Settling Dust

After the vote to move away from a shared-leadership model of church governance, I grieved what believed to be the loss of a piece of our identity. At the same time, though, I also felt somewhat relieved. I realize now how tightly I was holding on to a value that wasn’t shared by many others in the church, especially not by those charged with making big decisions. The structure change required me to loosen my grip, to breathe deeper, and to focus on pastoring, which was not the worst thing that could have happened. I no longer had a voice in budgeting issues (outside those affected by my job description,) nor in creating a vision for the future of the church or making big decisions, but I quickly let go of these things shortly after the emotion of the vote dissipated.

In the beginning it felt like Toph and I, the pastors most opposed to the change, were the pastors trying the hardest to make it work. In staff meetings we often nudged rest of the group back toward our new system when dialogue began to feel like it was operating under the old, shared-leadership model. In fairness, I believe that in the early days of implementing the new system, Josh took great pains to include us in as many conversations as he could so that we understood he had no intention in being a domineering Senior Pastor, making all his decisions by fiat. I appreciated this. But by that time we were all familiar enough with each other that he knew generally where we would all stand on a certain decision. And since he had the final say in any given decision, I no longer felt the need to insert my voice into areas that didn’t fall within my pastoral responsibilities. To me, the multiplicity of voices essential to making a shared-leadership model work seemed to be a waste of time in a more hierarchical system.

During the last half of 2013 I devoted most of my energies into Wednesday morning communion services, as well as to a similar Compline service on Wednesday evenings. I began to sense that the church I had been called to pastor was the one gathering at these services. Tye usually led us a in a hymn at Compline, and everyone on staff was generally supportive. But other than that the rest of they didn’t show much interest in participating, so in a sense it was my “baby.” I was nurtured by these times, and I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that they saved me.

As I was becoming more invested in these Wednesday services, I was simultaneously growing disillusioned with every other area of the church I was responsible for.

Mi Casas had grown numerically over the previous few years, which was a great thing. Many UBC’ers found their community, their church, in these groups. But as they grew, they became more difficult to lead as a pastor. These challenges were probably a result of my leadership failures during my early days on staff. When I began, I pushed for new leaders to volunteer to host groups, which they did. I found that there were many yearning for an opportunity to serve the church, and they found it by hosting a small group. What I failed to do, though, was create a new baseline, guidelines for how new groups would move forward into the future. This caused several things to occur.

Some of the groups grew large. Very large. For many in these “mega-Casas,” this became a great source of life and energy. The families who hosted these groups became, in every sense of the word, pastors to those who showed up on their doorsteps. This, I believe, is an ideal situation for a church, which makes it difficult to disparage.

But as some groups were growing, others got smaller. Which, I believe, is also ideal, what, with them being small groups and all. A great number is 8. You can manage 12, but at 14 many of the dynamics of a small group begin to be lost. But at 2 or 3, especially among folks who didn’t previously know each other, it can be difficult to muster the energy necessary to thrive.

As an aside, both the too-large and too-small groups began to also be too homogenous. There were student Mi Casas and “Young Professional” Mi Casas, Intellectual Groups, Theology Nerd Groups and Mi Casas made up of Sports fanatics. (Of course, neither of these are mutually exclusive, but each identifying marker would often be the driving force for each group.) This went counter to our newfound value of being a church for all people, and also against, in my opinion, a biblical model of Church.

There was a lot of positive energy around the groups that were growing larger. The dilemma this caused, though, was that those in the church capable of leading a group for new UBC’ers coming through the doors, (which was happening a lot, ironically, because of seeing a vibrant small group ministry at our church,) were already in Mi Casas, and didn’t want to leave to start another group.

I often blamed my failures in leading through these difficulties on the fact that I inherited a system already in place, and was never able to make it my own. This was partly true, but it was also a cop out. From the beginning, I should have foreseen potential issues and laid the ground work ahead of time by placing limits on how big a group could get, establishing precedent for what happened once a group had become too large, and developed a training mechanism for new leaders. The longer I went without doing this, the more impossible it seemed for me to effect any real change. Unfortunately, rather than seeking ways to remedy the situation, I washed my hands of it all and allowed everything to play its course, focusing all my attention on the Communion and Compline services. (I did make a halfhearted attempt to reformulate the structure of Mi Casas in the fall of 2013, but gave up when I experienced resistance.) The result of my inaction was that the large groups got larger, the smaller groups disappeared, and new people coming into the church had no place to go.

***

I also continued writing liturgies for, and guiding the Sunday Morning worship times, though this was becoming increasingly complicated. Because of our new structure, and to acknowledge that these responsibilities technically fall under the purview of the Worship and Arts Pastor, we created a system whereby Tye would be ultimately responsible for Sunday mornings, but since I had been so involved and invested in this role in the past, Tye would delegate the tasks to me, even though he ultimately had the “final say” in all decisions.

This was confusing for everyone, and he and I went through intermittent periods of butting heads with each other about the directon of worship at UBC. Eventually I grew weary of this conflict and decided to “hand back” all these responsibilities to Tye. Though I knew he would need, as he admitted, some time to grow into the role, I believed he was more than capable of doing so.

***

By late 2013, as our new structure began to take form, conversations began to turn toward what UBC would look like in the future. These often ended with someone making a statement that sounded something like, “If we had a system of membership, it would make this easier to think through, but since we don’t…” This happened with enough frequency that Josh finally said we should explore what membership might look like at UBC. He acknowledged that I would probably be the best person to head up this endeavor. I was excited about the possibilities, and agreed with enthusiasm to take it on.

Josh ran the proposal by the Leadership Team, (under the new structure, he was the only pastoral staff member that continued to serve on this group,) who said, “Sure, go ahead.”

 

 

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