ridiculous.

    Actually, seminary is sometimes the worst place for such discussions because there students think there’s actually answers to your questions, so folks talk about them for hours and hours when most of them really have no approachable answer and must be dealt with on a case to case, prayer to prayer basis.

    A Wee Blether

  3. “What does one do about an elderly treasurer, whom everyone loves, who can no longer do his job?”
    A colleague had this problem and came up with a brilliant idea: she threw a retirement party at which the Treasurer was celebrated and appreciated, and although that person was not thrilled about being “retired” she accepted it and loved the party.
    As far as angry people go, you must let them leave. They are not the solid rock. And if they feel less angry someday, the door does swing both ways. If the church depended so thoroughly on one angry person, maybe it’s better to find that out?
    You’ve got a lot of good questions. I’m not sure a healthy church really exists, but it’s certainly an ideal we hope to strive for and towards. What’s more likely is that we might wake up to our weirdness and accept it where we have to and change it where we can.

  4. Oh, I do feel as though I could answer some (even many) of these questions — and in some, the answer is obvious, I might add (would you rather be efficient, or loving?) — come on! But there are too many in one post, I’ve got to say. There are diplomatic ways to work with those who are (too) attached to their roles. There are also times when a hateful member has to be let go, even when we know our job is reconciliation (a current one for me!). I think the church was not meant to be efficient and an administrative dream. Read Paul. It was meant to sometimes be a pastor’s nightmare, but a loving place. And we all do this stuff by the seat of our pants most of the time, even those of us who studied, taught, and read about healthy human interactions for a large part of their lives (ahem).

  5. Actually, I said efficient or tolerant. I think you can be loving and be both. I was thinking of the times when working with elderly congregations, certain people would get very frustrated with me because I felt it was more important to let other people do things than to see that they were efficiently done. Without a secretary, I was working with various volunteers, people who couldn’t use email, so I hand-delivered a lot, etc. Often a job that could have been done in 5 minutes took an hour. And, looking back, I probably should have leaned on the side of efficiency more…

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