Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Multi-Minister Staffs and the Lone Ranger

There's a lot of pain in our ministry about the issues of multi-minister staffs. We're a denomination of small churches, and most ministers never experience this situation, and the ones who do are in a spotlight. This is not something we've done well as UU's, and this is an impediment to our growth. We're going to stay a denomination of small churches unless we can figure out appropriate, workable structures and mindsets for two ministers to work together. So here is my morning's thought on this subject.

If you've never tried to work with another minister on a staff, let me tell's a learning curve, a spiritual discipline, and a Damed Growth Experience all wrapped up in of those ministerial tasks that nobody in their right mind would try unless they were deeply called to a specialized ministry or the church they served couldn't progress any other way. (A different sort of call.) Worse than a building program. Worse than a Sexual Offender, just to name two ministerial experiences that more of us are familiar with.

Whether you talk to people who have served as Senior ministers in such pairs or Associate/Assistant ministers, you scratch the surface and find pain and blame. Sometimes it seems as if our conversation assumes that anybody ought to be able to step into these roles and if things don't instantly go well, they just have bad intentions or a character disorder. A little charity for those who have chosen or found themselves in this very tough learning curve is in order, I think, especially from those who have not stood in those shoes.

All of us learned to be lone rangers in ministry. Even if we've been lone rangers with lots of volunteer rangers, part time rangers, or even a few sheriffs to work with, we have a major shift if we find ourselves one of Two Rangers Working Together, especially when the situation calls for (and in my opinion most of them should) one of the two to have some authority over the other.

Onlookers to these rather public relationships cluck and shake their heads when they don't work out well. (Most of them probably do work out well, often for many years, but we don't hear so much about those.) Mostly they cluck at the senior ministers who are accused of being jealous, protective of their place in the congregational sun, and unwilling to share the perks of ministry. There is, of course, another side of the story, which is the story of Associate/Assistant ministers who couldn't learn to work on a team, couldn't take direction, couldn't NOT be in the spotlight and generally continued to be Lone Rangers when the situation called for working with someone else.

Most UU Ministers, I think, wouldn't want to serve in multi-minister situations. We like being in charge...and whether you serve as a Senior or Associate/Assistant, you give up a good deal of 'being in charge.' For those called to serve in churches which are just too big for one minister and those called to specialized ministries...we just gotta work this out.


Bill Baar said...

Well if our ministers can't resovle conflicts, so much for UU Peace Keeping efforts.

We've had a senior and associate and as far as I can tell they work together just fine... maybe we're just lucky.

Elizabeth J. Barrett said...

It is so important for senior ministers, associates and ministers of lifespan faith development to be able to work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Too often, a minister with a huge ego and lack of respect for others ruins what could have been a good working relationship. Ministers who cannot "play well with others" seem petty and immature to me.

Scott Gerard Prinster said...

I was fortunate to have worked in a very well-functioning team of a senior minister and two associate ministers. Part of the success, I think, was that the three of us had created an explicit covenant among ourselves and shared that covenant openly with the congregation. It probably also helped that I didn't crave to be in the hotseat, having already done that as the only minister of a smaller congregation. I've heard from some "second ministers" how disposable they are considered, and you're right about how much pain there is, feeling that they're at the mercy of a colleague's whim. So much of our training, though, really assumes that we're not sharing the ministry with any other professional ministers... perhaps it's not surprising that this doesn't come naturally to many team ministries.