After serving well as a member of the Bishop’s Cabinet, Lori Carden was appointed to our beloved but troubled congregation in Columbiana. Lori is leading a dramatic rebirth there. I asked her to share some of her leadership insights with the rest of us. One thing that makes this narrative remarkable is that I ordained Lori! Only a couple of years ago!
Upon reading your request I thought to myself, “He wants to know what is working? Well heck, working is what is working.” I humbly submit that I don’t have grand initiatives to carry us forward for years to come. My ministry has been more fundamental than that. I am simply working!
I set personal goals for myself. I make a minimum of nine contacts each week. I send three personal emails or cards, I make three phone calls and I make a minimum of three personal visits each week. In the book “Making a Good Move” by Michael J. Coyner this is part of what is known as “paying the rent”. If I stay focused in accomplishing this each week, then by the end of the year, allowing for two weeks vacation, I will have made a minimum of 450 contacts with my flock per year.
I spend time in prayer for my people. Don’t just blow this off as some pious statement. Seriously, I spend an hour each week with the directory in hand, looking at the photos, thinking of the people, asking God to bless them and to give pastoral discernment as to how to love them and lead them.
I took time to listen to as many people as possible. This was difficult because much of what I heard was repetitive. The opinions were strong and divided. It was very very hard for me not to offer rebuttals, take a side, and offer promises or to jump into a fix-it mode. Pastors need to use their ears not just their mouths. We have to check our defensiveness at the door. I possess a strong personality, so this took much prayer. After I had listened to them, I found most of them to be happy to listen to me.
I held a “state of the church dinner” and spoke to all of them at once. I called for complete transparency in all activities and works of the church. I spoke plainly and deliberately. I told them I was not there to worry about “hurting feelings” or who “might get mad and leave” but to lead us in Christ’s mission. I named the elephants. This takes a tedious balance of courage and humility. I spoke and watched as eyebrows raised and heads nodded in affirmation. They then knew that I was not afraid of much and was there to care for the good of God’s church first and foremost. The people here welcomed such candor and it seemed to bring us closer. I will hold these dinners twice per year.
I expect much and we do much. We must never underestimate God’s people. Let’s face it; our churches are filled with brilliant people and specialists of every kind. Pastors don’t know it all. It is our job to offer direction for people to engage their gifts. However, pastors have a large role to play in helping churches own and shape their identity.For example, I was told that this church pretty well shuts down for the summer, giving people “a break” and that it always has. I asked what I thought was a good question, “What are we breaking from?” I was told that the leaders were tired. My response was that we need fresh leaders and servants. I met with people and declared that we were not doing any less for the summer than any other time of the year. We kept our Wed. night children’s program going. All teams and councils met as usual.
I raised the bar. Now, worship attendance did drop again for summer this year as I had been warned, but people now know that the church doesn’t stop. I have great expectations and hopes for next summer’s attendance and involvement to be even better. It takes time to change the norms of a church but it can be done. Dare to declare and direct people! Pastoring is not for wimps!! At the end of the day this church enjoyed doing more for Christ and community. The people must never be underestimated. Just challenge them to be the great gifted people that they are
I began to teach an “Adult confirmation” class that teaches people what it means to be a Christian who is part of the UMC. Long time members and new members of all ages, our oldest is 87 our youngest 24, meet together for several sessions learning about our heritage, our theology, and our mission.
Staffing adjustments and changes were necessary. Not easy work but vital work. Just do it! Though we now have a great team for which I am most grateful, I know that it is never concrete. People come and go. Life happens. It is so sad when churches fail to recognize this fact of life and fearfully fail to address staffing matters.
As I prepared to answer your request I met with four of our key leaders and asked, “What is working with my leadership and what is not?” All noted the following;
1. My leadership is gutsy, honest and speaks truth. The State of the Church dinner was a hit!
2. I am present with presence. I teach, I visit, I preach, I counsel, I have office hours. I play with kids in VBS. (I had six people thank me for coming to VBS. Can you believe that?)
3. I equip by modeling. Then I trust people to do it better than I did it.
4. I lead. As one guy put it, “We know who the leader is without a doubt.” I also praise people when they earn praise.
5. I speak the name of Jesus and of the power of the Holy Spirit. I do a great deal of sermon preparation and preach directly from the text. Not topics with textual passages thrown in, but text with relevant correlations thrown in. There is a difference! So many people have thanked me for “preaching from the Bible”.
As far as any constructive criticism that was offered, each one said, “Just please, don’t give up and don’t stop and take care of yourself.” I asked them to hold me to account on taking my day or two off each week. I need that accountability.
I am serving a church that has been taught that as long as the district apportionments and pastor’s compensations were paid that they were doing enough. I will not take a raise in pay until annual conference apportionments are paid in full. (Even though I need the money to pay off my seminary debts) I am working to educate the people on the good that connectional giving affords. They don’t need a heavy hand on this matter but a healed and fresh perspective.
Pastors have been given the task of holding up and onto our identity before God’s people. As I tell my children, “Remember who you are whose you are”.
This is one of our basic yet most essential tasks as pastors.
Loving the Challenge,