My Life as a Leadership Seedling

Apple Tree Life Cycle

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.

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9 thoughts on “My Life as a Leadership Seedling

  1. Love your identification of issues, strengths, and areas to grow in. That puts you well down the right road to grow as a leader. Would be happy to discuss any time whether about specifics or general leadership issues if that would be helpful to you.

    Wouldn’t be a pastor if I wasn’t led to say, “Have you read ______?” 🙂

    A nice primer is Andy Stanley’s couplet “Seven Practices of Effective Ministry” and then “Communicating for a Change” after that. For all the academy’s hand-wringing (yes, I’m thinking Duke) over Stanley or Hybels, etc., there’s a reason they’ve earned a hearing from a broad audience. Nice thing about these are they’re accessible and easy to put into practice sooner rather than later.

    For the 10,000-foot view on the development of “me as a Christian leader,” the best I’ve encountered is Bobby Clinton’s “The Making of a Leader.” Much more conceptual, but was incredibly helpful and had more than one word of grace for me in my first appointment.

    Hope this might be helpful to you. Please let me know if/when I might serve you in your journey.

    • Thanks, Michael. I will certainly (and already do) view you as a resource on this road. Always happy to have reading recommendations. That’s the second or third recommendation for “Communicating for a Change” and Clinton’s book has been on my radar for a while too, but it sounds like I might need to move it higher in priorities.

      This blog post actually came out of starting to think about reviewing some recent reading I’ve done, so hopefully you’ll see those up soon.

      • You’re most welcome. Communicating for a Change can certainly be read prior to Effective Practices . . . I just know you’ve already been working on preaching, so figured you might want to let the work you’ve done settle.

  2. Good words. I think about this all the time, particularly as an associate pastor. I truly respect the pastor that I’m working with now, both his leadership and pastoral ability. And I’m grateful that he invites me into all the conversations around the church, so I get the emotional gratifications of being a leader. However, over and over again, I’m aware of how many things fall to him with which I don’t have to deal. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever get to the point where I could be that sort of “leader” in a satisfactory way…(Also, I’ll restrain my thoughts on how many people/programs think good preaching = good leaders. In diff congregations, I’ve seen that equation fall apart a couple different ways, and yet, it still persists….)

    • Kathryn, I’m stuck in a “helping” mode on this post so please forgive me if an unsolicited suggestion is unwelcome. A great resource for me that helped me grow in leadership when I moved into an associate role was “Leading from the Second Chair.” Designed to be read and processed by the Lead and the Associate together, but even if the person sitting in the second chair has to work through it alone, it could still be worth the investment.

      • Oooh, I’m always up for new books. Thank you, Michael Of The InterWebs!

    • Knowing you as I do, it surprises me that you wonder if you could lead a congregation. If you want to, the opportunity will arise, and you will. Simple as that. But it sounds like you have a directing pastor who actually knows that part of the reason that you’re there is to learn. I don’t know, but I think that’s pretty rare (and as with my own leadership deficits, it’s because why is that something you would know to do for your associate if you had never learned it?).

      As for good preaching, I’m kind of crazy about preaching now, so it’s not as if I’m giving up that emphasis. The UMC’s tendency would at some point place me in an associate role, and I think I’ll have a hard time there unless it’s under a phenomenal mentoring leader who is generous with the pulpit. (Or else, I’ll learn a lot by doing something other than preaching 45 times a year).

      What I would say is that great preaching covers a multitude of sins. For a while. And it only seems to make up for those other deficits. For a while. I would guess (since I’ve been at this for a mere 10.5 months).

      • Also, whew, it would be hard to go back to an associate role after all you’re doing now. I guess you can just leave that up to the bishop/prayer/Spirit?

        Thanks for the affirmation. “How would I handle that? Could i do that?” is a constant question in my head. When I get exhausted thinking about it, it might just be the questioning spiral in my head, rather than my own ability, but I don’t know. And I truly don’t know what the next step will be. Whenever it comes time to make it (am very happy here now).

        Being all Presbyterian and such, I do enjoy preaching. And I cannot underestimate the power of preaching to shape a congregation. HOWEVER, it bugs me when people hear a sermon they like and they say “ohhh, you are heading to a Big Fancy Church.” As if that is all the Big Fancy Church needs. As if a local church–like yours!–doesn’t need your good preaching.

        Love your point about preaching covering a “multitude of sins”. Yupyup. The church where I worked in Durham had a pastor, known as an “amazing preacher”, but not great admin or leader. When he left, there was so much anxiety; they didn’t know what to do without coming to listen to him…..Where I am now, the pastor isn’t “amazing” at preaching at all, but he’s faithful and names things out loud (a BIG deal I’m realizing) and, behind the scenes, he’s a good leader. It’s a very healthy, engaged congregation. (Okay, I guess I did end up dumping a bunch of thoughts.)

        So, I think it’s great you’re working on preaching. Lucky congregation to have your thoughts filtered into a sermon each week.

      • (Blergh, I made that very choppy. Should have read it through again before posting…sorry!)

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