I spent last week at a conference in Atlanta. My goal was to come away with practical ideas of how to approach developing leadership teams in this new era of ministry, especially in a church going through revitalization. My expectation with the “REthink” title was for new, outside the box, approaches to leadership that are proving effective in churches that are working hard to realign and readjust to changing culture. While the conference was very well organized and flowed smoothly, I am coming home with none of what I went to find. It’s not a total loss though. I’m coming home inspired and energized in other ways.
You who know me will probably not be surprised at the epiphany I had at this conference. As I filed in with 750 other “lead pastors” I was uncomfortable from the start. Though the promotional material described the dress code as “very casual” and relaxed, only 3 of us were in shorts and t-shirts. And only one of those, me, was wearing red sneakers. The rest of the crowd was mostly in sharp, button-down shirts and what I would call dress jeans pulled up high on the waist with nice leather belts. My epiphany? These are not my people. I don’t fit. Table exchanges were mostly brief, professional, pleasantries.
For the next two days I sat in a room that I will call “corporate church America.” The talk centered on managing our staff members, meetings and structure. At one point my table discussion focused on how often staff meetings should occur at each staff level. I didn’t have much to offer.
I told Robin I felt like I was at a fish-care conference representing my little glass bowl with a single goldfish swimming around while the rest of these guys were in positions overseeing aquariums like Sea World and the Boston Aquarium. I went to one breakout session that promised to help lead an established church from the old to the new. Point one was to not change anything for six months in order to learn the systems. Point two was helpful information for firing staff members not in line with the vision and point three focused on how to make quality hires for open positions. I left to try another workshop. As I walked in they were laughing about a pastor that gave his congregation his home phone number and how crazy that is. (My cell number is on the back of our bulletin.)
My mind kept darting through scripture about servant leadership, shepherding, gospel partnerships and teams. I don’t want to judge harshly. Maybe the corporate model of the CEO pastor is the way it has to be in giant churches. All I can tell you is I have no desire for that whatsoever!
Thankfully, the main sessions were where I found encouragement for servant leadership, personal soul care and investing in relationshìps. I had some excellent speakers pour into me and encourage my spirit. I got some excellent evaluation questions to consider in working to improve my own leadership style. I think that was the talk that got me thinking the most.
“What is it like to be on the other side of me?” (Brad Lomenick)
He pointed out that every leader brings a climite to his organization and that most times the leader has little idea what that climate actually is. Old leadership models stress fear based leadership to bring results. Thankfully most in the church have abandoned that approach. But, Brad told a story about growing the organization he was working with to the point of losing his personality and becoming a demanding, workaholic, task master. His team was afraid to be truthful with him and hesitant to approach him with new ideas or feedback. The climate he was creating was unhealthy and he wasn’t even aware how much he had changed. Brad challenged us to return to our churches and ask, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” The goal is honest feedback to help us be better leaders.
I wonder what kind of climate I bring? What is it like to be on the other side of me? For the past 3 years I’ve been trying to navigate leading the rebuilding of a church after it had been through decades of decline. On a number of occasions I’ve been pretty sure that I’m not the right person for the job. I’ve made some painful mistakes, hurt some people and had some things I wish I had done differently. But, thankfully, most of the time, I’ve been able to look at the fruit of growth and changed lives and thank God for putting imperfect me in this position and working despite my numerous shortcomings.
Most of the conference was great, especially when we went across the street to join with the 8,000 youth and children’s workers at their conference. Of course, they were relaxed, friendly, smiling and there was no sense of the structure of corporate America. The level of joy was refreshing. The “professionals” disappeared and the business vibe evaporated. Not that the serious crowd on the other side of the street loved Jesus any less, there was just less freedom and spontaneity there. It was guarded.
My soul was refreshed in singing loudly with hands in the air. My tablet filled with notes and quotes of both encouragement and self-improvement. My ideas vault expanded. Andy Stanley, Jon Acuff, Reggie Joiner,Doug Fields and Perry Noble poured into me and refreshed me.
My conclusion, even after two “are you interested in a move” conversations, was that God placed me right where I am in a faith family that I love with the longing the Paul writes about in the first chapter of Philippians. I have no desire for a big staff or becoming the biggest church in Maine. I am not Corporate Carl and have no desire to live his life. I love the team approach where we are all ministers together. I love that changed lives is our measuring stick rather than numbers. I love that loving others is our heart and that we are simple and uncomplicated.
I am not called to Guatemala. I am not called to Pennsylvania or to be on a staff of 18 in North Carolina. I am more convinced than ever that God has me right where he wants me in little, old, Westbrook, Maine. I am beyond blessed to be serving with friends I love dearly.
If we do grow to a multi, fulltime staff level, I’m not ever going to be Corporate Carl and the big cheese. Instead I pray for a team working together, loving each other and serving together where each of us will sharpen the others regardless of position or title. My prayer is that we will continue to grow together as family, building one another up, forgiving one another and pushing forward together.