Monday, November 19, 2007

Saying Yes, Saying No

Side conversations at the growth conference convinced me that growing churches have what I've heard called a "permission giving" culture. That is, if you have an idea that fits in the church's vision, and want to give leadership to that idea, it is very easy to get permission to do that, to learn what you need to know about room use, publicity, and church policy, and get going with it. In our case most of this is encoded in policy; any staff person can help someone start a new program. We do a lot of saying yes. It may be that a growing church just has to manage this way; there's no way the staff and cadre of old leaders can manage demand by themselves; we just have to loosen up and (within reason) trust the the impassioned to go with their energy.

I have to comment here that I have learned that I'm a very poor predictor of which of these programs will "fly," so it's a good thing I don't feel the need to be controlling. Who would have thought that the group going to work in New Orleans would raise $7,000 by making one appeal on a Sunday morning? Who would have thought that the group splitting off of the young adult group and calling themselves the (old)parents of young children would grow to the point of having 24 adults and 23 children at their meetings? Or that the little group of techies who wanted to video-tape the sermon to put up on Utube and public access TV would morph into our current video ministry which serves two branches, a third service on our site, videos on our website and a sermon subscription service to lay-lead congregations?

But to some programs one must say, "no." Sometimes the program doesn't fit in the church's vision, or would compete with our core programming for space or use too much staff time or...this is the hardest...needs skilled or professional leadership to keep participants safe. There are any number of other times a minister has to just say no. It's one of the hard parts of the job. We started talking about this as the "fierce shepherd" role...the leader who loves the's people and its vision...enough to keep them on track.

Someone advanced the theory...and I think it's a good one, that the minister of a growing church must be such a fierce shepherd, and shepherds who won't do this spend all their energy chasing troubled and troubling sheep around. Some ministers have to learn to step up to this role, others have to learn to codify it with policy and share it with other leaders. But it's gotta be done.

We also commented that female leaders pay a much greater price than male leaders for stepping into this role; even UU's want their female ministers to be tender mommies not fierce shepherds. We wondered if one reason fewer women seem to apply for senior ministry positions in larger churches is that by the time they are experienced enough to think of serving a large church, they've been beaten down by the unequal price of saying "no."

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