Thursday, June 28, 2012

Second Chair Leader Articles

Pastor of Everything Else

Dr. Steve Brown, President of Arrow Leadership Canada, recently published two excellent blogs on second chair leadership -- "4 Insights for Second Chair Leaders" and "6 Best Practices for Second Chair Leaders"

Especially helpful to me were insights that 1) there are factors in decision making that we may not fully understand. As a result, we may not  always agree with the senior pastor, but we must remember we don't have the fuller picture.

And 2) that second chair leaders ask "guiding questions" instead of taking strongly opinionated stands:  "Seeking to invite discussion is far better than sparking a defensive posture or miscommunication."

Excellent stuff and great insights. I know Steve from my time in Arrow (Canadian Class '05), when he was in the second chair position.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Stuck in the Middle of Church Conflict

Pastor of Everything Else
Stuck in the Middle of Church Conflict

“You have to tell the pastor he needs to repent!”

With tears in her eyes and trembling voice, a woman pulled me aside after the morning service to tell me the pastor was wrong. Trouble had been brewing ever since the church business meeting and she was the latest to express her opinion to me. The congregation had voted to discontinue the evening worship service and even though the vote was not close, some were disgruntled and blamed the pastor.

I was a student pastor at the time, but it seemed to me that people were drawing up sides for a church fight, counting who was for and who was against. This was my first encounter with being in the middle of a conflict between the pastor and members of the congregation. I wish I could say it as my last. Here are some of the principles which have helped me.

Peace, Not Pieces
We have been called to unity as believers. This was Jesus’ prayer in the garden (Jn 17:23) and Paul’s admonition to the churches (Rom 15:5; Eph 4:3). Our work as pastors is to continue our work until we all reach unity (Eph 4:13). Reading between the lines of these verses, conflict is a given in church life. Our goal, however, should always be to work for unity.

Don’t Lead That Charge
It is easy to get caught in the passion of a conflict – right vs. wrong, justice vs. injury, doctrine vs. heresy. More than a few associates have taken up the cause to correct some perceived point of conflict. It never goes well – secret meetings, veiled references, and whispered conversations only build frustration and lead to confrontation. Eventually things deteriorate until someone is fired or the congregation splits. Everyone feels justified, but no one wins. We can’t let ourselves be part of this.

Do Not Undermine the Senior Pastor
No matter how we feel about an issue, we cannot undermine the efforts of the senior pastor. Not only is this insubordination, it creates tension in the congregation. This should be a simple concept, but surprisingly not always followed.

Use Active Listening Techniques
Someone once said to me,  “The senior pastor has got to go.” I was so stunned by his comment all I could think to say was, “Why do you feel this way?” It was the right response. Active listening is simply following up by summarizing. It helps them know they have been heard, but does not commit me to giving an opinion. I use this time to assess whether the issue is really the senior pastor or something else.

Refer to the Senior Pastor
“Have you talked about this with the pastor?” This is a scary proposition to many people, but necessary. The toughest answer is, “I did and he didn’t listen.”  At this point we encourage people to try again.

Broker Reconciliation Where Possible
A family was hurt when a member wasn’t visited by the pastor in the hospital. Despite his efforts to smooth things over, they would not meet with him or return his calls. I had a good relationship with the family and so the pastor asked me if I would speak with them about meeting to heal the rift. I did and they agreed. In the end things turned out well.

Definitely not a last resort. Pray during and after that God’s peace and unity will prevail.

Being in the middle is a crucial, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, spot. How we respond can help set a proper tone of reconciliation. Instead of encouraging people to draw up sides, we can help diffuse tension and provide a listening ear to people who are hurt or even angry. By being a team player, we prevent division.

June 4, 2012 Rev. Troy Dennis (BA, MDiv., MA, Arrow Leadership) is Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. Ordained in 1995, he served in associate, solo and senior pastor positions before coming back to associate ministry in 2008.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Don't Leave Your Garbage on the Pastor's Desk

Pastor of Everything Else
Don't Leave Your Garbage on the Senior Pastor’s Desk

As associate pastors, we need to be careful not to create messes for our senior pastors to clean up. Our pastors hope that we will advance the work of the church and relieve some of the work load. When we create messes they need to clean up, they must set aside their own tasks to smooth over hurt feelings or offended sensibilities. This creates extra work and strains relationships.

Steve was asked to speak at a regional youth event. During the Q&A following his talk, a youth asked him why older people in his church didn’t like the new music. Steve responded by saying that he shouldn’t worry about the old people since they would die in ten years anyway. By the next morning Steve’s pastor was taking calls and answering emails from upset youth leaders and parents.

Ben wanted the youth to become comfortable in the church’s worship service so he planned group games in the sanctuary. Unfortunately, a deacon walked through as the youth played beach ball volleyball over the pews. He and some parents were upset and called the pastor. Since Ben’s senior pastor didn’t know about his plans for games in the sanctuary, all he could do was promise to look into the matter. For the next several weeks they put out spot fires in the congregation over the incident, which came up again during the next Board meeting.

Its not that we intend to cause problems. Sometimes our best plans don’t work out the way we thought. Misunderstandings happen. Some good ideas aren’t. If we have enough good will stored up, we will survive the experience, but if good will is lacking people trust us less and suspect us more. If my pastor is looking over my shoulder more and giving me less responsibility, it may be because I am leaving garbage on his desk for him to clean up.

After learning a few times the hard way, I began to find people with good judgement who could help me. Or, rather, they began to suggest ways to help me and I noticed. One set of parents helped me decide whether to travel during inclement weather. If they suggested parents would be uncomfortable, I listened because I knew others felt the same way, even if I disagreed.

I have learned that it helps when I clean up my own messes. After the church furnace room was vandalized during a youth group meeting, that night I called the chairs of my Christian Ed and Property boards to report the damage. By the next morning I was able tell my pastor about the problem, why it happened, what we would do differently, and that the appropriate people were taking care of the clean-up. 

I have found that it helps to report problems sooner instead of later. When I avoid telling my pastor , I may make the problem worse, causing even more harm or loss of confidence. During a discipleship campaign, I was taking money for books and keeping it temporarily in an envelope in my desk. Following a worship service, I discovered the money was missing. I was nervous as I told our secretary first, and then the pastor. Despite the problem, it helped my pastor to know I would come to him as soon as possible with an issue.

I also discovered that when I report problems sooner that my senior pastor often has possible solutions. I was once able to recruit two additional middle school leaders because he knew that they were open to the possibility. He told me about them when I mentioned our need, and I followed up. I know that I can’t bring every little thing to him, but I have also learned not to try solving everything myself.

May 2, 2012 Rev. Troy Dennis (BA, MDiv., MA, Arrow Leadership) is Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. Ordained in 1995, he served in associate, solo and senior pastor positions before coming back to associate ministry in 2008.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Does He Do With His Time?

Pastor of Everything Else
But What Does He Do With His Time?

Everyone knows what senior pastors do because their role is so public: preaching, teaching, leading meetings, visiting in hospitals and homes, etc.

Not so for associate pastors. So much of what we do happens when influential members are not present - after school club, kids program, youth meeting, small group, planning, admin, etc. This is not entirely bad. It was a good thing no church leaders were around for that really messy game! It is easy for people to think that we are wasting their offering dollars because they do not see the ministries in which we are involved.

“What does he do with his time?” is often followed by,  “How long before he leaves?” Time audits are about as fun as root canals. “Open wide while we drill into the inner recesses of your life.” At least they give Novocain at the dentist’s office. There are things we can do to avoid this painful and tricky situation.

We need to tell people what we do. I used to think this drew too much attention to me and was selfish. What a stupid thing to think. The difference between shameless promotion and telling people what I do is motive. Am I out just to impress people? Improve my standing in their eyes? To get more money, or a better position? Then its probably kissing up. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

I used to think that if I just did my job well enough, people would notice. They would have to see it, wouldn’t they? It doesn’t work that way. Remember back in high school when we thought everyone was watching us, but it turned out they weren’t because they were afraid everyone was watching them? It's the same principle.

We must tell people what we do. Again, this is not about making ourselves look good, and here is how we make sure its not about us, but we still get word out. Make it about others. Tell the stories about what God is doing in these ministries. Talk about what the groups are doing, this week, next week, or some event in the future. Share the victories, and even the trials.

When someone asks how things are going, tell them about the things you are working on with your groups. “Its a good week - this week in youth we’re going to finally get small groups started and that’s been really rewarding.”  “The funnest thing happened at kids group last night...”  “One of our leaders led his first devotional last night and he did a great job.” 

We don’t always have to paint over the negative. “Its been a tough week because we lost one of our leaders and I’ve had to fill in on short notice,” is better than moping in silence. It is possible to communicate the negative by being positive: “Our kids leaders are doing an incredible job. We could use a lot more leaders, but they’re pulling together and we’ve even seen growth this year.”

We need to use every opportunity we get. And, we shouldn’t wait until we’re asked. Are there exciting things going on? We need to tell people. Are there troubles? We can share these appropriately. At the store when we run into church members, in meetings, at the office, while we’re out walking the dog.
Invite church leaders to attend meetings. Invite them generally and specifically. Let them know they can drop in, but they may or may not come, so also invite them specifically. Ask them to help serve snack or attend a special occasion. Ask the pastor to do a devotional once in a while.

Post group schedules in obvious places. It is surprising how many people are connected through social media and the internet, but paper still works, too.

Involve groups in worship and service. Use plays, skits, puppets, music. Take up the offering or hand out bulletins. Anything that puts the groups in the public eye.

Write reports. We need to tell people our vision, our plans, progress. If something changes which affects how we use our time, we need to tell people. Most people don’t care about the nitty gritty details, but they should know the big things, at least.

Finally, we can keep record of what we do. I used to get frustrated because I came to the end of the week and couldn’t tell if I had done anything productive. If I can’t see how I was productive, I can’t convince someone else. So now I keep a journal where I make quick notes along with the time I was involved. This could be electronic. Either way, I can look back and know how I used my time. It also helps me see patterns of how my time gets eaten so I can compensate accordingly.
Apr 16, 2012 Rev. Troy Dennis (BA, MDiv., MA, Arrow Leadership) is Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. Ordained in 1995, he served in associate, solo and senior pastor positions before coming back to associate ministry in 2008.

Monday, March 26, 2012

So You Think Your Pastor is a Jerk?

So You Think Your Pastor is a Jerk?
Over the years I’ve heard lots of interesting variations on this line, for reasons like these:
   - calls on your day off to ask questions which could be put off
   - changes plans suddenly
   - expresses unrealistic expectations about how quickly the youth ministry can grow
   - meddles and micromanages
   - appears insensitive to family difficulties
   - assigns large tasks at the last minute
   - doesn’t give enough time to plan special events

When these or other situations come up, it is tempting to think that the pastor is a jerk, or some other title which indicates our disgust and contempt.

For heaven’s sake, don’t say that thought out loud. It looks bad, its insubordinate, undermines the pastor, and says far more about us than it does the pastor. So what do we do?

We need to check our own hearts. I have met very few lousy senior pastors. Can some do better? Probably, but then again so can we. As soon as we have this thought, we need to stop and check the condition of our own hearts. Is the pastor really the problem, or is it me? Am I bothered about something else? Do I struggle with authority? Unforgiveness? Cynicism?

We must always take the high road of integrity and character. Just because people slight us we do not have permission to badmouth them. That’s petty and vindictive, and we must do better than that. 

We need to support our pastors, whether they are in the room or not. I once heard someone whining about his pastor in great detail. He capped it with this little nugget: “He acts like he doesn’t trust me.” Does anyone else see the irony here?

We can learn a little assertiveness. Assertiveness has gotten bad press because of people who are just plain rude. Basic assertiveness is simply expressing our own desires and thoughts. And, of course, we must use respect, wisdom and discretion to choose the proper time and way to say these things.

   “I’ll gladly help in any pastoral emergency. Otherwise, I really need to get a full day off without having to think about church things.” 
   “That’s a great idea but we would need more time to do it properly.” 
   “I’d like the chance to show that I can handle this responsibility, but I can’t do that if you’re watching over my shoulder.”

Chances are, the pastor is not really a jerk, and there are things we can do to improve the relationship. Let’s make sure we’re not the problem and that we’re doing all we can do to get along.

Mar 26, 2012 Rev. Troy Dennis (BA, MDiv., MA, Arrow Leadership) is Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. Ordained in 1995, he served in associate, solo and senior pastor positions before coming back to associate ministry in 2008.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What to Do When the Senior Pastor Resigns

Pastor of Everything Else
What to Do When the Senior Pastor Resigns

I have served almost 1/3 of my associate ministry (3 out of 9 years), to date, without a senior pastor. In fact, our church is currently searching for a new pastor. Many associates will find themselves having to carry the ball after the senior pastor resigns. Here are some tips from my own experience.

Don’t Badmouth the Former Pastor – Ever. Period. Always take the high road. This is about your own character and behaviour, not the former pastor’s.

Determine Church Policy on Staff Resignations – Some churches and traditions require other staff to offer their resignations – either at the same time, or when the new senior pastor comes in. Some do not.

Know Church Processes – How is the search committee formed? Who is on it? Do the by-laws have anything to say about this? It is unusual for the associate to be on the search committee. However, people will have questions about the processes, and will ask you.

Determine Church Expectations – Who will become the new senior pastor? Will the church begin a search through denominational and other channels, or is the associate expected to step into the new position? Will the church seek an interim pastor? Who will provide guidance to the senior board?  Who will preach, maintain the speaking schedule, fill pulpit supply, plan worship, handle inquiries, do funerals, weddings, counseling, admin, etc.?

Learn to Do a Good Funeral - Because the congregation often knows the associate better than an interim pastor, expect to do more weddings and funerals.

Know Your Own Expectations – Do you hope to become the next senior pastor? Is this realistic? If the church does not go for this, will you accept this decision?

Set Priority Areas – Work with church leadership to determine:  What can go on auto-pilot? What still needs attention? What new areas of responsibility will you pick up? What needs to be put off? What needs to continue? What will not be done?

Understand Your Limits - in ability, energy, time, counselling, authority.

Recruit Help - People often pour out extra effort in an interim time - take advantage of this to lighten the load.

What to Do with the People Who Agitated the Senior Pastor? – Some will pressure to make changes. Avoid making severe changes which will have to be undone or changed by a new pastor. Some people who gave the pastor a hard time will become involved again. Don’t resent the change in attitude. Make use of it. 

Maintain Confidentiality – The search committee process has to remain confidential. You will learn or figure out things from the search committee which must be kept in strict confidence.

Protect – days off, vacation and important family time.

Prayer – use this as a time to draw close to God

In the Meantime, Live! - Any initial panic or anxiety will reduce over time. If there has been significant conflict, a new period of peace may develop. Whatever the situation, things will settle down and a new routine will develop.

Pastor of Everything Else - Mar 9, 2012 Rev. Troy Dennis (BA, MDiv., MA, Arrow Leadership) is Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. Ordained in 1995, he has spent almost three years serving as associate pastor without a senior pastor.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How Do You Know When It's Time to Go

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Go?
This is the season when many pastors begin to wonder if it’s time to move, to consider a calling to another ministry situation. How do we know when it’s time?

To begin, let me say this is a process of discernment involving a lot of prayer and consultation with trusted friends, colleagues, denomination personnel, and of course, our spouses. There is no formula, but there may be signs which God may use to point the way.

– church leadership makes it plain – this speaks for itself
– disagreement or conflict with senior leadership over fundamental doctrine, direction, vision, or values. Some things are small and can be overlooked, but others are not and cannot
– suggestions from others, perhaps denominational leaders, that you would be better suited for other ministry
– feeling it is time to “test your wings” in a solo / senior position
– increasing difficulty to recruit volunteers – there are lots of reasons this may be so. One reason may be that people lost confidence.
– feeling that we have done all we can do – the ministry has outgrown us or needs someone new for the next phase
– lack of vision for the future – nothing new to bring direction and energy
– vision for a different kind of ministry
– change in senior pastors – some systems require associates to step down but others do not. I have always said I would a give it a year to see if I could work comfortably with a new pastor. Sometimes, however, it is clear that things will not work well.
– finances – lots of associates start in small churches. But add a spouse and children, and it may be necessary to move in order to feed the family.
– practical or family matters – location, health issues, children’s, spouse’s, or parents’ needs may be pressing concerns which lead us to ask God for a different ministry

Something to remember – never resign on a Monday or in February. I got this from a friend years ago. Translation, don’t confuse tiredness or the dark discouraging days of winter as the leading of the Spirit

Finally, seek advice about when to bring your pastor into this discernment process. Because of situations or personalities, it is not always possible or wise to include the pastor in discussions about whether to seek another situation.

To include other factors or ask questions, comment below.

Feb 20, 2012 Rev. Troy Dennis (BA, MDiv., MA, Arrow Leadership) is Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. Ordained in 1995, he has been through the process of changing ministries several times.