This congregational assessment from Holy Cow Consulting provides benchmark data to inform decisions about identity, clergy search, strategic planning or a financial campaign.
As a pastor, have you earned enough pastoral capital to accomplish what you seek to do?
In seminary, my leadership professor described the importance of building capital with parishioners. We learned that if the pastor made enough hospital calls, wrote thank you notes, officiated with grace and excellence at weddings and funerals, then she or he would earn respect from congregants. Such respect meant it was more likely for congregants to say “yes” when the pastor experimented with a new idea, like changing the style of worship.
In some contexts, this transactional view of getting things done is called political capital.
The phrase “political capital” refers to the way a politician builds up favor with constituents by pursuing popular legislation. This goodwill can be used to pass more risky bills while minimizing public critique of the politician.
One strength of this approach is that it often works.
One drawback to this approach is that it makes ministry a transactional contest. Clergy and laity can and should accomplish important things through more than an exchange of favors.
Is there an alternative to pursuing leadership capital?
I think there is. Rather than regarding pastoral or political capital, consider instead the dynamics of attachment. What does it look like when a congregation is securely attached to its pastor? How does a clergy person practice ministry when he or she is securely attached to the congregation?
A healthy attachment
In psychology, attachment refers to the healthy bond that forms between an infant and a parent or another caregiver. This relationship then provides the positive energy for subsequent social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual growth of the child.
In congregational life, secure attachment between clergy and congregation provides the learning environment necessary for the congregation and clergy to develop into the fullest expression of their best selves.
In the book How Your Congregation Learns, I describe this relationship:
In the best situations, the relationship between clergy and lay leaders is characterized by a kind of affection that is unique—different from other relationships. It includes respect, but it is more than respect. It is more than the honoring of office and roles. This affection includes friendship, but it is a kind of friendship. It is not necessarily shaped by sharing of intimacies—that is, the sharing of deep secrets and wounds. This friendship is characterized by closeness that comes from sharing a common purpose. The affection that is noticeable between clergy and lay leaders in congregations that accomplish what they set out to do is exemplified by competence and character in the pursuit of common, God-focused goals. This dynamic is what brings a lay leader to tell her friend, “We just love our pastor.” This affection is what leads the clergyperson to look out from the place she stands to preach and think, “I love these people.” And it is one of the primary conditions that helps a congregation learn how to accomplish new things. (How Your Congregation Learns, page 67).
Clergy and laity do favors for one another. Give and take is a necessary leadership dynamic. Consider naming such dynamics as something other than building capital. After all, congregational endeavors aren’t ultimately about transactions that can be measured in terms of who gets what.
What you call the dynamic will change what you experience. What you experience relationally will open new opportunities for your faith community.
Center for Congregations President Tim Shapiro spoke with Tod Bolsinger of Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Canoeing the Mountains. Below are snippets of their conversation.
Tim: Early in your book you share your epiphany “that your people need you to lead them even more than preach to them” (page 36). If preaching, teaching and the care of souls were at one time seen as the primary tasks of the pastor, what do you see as the primary tasks of the pastor as leader?
Tod: I define leadership as “Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” Therefore, the primary tasks of a leader certainly do include preaching, teaching and pastoral care as what I would call the “on-the-map technical competence” of a leader. Those primary tasks cannot be ignored our overlooked.
But leadership in uncharted territory is more about leading a process of learning and transformation with a group of people so they can carry out the mission to which they are called. Leading that process requires a leader to focus more on how to be, rather than on what to do. Specifically, to adapt a phrase from Richard Blackburn of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center: “Start with conviction, stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.”
Because all transformational leadership requires change, and change is experienced as loss, a significant amount of a leader’s work is to help a community determine what will never change (start with conviction) and then prepare to courageously face the necessary losses (stay calm) to keeping together (stay connected) to accomplish their mission (stay the course).
Those experiences of loss tend to cause people to lose their nerve and fall back on quick fixes or platitudes. But the way of leadership is ultimately about helping a people face their losses with courage, commitment and hope believing that God is at work within them and through them—so they can continue the course of change and fruitfulness. As Jesus put it so clearly about his own life and leadership in John 12, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Tim: You describe adaptive capacity, technical competence and relational congruence. Let’s look at relational congruence. How does a clergy leader learn relational congruence?
Tod: Relational congruence is the key to engendering trust in those whom we seek to lead into uncharted territory. While technical competence is learned in the repetitive discharging of our expected duties, relational congruence is both more difficult and requires more transparency.
Relational congruence comes through the intersection of reflection and relationships. Or to flip that on its head, relational congruence comes through relationships with trustworthy, caring and brutally honest people who cause you to engage in deep searching and brutally honest self-reflection. A famous principle that is attributed to educator John Dewey is that we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. The key way that we learn to be relationally congruent is to reflect upon the moments of incongruence in our lives. It is to have safe, trusted advisors who will allow us to reflect with them on why we act one way at the church office and another in our neighborhoods, why we preach judgment on some people and some sins and overlook others, and why we act generously to those with whom we identify but withhold from those who are different from us.
Relational congruence comes only as we are able to see ourselves reflected in the eyes of those whom we respect and who love us. When they see us showing up in the same way in every circumstance—and we see them seeing us showing up this way—then we will be trustworthy leaders.
Tim: Your book builds on Ronald Heifetz’s theory of leadership based on understanding the difference between adaptive and technical problems. It is possible to teach this theory. There are as many leadership workshops for clergy on adaptive leadership now as there were on workshops regarding Bowen Family Systems 15 years ago. How do you help clergy live into adaptive leadership and not just understand the theory?
Tod: Leadership is an art, a practice, a way of functioning. It is a skill that is more like conducting an orchestra, guiding an expedition or teaching a cooking class. Leadership is learned in the leading. The problem with most theories of leadership is that they tend to communicate that once someone learns the theory then she is a leader. But learning to be a leader, especially an adaptive leader is something that happens only in real time with space to reflect on, with feedback from others, and with opportunities to try again and correct one’s mistakes.
Learning leadership from a book, a workshop, or a lecture is like learning to cook without entering a kitchen, fly-fish without casting to a trout, or flying a plane using only a video game. The best way for pastors to learn to become adaptive leaders is to secure a leadership coach who both understands adaptive leadership and whom the pastor can trust enough to be vulnerable and reflect on the lessons learned in the leading.
One warning: Don’t assume that because a pastor has been successful that he or she can be a good coach. Coaching is itself a skill and adaptive leadership coaching is not the same thing as either pastor or even leading. My own coach for three years was a brilliant psychologist who not only knew adaptive leadership theory, but was a committed church lay leader. He had never pastored a congregation nor led a company, but was great at asking questions, reflecting back to me, and creating a space for me to learn “on-the-job.”
Tim: What’s one thing you’ve been working on regarding congregations and leadership since you published Canoeing the Mountains?
Tod: I’m currently working on a book that combines my early work in communal spiritual formation with my more recent work in leading change to focus on the practices that form adaptive leaders for the church and mission of God. My working title is Tempered, and it is focused on helping Christian leaders develop the strength and flexibility to lead people they love into the places of pain in the world, in the face of their people’s own resistance.
Tim: You can give first-time clergy three books to read that they probably didn’t read in seminary or whatever education route they took to ministry. What three books do you offer?
Tod: Let me give you one ministry book, one theology book, and one novel:
Thriving through Ministry Conflict by Jim Osterhaus, Joe Jurkowski and Todd Hahn
The Misunderstanding of the Church by Emil Brunner
Glittering Images by Susan Howatch
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Religious Leadership Resources
There may be religious leaders out there wondering how they can be more effective. Being a religious leader, after all, is most certainly a challenge. People who go to places of worship can tend to come from a variety of backgrounds. They come from all socioeconomic classes, have a variety of educational backgrounds, and can vary across age groups, such as children, adults, and the elderly. How, then, is a religious leader expected to be able to relate to all of these people? Religious leadership resources can be helpful.
Everyone has their own leadership style. At the same time, the world is changing. With this in mind, it may prove to be a good idea for religious leaders to make sure they are being effective leaders to the members of the congregation. That is why it can be helpful to take a look at outside resources from time to time. Change can be difficult, and stepping outside of the comfort zone can be hard. If religious leaders are able to successfully step outside of their comfort zones, however, they may very well have an easier time relating to everyone who walks through their doors.
When it comes to church leadership roles and responsibilities, it may be a good idea to take a closer look at free church resources. Some of these include church leadership resources. There are plenty of resources available online. For example, some religious leaders may find watching a video to learn more about new topics to be their preferred method, whereas others might like to read a few articles that can help them expand their leadership abilities. There are also four more courses that church leaders can take. Naturally, everyone has their own personal style, and each of these resources can be helpful to different religious leaders in varying situations.
Church Leadership Training Materials
When it comes to church leadership training materials, it can be good to look into building effective church leadership skills. When it comes to training leaders in the church, there are possibly going to be a lot of topics that have to be covered. For instance, there are religious leadership resources that can help religious leaders come up with fresh ideas for their sermons. That way, they might not have to talk about the same things over and over again. There are also leadership resources that can help church leaders learn how to incorporate music and videos into their sermons. That way, they will perhaps have an easier time holding the attention of people who come to their sermon. It can also prove to be a challenge for religious leaders to shift from the pulpit to the small group setting. This is a common topic that is often covered when it comes to church leadership materials.
The importance of church leadership is something that can perhaps not be overstated. That is why it can perhaps be a good idea to access a variety of materials. For example, it might be more interesting to watch a video; however, it can also be tempting for people to click outside the video and surf the Internet when they should otherwise be watching and paying attention.
This problem could be remedied by reading articles instead; however, in the case of articles, people can tend to doze off when they are staring at a wall of text. It could also be helpful to go to an interactive conference, which might represent a great way to train the next generation of leaders; however, this can be expensive. There are perhaps benefits and drawbacks that exist for every option.
Church Ministry Resources
There is a wide variety of church ministry resources available out there. When it comes to ministry leadership, some church administration training resources might prove to be helpful for specific ministries on the church ministry list. Fortunately, there are also free ministry leadership training options available.
For instance, just about every church is likely going to have a youth ministry group. There are helpful training resources that can assist youth leaders better relate to members of the younger generation. They are also ministry resources available that can help people who regularly conduct outreach programs in the community. These training resources can potentially help members of the ministry group learn how they can make a stronger impact on the local community. There are also church ministry groups that are attempting to take advantage of social media, as well as certain training programs that can help religious leaders take advantage of social media.
Ultimately, some resources could prove to be a good fit for specific ministries within the congregation. It can sometimes be seen as the responsibility of church leaders to figure out which of these resources are going to be able to play a helpful role in their specific ministry groups. When religious leaders take the time to explore all the options available, they may be able to better place their ministry groups in the best position possible to be successful.
Church Leadership Principles
There are a lot of church ministry tools and church elder resources available out there. And while some of these are tailored to specific religious organizations, there are still certain church leadership principles that can likely be applied to just about any organization, no matter the size.
First, religious groups may have to focus on modesty. Modesty can be a good quality to have because religious groups likely do not want to send the message that they are somehow wealthy or opulent. After all, religious groups are supposed to be nonprofit organizations. Another principle that religious leaders might benefit from focusing on is self-development. Many people will often turn to religious leaders when they are trying to figure out how to become better people. Church leaders will likely want to send the message that they are focusing on becoming better people, as well. That way, they can be seen as practicing exactly what they are preaching. Furthermore, integrity can be seen as another important quality to look for in a strong church leader. When members of the congregation look at their leader as a person of integrity, then they are perhaps more likely to be honest themselves.
Finally, religious leaders may also have to show the world that they are followers of a higher power. After all, that is oftentimes going to be seen as the ultimate goal for church leaders. If they are able to show members of the congregation they are following their religion’s teachings, their members may then also do the same thing.
Church Development Resources
For the vast majority of congregations, church development resources are possibly going to play an important role. There are plenty of church resources available out there. Nowadays, a lot of religious organizations have found themselves having to move online. Fortunately, though, there are plenty of resources for online churches, as well. By taking advantage of these church administration resources, religious leaders can perhaps more effectively relate to members of their congregation even if they have moved to a virtual setting.
Some churches are getting ready to transition back to in-person sermons as well. This can also be a challenge. It can be good for religious leaders to take a look at how they can upgrade their AV equipment, what they need to do to expand their congregations, and how they can incorporate music and videos into their sermons. These can all represent potential key parts of developing a strong religious organization.
It might also be a good idea for religious leaders to look inward, as this is another aspect of religious self-development. There is likely always going to be room to get better. If religious leaders are able to improve their abilities behind the pulpit and their small group settings with community outreach, they may be able to set their charges up to grow in the future.
Church Leadership Basics
There are lots of religious leaders out there who may be looking to get started. Among the most important church administration tools, it might be worth focusing on church leadership basics. No matter what the church administration structure may be, there are likely going to be several main church leadership training topics that are going to be covered.
For example, motivation can sometimes be seen as one of the most important parts of first leadership. Religious leaders are usually going to be expected to motivate members of the congregation to live their lives in a certain way. Therefore, these religious leaders will learn how to motivate others.
Another key topic that is likely going to be covered is love. There are plenty of verses in religious texts that can be found which focus on love, and it may be the case that religious leaders need to teach members of the congregation to love other people, no matter who they might be. After all, if people love one another, the world will be a better place.
Outreach can represent another important leadership quality among religious leaders. Religious leaders are likely going to be expected to evangelize, and to recruit members of the local community to become members of the church. This topic might turn out to be an important area of focus during the process of church leadership training.
These may be just a few of the most important basics to consider when it comes to church leadership and all of these qualities may prove to be helpful in building the future leaders of tomorrow.
How To Train Church Leaders
Ultimately, the necessity to train church leaders is one that perhaps cannot be overstated. Developing leadership skills in the church can be critical for helping set up religious groups for success in the modern era. For those who might find themselves wondering how to train church leaders, there are perhaps a few key steps to follow.
First, it might be good to try and find the right people. Look for people who have already experienced standing in front of others, leading a group, or who have specific religious training.
Next, figure out what their goals are. Do they want to be small group leaders? Do they want to be financial treasurers? Or, do they possibly want to get behind the pulpit?
After that, it can be good to teach future religious leaders how to speak in front of other people. Public speaking is a common fear, but the best way to get over it may simply be to practice. Practice makes perfect.
Then, teaching religious leaders how to make lesson plans might be seen as a priority, in which they are taught how to go to religious texts, find verses that focus on the same topic and build an effective message. It can also be helpful to teach them how to build a small group lesson plan.
Ultimately, there is likely going to be no true replacement for experience. Future religious leaders may be able to practice leading others, however, and go a long way in helping set the church up for success.