During a conversation with a cohort of working pastors this week, we posed the following question:
What makes it hard for you to go deeper with your leadership circle? What stands in the way of ‘digging a deeper well’ with these crucial leaders?
What we heard in response:
My leaders are defending a lot of long-standing opinions. It is hard for them to question those opinions.
There is a lot of anxiety about change—and the sense that a deeper conversation will usher in that change.
Even in discussing scripture, my leaders struggle with saying anything at all, for fear of not being knowledgeable, not having the language.
They don’t want to go deeper – they don’t want to give up their comfort.
Going deeper might lead to confronting inadequacies in things they themselves have done. It could raise questions of responsibility.
They ground every discussion in a nostalgic, whitewashed version of the past that simplifies reality and rejects complexity.
They say, this is not something the community needs to wrestle with—rather, this is X person’s fault or failure.
There is a lack of trust, based on recent history of sexual misconduct by senior staff. It is hard to rebuild that trust without in-person meetings.
They want to stay on the surface. There is a vulnerability in being true to who we are with one another, and they don’t want to be vulnerable.
They say, “Reflection is the pastor’s job! If we (the board) try to go deep, who will get the administrative work done?”
We wonder which of these obstacles sounds familiar in your setting. Have you been able to move through them to help your board dig a deeper well?
Of course, there is no magic wand for removing obstacles to your board’s willingness to go deeper, but identifying the nature of the resistance – and putting it on the table with the board – may help your leaders come to terms with some of their own anxiety, fear, or uncertainty over why regular reflective discussion is important.
The most hopeful part of this conversation with the cohort was the follow-up question we asked:
In your ministry, what are you most uncertain of — and what are you most certain of?
Uncertainties abounded! How are we going to come out of this pandemic? Can we weather the change that is coming? Will we survive it? What will the future look like? What will the church look like, and what will be my role with it?
But one certainty abounded too, and on this, there was remarkable cohesion and accord:
God is still at work in the world. God’s work is not finished.
In uncertain times, when it is often challenging to go deeper with our boards and our congregations, this seems like a firm foundation … and the best place to start the conversation about all the rest.
What are the sources of resistance on your own board to a deeper level of conversation about the work and future of the church?
What would happen if you named that resistance to your board and talked about it with them?
What are you as a board uncertain about?
What are you certain about?