Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some Things UU'ism can do for Growth

By UU'ism, I mean the system within which we exist, of which the UUA is one part. I mean UUA staff, UU Ministers and other professionals like musicians and RE directors, church leaders, and all the ways we all "just know" to do things.

There are some things that no one person or church can do on its own, and one is to create a culture in which staff can work productively together. When we fancied ourselves a denomination of small, lay-lead, one-minister, one-employee churches, we did have an employment culture; a culture that expected that committees of lay people would provide support and if necessary, supervision to employees and ministers. That had its inefficiencies and injustices, but one of the truly painful and conflict-producing consequences of growth was that once you have more than a couple of employees or have grown to need more than one minister, none of that works any more and the loudest voices clamor for impossible structures and a lot of free-for-all and unsupervised staff. That culture makes growth really, really hard, it makes excellence impossible, it makes working on a staff really hard, and it makes being responsible for the work of a staff impossible. So if I could wave my magic wand on the ministerial side of things:

1. I'd insist that every minister have basic Human Resources training. A minister needs to know how to hire, train, coach, manage, discipline, and fire people. Ideally this training would be offered by theological schools or the UUA because all these tasks are somewhat different in the small staff/church environments that we work in. This is particularly tricky when two ordained staff are working together and even more tricky when both ministers are called by the congregation, which vastly complicates their relationship.

2. I'd make serving on a staff a respectable option for ministers. Assistant and Associate positions and part-time program specialties are absolutely vital for churches of over 500 members. Right now, UU ministers are encouraged from several sources to think that these positions are not very respectable and that a "real" minister has his or her "own" church. The UUMA guidelines need to be changed on this point, and I hear that they are.

3. I'd create a group for ministers serving on staffs and assist with funding a yearly retreat for them, and I'd think of them when doing things like putting together groups of ministers to talk about growth. The Associate and Assistant ministers know things the Senior ministers don't know about growth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that #1 and #2 are very much related. As an experienced minister who was recently in search and would have enjoyed a good associate type position in a large church rather than being the only minister in a mid-sized church I have to say that most of the assistant and associate positions paid poorly and didn't seem to be designed to be interesting and attractive.

What do I mean? Some seemed to consist of the kinds of tasks that the majority of ministers don't enjoy as if the lead minister were getting rid of the tasks he or she would rather not do or which might make him unpopular. Some seemed not to offer opportunities to connect with the congregation or to excercise creativity.

One of the possible attractions of a staff position at a large church would be the opportunity to collaborate with other talented professionals, but few of the online ads for the associate - assistant positions suggested this is a working environment ---- and we all have heard more horror stories about associates, MREs and assistants having unsuccessful working relationships with a lead or senior minister than we have heard stories of wonderful collaborations. I don't know if that reflects realities. Did your group have stories of really successful collaborations between UU clergy? Telling those more often might help everyone.