A Conversation Between Pastors (Late May 2019)
Jim: So, how do feel about your congregational review last Sunday? Now that you have had a few days to think about it, do you have any impressions or take-aways?
Ally: I really appreciated the congregational conversation about my leadership and ministry at Lakeshore – where I am on track and where I can continue to grow. I especially appreciated being able to articulate my evolving understanding of my ministry and hearing affirmation of this. I will continue to emphasize the now 5 P’s of my work, all of which are grounded in Christian Formation: Proclamation (preaching and teaching): interpreting the faith in our changing world; Program Oversight for kids, youth, young adults and adults: listening for God’s Spirit calling us to grow; Pastoral Care: being present with people in pain and joy, life, death and growth; Presence in Community (Justice Jams, Sanctuary Work, Solidarity with Palestinians): being a prophetic witness in our community and the larger world; Play (per the encouragement of the congregation) – embracing the joys of ministry, and of rest from ministry.
Jim: That’s good. I think it’s important that you know the congregation and I greatly appreciate you and your leadership. There are a couple ways we can show our appreciation. One way is that on Sunday, October 6th, we are going to celebrate your twenty years of employment at Lakeshore. You began as our Minister-in-Training in the fall of 1999 and have been serving, learning, growing and leading in many wonderful ways since then. A second way, and I have spoken with the Personnel Committee about this, is to recommend to the Church Council and with Council approval, the congregation, that we change your job title to Co-Pastor. You are, just as much as I am, a pastor of the entire church. I want you to have a title that reflects this. A third way is to share this conversation with the members of our community. This conversation represents our commitment to partnership and collaboration. Further, it represents our conviction that any models of ministerial leadership the congregation might choose to affirm in the years to come need take racial diversity, gender diversity, cultural diversity and age diversity into account.
Ally: You and I have talked for years about co-pastoring together, and in many ways we already function as a team modeling shared leadership and collaborative decision-making. In fact, one of my greatest frustrations in ministry at Lakeshore is when a congregant imposes hierarchy on our relationship that doesn’t reflect how either of us see our work together. For example, people frequently refer to me as an Assistant Pastor or Associate Pastor, even though I’ve never held either of these titles. You and I have worked hard to resist hierarchy and promote diversity in the leadership of the congregation from pulpit preachers to worship leaders to moderators and leadership in our many programs and activities. As we continue to live ever more fully into equality and leadership that reflects the diversity of the congregation, Lakeshore would be well served to embrace a more egalitarian structure for pastoral staff. My dream for Lakeshore would be a pastoral team that works collaboratively together and shares leadership that reflects the diversity of the congregation. This shared leadership would be integral to all congregational relationships, recognizing that every member of the congregation has unique and needed contributions for the community.
Jim: I find myself nodding in agreement to what you are saying, but I need to admit that there is a difference between giving mental assent to something and truly owning it. While I like to think that I am always learning and growing, I have been operating from a certain mindset for a long time. I am not an authoritarian but I have grown accustomed to having the final say in matters pertaining to the ministry of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church. To the extent that we are a hierarchical organization, I accept the responsibility that comes with being at the top of that hierarchy. It would be very hard for me to let go of this “the buck stops here” identity. That being said, a recent post by Bill Wilson of the Center For Healthy Churches states very clearly that dialogue, respect and collaboration are essential for the practice of ministry in the twenty-first century.
Ally: The feminist in me is frustrated with the mixed messages of having a Co-Pastor and a Senior Pastor; the realist in me recognizes that this would be a significant step forward from where we are at right now. Moving from hierarchy to full equality is challenging, and is a process that does not happen overnight. It is a journey, in my humble opinion, that we need to take, for the sake of more fully living into what we believe and who we aspire to be as a beloved community. I hope the congregation is open to this opportunity, and that it opens up further possibilities for shared leadership for future pastors.
Jim H. and Allison T.