Do we need a meeting? Respecting others’ time

The time people give for meetings is a generous donation.  Image by clker.com (http://www.clker.com/clipart-13595.html) [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

The time people give for meetings is a generous donation. Image by clker.com (http://www.clker.com/clipart-13595.html) [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Some six months ago, I began living the life of a layperson while remaining clergy. After more than 20 years as an associate pastor, I now work a desk job in an office. While there are similarities to my previous life, it has been a season of adjustment.

One of the lessons I have learned is about time and the limited amount of it I have available each week.

In my pastoral positions, I had a good deal of control over my schedule. There were many appointments to keep and meetings to attend, but I was the one setting most of them. For example, I could schedule the mission trip parents meeting on Wednesday night because on Tuesdays my family watched Dancing with the Stars together. Protecting family time was important and it should be.

What I failed to realize fully, was that every meeting I did schedule was cutting into someone else’s family time, which was just as important to them and should be. I confess I didn’t always treat their attendance as the valuable donation to the life of the church that it was.

When people come to a meeting, they are donating something very valuable to the church. Respect their gift with these tips.

  • Do you really need a meeting? The parents mission trip meeting is a good example. For many of the parents, it was the same meeting as the one the year before. They knew the routine. There were wrinkles every year, but nothing for which they needed to give an hour of their family time. I didn’t need a meeting simply to disseminate information. Save meetings for collaborative work.
  • Use the technology available. Emails, YouTube, and Google Hangouts are a handful of free ways you can get your message out without a meeting. People can access the information when they have a few minutes—even at work. Be more creative.
  • Be prepared. I cannot tell you how many times people had set aside their time to do something of value in the church, and I wasn’t ready for the meeting. Agendas were loose, rehearsals were not thought through, handouts weren’t ready… it’s embarrassing to think about. Show people you value their time by being well prepared.
  • Start and end on time. OK, this may just be me, but start on time even if you know the Shebobitz family is coming and isn’t here yet. It is unfair to those who have arrived on time to wait for straggles. Soon people will learn to arrive on time. Also, end the meeting early. If people still have questions, hang around with them, but let others go. Don’t hold everyone up while you address a personal issue.
  • Show your gratitude for people’s participation. Not every meeting should be a party, but close. Give attendees your undivided attention, energy, and enthusiasm. Bring snacks, drinks, and/or candy. And say thank you. People like hearing you appreciate what they’ve given.

Time is a valuable commodity because it is in very short supply for many. Be sure to respect what people give. It is a donation of great value. Following these steps will increase attendance and attention at the meetings you choose to lead, and will free up more time with your family for Dancing with the Stars.

Oh no! Was I Lumbergh? 

Leading the league in assists

James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and Dean Smith

Left to right: James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and coach Dean Smith, legends of University of North Carolina basketball. Photo by Zeke Smith, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I have been a college basketball fan since high school. I remember my heart breaking that night in 1982 when Georgetown guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, mistakenly passed the ball to North Carolina’s James Worthy with 7 seconds on the clock, icing the championship game for the Tarheels.

This weekend I plan to watch all three games. While I’m not a fan of any one of the four teams left in this year’s madness, I will be rooting for Michigan State and Kentucky (a) because I picked them, and (b) because one is the underdog and the other is going for history. Won’t that make for a great championship game story?

One of the things I like about college basketball is the importance placed on the assist. For those not familiar with basketball, a player receives an assist when they make a pass that leads to another player scoring. While the guy hitting the 3-point shot or making the thunderous dunk may get most of the applause and headlines, assists get noticed. They are an official stat listed alongside points and rebounds in the boxscore.

During one of the games this weekend you may notice a player who has just scored pointing as he races back to play defense. He is pointing at his teammate who made the assist. I recently heard on ESPN and see it confirmed in this article, that the pointing practice was brought to college basketball by the legendary coach of that 1982 Carolina team, Dean Smith (those darn Tarheels are everywhere).

A huge proponent of teamwork, Smith wanted his scorers to share the spotlight with those who helped make it happen. Teaching his players to recognize their teammates, drew attention to the passers, and encouraged all players to focus more on the team scoring than their individual point totals.

We all want to be the scorer. On the court, in the boardroom, and even in the church. It feels good as an associate pastor to be recognized for the sermon on the Sunday after Easter (one of two Sundays I have deemed our days), to see one of your ideas find success in the congregation, or lead a charge to make a procedural change.

But far more often, we’re not the scorer. We set things up, work behind the scenes, deal with handfuls of people. We’re making the assist. Maybe that’s why not all that long ago we were commonly called “Assistant Pastors.”

Wise lead pastors will point to their associate pastors after a big score. All good leaders ought to publicly recognize their team from time to time. But if your lead pastor is stingy with the praise, take it from me, the assists matter.

While the lead pastor may get most of the recognition, count your assists. The growth of the congregation is happening because of your work others may never see. Those new ministries took off because of your agile passing. Sunday’s Easter extravaganza of worship is able to happen because of the work you did when no one else was in the building.

As Associate Pastors, we are called to be the assist leaders of our congregations. You many never win an MVP trophy, but you and I know you are an integral part in making glorious things happen for the Kingdom of God.

Keep Calm

KeepFound this on a friend’s Facebook timeline this morning, and had to share it with all of you!!

You can order one here!

PS – I have nothing to do with this!

Repenting of my task hoarding

Too much

This truck driver may have taken on more than she/he can handle.

We general practitioner associate pastors can become awfully adept at collecting tasks. We may have a line at the bottom of our job description that says something like, “Other duties as determined by the pastor,” and accumulated a load of those other duties. Or we may have slipped into “caulk ministry,” making sure nothing falls through the cracks, and collected several more little jobs. Some of us, and I’m looking in the mirror here, have become hoarders of those tasks, always collecting more without ever letting go of any one of them. Our workday has become so crammed full we don’t know how we get through the week. Sometimes we need to sort through our collections to decide what should stay and what has to go.

In recent weeks, I’d been feeling overwhelmed with all I needed to do. At first I thought it was the post-Christmas funk, but a staff meeting reminded me of two new leadership tasks coming my way soon. It was time to begin sorting through responsibilities, finding good homes for some of the things I do.

I decided to let go of two tasks for different reasons. You may find these helpful to consider.

The first was simple to spot. I have been the builder of our worship service slides for years. This is a fairly straightforward administrative task which needs to be completed each week. I like it, and I’m good at it, but I don’t need to be the one doing it.

I approached the person who has built the slides when I have been on vacation to see if it was something she would be willing to do each week. I was surprised and thrilled when she immediately said she would. When I spoke to her recently, fearful she was a bit overwhelmed, she told me she was loving the work, even getting lost in it. What a blessing that turned out to be for both of us.

Many of us perform administrative tasks which we could easily train someone else to do. Maybe it is attendance, or keeping track of participant accounts, or maybe it is making sure there is a snack at every meeting. Not only will letting it go help you, the person(s) who then take it on for you will be given the opportunity to use their gifts in service to Christ and the church.

The second was a bit more difficult to spot. Over the past several years I have been blessed with young adults helping with our youth ministry. Several of these young adults are trained to work with youth as educators and in social service fields. Slowly I had been giving them more responsibility, to the point where my primary role was providing them with curriculum to use each Sunday night, which they would then carry out. In addition, they are leading high school small groups, taking youth out to lunch, attending their plays and sporting events, and doing all the work of an exceptional youth leader. So I met with a couple of them and asked if they would be willing to take take the next step, planning the youth meetings.

This was a hard one for me. Youth ministry is something I have felt called to for almost 20 years. So this was not something I didn’t think I needed to do. But God has placed these exceptional people in my life and in the congregation, and they were not being used to the fullness of their ability. By enlarging their sphere of responsibility, I am helping them grow in their discipleship. My role now is equipping them to be the best youth leaders they can be by sharing my experience.

Many of us have gifted people around us to whom we could give more responsibility. Expanding the role of these exceptional young people has not only freed me up to work in other areas, it is also giving them opportunities to grow as servants of Jesus Christ who are giving of themselves to the youth of the congregation. And it is already improving the youth ministry.

When sharing these shifts in my responsibilities with our children’s minister, I joked, “I’m working myself right out of a job!” She replied, “Isn’t that the point?” I guess it is. We build a ministry, then equip others to carry it on while we go build something else. To do this, we cannot be afraid to let go. When we stop hoarding tasks we allow others to use their gifts in service to Christ and the church, and we are freed to pursue other areas of ministry.

Saying something you’d like to take back

I shouldn't have said that.

I shouldn’t have said that.

We associate pastors talk… a lot. We teach, preach, present, counsel, visit, and chat. Sometimes, we might say something of which we are not proud – a mistake, a terse answer, or an obviously frustrated response to a question the person in front of us has asked for the first time but you are hearing for the 15th time this week. We make mistakes, show emotion, and are simply sometimes off our game.

Recently, after a sermon, a member of our congregation came to correct me on a minor point I had made in a sermon illustration that was just completely wrong. I mean, it wasn’t even close. It was about a holiday in her home country and my research pointed me in a very wrong direction. She was gracious in correcting me, and I’m glad she did, but boy was I embarrassed.

Maybe that’s why when I watched Richard Sherman’s interview with Erin Andrews after the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers for the privilege of playing in the Super Bowl, my first thought was compassion. I felt bad for him. As I watched the video (on YouTube here and embedded below), I could almost see the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He had just made THE play that sent his team to play in the biggest game in sports. In the heat of the moment, Erin Andrews did what sideline reporters do. She stuck a mic in front of the hero and asked him a question, and well… he said something stupid. Since then, the video has gone viral, and the interview has been the focus of much of the early Super Bowl talk.  I’m so thankful my faux pas only happen in front of a handful of people at a time, and not millions on national television.

So, here are a couple of thoughts about saying things we wish we could take back.

  • Pause before you speak. Often, we are far too quick to speak, tweet, and post before we think about how we will be heard. You don’t need to share everything you are feeling. Measure your words, then respond.
  • Stay positive. Imagine how much more we would be talking about Sherman’s amazing play in the end zone, if he would have simply celebrated the win. Instead, the interview, the mistake, is what most people are hearing.
  • Humility. Telling people you are the best doesn’t endear you to anyone. If you really are great, they will know. You don’t have to tell them.
  • Apologize. When you make a mistake, apologize. Sherman tried in a blog on Sports Illustrated, but it comes off as more of a rationale for his behavior than a genuine apology. It is far better to say, “I’m sorry. I messed up. I shouldn’t have said that.” Take the initiative. Own up to what you have done wrong, and apologize. It will go a long way.

Sharing the load of leadership

Leading

A good leader is sometimes called upon to lead others where they do not necessarily want to go. We Associate Pastors know this. We upset the apple cart when we start a new program, tweak a worship service, change the night our youth group meets, buy a different curriculum for our Sunday School classes, or something else. No matter how good or wonderful the change might be, we feel many digging in because they do not wish to follow us to these new pastures. When we feel the tension, it is easy to abandon the new path. That will ease the tension, but at what price? On a good staff, each team member may take a turn being the one ready to give up, but together we “lead on!”

Recently, I co-led a couple of breakout sessions of the School of Congregational Development of the United Methodist Church, with the lead pastor with whom I serve, Bob Kaylor. We were sharing our discipleship program – how it works, and how it was implemented – with other United Methodist pastors and clergy. It would have been easy to present all rainbows and unicorns. We met our three-year goal for participation in less than a year. Our discipleship program has quickly become part of the DNA of the congregation, and it would be hard to imagine going forward without it. But it would have been unfair to our colleagues not to include how we almost gave up on it in the first several months, because of the resistance we felt. So we talked about it, but only briefly as an aside.

When the time came for questions, this was the predominant question. I heard my colleagues saying, “I know this is important, and would like to implement it in my congregation, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be well received.”

One of the keys for us as a staff was the support we gave one another. There were times in the implementation of our discipleship program where I lost my nerve and was ready to advocate for going back to the way things were. Bob would say something like, “I think we are on the right track here. We need to keep going.” At other times he would check in with me, pretty sure we needed to pull the plug because of the resistance, when I would hold him up often pointing to positives I had seen. Other times there were leaders within the congregation who would encourage both of us.

Leadership can be tiring. There are times when we are not sure we have the strength to keep going, and want to find an easier path. At those times, we as associate pastors have a responsibility to encourage others on our staffs to keep leading, even when the going gets rough. We also need to use the staff to do the same for us.

Summer preaching

SUMMER PREACHING SCHEDULE‘Tis the season for the preaching of associate pastors. During the summer months, when lead pastors take vacation time, they often hand us, their associates and other staff members, the role of preaching, leading worship, and generally covering for them while they are gone. Some of us are excited to get this role, others terrified. Either way, preaching as an associate brings a unique set of challenges.

Recently, while having dinner with a friend who serves as “the other teaching pastor” (his words, not mine) of a congregation in town, the conversation turned to the challenges of preaching as associates. I laughed when he told me how difficult it can be to refer to “my last talk” when it happened several months ago, and we shared humorous stories about teasing our lead pastors for giving us “difficult topics” to preach on, like sex and money, while they are out of town. It is always fun to swap stories with another associate.

He told me he sometimes opens sermons by apologizing to the congregation that they are getting “the B-Team today.” I told him how I have sometimes referred to myself the junior varsity. The conversation reminded me of a guest preacher subbing for Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church one Sunday who opened his sermon by comparing coming to Mars Hill and getting a guest preacher, to driving to Wally World and finding it closed – an homage to the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation. All of this is great fun with the congregation, and a technique to lower the tension by naming the elephant in the room – you are not the preacher some were expecting and are familiar with.

But don’t dwell there. It is wise to name their disappointment, but be sure they know you do not believe it. You are not the B-Team, the junior varsity, or the equivalent of Wally World being closed. You have been entrusted with this Sunday’s message, this opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those seated before you.

I know you will receive messages to the contrary. Attendance may be a fraction of what it was the week before when the lead pastor was in town. Expectations for your preaching may be low. You may get compliments about giving a “nice” sermon, the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head. You may even be asked between services when the pastor is coming back, causing you to wonder if people are sizing up whether to come back next Sunday. These are all discouraging messages which may cause you to wonder if it is worth the effort of top-notch preparation.

Through years of preaching as an associate, I have learned not to think of the congregation as a unit, but as individuals. The Sunday you preach is an important day for someone in the congregation who needs to hear a word of grace. It matters to another who needs to hear God loves them. Another has come who needs to be strengthened for the week ahead by a word from God delivered through you. You have a sacred responsibility, entrusted to you by God through the lead pastor. Don’t squander it.

Preaching in the summer as an associate may feel like a call to simply pass the time. It is not. You do not have the luxury of phoning it in as the B-Team. You have been entrusted to deliver the word of the Lord to someone. Don’t shirk that responsibility.

When an Associate Needs to Serve as Priest to the Lead Pastor on Seedbed.org

A new article I wrote was posted to Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seedbed Blog today. 

When an Associate Needs to Serve as Priest to the Lead Pastor” is about a very difficult time in the life of any associate – when we feel led to step out and speak to our lead pastor. Drawing from the wisdom of Samuel’s discussion with Saul and Nathan’s with David, I share some lessons to be learned, and hopefully give those who need it the courage to follow God’s lead. 

Please follow the link and give it a read. Let me know what you think. 

The Simpsons New Associate Pastor

Elijah Hooper

Reverend Elijah Hooper,
Assoicate Pastor
First Church of Springfield
*Photo by Olan Mills (I assume)

I don’t always admit this, but I have been a fan of The Simpsons since it first appeared on the Tracy Ullman Show as shorts, some 25 years ago. One of the things consistently drawing me to the show, besides my juvenile sense of humor, has been their satire of the church. I mean, how many other shows have the whole cast in church every Sunday, and have the recurring character of a pastor as well-developed as Reverend Timothy Lovejoy (and 7th Heaven doesn’t count)? Over the years while making me laugh, they have also helped me teach some youth lessons, and I have even dared to show clips during several sermons.

On Sunday, April 28, in an episode titled “Pulpit Friction,” The Simpsons continued their clever and always funny jabbing at the church with the introduction of The First Church of Springfield’s first associate pastor. With the appearance of “the right, reverend Elijah Hooper” we associate pastors have become culturally relevant, even if it is with yellow skin and a huge overbite.

The entire town of Springfield gathers at the church for help and solace during a bedbug epidemic. While Reverend Lovejoy is trying to calm the mob by appealing to The Epistle of Jeremy and Tobit from the Apocrypha (he’s not great under pressure), the easy going Parson arrives in a golf cart and cardigan to return Lovejoy’s six-iron. Standing before the congregation the Parson introduces Reverend Hooper (voiced by Edward Norton) as “the number two man from Shelbyville,” who “introduced angle parking.” “We got in six more cars,” the Parson gloats (what we associates do is so important). When Lovejoy pushes back, saying he doesn’t need an associate, the Parson appoints Hooper anyway. Sounds like The First Church of Springfield may be a United Methodist congregation.

Everyone is enamored with the smooth-talking new associate, prompting Lovejoy call the day “the worst 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time ever.” In contrast to Lovejoy’s choice of apocryphal books to address the crisis, Hooper draws his illustrations from cultural references. For example, in his first sermon we hear him conclude, “So you see, what Jesus is saying really can be explained by an episode of Californication.”

The satirical gems keep coming in this episode, like Ned Flanders, the Simpson family’s Christian neighbor, muttering to himself while knitting, “Church songs with clapping. I don’t think this is what Martin Presby Luther had in mind when he founded our religion by sticking his three suggestions under the Pope’s windshield wiper” (OK, so maybe they aren’t Methodist). There is also Bart and Homer’s exchange:

Bart: Dad, you always hated church.

Homer: Now for the record, I hated the building, the people in it, and the spirit it represented, but I never hated the church itself.

Someone on the writing staff of The Simpsons knows something about the church.

In spite of this episode poking fun at us for doing such things, I found a lesson here. There is something to be learned about how not to be an associate from Rev. Elijah Hooper.

Hooper makes some huge mistakes – he springs things onto the lead pastor during worship, builds a following of his own rather than disciples of Jesus, and shows poor judgment selecting Homer to be a new deacon. But the most critical error that leads to him being run out of Springfield, is his lack of theology.

When crisis visits the church again, this time it’s frogs instead of bedbugs, the people gather at the church asking Hooper to minister to them this time. Unfortunately, his “easy-going offshoot of Protestantism,” as he describes his faith to Moe the bartender, has nothing to offer. He tries to appeal to “The Blindside with Sandy Bullock,” as he call it, but the crisis escalates. Finally, in the stress all he can mutter is, “Um… video games. Uh… Twitter. How to Train Your Dragon,” and as the congregants descend upon him, “Fight Club!” He’s smooth-talking, but he’s got nothing of substance to say.

Lovejoy arrives dramatically quoting Psalm 23, which somehow soothes (Homer says “bores”) the frogs to sleep so they can be swept up and removed. Reverend Tim Lovejoy has saved the day, prompting his congregants to give him a Gatorade bath with the water from the baptismal.

I guess theology wins every time. Even in Springfield.

Changes in lead pastor – Part 2: Saying Hello to a New Lead Pastor

This is part two of two posts regarding how associates can be helpful to a congregation as a transition in lead pastors occurs. As the season of pastoral change approaches for us United Methodists, Seedbed Publishing has released a new resource authored by Robert Kaylor, the lead pastor with whom I serve. His new book, Your Best Move: Effective Leadership Transition in the Local Church, and companion webinar “Your Next Move: Planning for Clergy Transitions” are designed to help churches and pastors navigate the tricky waters of a pastoral transition. 

Associate pastors experience the transition of lead pastors differently from congregants. When we choose to work through the issues of transition, rather than just holding on, we can help the new lead pastor and the congregation toward successful ministry together long into the future.

While you and the congregation are saying goodbye to the outgoing pastor, a process I discussed in last week’s post, the associate should also be preparing the congregation to say hello to the incoming leader. You can be a wonderful catalyst for successful transition. Here are several things to consider as you begin with a new lead pastor.

Resource the new pastor – Our denomination provides a “Transition Checklist” of what the outgoing pastor is to leave for the incoming one. In my experience though, the outgoing pastor sometimes finds these tasks difficult to focus upon as his or her attention is divided between your congregation and the new one to which he/she will be going. The list includes things like a copy of the mission and vision statements, a directory, email lists, church policies, budgets, newsletters, bulletins, and the like. It also asks for the outgoing pastor to make statements about the culture of the church, who is in the hospital or struggling with long-term illness, where people in the area go for emergency assistance, ministerial associations, and the like. Take some time to put some of these items together, and think through how you might present them to the incoming pastor. A wise lead pastor will want to meet with the staff during the transition process. Be prepared to be helpful.

Prepare the congregation – Before the new lead pastor arrives begin preparing the congregation for him or her. Research the new pastor and talk up his/her previous successes. Don’t be afraid to share what you see that made the Bishop or Search Committee choose this pastor for your congregation. Share your interactions with the incoming pastor as appropriate. Share his/her sermon podcast page, blog site, and any other means by which congregants may get a feel for who is coming.

Keep everything positive and upbeat. Together you and your congregation will be discovering what God has in store for your congregation. Enjoy the adventure, and let others know you are enjoying it.

Help the pastor and congregation say hello well – Be sure your leadership is planning opportunities for people to meet the new pastor. Our most recent process which was very successful included “Meet the Pastor” nights where groups of 10-20 gathered in people’s homes. This took a good chunk of the pastor’s time over the initial month, but were well worth the inconvenience. Again, be sure to check out some resources like Bob Kaylor’s book and webinar for best practices.

Relax – Soon you will have opportunity to meet, either privately or with a group of staff, the incoming pastor. You have heard the expression, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” While that’s true, it is overrated in this context. You will have many opportunities to make multiple impressions on your new lead pastor. If you flub the first meeting, it’s OK. Your job isn’t over. Get over it and get back to work. The impression you leave upon this new leader will not solely be your opening handshake, but all of the work you have done to help make the transition successful, you ministry responsibilities, and your relationship with the rest of the staff and congregation.

Keep some stuff to yourself – As I have made transitions myself, I have noted there are many people who are eager to tell the new staff member about potential pitfalls – people and situations of which to be aware. Typically, these stories tell me more about the storyteller than the object of the story. Allow the new lead pastor to form his/her own opinions of the personalities in your church. When asked, be honest but gracious. I have said things like, “There are some (including me) who struggle with this person’s style, but they have done many great things for the congregation.” I can’t emphasize enough the need to stay positive.

Nothing is to be gained by talking about the predecessor – This rule of thumb regarding pitfalls also goes for the outgoing pastor. My dad, a heavy equipment operator (cranes, backhoes, etc.), an itinerant job itself, told me early on in my ministry that nothing is to be gained by talking poorly of your predecessor. How true this is! You may be tempted to share all of the mistakes you believe the outgoing pastor made. You may want to share all of his/her shortcomings. Again, this will tell the lead pastor more about you than about the previous pastor. Tread lightly here.

Unconditionally support the new pastor in public – You are being watched. How you respond to questions about and interact with the new lead pastor will speak volumes. In the eyes of many in the congregation you are the link to the past. Due to this, your support of the incoming pastor will help bring the congregation from longing for the past toward looking forward to the future. Share your genuine excitement about what is to come, and how it will build on the history of the congregation and not a break from it. You stand in a unique position to do this. Take advantage of it.

Get out of the way – People will be looking for you to lead. From those who come to you and ask why you were not considered for the position of lead pastor (no matter how often you explain that is not how your church’s polity is structured), to those who will ask you questions about what will be changing under the incoming pastor’s leadership, you will receive messages about how wonderful you are and how some would prefer your leadership. Don’t get sucked into that mindset. You are the associate for a reason. If you are struggling with that, see my earlier post, “I am not the lead pastor.” Be helpful, but stay out of the way.

Please do not squander this opportunity to serve your congregation through the difficult process of clergy transition. You can be an asset or a burden. You will serve you congregation and yourself well if you follow these guidelines.

What would you add? Comment below.   


Read Part 1 here: Changes in lead pastor – Part 1: The Announcement and the Current Lead Pastor

%d bloggers like this: