Central East Region: Gould Discourse : An Annual Lecture Sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association St. Lawrence Chapter
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2005 Gould Response

By Scott Tayler

Photo of Scott Tayler, UUA Director of Congregational Life.

Rev. Scott Tayler

Response to Thoughts on Sharing Ministry and Leadership
by Rev. Samuel A. Trumbore

Download the PDF of the discourse and responses

Respondent Jeanne Crane

Sam has captured one of the real blessings of being a Unitarian Universalist lay leader: the sense that through shared ministry, our gifts will be welcomed and accepted within our churches.

In fact, as I travel around the district or spend a week of my summer at Eagles, I never cease to be amazed at the talent, energy and deep desire people have to give of themselves to their churches and to the greater community of Unitarian Universalism.

THERE IS GREAT POTENTIAL HERE AND WE HAVE ONLY TAPPED THE SURFACE.

Sam has done a wonderful job of framing the discussion of shared ministry and shared leadership. His model is an emergent model,

it is a product of the life of the church he serves and the reciprocal learning he, church lay leaders, and congregants experience together.

He has addressed the driving forces and the inhibiting forces of this collaboration with both richness and a certain practicality.

I would simply like to add a few exclamation points and examples.

First, I would underscore The Importance of Mission.

Not all our congregations are mission-driven. Those who are have been experiencing a new vitality similar to what we hear in Sam's description of Albany's momentum...

With or without a mission, all congregations need to be very clear about roles. As Sam points out, discussions of expectations/ responsibilities/accountability are paramount.

If there is a clear mission, we can better see how to align our ideas and perceptions with those of others. It is so much easier to explore issues in the context of a shared identity, an agreed upon direction and concrete activities.

Having a mission is about using a collective, engaging process to ask who are we? and what are we about? Ministers and lay leaders, you short-change your membership if you simply write a mission statement for the Order of Service cover or the church's web page yourself; no matter how well-written it may be. Fo, as we all sing: "sometimes to question is the answer".

Past congregational teachings suggested that as congregations grow, they move from pastor-centered to mission –centered.

However, we are seeing that size is not the primary determinant. Small churches can choose to be mission-driven. Large churches may be pastoral-centered.

Some examples:

A 25 year member of one of our larger congregations told me last year that he now saw the difference. He said he realized that he and his congregation had supported their retiring minister's social justice ministry with great pride, yet had never taken ownership. He welcomed the opportunity to begin a dialogue on a new mission for his church.

A new minister of a small congregation comes in with an extension background and a willingness to partner with the congregation to double their size within 5 years.

A medium sized congregation realizes their parish minister is overburdened. They decide to create a lay-led small group ministry program to address internal needs and to bring in a second minister experienced in social justice outreach.

There is no right or wrong here. Effective decisions are decisions that are criteria-based and the clearer the mission, the clearer the criteria.

Misunderstandings and power struggles are more likely in a church that is not clear about its center, a church that reverts to decisions based on ministry and leadership styles and personality needs.

Secondly, I would underscore the idea that There Is a Profound Simplicity in the Transition to Shared Ministry.

The shift comes with the realization that ministry is a set of functions to meet the needs of the church and its people nor simply a position held by an individual.

Youth ministry, music ministry, caring ministry, and recently small group ministry and hospitality ministry are words that are beginning to have a familiar ring within our churches.

Some of our churches have moved to Committees on Ministry. Their role is to help assess church needs based on mission rather than focusing solely on the pastor- congregant relationship.

The danger, of course, is in using the verbage of shared ministry without understanding the profound simplicity this shift entails. Too often, the words are used for other purposes: To dress up volunteer functions where enthusiasm has sagged. Worse yet, we may be just handing no-win situations over to the unsuspecting newcomer.

I know of one lay leader who came back to his congregation after a workshop exploring "what is your ministry?" ready to rewrite the by-laws. He thought that by substituting the word "ministry" for "standing committee" more people would sign up to help.

And, we all know of times either a minister or lay leader has felt frustrated by micro-management or by being called on at the last to do the piece of the project the others don't wish to do.

It has been my experience that shared power not only possible but very attainable. However, it is not easy. Shared power comes from a shared understanding of what is needed and the clarification of roles related to meeting those needs.

Without this clarity, we will create what I call "Congregational Dilberts" –folks cynical and frustrated by terminology that does not match their experience. Shared ministry is so much more than a "flavor of the month". I think Sam has done a masterful job of describing its realities.

Sam alludes to his own shift from a sense of 'this is my ministry' to the question 'what does this church need in the way of ministry?'. He talks a bit about learning to flex to the needs of the congregation.

For lay people like myself, learning to flex to the needs of a customer/client or boss is just in a day's work. It simply is a requirement of today's workplace.

We sometimes do not realize the LETTING GO that is required of a minister to make this change in focus. There is a profound simplicity here; with emphasis on the word profound.

One of the Alban Institute consultants advises ministers to take a mini-sabbatical after their church's futuring /visioning or long range planning processes. Not only does this empower the lay leadership to work on their own to begin implementation of the plan, it also gives the minister time to reflect on what changes will be required within their own role, how to support the leadership and how to help the congregation get to the new desired state. Other such strategies help with the transition to actually practicing shared ministry.

What is clear to me as I respond to Sam is that we need more, not less, of our ordained ministers as we move to more shared ministry and shared leadership. We will be expecting more of ourselves, we will be growing and changing.

So thirdly, I would underscore that shared ministry is a Challenging Process.

As lay folk, we need our clergy to:

Hold the center and attend to the boundaries of our church community as well as be our spokesperson to the larger community.

Help ground us in our Faith-no small task given the nature of Unitarian Universalism.

Bring the lens of theology and philosophy and poetry and prophetic challenge to our time together.

Help us keep our focus on our mission.

Facilitate dialogue to grow and enrich us in our work.

Encourage us to speak our truth, gently and with love for ourselves and for one another.

Yes, we want to a place to share our gifts. Some of us have found our soul work in the workplace and, in gratitude wish to share it.

Many others are searching for that sense of purposeful work and hunger for a place to share their gifts. Others simply want to put their energies into what they love.

Yes, we want to share our gifts. We also want to make a difference.

Help provide a safe place for us to receive and give guidance and feedback on how to offer our gifts in appropriate, helpful ways.

For, as we strive to integrate mind, body and spirit in service to our church, we become better citizens, family members, friends and community activists.

We will then experience a model of shared leadership that honors INTERDEPENDENCE over dependence/ independence.

We will more aware that we are members of a living system of interconnectedness.

We will then more ably impact our world and the world around us.

My dad was fond of the expression to "practice what you preach"-the image, of course, was for the minister to step down from the pulpit or for the boss to step down off his "high horse" to do what they asked of their followers.

My generation was more likely to say we want a leader who "walks the talk" i.e. we expect a minister or leader to lead by example.

Today, as we look to ways to better life and to help write the story of the 21st century, we want to not only walk together, we want to LEARN together how to live our principles and our values in all we do. I believe Sam's notions on shared ministry move us toward that future.

Respondent Reverend Scott Tayler

I am grateful to Sam for this opportunity to contribute to such an important topic. All of us are indebted to him for raising this difficult but important issue and helping us think through it. My response is divided into five parts—two questions and then three ways I think Sam is calling our religion to be more than it currently is.

1. First I'd ask: Are we framing our conflicts too narrowly? The joke was wonderful. It brings some levity to a hard subject. But I wonder if it frames the issue too simply. The joke reinforces our common tendency to see our struggles as clergy verses congregation. But it seems to me that more often than not our conflicts have two dimensions. Yes, there is a clergy verses congregation dynamic. But our conflicts often also seem to be a matter of ministers getting caught in the middle of competing church groups. The joke talks about fearing ministers getting loose, but there are also times when ministers appear threatening to us because their presence has the potential to empower or "let loose" a new or emerging church group.

2. My second question arises from the line "if he gets loose, will he hurt us?" That word is important: hurt. Sam rightly says this is about power but that line also reminds us that that conflict is about pain, about the fear of getting hurt. If my church changes, I risk losing what I love. I remember one wise church member telling me that if people aren't given the opportunity to say "I hurt," they will say "I hate." So my question: Might our conflicts be about pain and fear of loss as much as power?

And now three ways I think Sam is calling us to be more.

  1. Sam talked about the way freedom and rejecting authority is at the heart of our religion. Sam's gift to us is that he bluntly admits this has a shadow side. Many of you are probably familiar with the opening words:

    Love is the spirit of this church
    And service it's law.
    This is our great covenant:
    To dwell together in peace,
    To speak the truth in love
    And to help one another.

    A colleague tells of sitting in a meeting where a member suggested that this statement be alter to read "...to speak the truth in freedom." His reason: "There's too much love in it." Too much love, not enough freedom. Unfortunately that is a very Unitarian thing to say. There is a big difference between a religion that speaks its truths in freedom and a religion that speaks its truths in love. So I hear Sam calling us to be a religion not just of freedom, but of love, kindness and compassion as well.
  2. Sam called us to develop the ability to influence and be influenced. I hear in this a call to humility. Needless to say, we UUs have a bit of a tough time with humility. It's not exactly our strong suit. Again, we are getting at another of our shadow sides here. We value the intellect and its ability to influence, the ability to talk and argue not so much the ability to listen and learn. We often see ourselves as the people called to change the world and others, not so much people in need of change. I hear Sam encouraging us to look at this. I hear Sam calling us to be a religion of humility as well as a religion of the intellect.
  3. Finally, Sam said "Democracy reigns supreme in our faith and this is a set up for conflict." This is brave to suggest that democracy is a cause of conflict and it is also certainly true. It is important to note that when UUs refer to democracy, they most often mean participatory democracy, not representative democracy. I'd suggest that this points to a troubled relationship with trust. We UUs are better at articulating all the reasons why every single member should get to vote on a decision, than we are at seeing or acknowledging the times when it is best to delegate a decision to others. The shadow side to groups who want everyone to decide things can be an unwillingness to trust individuals and smaller groups with decisions. And so by asking us to look more closely at our commitment to "democracy," I hear Sam urging us to be a religion led not only by everyone's voice but also by everyone trusting each other.

    And so, for challenging us to be a religion
    Of kindness as well as freedom,
    Of humility as well as intelligence,
    Of trust as well as Democracy,
    I—on behalf of all gathered—say thank you Sam.

About the Author

Scott Tayler

Scott served as the UUA Director of Congregational Life until June 30, 2017, overseeing our Regional and District Field staff....

For more information contact cer@uua.org.