The United Methodist denomination is the latest to make the news regarding its efforts to address the clergy effectiveness debate.
First, they decided to do away with guaranteed appointments, then decided to continue the practice. Their ambivalence simply indicates that this is a tough issue, embedded within a sophisticated denominational system.
Recently, I found myself in the middle of the clergy effectiveness conversation while presenting at the Bishop’s School of Ministry in South Carolina. The topic was just that – clergy effectiveness – another indicator that denominations are giving considered attention to this concern.
Early in my work in training clergy for effective leadership, I discovered the effectiveness debate has been around a while.
I distinctly remember a conversation with Dave Odom, who was the president of the Center for Congregational Health at the time:
“Dave, just what are the standardized leadership competencies of effective clergy? Is there an agreed on list somewhere I could see?”
He snickered and wisely responded, “Mark, welcome to the clergy leadership effectiveness debate.”
Given the complexity of congregational life, the changing relationship with the church in America, the diversity in contexts of congregations, and the wide variety of personality types among clergy, it’s no wonder a comprehensive and exhaustive clergy competency list has not arisen.
So where do we go from here? Since leadership in congregations is an extremely relevant issue, how do we make progress on it?
First, considering the images of pastoral leadership is informative. During the 1950s-1980s, the Protestant church in America enjoyed a rather stable and prosperous run. Culture was largely accepting, even supportive, of Protestantism.
People participated in church with a variety of motivations, some more noble than others.
Culture and society generally smiled upon church participation. In this milieu (the tail-end of the modern period), three clergy images flourished.
â— The statesman-pastor was the paragon of stability, building systems in the congregation while enjoying status as a community leader.
â— The entrepreneur-pastor often served as a new church developer or brought renewal to existing congregations. This pastor led through innovation and creativity, with an ability to attract others to something new.
â— The chaplain-pastor led through relationship building, almost becoming a member of the family. This pastor specialized in walking with people through the vicissitudes of their lives.
Each of these three images was useful and helpful in its cultural time period, but anyone involved in congregational life (professional or laity) knows that church is different now. More specifically, the place of church in society is different now.
The church has moved more to the periphery, not occupying its previous place at the center of community life.
Our stutter-steps into this postmodern period bring discontinuous change and constant transition to congregations.
What kind of pastoral leadership is effective now?
I’ve been playing with a new pastoral image that I believe may capture some of what’s needed: faith community change agent.
I will save my list of competencies for another time, yet I see this pastoral leadership image synthesizing competencies from other professions into the role of pastor.
The primary calling of faith community change agents is to help congregations move through their transition to missional effectiveness in their postmodern context.
Community organizer, group therapist, leadership coach, networker extraordinaire, social scientist. These are a few of the images that roll into faith community change agent.
Now that we have a new image for clergy that is more context-specific and relevant we can begin to consider clergy effectiveness.
I’m eager to continue the conversation with those who are invested in helping clergy live out their callings as fully and effectively as possible.
I’m eager to watch the missional outcomes as faithful faith community change agents find their voices in pastoral leadership.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.