Interventionist [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Provides a conceptual framework for asking questions about congregations, and classifies syndromes that prevent a church from making the changes that are needed for new life.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2003
Nine years after I began what turned out to be a long career as a parish consultant, I led my first workshop for people interested in the role of an interventionist. As the years rolled by, and I had the opportunity to work with congregations from sixty different religious traditions, I gradually came to ten major overlapping conclusions about congregational life in North America.
First, the role of a parish pastor is a far more difficult and challenging assignment than it was when I was a pastor in the 1950s.
Second, long-established religious institutions closely resemble other institutions in our culture. One of the common characteristics is a normal, natural, and predictable temptation to try to make tomorrow a carbon copy of yesterday, only better. Another common characteristic is that denial is an attractive alternative to confronting contemporary reality.
Third, the most serious shortage in our society is for skilled transformational leaders who possess the capability to initiate planned change from within an organization. The number one example of that may be the United States Senate. Perhaps the number two example is in institutions of higher education. The United Nations may be the third example. When compared to those three, military organizations possess a much greater openness to innovation and to ideas generated from outside the institution. The demand for effective transformational leaders is increasing at a more rapid pace than the supply--and American Christianity is not an exception to that generalization.
Fourth, in a rapidly changing societal and ecclesiastical context, most religious institutions face a difficult choice. One alternative is to adapt to be able to be sensitive, responsive, and relevant to the personal and spiritual needs of new generations. The second is to be perceived by an increasing proportion of the population as irrelevant. That second choice is compatible with placing tradition high on the list of the driving forces in policy making. The first requires a high level of skill in planned change that is initiated from within that congregation. That resistance to change may be the number one explanation for the fact that the vast majority of congregations founded before 1970 either are on a plateau in size or are shrinking in numbers.
Fifth, for a variety of reasons, societal changes began to surface earlier in Canada than in the United States. Illustrations of that include: (1) opening the gates to large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Central America, (2) national health insurance, (3) the merger of large Protestant denominations, (4) the call for metropolitan government, (5) adoption of the metric system of measurement, (6) crossing a national border for a personal vacation, (7) the erosion of traditional church loyalties among younger generations of Roman Catholics, (8) the effort to preserve rail passenger traffic, (9) regionalism, (10) the demand for official bilingualism, (11) governmental support for Christian day schools, (12) high taxes on motor fuel, (13) foreign ownership of influential components of the media, (14) the flow of private investment across national borders, (15) a remarkable receptivity by long-established Anglo congregations to pastors not born and reared in that country, (16) a broader acceptance of a major role for government (the Canadian constitution affirms the values of "place, order, and good government"), (17) the use of electric "block heaters" in automobiles, (18) a national determination to offset the consequences of increased anonymity by an emphasis on civility and courtesy, (19) the export of electricity across national borders, (20) replacement of the paper dollar with a coin, and (21) perhaps most important of all, an open recognition of the need for religious organizations to earn the loyalty of new generations, rather than to depend on inherited religious allegiances.
One result is that Americans can benefit by going north to examine how the churches can respond to a changing societal context.
Sixth, the differences among congregations are becoming greater with the passage of time. The safe assumption today is no two are alike. Each congregation has its own unique culture. One reason for that is the decreasing importance of denominational affiliation as a central component of the identity of a congregation. The local community setting has moved ahead of the denominational heritage as a factor in creating that distinctive congregational culture.
Another reason is every year a new record is set in the number of congregations that have been in existence for at least one hundred years.
In 1900 fewer than 4,000, or less than 2 percent, of all religious congregations in the United States could trace their history back for at least a century. At least 80,000 of today's religious congregations in the United States have celebrated their centennial. The passage of time accentuates the distinctive characteristics of a congregation. The longer that congregation has been in existence, the more influential are those local traditions.
One consequence is the need for the interventionist to be exceptionally sensitive to the distinctive culture of that congregation. This often is overlooked by many denominational officials responsible for ministerial placement.
A second consequence is that it no longer is possible to design a program, edit a hymnal, produce a curriculum series, offer a formula for a capital funds campaign, publish an adult Bible study program, train a youth minister, outline the format for a corporate worship service, fashion a church growth strategy, design a staff configuration, or recommend a system of governance that will meet the needs of every congregation. This explains why the interventionist has to customize a strategy for working with each congregation. One size no longer fits everyone! The strategy has to be compatible with the culture.
A third consequence of this trend is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a good match between the needs of the congregation seeking a new pastor and the gifts, skills, experience, personality, leadership style, and priorities of the candidate. This trend places a heavier burden on the committee responsible for interviewing candidates. This trend also opens the door for a candidate to accept a greater responsibility for creating a good match. In many situations, the ideal candidate will be a self-identified interventionist.
For the newly arrived pastor, this often means moving beyond the recommended formula of the 1950s of "listening and learning." The new formula for that recently arrived pastor begins with "asking questions, asking questions, listening, asking questions, learning, asking questions, listening, and formulating a tentative agenda."
Seventh, one of the most promising developments of recent decades is the emergence of the trained career intentional interim minister. In many congregations this person comes for six to twenty-four months to (1) serve as the full-time interim pastor, (2) help bring closure to the last pastorate, (3) staff a long-range planning committee, (4) serve as an intentional interventionist, (5) ask questions, (6) take care of the neglected or unfinished business, (7) work with the pulpit nominating or search committee in the quest for a permanent successor, and (8) help prepare the ground for a happy pastorate for that permanent pastor. For many congregations the career intentional interim minister has turned out to be a productive response to the old pattern of a series of three-to five-year pastorates, many of whom were unintentional interim ministers.
Eighth, this erosion of inherited denominational loyalties, and the accompanying decline in the influence of denominational systems, has underscored the importance of that word outside when a congregation seeks an outside third party to intervene. Frequently the desire is for someone outside that particular religious tradition. One example is the increasing number of congregations that seek an intentional interim minister who comes from a different religious tradition. Another is the recent use of Protestant clergy to lead continuing education events for rabbis serving Conservative Jewish congregations.
Ninth, while this statement continues to arouse considerable hostility, one basic societal trend in North America is that institutions, like people, are larger than their counterparts of 1900 or 1945. That generalization applies to grocery stores, elementary schools, medical clinics, stores, commercial aircraft, closets, basketball players, brides, banks, bathrooms, bookstores, universities, hospitals, farms, city halls, law firms, prisons, houses, auto repair centers, highways, parking lots, shoes, airport terminals, motels, the civil service, hardware stores, automobile dealerships, denominational staff--and congregations. The average (mean) size of a congregation today is three times what it was in 1900.
Finally, and this has become the central theme of this book, the most effective way to influence both individual and institutional behavior is to ask questions. The two longest chapters in this book are filled with questions for the interventionist.
The learnings generated by these and related conclusions have led to the writing of five books over twenty-five years on planned change. The first, The Change Agent (1972), was directed at the individual who wants to initiate change. The second, Getting Things Done (1986), focused on leadership roles and styles. The third, Create Your Own Future (1991), was written for members of long-range planning committees. The fourth, Strategies for Change (1993), discusses the institutional context for change and offers suggestions on both strategies and tactics. Thanks to God's goodness, a supportive wife, and modern medicine, I have been given the time required to summarize much of what I have experienced and learned as a parish consultant. It took twenty-five years from opening that first file to publication, but here it is! During those twenty-five years, I also had the opportunity to write a couple of other books and edit several by some wise colleagues, but this is the one I have been eagerly waiting to complete. Change is the name of the game, and questions are the heart of that game! That also explains why nine of the twelve chapter titles in this volume end with a question mark and two other chapters are filled with questions.
Copyright © 1997 by Lyle E. Schaller