Navigating the Ministry Stages

This edition of Mentor Online is adapted from materials by Herb Miller.

A clergyperson’s service with each congregation unfolds in six predictable stages. Effective clergy navigate these stages without get- ring washed overboard.

Stage one — Honeymoon — This getting-acquainted period is a glorious time. Unless the new pastor does something truly stupid or immoral, these are happy months. Since neither party in the marriage is well acquainted with the other yet, each has little about which to complain.

Stage two — Sighting hidden icebergs — This period runs from year one through year two in small churches, year one through year three in midsize churches, and year one through year five in large churches. Icebergs invisible at the honeymoon stage begin looking formidable. Both parties learn the real truth about each other-the good, the bad, the ugly. Following the same time schedule as in marriages, irritation is a symptom. Faultfinding increases. Divorce court looms in the distance.

Stage three — Liking you anyway — Clergy enter this pleasant phase after a major crisis or series of small confrontations-at approximately three-to-five years—sometimes seven years in large churches. At this stage, pastor and parish reach a positive relationship. They know each other, flaws and all. And they like each other anyway.

Stage four — Specialization — The pastor gets bored, though she/he may not recognize or admit it. Seven times around the church-season cycle leaves a pastor with few surprises. People appreciate their pastor but do not say so as often. In unconscious response to boredom and/or affirmation needs, the pastor devotes more time to a specialized field. Examples: counseling, civic work, denominational service, Holy Land tours, public speaking, writing, scouting or Lions Club: the possibility list is infinite. The big difference between effective pastors and less effective colleagues: specialization does not cause effective pastors to neglect their congregational responsibilities.

Stage five — Rocking-chair temptations — At ten years beyond the starting gate, the pastor knows the parish personalities and foibles. He/she knows how to get things done with minimum time expenditure. The three great temptations at all six stages are to whine, shine or recline. In this fifth stage, the “recline temptation” dominates. Effective clergy overcome this temptation to homestead in a rocking chair on the church’s front porch. They attend seminars, read books and research new ideas. They do not grow stale; they grow wiser.

Stage six — Benevolent grandfather years — Twenty years into their tenure, pastors perform weddings for children whose mothers they visited in the hospital at delivery time. Clergypersons who make it this distance have developed immense pastoral skill. Parishioners now view them as “family” and think of them in the same way they do their grandfather: He/She has always been here; we expect he/she always will. This is a delightful, dangerous stage. Delightful because self-confidence has never been higher; dangerous because sunbathing in this relational warmth can distract pastors from energetically and creatively sprinting for the finish line.

The Bottom Line — Through which stage are you navigating pastor? Is your lay leadership crew assisting or hindering this stage of the voyage?

Long-Term or Long Tenure Issues with Clergy

This edition of Mentor Online is adapted from the work of Roy Oswald, The Alban Institute, 1992.

This graph depicts the reality that parishioners perceive the clergyperson in two major roles: pastor and leader.

The Pastor line indicates that the longer that a traditional minister serves a specific congregation the more that that person’s pastoral role is valued and appreciated. This line may plateau or dip over time but for the most part the pastoral care offered and received results in a growing intimacy and the clergy person is increasingly cherished or treasured.

The Leader line of the graph depicts an often frustrating though typical reality for clergypersons that serve a congregation for a decade or more. At about the fifth year of the period of service the system begins to wonder whether the person has the skills, energy and passion to take the congregational system to the next level of faithfulness. This conjecture about the management abilities of the clergyperson are at first almost unconscious and then emerge unexpectedly at surprising moments as a congregation decides it future related to staffing, construction programs, ministry development and a host of other ‘next step’ strategies. There is a repetition of this phenomenon about every 5-7 years if the clergyperson remains for more than 15 years..

To alleviate this automatic inclination in congregations, the advice of Oswald and others, is for the clergyperson to negotiate with a congregation’s notables for time, funds and permission to acquire or enhance the tool kit for ministry.

Dealing with Feedback in a System

This edition of Mentor Online is original material by Rev. George Brookover.

Learning how to deal with feedback (opinions, criticism or praise) is vital for a voluntary organization like a church or other not-for-profit. An instrument like this one can be especially helpful in assisting paid and volunteer leadership to deal with all comments in an appropriate and healthful manner. Coping with feedback in an appropriate manner can be a means for building a healthful environment. If not dealt with in a structured and predictable way, feedback, when denied or ignored, can become a destructive and draining force. This instrument is intended to assist leaders with management of their responses and oversight for the communication flow that can produce better results for the system and its constituents. Leaders in organizations should work to model the intent of the following policy and practice.

1. All constituents are affirmed in their right to express their opinions about the vision, mission, programs and other dynamics of the life of the organization, including the personnel.

2. All employed and volunteer leaders in organizations need to remember that an opinion expressed by a participant in the life of the organization is just that–an opinion. And it is also worth noting that some individuals make a practice of commenting on everything. But even a chronic complainer deserves to be listened to in an effort to detect the kernel of truth or the merit of their observation or need.

3. Most not-for-profit organizations operate with a “direct democracy” form of governance, which allows the sharing of opinions directly with the employed or elected and appointed leaders in the system. And constituents are invited and encouraged to attend meetings related to the organization’s system.

4. When there is an occasion for a supporting member of the organization to share feedback (an opinion, concern, question or complaint) with someone in the leadership team (staff, elected or appointed members) the following response is recommended used. “Thank you for sharing this concern with me and for your interest in the organization. What would you like for me to do with what you have just shared with me?”

  • If the response is “Oh…nothing. I only thought you ought to know that I (we, they) are upset about what is (not) going on….” Then the leader receiving the information should very intentionally indicate that nothing is going to be done with the comment; and, that the comment will not be delivered into the system’s formal and informal network. (This is a very important response to the person unwilling to proceed in one of the following ways. It prohibits the development of the impression that just sharing an opinion will produce a response that is acceptable to the petitioner.)
  • If the response is that an outcome is expected by sharing the comment…then the leader will provide guidance for the constituent about how to communicate with the system.

5a. Matters concerning functional issues (programs, facilities or organizational structure)
If the issue or concern is related to the “system,” the person sharing the matter should be invited and encouraged to bring the information or opinion to the next meeting of the group directly responsible.
 
5b. Matters related to relational (interpersonal) issues (staff, officers or other volunteers)
If the issue or concern is related to personnel or other interpersonal matters the person sharing the matter should be invited and encouraged to confer with the appropriate person, the board of directors, or a designated committee.
 
6. If the person sharing the concern does not desire to make an appearance or communicate with the appropriate group within the organization’s system, the leader should ask for permission to use their name in reporting the issue. If permission is not granted, then the leader will say, “I am sorry but I will not be able to report or share your concern since we do not deal with anonymous comments.” If permission to use the petitioner’s name is granted, the leader will share information with the appropriate person or group in the system with the person’s name included in the report.
 
7. The minutes of the board, committee or group receiving a member concern will make a note of the topic in the minutes of the meeting(s) at which it is discussed. Additionally, if an official action is deemed appropriate or necessary the person who has shared the concern should be informed of the decision made with regard to the issue.
 
8.  The organization should be attentive to feedback (positive and negative) if for no other reason than to detect the mild-to-severe nature of resistance, opposition or antagonism. Being attentive is not the same thing as being reactive. A critical comment does not always mean that there is a need for an adjustment in policy or practices.

Identifying and Equipping Leaders

This edition of Mentor Online is original material by Rev. George Brookover.

A Developmental Task of the reframing process for a local congregation is to identify and equip leaders for a renewed identity. Before that task can be effectively accomplished in the congregation assessment of several elements of leadership is essential.

There are three basic ways that individuals relate to systems like congregations: affiliation, achievement, and oversight.

Affiliators – persons in this largest grouping of participants in voluntary organizations are energized by the presence of people. The important outcome for them is the socialization that occurs in gathering with other individuals. If a product or service is also developed or delivered it is weighed as an added benefit or outcome rather than being the most important aspect of participation. These individuals are typically unconcerned with who gets the credit for a success and are disappointed with failures but can report how much fun they had working with others on the task.

Achievers – persons in this significant grouping are motivated by what they can accomplish by being a participant in an organization. They are willing and able to work with others in the system but for them results are measured by tasks undertaken and completed rather than by the amount of fellowship that occurred. Individuals in this category can be assigned a task that is solitary in nature and still be energized by the experience.

Organizers – persons in this smallest grouping in systems are those who are energized by getting a project organized around goals and objectives and meeting the targets of time, date and expected results. These individuals are the most effective when they can release the duties and responsibilities to the achievers who in turn rally and coordinate the affiliators. The persons in this third grouping are the least helpful to congregational and other voluntary organizations when they are unwilling or unable to relinquish the control or acclaim that are associated with completed projects or successful events.

The professional and elected leaders in a congregational system are encouraged to use extreme caution in recruiting, equipping and releasing volunteers in the parish culture. A matter of wisdom would be to be brave enough to inquire for a response from all volunteers (especially those new to the system!) into two matters of the nature of volunteerism: 1.) “What fuels or energizes you as a volunteer?” and 2.) “Do you prefer to work with others or alone?” An additional interrogation could be centered in “What is more important to you in your volunteering…a. meeting and working with others or, b. meeting deadlines and established goals?”

The affiliators that get energized by the fellowship aspects of systems are at times in charge of voluntary systems. And they disappoint or discourage the achievers and organizers. At other times the achievers or organizers manage or coordinate voluntary organizations and can overwhelm the affiliators with details. Or they get discouraged because the corps of volunteers is not as serious about outcomes as they appear to be about the community building nature of getting together.

Voluntary systems need to conduct a volunteer “audit” on a regular basis to assess how its system is working and how best to coordinate volunteerism to reflect both the needs of those working and the goals to be accomplished. Analysis can assist the congregation to do a better job of matching volunteers with what energizes them rather than only looking at the tasks that need to be completed.

Getting a Group to Make a Decision

This edition of Mentor Online is adapted from an item in Executive Leadership.

Making a decision can paralyze individuals. But groups are especially susceptible to the paralysis of analysis and sometimes the fear of either failure or success.

Ava S. Butler, in Team Think, suggests that leaders can use a four-step process to move the team along in its struggle with the dilemma that it faces in making a decision from many options.

  • List every option — This may seem like an obvious step. And yet, groups can often plunge into accomplishing something — even if the accomplishments are not inappropriate or unneeded.
  • Vote on which options deserve further discussion – the democratic approach, though novel in some situations is appropriate for it provides a greater understanding of both the obvious and hidden or surprising elements. Also, this step brings about the first “buy in” by members of the group.
  • Count the votes. Any option with at least half of the votes stays in contention for the next round. This step also provides a way to discard the options that were weakest and those most difficult to fulfill when considering time, personnel, and financial constraints.
  • Continue voting until the number of discussion points becomes manageable. In this step there will be a moment when strategies and outcomes for some of the points will become so clear that implementing them will be easier and the sense of victory will begin before the initial task is commenced.

How to Create the Team That No One Can Beat

This edition of Mentor Online is borrowed from Think Like a Champion: Building Success One Victory at a Time, by Mike Shannahan.

Mike Shannahan, a professional football coach, used these 15 principles for creating a winning team on, or in, any field:

    1. Teams matter more than individuals.
    2. Every job is important.
    3. Treat everyone with respect.
    4. Share both victories and defeats.
    5. Accept criticism.
    6. Keep the boss (leader) well-informed.
    7. Focus on your work ethic, not that of others’.
    8. Allow for differences of style.
    9. Be more creative than predictable.
    10. Let go of failed ideas
    11. Let go of failed ideas.
    12. Employ structure and order.
    13. Reward those who produce.
    14. Keep your employees fresh.
  1. Protect your system.

Build 10 Core Skills for Better Communication

This edition of Mentor Online is taken from The Great Communicator newsletter: “Management communication or the new millennium” by Elizabeth A. More and Harry T. Irwin in Management Quarterly, August 2000.

To be a better communicator, concentrate on building skills in the 10 core competencies identified by Australian business professors as key to superior communication.

  • Competence in listening and responding.
  • Overcoming reticence.
  • Being open and frank.
  • Establishing and sustaining a smooth and easy pattern of interaction.
  • Being appropriately assertive.
  • Asking effective questions.
  • Understanding what people say.
  • Negotiating successfully.
  • Resolving conflict.
  • Interpreting nonverbal behavior.

The Positive Ways Leaders Influence People

This edition of Mentor Online is adapted from an item by Dick Biggs in Executive Leadership.

Leadership is about influence with regard to the attitudes and actions of those that the leader is responsible for leading. Here are four primary leadership styles that leaders can project that have a positive influence on people:

  • Negotiator – This is the most common form of influence in the portfolio of 21st century leaders. This effective style of leading models a “give and take” method of motivating.
  • Persuader – This style of influencing others is powerful in so far as goals and objectives are met because the individual or work group comes to believe that it is in their best interest to assist with accomplishing the mission.
  • Educator – The teacher, coach or mentor influences people with rational thinking about the mission, goals and objectives. Preparation is the secret of this style of influencing people.
  • Motivator – The leader that inspires is the highest form of influencing the outcomes of those being motivated. A combination of emotional and logical techniques must be mastered for this style to be effective.

Each of these styles has can have a place in the portfolio of the 21st century leader. Each of the styles is actually based upon an understanding of what motivates persons. Each of these three positive influences is a motivator.

The Negative Ways Leaders Influence People

This edition of Mentor Online is adapted from an item by Dick Biggs in Executive Leadership.

Leadership is about influence related to the attitudes and an action of those that the one is charge is responsible for leading. Here are three primary negative leadership styles that leader’s project that can have a negative effect or influence on people:

Tyrant – The best way to demoralize individuals and work groups is to coerce by means of forcing compliance or allegiance.

Dictator – The leader that intimidates with threats of termination or other punishment is usually followed only by insecure or weak persons. The dictatorial leader can exert results but the most lasting are loss of respect and a heavy dose of resentment.

Controller – The leader that manipulates wins while losing. The winning gets results like personal gratification or meeting production goals. The losing is measured by reservoirs of mistrust and suspicion in those being led.

None of these styles has any place in the portfolio of the 21st century leader. Each of the styles is actually based upon a misunderstanding of what motivates persons. Each of these three negative influences is a de-motivator.

The Essential Characteristics of Successful Leaders: Think V.I.P.

This edition of Mentor Online is adapted from an article in the Sams Club magazine.

Vision This attribute of leadership is not a matter of crafting something that is dreamy or wishful in nature. Neither is vision about arriving at a final destination. Rather vision is about a legacy, image or impact upon constituents, a community or upon gaining a “brand identity”. It is vital that the leader has a sense of where to take the organization so tht it is clear that all of the available energy and time are invested in growing forward the people and system more than in preservation of the status quo or status ante.

Innovation — This attribute of leadership is about being comfortable with novelty, the entrepreneur’s role and “coloring outside the lines”. The leader is encouraged to model a spirit of whimsy more so than maintenance of traditions and rituals from the past.

Passion — This attribute of leadership centers on what motivates the person at the top of the pecking-order to drive or motivate the system to be more effective or faithful to its core values and mission imperative.