Monday, April 4, 2011

Church Leadership

Those who serve as church leaders are generally decent folk who genuinely seek what is good and right.  The problem is that we hold them accountable for nearly everything except faithfulness.  We judge them on the basis of their ability to raise money, on the basis of their good numbers (baptisms, confirmations, new members, etc.), on their ability to inspire, on their outgoing personality, and on their effectiveness at getting things done.  Now, I am not suggesting that none of these are important -- just that they may not be the most important criteria.

We elect our leaders -- so those who say or do what we do not like, we do not re-elect.  This means that the folks who are being led are those who not only determine their leaders but hold them accountable every time they run for re-election.  The people who elect determine the criteria upon which those elected (or not) will be judged.  Those who are elected to positions of leadership know that they will face review from those who elected them.  I am not suggesting that our elected church leaders are people pleasers -- perhaps some are but most of them are certainly not.  Yet, in order for them to continue in office, they do need to keep their fences mended.

My point here is that we ask of our church leaders more than they are capable of giving -- we want them to be all things to all people and we require of them that they submit to our approval every 2 or 3 or 4 years.  If we are unsatisfied by their performance, it may be that we have ourselves to blame.  When St. Paul used that phrase, he did not submit to an election every couple of years nor did he mean he would say or do whatever was desired by those whom he served.

Let me focus on one office -- that of District President (what Missouri fears calling "Bishop").  We ask them to fix what is wrong both within congregations and with the clergy.  So they function like firemen who run from place to place trying to cool down the blazing inferno of conflict and to spread calm on the troubled waters of both parsonage and parish.  I know several DPs fairly well and I know that they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to manage conflict within the congregations of their Districts and resolve conflicts between these parishes and their Pastors.  While this is a noble endeavor and a reality of the time in which we live, I do not see much about this duty or responsibility in the Scriptures.  Now it might be a different thing if the DP called the parish or the erring Pastor to repentance, confession, and forgiveness.  Those who have traversed the various models and processes used for conflict resolution or reconciliation know that it generally bears little resemblance to confession and absolution.

We require of them that they advise and counsel yet we give them limited means to enforce their advice and counsel when it needs to be done.  Because of the way congregations understand their independence and their authority, they can easily refuse the most salutary and wise counsel a District President may give and there is not a whole lot he can do about it.  In the same way, clergy can often hide behind the same kind of independence.  As long as their parishes are mostly happy with them, they can and often do outrageous things and foment great discontent outside the domain of their own congregations.  Again, the District President has little real authority and when he does exercise it, he often plays right into the hands of the victims who justify their stand by their martyrdom.

Scripture speaks of church leaders as teachers of doctrine and supervisors of faithful practice yet we saddle them with fund raising duties, with responsibility for bringing calm to troubled places and people, and with achieving measurable success in areas that they have little direct responsibility or influence over.  Where is the time or energy left for the episcopal role as chief Pastor and teacher?  When they are so busy dealing with the conflicts and troubles in the minority, they are absent and invisible to the majority.  How well can they know all the parishes and Pastors in their care when this happens?

Meeting after meeting consumes too much of the DP schedule.  Some are national meetings with the COP and the larger boards, committees, and commissions on which they sit.  Others are local.  Honestly, how could a Pastor function with such a busy schedule of meetings imposed upon him?  Then why do we assume that the DPs are more adept at dealing with an endless schedule of meetings?

In order for things to change in the Church, we need to start electing people who have the courage to tell us when the roles and responsibilities that we assign to them are not what they are supposed to do.  We need to hear and heed their words and actions -- even when it is unpleasant to us.  We need to cultivate faithfulness as not only the goal but the very criteria of service to the larger church.  Instead of electing every few years, we might be called upon to reaffirm this "call" to such service but without opposing candidates standing at the same time.  Or we might have fewer but longer terms so that a DP can actually cultivate the deep and abiding relationships with parishes and Pastors in which faithful and fruitful oversight, leadership, supervision, and direction can be given.

There is a great deal of disdain and blame laid at the doorstep of our District Presidents -- all I am saying is that it is often more the result of the nature of the office we have defined and the roles and responsibilities we have foisted upon them than it is simply the failings of mortal men.  This is not only true of the DPs but also of all the elected leaders of our church body.  I think it is time that we look into the mirror and see what part of the problem lies in us and what we can do to correct it.  Perhaps we might end up with a different result if we began at a different place....

Just some thoughts...


Anonymous said...

The District President/Bishop has
become a political office. The DP
needs to get votes to stay in office.
If he were "Called" like a parish
pastor, then his tenure would not
be subject to re-election. To have
called DP's would raise their stature
and authority.

Currently, the DP is a CEO who tries
to keep District parishes filled with
capable pastors and fill vacancies.
There is also the need to meet
the District budget, etc.
However, it is assumed that the
District President is to be a
pastor to the pastors under his
charge. For this to happen a
significant amount of time should
be spent visiting them one on one.

If our DP's were "Called" with
tenure, then they could become
the supervisors of correct doctrine
and practice in District parishes
and not worry about re-elections.

John said...

Oh, for the day when the DP served in addition to his call as shepherd to a flock.

Anonymous said...

That would be possible in 20ll, if
some of our larger Districts were
split up into smaller Districts.
To be a parish pastor and District
President at the same time would be
possible if you only had 50 to 75
parishes in your District.

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Though our Fathers/Pastors are not elected, the congregation all too often puts these same 'duties' upon them.

All too often, pastors are simply unable to fulfill their call to be ministers of Word and Sacrament because they are expected to 'run' the daily affairs of the congregation. Some attempt doing both, and either burn out, or literally ruin their health by the attempt.

The question is, how do we catechize the congregation to do the administrative work and functions? What can we do to encourage the people in the pews to free their leaders to do what God has called them to do?

Another more thorny question is, how do we teach seminarians and established pastors how to say, "no?" (And the congregants to accept what their God-appointed leader says).