Preparation for retreats with church leadership groups, and particularly the session, typically involves the following elements: some brushing up on the PC(USA) Book of Order, gathering voluminous amounts of big-sticky note paper, creating or refreshing some PowerPoint presentations for the visual learners, and making sure there is enough coffee. Or maybe that’s just how I typically prepare. These elements are important and have been effective, but I came across a great new resource that I’m adding to my preparation toolbox for our session retreat this year.
In cooperation with several partners, the Synod of Mid-America has developed Theoacademy, whose goal is to provide faith formation for Presbyterians by offering “the finest theological education they can get short of attending one of our 10 seminaries.” Theoacademy offers video lessons for new members and ruling elders and deacons, with plans for more curriculum in the future. Not all of the videos are Jerry Bruckheimer blockbusters (i.e. Pirates of the Caribbean, Top Gun) but they provide a great starting point for discussion. (Lessons for new members come with study guides and study guides for ruling elders and deacons will be available soon.) One video in particular grabbed my attention as I thought about pastors and elders serving together as leaders. In less than 15 minutes, this film discusses three crucial leadership tasks (view the film here: Being a Leader):
Poor communication is a major source of leadership conflict. Pretty obvious, right? But how do we avoid poor communication within a leadership group? Put quite simply: what I know is what you know. Trouble occurs and conflicts arise when we are blind to what another knows, or we keep others blind to what we know. The presenter in the video gives a great example of one person knowing what a particular banner in the sanctuary means to the woman whose mother created it and others being ignorant of this background information. (Sound familiar?) It’s important in situations like this to get everyone on the same page because this is where effective communication happens.
Be Adept at Change
Faithfulness to our calling as leaders requires us to discern how the Spirit of God is leading us in our particular time and place. This means we will make choices and lead change. The process of leading change invites us to consider our thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes about a specific situation. When we make a choice about that situation, we experience consequences that either reinforce or change our previously held thoughts, perceptions and attitudes. If we never embrace the new information gained from the consequences of our choices, we will continually force the same decision into a situation. Leading change compels us to be open to learning from our choices, both good and bad, so we can be faithful to where we believe God is calling us.
Leading change leads to the creation of boundaries. People who don’t like the change we have implemented will test those boundaries. (We can’t change how often we celebrate communion!) We can either let our boundaries go because we are human and we like the approval of others, or we can trust we have participated in faithful discernment and stick with our decision. When we experience pushback it’s tempting to retreat. Instead of submitting to this temptation, we approach those who disapprove of the change we’ve established. We engage in conversation to acknowledge their dissatisfaction without destroying the boundary we’ve set.
These aren’t the only leadership tasks for pastors, elders, and other leaders in the church. But paying attention to them will help us to faithfully serve our congregations with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love” (Book of Order, W4.4003h).
How have you engaged these leadership tasks while serving a congregation? How have you succeeded and how have you struggled?