Friday, August 28, 2009


There you go, digging at the sore spots.

What I’m referring to is the polar opposites within non-profit leadership. On the one side we find the negative . . . the part that creeps in when you are depressed and can’t seem to meet fundraising goals. You begin to wonder if it isn’t all about money. You ask, “when did I ever decide to be a fundraiser anyway?” and “Am I starting to be friendlier to people with money than without?” and “Am I just trying to raise money for me?”

At the other end, the good side, the realization the board hired you for leadership. To my way of thinking denomination staff is supposed to give leadership, just as local church staff is supposed to give leadership.

The church is better when we realize our leadership roles. When we realize it’s not about getting people to pay for what we want to do. Instead it’s about helping cast a vision that can mobilize a congregation or constituency to serve and give for the greater good.

I have a problem with your contention that a church defines mission more than the denomination. If you mean that the local church’s definition is arrived at after all the various influences of leadership have taken place, maybe. How did I become who I am? It was going to church when I was in college and hearing Roger Fredrikson preach me right out of my comfort zone. But it went beyond the local church. It was going to an NM conference on Laity when I was still in a secular job. I heard William Stringfellow challenge me to see my ministry where I was. It was a call to a new way of thinking and a new responsibility. And a few years later, attending another conference and hearing William Sloan Coffin jar my thinking again. I began to see the world differently.

Denomination staff should be helpful AND pushy and challenging. But they must be challenged themselves to excellence in leadership, which includes a balance of listening and leading. And this is hard. We don’t spend nearly enough time listening to the full breadth of the family. Maybe we don’t even know how. When the denomination (or a local church) believes leadership’s vision is the only vision, or their understanding of the church is superior to that of the pew sitter, they begin to lose their punch.

No single part of the family should be the sole determiner of mission. If they are, the risk of limited vision is high. Look at the churches that have decided to go it alone. Pretty soon the good ones begin to connect with new or old networks that push and challenge them. Whether we work at the national level, at the region, or at the local, we need folks with different perspectives.

Denominational leaders must be individuals who love the people and the churches and humbly understand that each day must have listening time in it. And the same is true of local church pastors and leaders.

At some time we may want to talk about what makes churches, regions and national organizations search out the best leaders they can find and then proceed to slowly tear them apart.

We have, at times, tried denomination-wide listening. SEEK IT is one example. But we may have been so driven to complete a process (driven by ourselves and others) that we didn’t spend enough time living-in-the-learning. Perhaps we should return to looking at the material from that process. Or, find a way to continue it.