Tinkering

Regardless of the discomfort it would bring me in subsequent years, I believe one of the most revolutionary, healthy and grown-up thing to happen at UBC (not to mention the most overtly Baptist) was the creation of a Human Resources/Personnel Support team. Like the subject of bylaws, it is difficult to make something like this sound sexy, and I suspect many may skip a chapter devoted to it in search for more interesting material. This is also what many people in churches do, assuming that personnel matters are “being taken care of” by others, much to the detriment of congregational health.  For us, it had never been “taken care of,” and when we finally decided to address this,  it was the hinge-point in us finally  placing a system of accountability between the congregation and the pastoral staff.

The period between 2011 and 2013 was a time marked by  heightened awareness of our need for institutional stability, and a newfound determination and ability for us to make it happen. I was able to lead the way in the long-needed creation of new bylaws.

Included in this document was a slimmed down Leadership Team structure, which included all staff members, and a number of non-staff congregants that equaled one more than the amount of staff. (On paper, this was not much different than before.) Most notably, the new structure removed the longstanding policy that spouses of staff could sit in on meetings. It created limits for how long people could serve on any particular leadership committee, and provided rules for how decisions were made and parameters for spending, budgeting, etc.

What I was most proud of was that the new bylaws eliminated the “self-perpetuating” aspect of the Leadership Team. In the past, as people rotated off that group, the remaining members chose a replacement. The congregation was never made aware of when and how this happened. In the new bylaws, when a person rotated off the group, the church was to be made aware of it and given an opportunity to nominate new members. The Leadership Team still had the only vote on which nominee would be chosen, but it was a start.

Near the end of the process of creating new bylaws, Christopher, one of the people serving on Leadership Team, suggested the formation of a team of congregants who would be a liaison between the church and the staff, and would also take the lead in caring for the staff and instituting a system of professional accountability. This would include providing a mechanism for those times when honest and clear communication between individuals and groups within the church toward the staff was difficult, as well as the institution of a system of performance reviews– neither of which had been part of the church culture before. After a decade and a half of the pastoral staff being able to do pretty much what they wanted to do, and how they wanted to do it, this was music to my ears, even if it was going to limit some of my own freedoms.

It is common in churches our size and structure for there to be a level of tension between personnel teams and personnel. Those who are gifted in this sort of leadership, and therefore who inevitably end up on these teams and committees, tend to be in vocations that favor efficiency and the “bottom line” over more fluid, abstract values that mark careers in ministry. And those in full-time, vocational ministry are often averse (unless they are in an evangelical megachurch) to the Fortune 500 approach to church leadership. This tension can be a good one, with both groups keeping an eye out for the blind-spots of the other. In a town like Waco, though, with the world’s largest Baptist University and it’s accompanying Truett seminary, there tends to be more cross-pollination between the two groups, which I believe causes more understanding than in other places. But the tension is still there.

We weren’t worried, though, when our personnel team was created. We knew it was a necessary step in our development. Also, the first members of this group consisted of people not just in management and education careers, but also in ministry, which gave us comfort in knowing that our voices would be understood and well-represented.

Early on this personnel team showed an interest in us growing in our ability to make our leadership system work better for both us and the church. We had been operating under a “flat leadership” model for close to a decade, but really had no idea what that meant, aside from the fact that we didn’t have a senior pastor. For me, (admittedly, in my dysfunction,) that was the only thing I cared about. I loved being in a place that eschewed the hierarchical, top-down methods of Leadership that business culture is enamored with, but that I felt was inconsistent with UBC’s emerging values of organic, unstructured decision making. But aside from having no single leader at the “top,” I could not have explained to you our system any more than saying, “Well, we are each able to do our own thing.”

Lacy, a professor and expert in organizational communication, and one of the first members of the personnel team, began to work with us in our staff meetings to show us different models of flat leadership, and to teach us what was necessary to make them work. We listened and participated, I believe, with great enthusiasm as she shared one particular company’s model of a “team based, flat latticed” organization. It seemed like something we could get on board with and be excited about, so we committed ourselves to figuring out a way to make it work.

But in trying to implement a more healthy flat-leadership model, we ran into snags from the beginning. The essential problem was this: Every healthy, non-hierarchical model of leadership began that way, and with a clear set of objectives and values that guided and steered the ship. UBC began with really no model of leadership, then over time a senior-pastor led model emerged, at which point the senior-pastor (Kyle) and the rest of the staff wanted to shift to a flat model of leadership, which existed in theory for almost a decade, even though there was a primary decision maker (David.) And from the moment UBC’ers began graduating and having kids, and when new ideas of Christianity and church were allowed to flourish, unfettered by an authoritative pastor that controls the “accepted message,” there began to emerge many objectives and values within the church, all vying for a position of prominence.

An example from those years: As I grew in my love for more historic, “high church” forms of worship, I continued to try to create liturgy for our services that was thoughtful, theologically sound, yet welcoming to more non-traditional, cynical believers and believing cynics. I believed the gospel of Jesus and his kingdom consisted of many musical notes, and that UBC’s place within that kingdom was to strike all the minor, unresolved chords that were often lacking in contemporary evangelicalism. I knew this would turn away many young people who were looking for a more joyful, “major chord” mode of worship and belief, and I didn’t really care. There were plenty of churches in town playing their music, and we had decided long ago that this would be who we were.

Tye, who had become our Worship and Arts Pastor, believed that we needed to take into account that not everyone responds well to the sometimes dark and unresolved effects of high-church liturgy. For him, our primary legacy was that we were able to pull people in with whatever form of music and worship that resonated with, and was relevant to, their daily lives, and that we should take great care in thinking about what people want to experience, so that they will be more compelled to be  a part of us. The deconstruction of their faith could still happen, but they would have to trust us first.

This created a leadership issue. The problem wasn’t Tye’s or my understanding of what our worship should look like, or that they differed so greatly. The problem was that we were both 100% correct AND 100% at odds with each other in our assessment of which values and principles of UBC should be guiding us.

David was incredibly gifted in creating music that was embraced by young, conservative evangelicals. Also, we had long been a church that sought to contextualize the gospel in such a way that was relevant and engaging to popular culture. Add these two things together and it is very easy to see that Tye had a point—Part of our heritage was in doing “Contemporary Worship” and “Evangelical Church” well.

At the same time, we also had a long history of engagement with postmodern culture and theology. We were considered a flagship church of the emerging Christian movement in the early 2000’s and did “darkness” and “deconstruction” very well, refusing to acquiesce to being the type of church that many wanted us to be. We played the minor chords better than anyone. In a way, these two histories were always at work in our church, yet they rarely bumped up against each other because David, throughout most of his recording career, created songs to inform our existence that held these two polarities together under the same umbrella.

When we tried to make flat-leadership work better, we realized that we needed shared values and objectives in order to make that happen. But the issue was that we didn’t all share common values. Some of us embraced the “darkness” and “deconstruction” of the Emerging church as our guiding values, and believed that we should “provide space” for the more Evangelical, “Passion-Conference” types of people who ended up with us. For others, it was the “Passion-Conference” type of doing church that was our guiding principle, and we “allowed room” for the doubters and cynics of the Emerging Church. We all had similar values, but few of us agreed on which would be those that would take the wheel in our decision making.

We tried to tinker with the way we did staff meetings, and practice more open forms of communication, but without the commonly shared beliefs about what values should be guiding us, the attempts fizzled out fairly quickly.

This didn’t really bother me, though, although it should have. For me, flat-leadership continued to be a way for me to serve the community through my giftings, without the trappings of a traditional, hierarchical leadership structure. So I continued to do the things I did well. I instituted a weekly communion service on Wednesday mornings, continued to organize small groups and Bible Studies, and wrote liturgy for Sunday mornings. I was thriving. I assumed everyone else was as well.

I was wrong.

 

2 thoughts on “Tinkering

  1. You wrote: “When we tried to make flat-leadership work better, we realized that we needed ahred values and objectives in order to make that happen.”
    I don’t understand what ‘ahred values’ are? I couldn’t find the word in the dictionary.

    Like

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