A proposal for church leader development

I’ve been reading Jay Voorhees’ excellent notes from his discussion with a table of others at the Tennessee Conference’s Leadership Summit event. In the third installment, he wrote about the discussion at his table around the question of what the conference could do to foster positive movement at local churches.

Among other things, Jay wrote this:

Although the group didn’t mention this, I also believe that within the Tennessee Annual Conference we need to direct resources toward having a staff member solely focused on leadership development, working with pastors and congregations to develop the means and vision to lead toward transformation.

The delivery of such training is a huge challenge. In my former district, the DS took the lead in organizing training events – with conference involvement I’m sure – to help respond to key needs for laity and clergy development. But I gather – this is my observation and not based on any conversations with those who know – that the events are often received at the local church level (particularly by the laity) as chores to do or be avoided.

Everyone says they want training and development, but not many people actually take to it with gusto when it is offered.

I wonder if the solution is not to make it more democratic but to make it more exclusive. What if conferences developed “special” developmental opportunities for “key” leaders. The training would be set up more like intensive college courses rather than drop-in afternoon workshops with lunch served. In other words, the effort would be to create valuable learning experiences but only for those who really want them. Indeed, you would intentionally offer less that demand to create a waiting list.

This would hold down costs and increase the perception that this is not some onerous conference training expectation, but rather special opportunity for those who really want it.

Yes, this would leave those who don’t want to grow and develop to flounder. But they are going to do that anyway. Motivation is one of the key determinants of learning. Rounding up clergy and laity and forcing them through a workshop they don’t want to be part of does not do much good.

5 thoughts on “A proposal for church leader development

  1. In our PNW Conference we saw this need and created a Leadership Development office with two full-time staff, in addition to a Bishop’s taskforce on leadership development where we’ve had conversations on discipleship, resourcing, training calendars and more. It’s been great to see the work and excitemt around this area.

  2. Part of what I am looking for has less to do with clergy development and more to do with helping congregational leaders address with honesty the state of their congregations and begin to recognize that spiritual leadership must be at the forefront of any moves toward renewal and vitality. While the pastor can and should be doing this, there are moments when the pastor’s voice is marginalized because he or she is always present. Sometimes our folks need to hear outside voices calling us to faithfulness, and providing the training needed to enhance effectiveness.

    I agree with the notion of more specialized training, perhaps limiting participation to those who are willing to invest more time and energy into the process. What I experience more often than not is that our trainings are usually created to address specific connectional needs (diversity sensitivity, mentor training, etc.) and very little is offered related to specific aspects of ministry. More importantly, most of these short-term trainings have very little peer interaction, as if we are afraid to share with one another our weaknesses and struggles.

    In seminary, the best preaching class I took was African American Preaching with Teresa Fry Brown. Why? Because almost every day she walked in and made folks choose a scripture, from which they had 10 minutes to prepare a 3 minute extemporaneous sermon to preach to the rest of the class. Beyond the wonderful training in doing theological reflection on one’s feet, it also offered an opportunity for peers to offer critique and suggestions in a safe space, based in the knowledge that we were all going through the experience together.

    One other thought. How about each annual conference having a staff spiritual director available to help clergy and other leaders with specific aspects of their prayer and spiritual lives?

    Great thoughts. Now why again did you leave pastoral ministry?

    1. Tony, I was no conscious of thinking of that e-mail when I wrote this, but it does have some similar elements to it.

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