Effective leaders are curious. Curious people ask good questions. Good questions can lead to good thinking. And good thinking can lead to helpful solutions. But this is not how clergy lead.
Clergy enter a congregation with established ideas about what works and what doesn’t work. They have a preconceived methodology for implementing their ideas. This approach to leadership no longer works. I’m not sure there was ever a point in time when it was successful. The institutional church spent many years hoping it would be. Clergy are not trained to be curious and to ask good questions. They are trained to implement models and programs.
This blog will explore the importance of being curious at various stages of ministry.
When Entering A Congregation
The first two years of ministry in a new congregation are critical for establishing healthy, long-term relationships. This time of transition is a perfect opportunity to learn and discover what works in a specific context.
I encourage clergy to spend the first two years asking questions. When someone asks a pastor, “what do you recommend we do about (fill in the blank),” a good response is, “I’m new here. Tell me about what has worked and what hasn’t worked.” It is possible to answer this way for two years. Clergy (and congregational leaders) can learn from being curious and asking good questions. If I’ve learned anything in my ministry, it’s this. Spend the first two years being curious.
When There Is Conflict
No one likes conflict. When the relationship system is tense, some people advocate for a quick resolution. Others ignore it or address it indirectly. Tension and conflict in the congregating are opportunities to be curious. Again, just as before, good questions are essential. How do people define the conflict? How has this issue been addressed before, if ever? How does the congregation typically deal with conflict? With the current conflict, who has said what, to whom, and when? Who are the good thinkers in the congregation? What do they think about the conflict?
When You Feel Lost
Clergy don’t like to admit that sometimes they fell lost with no good ideas. In fact, if clergy are honest, they’d admit their not sure how to lead a congregation forward. This is the state of the church. With an ever changing societal process, a shift in normative values in the broader culture and a rapidly declining church clergy feel lost with no clear sense of direction. It’s the perfect time to be curious!
Anxious congregations focus on administrative processes and keeping existing programs intact. A curious pastor shifts their focus to having conversations with the congregation. These conversations can happen in small groups. Preferably, though, the pastor sits down with every member of the congregation for no longer than an hour and ask them the following questions:
- What are the opportunities available for the future of the congregation?
- What do you think are the next steps for our congregation?
- What strengths and passions do you bring to the congregation?
- What are the next steps you plan to take as a part of the congregation?
These are the questions I ask myself as a pastor. I’m always looking for new opportunities. I am clear about what strengths and passions I bring to leadership. I’m interested in the strengths and passions of others and how these gifts fill the gaps of opportunities. I practice the three C’s of leadership: conversations, conversations, conversations.
When clergy feel lost, with no clear sense of direction for moving forward, it is time to engage the congregation in conversations. The result of this process is the stimulation of ideas and possibilities both in the leader and in members of the congregation.
After a Move
How one leaves a congregation is more important than how one enters a congregation. As one leaves, they establish an emotional context for another pastor to enter. If the leaving is rough, the entering of the next pastor will be rough. Clergy can learn to do a better job of leaving a congregation by being curious about the process.
I make it a habit, about six months after I leave a congregation, to contact the pastor who followed me. I ask questions. How did the transition go? What struggles did they encounter? What was unexpected? What went well? How would they do the transition differently? What would they do again? Who presented the biggest challenge? Who was the most helpful to them in the transition?
These questions provide an opportunity to learn about what works and what doesn’t work during a transition. It provides the groundwork for improving the way one enters and leaves a congregation in the future.
Clergy are not taught to be curious. Clergy are not taught about process. Developing healthy habits of curiosity is essential for effective leadership. A focus on process instead of content sets the context for a hopeful future.