For the next few blog posts I’ll be talking about some things I learned from a recent reading of the book, Back From the Dead: the Book of Congregational Growth, by Gerald Keucher. Keucher is an Episcopal priest who has had some experience during his career of turning around parishes that are large in their physical plants but have declined to unsustainable membership and attendance numbers.
Hmmm, this is beginning to sound strangely familiar.
Keucher has some very interesting ideas about money in the church, specifically budgets and endowments, in chapters six and seven of this book. If you are one of those who loves to think about such things, I definitely recommend taking a look at what Keucher has to say. I don’t agree with his position on everything, but if you take a look at his ideas I’d love to hear what you think.
However, for the next few blog posts I’d like to comment on a list of personal qualities he recommends for those in leadership of turnaround churches.
First, with the state of the church in society these days, I think any pastoral leader who is not thinking about the future is foolish. In a way, all of us who lead churches are in “turnaround” situations; we have to think strategically about positioning the church—whatever form it will take—for the future.
Second, one of Keucher’s main points in the book is his position that successful change in a parish is directly related to leadership. That is, if a church thrives it’s because of good leadership. If a church fails…well, you know.
Again, I am not so sure I agree with everything Keucher has to say. But if we go with his hypothesis that effective leaders are critical for the successful life of a church, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the qualities he identifies as essential for excellent pastoral leadership. Today’s quality: make all relationships two-way.
Basically, what Keucher means by this is that successful pastoral leaders practice mutual accountability with their congregation members. Make yourself approachable, Keucher says, so that those you lead can tell you the truth. He says, “I believe that rank and recognition do not matter in any church situation, but especially in a turnaround situation you will simply sabotage any chance of success if you continue to play the normal games that result from thinking it’s all about you. It’s not about you.”
Keucher goes on to say that churches in turnaround situations have probably gotten there as a result of poor leadership, so pastors should expect distrust. The only way to rebuild trust? Mutually accountable relationships.
Here are some tips Keucher includes:
- Only use titles mutually. That is, if people call you Rev., call them Mr. If you want to call a parishioner by her first name, insist that she call you by yours.
- Insist on paying your own way. Don’t take free stuff. Stand in the buffet line like everyone else. Don’t demand to be served (Duh!).
- Don’t ask anyone to do anything you are unwilling to do. Make sure people know you are willing to get your hands dirty.
- Being right is less important than building trust, so choose your battles carefully.
- Don’t get defensive! Understand that most of the time criticism comes from a sick system; it’s not personal. Acting out of defensiveness is always a mistake.
- Watch for signs of entitlement in yourself and stop them as soon as you see them.
- Never ask a parishioner to leave the church.
Keucher ends this section by declaring that leadership without this kind of mutual accountability cannot be effective. Those are very strong words, all of them, and I am not sure I completely agree with everything Keucher says here. (I can imagine situations in which congregation members need to be invited to find another place to worship, you know what I mean?)
But I do believe in mutual accountability as a quality in a community of Christ, so I’m willing to hear what he has to say and try as hard as my limited vision will allow to see where I need to make changes in my own parish relationships.