What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-26-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-26-21

“To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself” is the title of a 2019 Harvard Business Review article that caught my attention this week. This concept is the foundation of my approach to ministry for the past 25 years. It is the bedrock on which family systems theory is built. Family systems theory, first developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen and adapted for congregations by Rabbi Ed Friedman, has had a huge influence on generations of clergy. This includes my counterpart in the First Church/South Church consolidation effort, Rev. Denny Moon, and our consolidation coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg. I encourage you to check out the short article both for your own personal edification and as a springboard for conversation as First Church and South Church move into our next stage of work together.

GUCCI, the steering team for the First Church and South Church consolidation effort, is organizing work groups to lead the next stage of our work. The work groups are: 1) “Getting to Know Each Other,” 2) “Nuts and Bolts,” 3) “Properties and Memorial Gardens,” 4) “Staffing, Technology, and Communications,” 5) “History,” and 6) “Program.” 

Considerable thought is being put into the size and composition of these work groups as well as how to build a culture of healthy communication in the work groups so that our time together is productive and to build a healthy foundation for a future congregation.

Which brings me back to the Harvard Business Review article. The author recommends teams master three “foundational capabilities” to improve their functioning: “internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, and personal accountability.”

Internal self-awareness involves understanding your feelings, beliefs, and values — your inner narrative.” The article goes on to give examples of how increasing internal self-awareness affects interactions. For more details on building self-awareness see this HBR article. I have found maintaining a daily meditation practice key to building self-awareness. Coaching and therapy are also incredibly effective modalties for increasing this “foundational capability.”

“External self-awareness involves understanding how our words and actions impact others.” How do we understand how our words and actions impact others? Ask! I have observed the most effective leaders, including Claire, pause a meeting to ask about body language: “You just scrunched up your face. What was happening in you then?” Or repeating what was said and asking, “Did I get that right?” Or “Are you getting what you need out of this conversation?” It can feel risky to ask for feedback, but all of the best leaders do it.

As for accountability: “When we think of accountability, we typically think of holding others accountable. But the most effective leaders and teammates are more focused on holding themselves accountable.”

Years ago I was meeting with a group of church leaders. We were trying to revitalize a dying downtown congregation that had once been the largest in the state. The team had been attempting to engage the wider congregation in the turnaround effort with little success. The meeting devolved into a complaint session about how we had a congregation of freeloaders who needed an attitude adjustment. By some miracle the conversation shifted to looking at our own attitudes and behaviors as leaders. Finally the light bulb went on and the team leader said with conviction: “Nothing will change until we change.” Long story short: after seven years of hard effort, the congregation was completely transformed. Moral of the story: “If you want to improve your team, first work on yourself.” 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd? 5-29-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-29-20

This past Memorial Day, my family and I traveled to my brother-in-law’s house nearby for what one of my friends joking calls a “get apart.” (You know, a physically distanced “get together.”) 

Our conversation covered a broad range of topics–as it usually does–including our common situation of global pandemic. My brother-in-law, who works as a federal prosecutor, noted that New Zealand and some European countries (like Germany) were able to much more effectively contain the virus because, in his opinion, in general their citizens have much more trust in their federal governments than, for example, the U.S. does.

While trust is only one factor affecting a government’s coronavirus response, it reminds me how critical trust is to human flourishing. In many cases, it is literally a matter of life and death. 

Trust is also a critical factor in congregational life. One of the foundational tasks of transitional ministry is building and maintaining trust among congregation members and between congregation and leadership. Steven Covey in his book The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness writes about “the speed of trust.” High trust levels in organizations allows them to move quickly to adapt and address problems. If we had higher trust levels in the U.S., would we have been able to move more quickly to prevent infections and deaths? It is a sobering question. This is a critical question for maintaining our national health. It also illustrates why high trust levels are so important to congregational health.

How does one build trust in a congregation? Three tasks: competence, compassion, common mission. Competence: leadership has to prove to the congregation that they can do the job in a consistently competent fashion. Show up for meetings, do your homework, strive for excellence. If you don’t know something, get training or ask for help. Compassion: people have to know that you have their best interest at heart. You need to demonstrate that you see your role as promoting the health and well-being of the congregation as a whole, not your personal needs for power and control. Common mission: this is illustrated by a Scripture text for this coming Sunday–Pentecost Sunday.

The Old Testament reading is from Numbers 11:24-30. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro tells Moses that he can’t lead God’s people on his own. Jethro recommends Moses appoint 70 “elders” to share the leadership burden. Moses follows his father-in-law’s advice. Moses gathers the 70 elders around the tent that served as the holy space for the people as they may their wilderness journey. God’s spirit “rested upon [the elders] and they prophesied.” 

Here’s the part I love: a couple of the elders didn’t make it to the tent for the ceremony. For some reason they had stayed in the main camp with the rest of the 600,000 or so Israelites. Nevertheless, God’s spirit had gone out to them as well causing them to prophesy among the people in the camp even though they hadn’t gone through the formal authorization the others had. Joshua, Moses’ right hand man, said, “Moses, stop them!” Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” 

Moses was clear about his role as leader among the Israelites. It wasn’t about him, his status, his ego, his power. His role was to work with God to create circumstances in which God’s people could flourish. His job wasn’t to control the process but to bless, notice, and name God’s spirit wherever and however it shows up.

Worship Resource Lent 4A, 3-22-20 based on 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Opening Prayer                                                                                      

God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, we are not alone. Though we may find ourselves in a trackless and frightening wilderness you provide the necessary resources to see us through. You raise up leadership from unexpected places. Give us the courage to lead and the willingness to follow. You show us the way to get through this. The way we get through this is together. Amen.