Thursday, July 19, 2012

Grace and Leadership

Yesterday I wrote about the Episcopacy Committee's decision to place Bishop Earl Bledsoe on involuntary retirement, effectively firing him from his position, although with this decision he will still remain a bishop, just not active.  There have been lots of comments expressed throughout the process, including by the Rev. Zan Holmes, who wondered where the grace was, or how someone who the committee says has "spiritual graces" could also be accused of being a poor administrator.

It is comments like this which make me reaffirm my belief that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of spiritual graces.  People can clearly be blessed by God with lots of things, and not have leadership or administration as two of them.  I think we also believe that being a good administrator also makes you a good leader, and nothing could be further from the truth there either.

I believe that a significant portion of our problem, and I can only speak for the UMC here, is that we have a "one call fits all" philosophy.  If you are called to ministry then you are called to do all things, including, possibly, being a bishop, when nothing could be further from the truth.  I firmly believe that some people are called to be in ministry to small churches and some to large churches and some to everything, and yet we don't think that way.

There is an inherent belief, and one I must admit that I have harbored, that if after being in ministry for 20 years if you are not serving a larger congregation then there must be something wrong with you that you haven't "climbed the ladder."  Instead we should give thanks that they have found their calling and are successful in what they do in making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  (Of course what success is is currently being debated.)

I think one of the reason the church is doing so badly is because of this belief.  Rather than truly studying people's calls, and making them truly understand them, we simply run them through the system ready to place them wherever.  The only exception to this is if you should possibly say that you might be being called to ministry outside the local church, heaven forbid, in which case you will then spend an inordinate amount of time justifying your call to be in ordained ministry, since that paradigm simply does not fit the model the church operates in.

You can be a wonderful local pastor, but be a terrible DS or Bishop.  Those two things do not lead into each other.  The private sector has the same problem in that they assume if someone is fantastic at what they do that they will be even better in the next position up.  Sometimes that's true, but often it's not.  As the Peter Principle says people are raised to the level of their incompetence because they are promoted beyond the level where they can truly excel.

It is entirely possible, and indeed likely, that Bishop Bledsoe does have remarkable spiritual gifts and that he is a terrible leader and administrator because those things are not the same.  He might have even been a gifted DS, which is normally the stepping stone, and still be a terrible bishop.  Those two offices require very different gifts and graces from each other, and yet we often get them confused and believe they are the same thing.

In my brief time in the church I have served under one Bishop whom I thought was truly a gifted leader and administrator, and unfortunately he is retiring, but all the others have been terrible leaders.  Some were good administrators, but to turn things around the church does not need good administrators, as important as they are, we need good leaders.

All this makes me really wonder about the vetting process for bishops.  I honestly don't know how the full process works but do know that candidates come to the jurisdictional conferences with various endorsements, but I would really expect that the annual conference they are coming from would endorse them but the question is does that mean anything?  Most people who have served on the Board of Ordination, or even more on the district committee on ordination, will tell you that they receive candidates all the time who have been endorsed by their local congregation who clearly are not cut out for the ministry, or at least not the path they are seeking.

I met several people in seminary who I clearly questioned how they could ever function in the local church.  Some of them made it out, most didn't, but all of them were supported by the local church.  All of them were endorsed as candidates by their churches not because people necessarily believed that they would be good but because they loved them and sometimes they don't want to be the ones to tell them no and sometimes because they are blind to the gifts and graces needed for ministry and think that if someone says they are called that must be it.

How much do we really know about our clergy colleagues and what goes on in their churches? Next to nothing really.  Unless we have immediately followed someone it's just too hard to know, but we do get to know them outside of that and get feelings about who we like and who we don't, who we think will be a good leader and who we don't, but does that actually mean those things are true?

Again, just because you are an incredible minister in the local church, even leading one of the biggest, does not mean you will be a good leader or administrator higher up. It doesn't even really mean that you are a good administrator or leader where you are, and I can say that from personal experience.  I think Adam Hamilton is incredibly gifted as the minister of the church he serves, but would he be a good Bishop?  I really wonder.

If the church is going to change to move into the future, I think we need to fundamentally rethink what the bishops do, how they operate, who they are and how they are chosen.  It is time for us to fundamentally understand that having a call to ministry, having spiritual graces, does not mean that therefore you will be a good administrator or leader and we can't simply fall back and say that we will pray that God will give them the gifts necessary.

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