So, in a sign of perhaps something but probably little, there is no option for clergy/religious in the list of occupations when one registers for Foreign Policy magazine. This is also the case when one subscribes online to The Economist.
It was a puzzling time figuring out where one properly falls when your “industry” is not recognized. I have written on the “productivity” of clergy before but this was a different experience.
I was struck not by the fact that religious leadership was not one recognized alongside these other fields but by how much of each of these other fields a clergy person must know something of to get by in their work.
Here is a list of those fields offered by Foreign Policy in which a clergy person must be at least somewhat conversant in order to get his or her work done:
- Data Processing
- Health Care
- Insurance/Property Management
- Internet/Online Services
- Legal Services
- Non-Profit/Trade Association
This also struck me as the background noise of my social media experience right now is the unsettling news coming out of General Seminary. A solid portion of the faculty there have chosen, after many attempts to use other means, to essentially go on strike until they are able to meet with the Board of the Seminary to discuss grievances. Their action has been dismissed by some as evidence of their inability to deal with change.
From my personal experience of the faculty there, I can only say that I have often found them to be more than eager to engage the changing realities of the Church.
Yet, my thoughts are not about the situation in particular but in the difficulty of forming leaders for the Church in general. A friend of mine commenting on Facebook about the Task Force for Re-Imagining the Church (TREC) wrote, “I remain convinced that the big answer is painfully simple: real leaders in every parish.”
It is painfully simple yet a profound challenge to recruit, train, deploy, sustain, and retain these kinds of real leaders. When you look at the list above it is no wonder that so many clergy experience burnout, depression, and more.
How can we be leaders who do not model the great American addictions – doing more, looking busier, and being highly stressed – but a kind of centered, authentic leadership that rests not on our capacity to masterfully handle everything but to prayerfully hold the center. This is less about equipping or training than it is about nurturing and feeding.
A leadership whose place is found not at the head of a board table but at an Altar is a fundamentally different thing than leadership in any other field.
A recent discussion about a parish’s dynamics had one of my very capable and thoughtful conversation partners talking about “bottom-up” leadership – leadership that resulted from knowing and heeding the will of those being led.
My response was simply that I thought the Church might benefit from center-out leadership models in which we know and remain centered on what is at the heart of our Christian ministry – a relationship with the Trinity whose essence is relationship. This can only happen when we remain fixed, as the Prayer Book says, on the one place “where true joys are to be found.”
There is lots of discussion about a failing church institution yet I think we are just about to run the course on that conversation. When I look around the Church and hear the incredible work being done by faithful congregations and leaders, I am immensely hope-filled. Sure, there are challenges, but there always have been.
One of those challenges is to be leaders who model Christ-centeredness in our being.
Do our actions and way of leading reflect our words, bearing, and focus at the Altar and in the Pulpit? Can our congregations see in us an authentic proclamation by word and example that we have faith that this is God’s Church and not ours alone to carry? Are we welcoming others to the table and giving them a chance to lead with the same generosity that we welcome people to the Altar and Font?
Do we trust them to be the Body of Christ? Can we, as leaders, celebrate and share in true Communion with Christ?
As my friend says, real leaders in every parish is a painfully simple answer – yet it is a true one. We need real leaders who are willing to give away a large amount of their “authority” for the sake of the Gospel. We need real leaders who are content to know that they do not know everything but are faithful in their pursuit of the one thing we must pursue – a deep and abiding trust in the presence and power of God all around us.
This is a leadership all about trust. Trust in God. Trust in our parishioners. Trust in our colleagues. Trust in ourselves. Trust that the Church, fumbling as it so often is, moves on through and despite us.