Vanilla Slices, and our quest to find, describe, and prescribe the perfect one, is not dissimilar to our passion for good organisational culture.
You may think that’s a stretch, but let me explain.
Vanilla Slices are so simple and clear.
A layer of foundational pastry, a much bigger layer of delicious custard, another layer of pastry to hold shape, and then a slither of icing.
And what is culture?
Foundational standards – emotion and relationships – a top layer of boundaries to hold it all in shape, and a slither of PR.
Read the post at MWAH.
I grew up with a church system that had two bodies, one tasked with spiritual and the other tasked with temporal matters.
It is not a helpful distinction in so far as everything is spiritual and practical. At its worst the ‘temporal’ body can use its power to veto the plans of the ‘spiritual’ body, effectively putting themselves in charge. At its best the ‘spiritual’ body works with the ‘temporal’ body in developing plans and the ‘temporal’ body sees its role as enabling the decisions of the ‘spiritual’ body, not as determining whether they should happen.
Our system allows for members of the ‘spiritual’ body to be automatic members of the ‘temporal’ body, which generally means they could get their way if they wanted, but, from a governance perspective, the notion that control of what happens rests with the ‘temporal’ body creates an unproductive dynamic that is resistant to change and protects the status-quo.
From Dan Hotchkiss:
Some congregations have two, or even three, top boards, all responsible directly to the congregation. Sometimes the division reflects an old-fashioned mom-and-pop dualism: The board of trustees (pop) controls the money, while a program board (mom) does most Of the work. Sometimes one board is said to be responsible for the “business” aspect of the congregation, while the other takes charge of the “spiritual” part. Have I made it clear yet that I don’t like this way of splitting up the universe? Whoever controls “business” ends up having ultimate control of spiritual matters also.
Dan Hotchkiss, Governance And Ministry, Rowland & Littlefield, 2016, pg 44.
Dan Hotchkiss observes that churches of a certain size tend toward staff-centered leadership structures. The first advantage of that structure is that they usually depend on one leader, and any disruption to that leader can have an inordinately disruptive effect on the organisation.
He then points out a second, more philosophical disadvantage that resonates with my understanding of how a local church should function.
A second disadvantage of staff-centered structures is a disadvantage only if you believe, as I do, that committed groups are capable of making better decisions than individuals can. I don’t always enjoy group decision-making, but I have found again and again that a community willing to be patient with people’s differences and indecision will correct and improve the insights of even the most gifted individuals. If you agree with me that wide participation adds an essential element to a congregation’s search for truth, then a strictly staff—centered congregation seems wrong. Even if the staff-centered model were always more effective at producing practical results, it would leave me dissatisfied because it does not make use of every member’s gifts for discerning the congregation’s mission. This concern, at bottom, is theological: I think each of us comes with a built-in antenna tuned to the fight frequency to hear the promptings of the Spirit, and congregations ought to take advantage of it. I also believe what people call the “politics” of congregations has a good side because a group in conversation can perceive more about what is good and right than the sum of what its members can perceive alone. For these reasons, I choose congregational participation with its messiness, even though I sometimes envy the efficiency of the staff-centered way.
Dan Hotchkiss, Governance And Ministry, Rowland & Littlefield, 2016, pg 42.
In a church plant (and, in a more limited way in a revitalisation) the leader has a considerable degree of discretion and control about how things are done.
With an established church, particularly those of smaller to medium size, people have a sense of ownership and partnership that means the introduction of change needs to be processed with wisdom and patience.
In concluding a post on the subject, Ron Edmondson says:
Be strategic in the implementation.
Take your time. Establish trust. Build consensus. Talk to the right people. Even compromise on minor details if necessary. Accommodate special requests if possible and if it doesn’t affect the outcome. Be political if needed.
It’s part of the process, especially in a highly structured environment. (Does that describe any churches you know?)
Structured environments shouldn’t keep you from making the right decisions involving change. They just alter the implementation process.
Knowing this difference provides freedom to visionary pastors and leaders in highly structured environments. You can make the change. You can. You’ll just have to be smarter about how and when you make them.
The only thing I’d add is don’t simply bank up trust and never get around to spending it on needed change.
Sometimes that time of patience can become the status quo that you never emerge from.
Read the whole post at Ron Edmondson.
Here in the country we think that having five cars in front of us at the roundabout is an infringement of our human rights.
Andrew Roycroft recalls the observation ‘You are not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic’ as being a salient reminder that a traffic jam is not something that others are doing to you, but a common experience you’re sharing with others.
He offers observations to pastors, other church members, and young people.
The paragraphs directed at pastors seeks to deal with the ‘us and them’ mentality that can so easily develop (or be fed by church members).
Pastor, you are the traffic: one of the easiest areas to develop a ‘them and us’ attitude, to imagine oneself aloof from the cumulative setbacks and declines of the local church is in pastoral ministry. Pastors are called to teach God’s people, to edify and equip them for works of service, to care for and disciple Christians so that they grow through the seasons and storms of life. With this kind of work in hand it is easy to imagine that we are somehow divorced from sin’s co-operative, that we are solely curative rather than causative when it comes to spiritual regress.
In such circumstances I need to remind myself that I am the traffic, that I contribute my unit of fallen humanity to the community of God’s people who are clogging the highways to holiness and heaven. I am not merely an agent of change, but a subject for whom change is vital. My skewed perspectives and lopsided priorities, my casual acceptance of my own faults, my willingness to ignore what God says and transgress what God forbids, my truculence in the face of what God is clearly saying in his Word, are part of the problem we are all facing as pilgrims. Any other view of myself will lead to conceit, to unconfessed sin, to pastoral insensitivity, and to a Pharisaical approach to life which will be deadly to others. The acknowledgement that ‘I am the traffic’ will lead to true heart work, true self-scrutiny, and a vitality in my walk with God among his people which is indispensable.
Read the whole post at Thinking Pastorally.
Sam Allberry writes that culture on either side of the Atlantic Ocean contributes to two different strands of authoritarian leadership taking root in the church.
In concluding, his point is not that the antidote to bad leadership is not no leadership, but servant leadership – a leadership that leads by example. And that example comes not from an individual, but a team.
It is common in American churches to borrow leadership wisdom from the business world. The pastor is the CEO. His role is to bring success, often and especially measured in numerical terms: The church needs to grow in membership and giving. In the UK, it’s slightly different. The church tends toward a military model. The pastor is the three-star general who directs everyone to do the right things.
There is obviously much to be learned from both successful CEOs and also great generals, but both models can quickly become toxic. When either becomes the primary model for Christian leadership, is it any wonder that domineering pastors result? The pastor-as-CEO approach might foster entrepreneurialism and risk-taking, but it easily becomes results-oriented. The pastor-as-general approach might foster perseverance and grit, but it easily becomes task-oriented. One produces swagger: Their word is law because they’re economically indispensable to the church. The other produces presumption: Orders must be followed because the general “knows” what is best for every person. In each case we either tolerate or fail to see traits of bullying, because ministry ends justify ministry means.
The antidote to being domineering, then, is to lead by example rather than by coercion: “Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3).
The flock is to be led, yes, but not by force of personality. The flock is to be led by beauty of example. Being domineering is bad leadership; and the answer to bad leadership is not no leadership but the right kind of leadership.
Read the whole post at the Gospel Coalition (USA).
Tod Bolsinger sums up the Church as a body that functions relationally and purposefully. Sometimes the relationships can subvert the purpose, sometimes the purpose can overwhelm the relationships.
Pastors can focus on maintaining relationships at the cost of mission, or focus on outreach at the cost of caring for those who are already there.
If this problem or the solution was obvious or easy for leaders to negotiate churches would be a lot healthier than they are.
Bolsinger points out that pastors have to do both, lead with outward purpose and inward empathy:
We are called to take the hill – with Grandma
Christian work is a “family” and a “business” at the same time. To be a Christian is to ﬁnd identity and mutual commitment in relationships constituted by God that make us into brothers and sisters, these relationships are inherently and intrinsically important. And at the same time we are a business with a mission to fulﬁll, services to offer, constituencies to support and regulations, demands, and obligations required of us. The organisation that has inherently valuable relationships also has an instrumentally critical purpose. And holding that tension, leading a Christian organization that is faithful to both mission and family, is indeed the challenge for most of us.
Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing The Mountains IVP Books, 2015, pg 221.