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An Ineffable Concept and Several Things to Consider

Last week, I heard several voices of frustration from young pastors. Many of the concerns not only focused on leadership, but also addressed other areas (my talk, however, only focused on this area of leadership). Looking at the many different responses, I was able to find three overarching themes in the challenges young pastors face in the area of Leadership. Here they are from least to greatest:

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1. Engagement and Empowerment

It might be helpful at this point to give a working definition for what I mean by the word "Leadership." A great definition of Christian Leadership is the following:

A servant who uses his or her credibility and capabilities to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction. (Aubrey Malphurs, Building Leaders, p.20)

This definition hits on a very important principle in leadership. Most people consider leadership as positional (who has what title), when leadership is actually more relational than anything else. After all, you don't become a leader in order to earn respect and credibility; you earn respect and credibility because you are a leader. I would bet that most of the friction that comes from people we try to lead comes from a lack of a key word: Trust.

Interestingly, a leader cannot command or demand trust (neither is it always bestowed simply by a given title or position); he/she must earn trust by being trustworthy. The best way to build trust is to prove it with actions and interactions accumulated over time.

So, if we go with the idea that leadership is influence gained through trust and built upon personal contact, how well are conference leaders doing at leading our young pastors/interns?

Consider this: engagement and empowerment of your young pastors is important because of three (among many) reasons:

  1. Fulfills your role as a leader
  2. Helps you know their strengths and growth areas
  3. Helps the young pastor/intern feel like they are part of the team (i.e. builds trust and breaks isolationism)

I could give you tons of statistics to corroborate last week's pastors comments about how depressing and lonely ministry can be. Suffice to say that the first few years are crucial for a good start in ministry and young pastors need to know that someone has their back.

2. Leadership Training and Development

I hate to say this, but while I learned a lot of great things there, Seminary didn't fully prepare me for what I am currently facing as a pastor. Now, I'm not saying that my courses weren't helpful. I'm glad that I was able to improve my knowledge of the biblical languages and hone in my scholarship skills in many areas of theology, exegesis, and Old and New Testament studies.

Yet, those areas we're no good for me in my first few years. I grabbed books left and right on leadership, church growth, finances, strategic long-term planning, church planting, and family and church systems theory. I took advantage of the free class that the Southern Union sponsors for pastors every year at Southern Adventist University and audited classes on Time & Life Management as well as Church Leadership. All of this was because there was a considerable gap between the theory I had acquired and the reality that I faced.

Granted, while I had and still have a great leadership team to work with in the Carolinas, there was no set system in place in our conference to train and address the challenges that I faced in ministry or ongoing training. If you are a conference leader reading this, consider the following question.

What words do you think come to mind when people describe your pastors?

People, for better or worse, categorize, label, and define people because that's how they make sense of the world. What do you think people are saying about your pastors? Now, consider this follow up question:

What words would you like for them to use?

Whatever your thoughts are on this, what is currently going on(or not going on) in your conference is leading people to answer these questions for you today. Right now.

This topic of leadership training and development is hardly irrelevant. According to one recent study, approximately 50% of the pastoral workforce in the North American Division will be at or near retirement age by 2022. Many of these positions are in administrative areas.

Granted, while I'm told anecdotally that there we're a few other people outside of the shot of this picture, the point still remains. Conferences need to start taking a hard look at how exactly they plan on passing the mantle and values from one generation of leadership to the other.

3. Conference Corporate Culture

The final and possibly most challenging area young pastors face is this one.Every group, organization, and conference has a series of unwritten rules that dictate how day-to-day operations work. Ron Edmonson, a great blogger on leadership, strategy, and organizational leadership defines corporate culture in his post7 Examples of Unwritten Rules that Shape an Organization as the following:

As a leader, it's important that you not only concentrate your attention on what is easily measured, written in a policy manual, or even spoken as a value. Other considerations may be more important, even though they may have never been expressed formally."

You can check out the full article by clicking the link above, but here is the gist of each of the areas he examined:

1. Culturally: How does the organization respond to change? How does it address problems? How does it plan for the future? How trusted is leadership?

2. The leaders accessibility and temperament: Every senior leader is different. If you change the leader, you change some of the unwritten rules. Is he or she considered approachable? Does he or she participate with the team normally?

3. The relationships of team members to each other: Is there a friendship or just a working relationship among team members? Is conflict acceptable and healthy?

4. The sense of work satisfaction:Are there long-term team members? Are team members generally happy with the organization? Is there any unrest among team members?

5. The reaction to change:Is the way it's always been done changeable? Has change usually been accepted or resisted?

6. The way information flows: What are the circles of influence? Who drives discussion? Who has influence with peers? What are the expectations regarding the need to know?

7.The real power structure: Who really makes the decisions? Is it a board? A few key people?

How does these series of unwritten rules translate into ministry for a young minister? Here are some examples for ministry leaders in Adventist leadership to consider.

  • What defines a win in your conference?

What defines a "good pastor" in your conference? Is it baptism andtithe goals, or some other numerical rubric?

  • Is ordination seen as rite of passage or are there carrots for interns to chase? Is there a sink or swim mentality for new pastors that enter the field?
  • Are there dead-end churches in your conference seen as no-mans land where bad pastors (however that's defined) get sent to?
  • How are vacancies handled?

How does the Personnel Committee work in your conference? Is there a culture of nepotism where friends and family of the committee get priority consideration? In my research, I've only found one conference across the entire division that openly shares what vacancies are available at the moment. This is a frustrating point for pastors trying to find an entry point into the field of ministry. In many cases, it's not what you know, it's who you know (or in some cases, who knows you).

  • Can frustrations be voiced directly and frankly without fear of reprimand/misunderstanding?

Can pastors openly ask your administrative team about potentially sensitive issues like ordination, ministry transitions, and work performance reviews?

  • Is it a cloak and dagger approach when it comes to letting pastors know what they are entitled to?

Mind you, this is different than entitlement as 1 Timothy 5:18 says:

For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain, and, The laborer deserves his wages.

Understanding, navigating, and addressing conference corporate culture is the final area that young pastors would like addressed.

These we're the 3 Leadership Areas Young Adventist Pastors Wish Would be Addressed. I know that these past two weeks have been a bit of a drag; reality can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow. Next week, we switch gears and start looking at solutions!

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Posted in Churches/Faith/Religion Post Date 02/10/2017


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