It’s can be interesting to discover what sorts of things you’ve become “known for”. Are you the guy who’s always there when a helping hand is needed? Are you the woman who really knows how to tie a fly-fishing fly? Are you the kid who has more different colors of Converse All-Stars sneakers than there are days in a month? As I imagine many of you know, this is true in professional circles too… among colleagues, a person can become known for being the go?to guru on some particular topic or interest area. Among my colleagues, it’s probably no surprise to most of you that I’ve long been a go-to guru on both hymnody and traditional/liturgical forms of worship.
But in the last couple of years, a new such area has come up—not necessarily one I was hoping to become known as a ‘guru’ about: church governance. I say that I wasn’t necessarily hoping to become known as the “governance guy” because, let’s be honest, church governance is not particularly interesting or ‘sexy’; the church will not ultimately stand or fall based on its organizational structures. Nevertheless, these days it seems inevitable that when a conversation about governance structures or governance change processes gets going on one of our clergy online forums or Facebook groups, my name gets ‘tagged’ as someone the questioner should talk to. I get personal reach-outs too, via email, from people who’ve been referred my way from colleagues or conference staffpersons. Just in the last month—amidst all the other ‘stuff’ going on for clergy during Lent and Holy Week, no less—I’ve been sought out by two colleagues right here in southern New England (Farmington CT and Weymouth MA) whose churches are in the process of governance change, or at least looking into it.
Way back in 2013 and 2014 when we started seriously working on our own change process, I remember saying that, while we definitely were not the first among our sibling congregations to be tackling governance change in our era, I was pretty sure we were on the leading edge of that movement. The frequency and ways that people want to hear about our experience has proven that hunch correct. Other congregations are now looking to us to hear about what we chose to do, how we did it, and what our experience with that process was. And, of course, they also want to know the big question: “how’s it working now?” After all, believe it or not, we are now into our fourth year of actually operating under the “new” structures and frameworks we discerned for ourselves.
I thought I’d take a moment to share a few of the things I’ve been sharing in response to that question. So, from my “seat,” from what I know and see around the life of our congregation, here are a few things tend to say about how things are “going” with our not-so-new frameworks:
- The overall summary: things are going pretty well and we’re seeing some of the hoped-for results… and there are some things that are still “works-in-progress” or “kinks” that we’re still working to address. Even with the “kinks” though, overall, things certainly are not any worse-off than they were under our “old” systems.
- Our Governing Board over the last year-or-so has really been coming into its own and taking ownership of the sort of bigger-picture discernment and planning work that we need for the Board to have at the center of its work on our behalf. It did take us a couple of annual cycles to get there… we’d done a pretty good job of clearing the “clutter” out of the Board’s agenda—getting staff and ministry area leaders own their authority and responsibility and letting them deal with management things on their own—but it took some time for the Board to then begin filling back in its agenda with the things that are the Board’s good work to do. But that’s been happening.
- As I hope you saw in last month’s issue of The Carillon, as a result of its
start-of-term annual planning work, the Governing Board has named the following
three goals for our congregation’s ministry leadership this year:
- Write and adopt a Mission Statement for SCC, and have ministry leaders identify necessary changes to SCC’s ministry activities to align them with that mission.
- Develop a communications plan to tell our ongoing story as a church to ourselves and others.
- Make plans to implement at least one concrete, ongoing, new ministry of our church that is the embodiment of our Just Peace initiative
- That same start-of-term annual planning work
resulted in the Board naming these three questions as specific areas of focus
for the Board’s own discussion and discernment over the coming year:
- How does the use of space in our church support our mission?
- How do we show our welcoming spirit to the community around us?
- What does success look like in terms of participation and engagement?
- In the nearly three-and-a-half years we’ve been actively operating under our “new” structures, we’ve seen a variety of new ideas and new ministries pop up in ways that are organic, interesting, and creative. Some have come and gone, others have stayed around—and that’s all good! We’ve also seen newcomers engage with ministries in flexible ways.
- Yes, there are some “kinks” or things that are still “works-in-progress” when you delve into our congregation’s actual ministries and the leadership structures for them. That’s natural and to be expected, since ministry leadership is always supposed to be evolving and changing along with the life of our congregation; part of the beauty of our new frameworks is that they can be changed over time with some level of ease and flexibility (no more amending bylaws to enact any little change, for example).
- If I could name the three places where “kinks” tend to happen are, they would be: communications, volunteer recruitment, and figuring out who takes responsibility for something ‘new’. But you know what? These are arguably the same three biggest trouble areas we had in our “old” structures, too—it’s just that the way these challenges manifest themselves now look a little different.
Most all of us have heard that age-old quip that “the church is not a building, the church is a people.” It’s true, of course. And it’s equally true of organizational structures as it is of buildings. The church is not a structure; the church is not our boards or committees or even our staff; the church is a people. Regardless of how we structure ourselves, the reality remains that we are still the same covenanted-together group of people, with all of our same blessings and brokennesses, all our same features and foibles, all our same passions and personality-quirks, all our same reverences and reticences. We’re still endowed with all of the same gifts, and we still have all of the same areas that would be truly ripe for a bit of growth.
But you know what, that’s o.k. After all, as the writer of the New Testament’s book of Hebrews proclaimed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). And it has always been just such motley crews of imperfect-yet-inspired people as we have here in this church that Christ has always chosen… to be the body Christ works amidst and through, in order to bless and transform the world!