Empowers: Fosters a culture of empowering ministry utilizing knowledge of persons’ spiritual gifts, passions and talents for service coupled with expectation and accountability for those who undertake ministry.
Fosters a Learning Culture for Leaders: Understands that leaders in Christian community have a distinctive call, that they seek God’s guidance, are willing to risk, lead change well and learn from experience. Leaders are trained and expected to mentor future leaders. Lay leaders foster a healthy relationship with their clergy.
Vital congregations have effective congregational leadership (both clergy and laity). When it is healthy and vibrant it is a shared (mutual and collaborative) ministry of followers of Jesus as the Body of Christ. Each member exercising their spiritual gifts and talents for ministry with clear expectations as to their roles/functions as part of the body, and accountability to the other members of the body.
While empowering and supporting ministry leaders has many commonalities across congregations, it is important to note that church size (see church size based on Average Sunday Attendance) does make a difference in leadership structures, styles, and practice. The size of the congregation should be taken into account with respect to how leaders function in those different congregations.
Spiritual Leaders & a Culture of Discernment
When we discuss leadership development for congregational vitality we are primarily speaking about the Body of Christ in mission. While congregations can (and should) draw on the wisdom and experience from secular training and organizations which can help us in carrying out God’s mission, the Church is not a business or secular non-profit. Our ministry should be centered on following Jesus in fulfilling God’s mission. Our work together should be grounded in our relationships with God and each other. We are called to be prayerful, spiritually-minded, discerning Christians.
Rooted in prayer, study, and worship together: Group Bible study before meetings, worship to start meetings (evening prayer, simple Eucharist). If possible, having someone serve as chaplain to the vestry (or other ministry team) — who is not the one chairing the team — can be quite helpful in focusing the team on spiritual matters, and calling the team back to refocus if meetings stray to far from recognizing the presence of God in their work and discussions.
Programs like RenewalWorks™ are intentional programs focusing on spiritual growth. Through a guided methodology of self-reflection, sharing and workshop discussion, RenewalWorks challenges parishes to refocus on spiritual growth and to identify ways that God is calling them to grow.
Discernment for Leadership
Fostering a culture of empowering ministry leaders begins with discerning the spiritual gifts and talents of members of the body of Christ, learning their passions/gladness, and matching those with ministry based on the purpose and vision of the congregation. It is part of being good stewards of spiritual gifts and talents. The effective empowering of ministry leaders happens at the same place where we are exercising good stewardship of spiritual gifts and talents. It is where the trinity of a person’s Spiritual Gifts & Talents intersect with the person’s Passions or Gladness and the Congregation’s Purpose & Vision.
Structuring Leadership for Ministry
Beyond discerning the best ministries for members of the body of Christ, leaders need to be equipped for those ministries. The most effective leaders build teams to carry out ministry. Just think of Moses in Exodus or Jesus with the Apostles. The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) makes available a wonderful resource from Marshall Gantz, renowned organizational leader from Harvard University. Marshall’s work has been used in several Episcopal dioceses. I had the privilege of working with Marshall when we were organizing Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation (EGR) back in 2003. Based on similar principles is an ECF presentation on identifying and recruiting leaders.
Structuring_Leadership_Teams (ECF based on work of Marshall Gantz)
Working Well Together: Understanding Leadership Styles
Congregational vitality relies on ministry leaders working effectively to carry out the congregation’s purpose and vision in faithfully living into God’s mission. We may be doing well at creating a culture of spirituality and prayer. We may be discerning spiritual gifts, talents, passions and matching those with purpose and vision, but we are all human. We have different skills and personalities. We have different ways of understanding, connecting, and leading. I have found it helpful in working with vestries and other ministry teams for everyone to understand the ways in which we all lead and function together as a unit.
As with almost anything, I don’t think there is one best way to help leaders assess leadership styles. Nonetheless, there are numerous tools and practices which we can choose from. Some may work better than others for your vestry or other ministry team. Here are few “tried and true” which are widely used.
Who Am I as a Leader? Tool (Episcopal Church Foundation)
Working Well Together: Avoiding Dysfunction
Nothing can trip us up in ministry quite like a dysfunctional system. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick M. Lencioni is a great resource on the five self-defeating patterns of behavior to avoid for a healthy leadership team. They are:
- An absence of trust, particularly as it relates to being open and transparent about mistakes and weaknesses.
- A fear of conflict, that makes it next to impossible for a team to vigorously debate ideas and hold different perspectives and points of view in creative tension.
- A lack of commitment that comes from little or no buy in and ownership so even when a group makes a decision, team members are at best, minimally committed to do whatever it takes to execute the decision.
- Avoidance of accountability is the next ‘extension’ of the self-defeating patterns because everyone involved is hesitant to call other team members on issues and concerns when individuals are aware that they themselves are not giving their all.
- Inattention to results is the fifth component and is the result of a concern on the part of the individuals in a team to protect themselves and their individual needs at the expense of the goals of a team.
The book includes a self-assessment tool teams can use and valuable activities and exercises that can help develop new patterns of behavior. By working on these five areas at the outset leaders are less likely to fall into dysfunction — which can lead to unhealthy conflict. Managing conflict is an important aspect of leadership for congregational vitality and is discussed separately.
Working Well Together: Expectations and Accountability
I have been in congregations, and other organizations, where expectations were clear and there was a process for accountability. I have also been places where these were a struggle. Vital congregations tend to be very good at clarifying expectations and holding one another accountable. In the Episcopal Church we have clarity (in Constitution & Canons) with respect to roles/functions for laity, bishops, priests, and deacons. For congregations, these are further defined depending on specific roles for clergy as Rector or Assistant/Associate Rector, and for lay leaders serving on Vestry.
It is important to honor these roles. This does not place the clergy above the laity, nor should clergy be seen as employees who work for the vestry. Every member of the Body of Christ has a role to play and specific functions in their roles. Congregational vitality relies on there being clarity. So roles and functions should be spelled out. Congregational vitality also relies on these roles functioning together, supporting one another, and sharing in ministry and decision-making together.
The Vestry Resource Guide is a useful resource, and not just for vestries. The guide can be used to help create norms and covenants for all ministry teams in a congregation. I have drawn on this resource to highlight ways in which vital congregations build strong leadership teams in the discussion which follows.
Group Norms and Covenants
Letters of Agreement between clergy and vestry should be clear. Vestries, and other ministry groups, should have covenants (renewed every time new members join) to provide group norms and guide their work together. They don’t need to be elaborate. Clergy, vestry, and all ministry teams should annually participate in mutual ministry reviews to assess their work together. Vital congregations have leaders who keep the focus on God’s mission as articulated in the congregation’s purpose and vision. Goals are set, action taken, and results are measured.
Meetings should be productive in advancing God’s mission articulated in the congregation’s purpose and vision. But we all know meetings can drain us of our energy and be cause for distraction (not to mention failures at being good stewards of people’s time).
Our group norms and covenants should establish clarity about:
- Meetings – length, attendance, use of technology, agenda
- Discussion – listening, handling debate/disagreement, courtesy, respect
- Confidentiality, balanced with trasnparency
- Accountability to norms and covenant
Establish a Safe Place to Work Together: Ground rules, how to avoid behavior like harassment and bullying.
Leader as Host
- Understands it takes creativity and commitment of everyone to move forward
- Pays attention to group dynamics and guidelines
- Supports and encourages the team
- Helps the team learn from mistakes
- Measures and celebrates the team’s progress
- Honors the faith and energy the team brings
Ministry Teams focus on Mission and Delegate – if doesn’t support the purpose and vision of the congregation why are we doing it?
Ministry Teams Make Decisions:
- Mission guides information, discussion, and decisions
- Engage in deep and prayerful listening. Seek consensus.
- Simple decisions require yea or nay vote. Detailed decisions require ample time, attention, and prayerful discernment, and benefit from consensus.
- Communicate regularly with congregation.
- Once a decision is made, support one another in decision and move on to next item.
Decisions require follow-through and follow-up. Effective ministry teams measure results.
- Clear goals and expectations
- Timelines and milestones
- Regular communication on progress
- Method for seeking support from stakeholders and critics
- Measure results and evaluate impact
Ministry Teams Hold Themselves Accountable:
- Are we focusing on mission (congregation’s purpose & vision)?
- Are we moving forward on goals and expectations?
- Where is the measurable progress?
- Where are we stuck?
- Are we honoring our group norms and covenant?
- Do deal directly with disagreement?
- How are we handling conflict?
- Do enjoy one another, laugh, and have fund together?
- Are we too immersed in group concerns to gather strength from studying Scripture, praying and worshiping together?
Mutual Ministry Reviews: Living Into Our Ministries: A Guide for Mutual Ministry Reviews
These are not meant to weigh us down in rules and regulations or stifle debate or group process. Rather, we are cultivating cultures of trust and respect. When we have trust and respect we can hold one another accountable to working toward fulfilling the congregation’s purpose and vision as we live into our faithful response to God’s mission in the world.
Characteristics of an Effective Congregational Leader
A Vestry Paper article I read a number of years back offers a nice overview of effective congregational leadership. We have touched upon these characteristics in one way or another, but it is a good reminder of what we are striving for in developing leaders for congregational vitality.
- A clear sense of mission
- No superficial conclusions
- Tasks follow defined mission
- Differentiating lay and clergy roles
- Taking problems back to the group
- Leaders are renewed
Life-Giving Connections for Leadership
We are not Christians in isolation. We are not meant to go it alone or reinvent the wheel. A wonderful gift of following Jesus is community. A congregation is a Christian community. But our Christian community does not end there. Vital congregations make life-giving connections to other parishes and to the diocese, and effective linkages to other groups that afford resources for the congregation’s living into God’s mission.
Peer-to-peer learning is one of the most effective ways for developing ministry leaders. Episcopalians in a diocese (even region and beyond) can be wonderfully mutual resources for training, collaboration, and support. Diocesan and other Episcopal Church programs, workshops, and retreats can strengthen congregations and amplify mission. Vital congregations are consistently linked beyond themselves to the wider Church.
Some examples of leadership development resources of the wider Church (also check with your diocese for training and resources):
Vestry Leadership (video series Episcopal Diocese of Texas)