Seminary did not give me a leadership education. Maybe other seminaries do that, but Duke Divinity, for all its strengths (and I would choose to go there again over any other place on the planet), failed me there. No, it didn’t fail–Duke wasn’t interested and so Duke didn’t try. But it still failed me as an M.Div. student pursuing ordination alongside many other M.Div. students pursuing all kinds of paths requiring Christian leadership skills.
So I’m making my way forward now, already on the ground, pastoring two United Methodist churches with Average Sunday Attendances (that’s ASA, in congregational developmentspeak) of 40 and 20. The first six months I was serving, I focused hard on preaching–listening, reading, reflecting, honing my own best practices and weekly preparation schedule–and I actually have improved (I think) greatly. But the more I have grown as preacher, the more I have realized that my lack of leadership education, on both the organizational and the visionary levels, is a greater lack than my preaching ever was. I walked through the door “good enough” (with apologies to Winnicottians) as a preacher, but I am still hoping to cross the “good enough” level as a leader by the end of 2015 or so. I’m not there yet, and I think I’m being realistic, perhaps even optimistic, about the timeline.
There are one or maybe two of my parishioners who have ever come across this blog, and they are among those who might say otherwise, but it really is true that I am starting from scratch on leadership. What has saved me from being just plain bad are (1) a focus on development of character that I’ve personally had and others have influenced me to have since I was sixteen years old and for the first time desiring a calling to full-time Christian ministry, and (2) The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, which lays out leadership structures which are, yes, “good enough” (but not great). Oh, and (3) these are not high-conflict congregations with ugly histories, and their people like me personally.
These things saved me because (1) formation of character is more difficult and time-consuming than learning information; (2) thanks to the BoD, I didn’t have to create anything, just follow some directions; and (3) people who like you are easier to please, at least until you wear out your welcome as the newbie pastor by never improving.
I’ll be reflecting more in the future on this blog than I have in the past on things I’m learning about being a Christian leader of a Christian community. Let me know in the comments if you have any particular suggestions, comments, or resources to help me along on the journey.