Board and Committees
I have worked with governing boards of four very different churches in a total of five phases: my home church, trying while I served on the board to skip learning what it means to be a pastoral church and to go straight to being a program church (it didn’t work); my home church in a later phase of acute anxiety focused on ministerial leadership; a pastoral church growing steadily and aspiring to policy-based governance; a family-size congregation where relationships are primary and a generous endowment excuses members from taking normal fiscal responsibility for their church; and a pastoral church in financial distress and, therefore, reducing its professional ministry. Each has been a learning experience.
In ministerial roles, I also have worked with worship, care, and social action committees, as well as a mission-statement development team. As a congregant, my commitments included stewardship, religious education, covenant development, and program council (“committee on committees”). As minister, I expect to have and exercise authority for worship, pastoral care, and staff supervision, as is the norm.
For the board and committees, the foundations for our work together are our defining documents: UU principles, church and committee mission statements, bylaws and policies, long-range plan, and covenant of right relations—as well as the annual budget. A guiding question that I return to is: “What will best serve the overall health of the church system?” In addition, we must all ask, “Who is not in this room who needs to know what we’ve discussed?” With the board and every committee, I affirm the group’s good work, name growing edges, and suggest ways to address them.
Our identity as a religious community should shape how we work together. I open meetings with a chalice lighting, a reading or prayer that invokes the holy ground for our work, and a brief check-in: how is it with your spirit today? In discussion of business, I value hearing from the whole circle, and so I often ask for viewpoints from those in the room who have been quiet during a discussion.
Stewardship and Fundraising
Most churches exist and thrive, in part, because members give of their “time, talent, and treasure,” as we often say. Generosity is a spiritual practice, one that I believe needs to be celebrated the year around and not just during stewardship drives. I also believe that receiving is an aspect of generosity with which many in our churches need to acquire ease. My hope is to build a culture of abundance and generosity such that we feel gladness in what we can do instead the weight of what we must do.
Once again, this is shared ministry. I affirm generosity whenever I can and certainly in the pulpit. I also seek to lower congregational anxiety, which can thwart abundance. For years, emotional stress about finances and other concerns wracked a congregation I know. People said the obvious answer was to add new members, but there was frustratingly little growth for several years. The congregation was too anxious, a palpable energy that drove away many visitors and some members. It was only when the congregation began to believe in itself and to behave in more loving ways that it began to grow again. A healthy, loving community is the foundation of stewardship.
A capital campaign can be an exciting and edgy endeavor. I understand how campaigns are structured and have experienced two: one at Colby College, when I was editor of Colby’s publications, and one in my home church. I know the feelings of joy, gratitude, and wonder that come from meeting a major goal or going over the top.
Fundraising activities, in my ideal church, would benefit organizations in the community. In the real world, however, most churches count on them to balance the annual budget, and I will actively support such efforts. Here again, visioning is helpful. Articulating that fundraising events should attract money from outside the congregation, for instance, is a compass that can reshape a fundraising program.
Those who create joy and bonding in community—such a vital role in a church—will rarely find me at the head table. After helping, when appropriate, to open an event in a spirit-filled way, I often take a supportive role or circulate, greeting people and making sure visitors have what they need. In planning events, I watch accessibility issues and make suggestions to the congregational life organizers.
It is so important to come together for the simple purpose of loving one another and celebrating our gifts. “Congo life” volunteers receive my great gratitude for making this possible.
Churches rely on volunteer labor. This is another fact of stewardship.
How we frame that volunteer labor is a choice, perhaps a myriad of choices. Do we demonstrate that volunteering is fun and satisfying? Do we give it spiritual resonance? Do we ask new members what they enjoy doing and how they would like to grow in our church? Do we make our requests in person, with some affirmation of why we think this individual would enjoy a role or be good at it?
Or does our lay leadership stay in the same jobs so long that they start to look and feel like life sentences? Do some lay leaders over-function, unintentionally discouraging others from taking responsibility? Do we appeal for help in repeated Facebook posts or e-mail blasts, wearying members with our requests while producing little effect?
As is obvious, I believe personal requests are the most effective way to engage people. If it’s not the right time, let’s file that information away and make a new request when someone’s life is in a new configuration. I believe in reasonable “term limits.” I believe in lacing volunteer jobs with good energies, providing help for members growing into new roles (e.g., job descriptions or mentoring), and expressing lots of appreciation. Most of all, I believe in bringing spirit to every committee meeting and every special project, for we have gathered as spiritual beings who want to grow in community.
As with volunteers, I want staff to bring their souls to work. I begin every meeting with a check-in and a short reading, again reminding us of our essential purpose as a church. Then we focus on our jobs.
In supervising staff, I am prone to ask them to build on their strengths. When new skills are needed, we need to allow time and support to acquire them. An incremental approach to building new competencies is often helpful. Regular meetings of the full staff are essential. Quarterly individual check-ins assess goals set during the annual evaluation.
When there is an issue with a paid staff member or volunteer, I address it directly and try to do so in a way that affirms my respect and faith in this person. If a problem occurs once, it might be a fluke, but on the second occurrence, we need to talk about the way forward.
In my experience, most church staff are hardworking persons who are grateful to have jobs that they can perform with heart and good conscience. They graciously field requests and feedback from dozens of people in the church system and deserve broad thanks. Such employees can count on me to support them, encourage their setting of healthy boundaries, and sing their praises.