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 3-20-20

“The Daily” episode 18 March 2020

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-20-20

It’s a bit of a risk writing a piece scheduled to publish two days from now. A lot could change and likely will change in the intervening hours.

This morning I listened to the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” which I find helpful because the host, Michael Barbaro, usually takes one current issue and goes a bit more in depth than most news broadcasts.

Today’s podcast was an interview with New York governor Andrew Cuomo on his state’s response to coronavirus. I appreciated Governor Cuomo’s frank and honest assessment of the situation in his state and the clear actions New York is taking to “flatten the curve,” that is, slow the spread of the virus so that the healthcare system isn’t overhwhelmed, which will increase the chance that deaths can be minimized.

At the end of the interview Governor Cuomo made a direct appeal to everyone in his state to set their desires and self-interest aside for the good of the whole. He particularly appealed to those whose risk of serious health consequences from the virus is low to nevertheless observe social distancing protocols. He recognized that for many the closing of bars and businesses would have serious economic consequences but that in this case, saving lives comes first. As long as we have our lives, Governor Cuomo argued, we have an opportunity to figure out together how we will get through the economic consequences of this crisis.

I find myself strangely moved by the interview. I think the reason is that it reflects my values and my understanding of Christian values. You personally may not like Governor Cuomo. You may disagree with his policies and political positions on other important issues. The point of this piece is not to argue politics. The point is that the rhetoric of caring for one’s neighbor–”loving one’s neighbor as oneself”–as the Bible puts it, has been so absent from our politics for so long. I found it deeply moving to hear a politician calling for that kind of moral action.

The Old Testament Scripture for the fourth week in Lent is 1 Samuel 16:1-13. It tells the story of how God sent the prophet Samuel to find a new king for Israel. The new king didn’t come from the ruling class. He wasn’t rich, famous, or endowed with other conventional qualifications for the job (except, perhaps, that he was male, which is another “What’s Up” for another time). That future king, who was named David, turned out to be the greatest king of ancient Israel and the ancestor of the one Christians would come to recognize as Savior of the World, namely, Jesus.

The message of Scripture is that God raises up leaders from unexpected places in times of crisis. Our world is now in a time of crisis. Our politicians are calling for moral leadership. Now is our time as a church–one that professes to follow Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself”–to provide moral leadership for our town and the wider world.