Last week, I attended another district resource day, this time with Lovett Weems as the guest speaker. You've probably heard of Weems around the connection because of his work with the Council of Bishops on the State of the Church Report and his work on Young Clergy in the UMC. I really enjoyed his presentation, which focused on "Congregational Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit." Weems lectures in a warm and conversational style, and doesn't seem to take himself too seriously!
He started by talking about how a concern or issue is raised in the church, which is addressed by a certain response - a 'form' that encompasses the concern. Over time, the concern changes, but the church holds onto the form that no longer fits. We don't need the right answers, but the right questions:
1) Who are we? Churches can be renewed out of their own history - not by clinging to history, but by remembering what made church thrive, live, grow, risk, etc. It is important for leaders to really know the history of their congregations. Pastors should lead with grace before judgment - "I am so proud to be your pastor because _______."
2) What is our mission? For what purpose has God raised up the UMC, or a particular UMC? Mission statements are to often in 'be' language instead of 'do' language. The mission is everything. Everything a church does should answer the "so that" question. We do this _________ SO THAT _________ (mission is fulfilled.) We have a bulletin so that ________. We have a choir, ushers, so that ___________. We worship so that _____________.
3) Who are the people? Weems answered this for us with some 'categories': a) Metropolitan population centers (used to be rural, this has changed.) b) Diverse racial population. Pay attention to professions of faith category for people of color. c) Younger people. Our members, as we well know, are much older than the age of the population as a whole. d) Poor people. Hello! e) Fewer married households. Only 25% of people are in two parent married families with children. More people are unmarried than married. Stop focusing so much on "young families." That's a smaller category than we think!
4) Who are our neighbors? What are their needs? Who are the people God has given to us? How have or haven't we changed as the community has changed. The longer a church exists, the less connected it is to the community. Becomes turned in rather than turned out. "The parish is my world," instead of "the world is my parish." No one encourages leaders to go out into the community, but want to know instead how you are taking care of those already in the congregation. When communities change, congregations have options, but usually choose just one - stay the same! Weems called this "vigorous inertia." How apt! In other contexts, businesses, refusing to change would cause you to lose your job. Mission Audit Question: If your church closed today, who would miss it other than its members??
5) Given our identity/context, what is God's vision? Quote from Scott Cormode(?): "Leadership is helping God's people take the next faithful step."
Part Two: "Leading Lasting Change in the Church"
We can't become what we need to be by remaining what we are, but people experience change as loss, and as a judgment on the past.
But... not changing says that "how things are" is synomymous with God's ultimate will. So there has to be change.
Step 1: Help define reality. You need a common understanding of the situation you're in. Peter Senge: "Nothing is more limiting to a group than the inability to talk about the truth." People remember 20% of what they're told, but 80% of what they discover themselves.
Step 2: Reframe/refocus specific interests in light of the whole. Help people see their special interests through the lense of the big picture, rather than seeing the big picture only through the lense of their special interests. But don't devalue special interests, or people will cling to them lal the more tightly.
Step 3: Seek continuity and change. Macro, meso, micro culture, basic shared assumptions, stated values, artifacts and your own views are all part of the church culture - not just one stream of influence that is the 'right' way.
Step 4: Advance the plot of your congregation's story. Leaders function in making a bridge between a congregation's past and a congregation's future. Mission (can last for a while): what we exist to do, leads through congregational identity, internal congregational context, and external congregational context to the Vision (is more short term): Given the mission and context, what is God's vision for our near future?