In June I wrote about revitalizing congregations and the normal process of birth, growth, and death in faith communities. In this piece, I’d like to offer some perspective about the role of leadership as a congregation begins to grapple with change and transformation.
This diocese has a healthy mix of congregational size and context, from big, multi-staff parishes, to multi-cultural congregations, to small missions, both rural and urban. The overall task of any congregation is to respond to God’s mission, which we might define as seeking the reign of God by equipping the saints to love and serve our neighbors, both nearby and far away. That big vision has to be defined and particularized in response to the local context, for example, “Who are our neighbors here, and what kind of good news are they asking for?” The congregation’s leaders work to discern what that local vision of the reign of God looks like, and help each member of the congregation (and other neighborhood partners) to discern the gifts and resources that might be offered to realize it.
Leadership entails the ability to hold out a larger vision of what is possible, and to encourage others to embrace and engage it. Christian leadership is about being an agent of transformation, and moving toward the reign of God, ‘come on earth as it is in heaven.’ That is a gift and vocation given to all the baptized, which is one reason why leadership in the Episcopal Church is shared among lay people, deacons, priests, and bishops. The locus of leadership varies – lay people lead change in their daily lives; deacons lead us all into the world to serve both by sharing the bad news that’s present in the world and proclaiming the good news of the gospel in church. Priests most often lead in congregational contexts, encouraging and teaching the baptized in their own Christian vocations. Bishops lead in broader contexts, fostering a vision within a diocese and building an organic network among its congregations, as well as working with other leaders toward God’s transformed and transforming reign across the church and the world.
Each congregation is charged with discerning what kind of formal leadership is needed. At a recent visitation, the vestry asked for conversation about the transition following the upcoming retirement of their priest next year. They have a vigorous worship life, strong and caring fellowship, excellent Christian education, and a will to serve and connect with the wider community. They have well-developed lay leadership within the congregation and in recent years have had excellent clergy leadership. What are their options for the next chapter of life together?
We began by clarifying that they are not looking for full-time paid clergy leadership – but we also noted that, by partnering with a neighboring Episcopal congregation (or an Episcopal Lutheran Church of America one), they might expand the range of people who could serve there. We noted several other options for clergy leadership: a retired or bivocational priest who would serve part-time; partnering with a multi-staff congregation who might offer regular worship leadership from a clergy team; discerning priestly and/or diaconal vocations among the current parishioners. It’s important to remember that clergy leadership can only be effective in partnership with effective lay leadership of many sorts and in many areas of life.
A lot of us still think there’s only one REAL way to be a church. I imagine God is laughing, for it seems that divine creativity is always surprising us with far greater diversity than we have imagined. We’re here in the Diocese of San Diego today because of a long history of visionary leaders, starting with a dozen ‘crazy Christians’ who began to see new ways toward a world where peace and justice rule. We are people of hope, and we follow Jesus on the Way because we trust that God is always doing something new, bringing new life out of death and despair.
Hang on to the vision of abundant life, walk on with hope, and we will discover the new thing God is already doing when two or three of us are gathered together.
Drop us a line or text if you’d like some walking and dreaming partners.
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