by Chris Holmes
Published January 2019
Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices Publication
You have surely experienced teams that were life-giving and productive, and I’ll bet you’ve also served on teams that were energy-suckers and a waste of your time. What caused those to be such different experiences? Which kind of team is your vestry?
Life-giving teams build community and synergy around a higher purpose while utilizing the gifts of each member of the team. This kind of a team doesn’t just sort of happen. It is the consequence of a process of careful selection, intentional development and team leader training.
The first thing to realize about teamwork is that a team is fundamentally different from a group. Groups come together for sharing or learning and then apply that learning to their individual lives. Teams develop a common vision with established goals, and rise or fall together because their members share responsibility for the results of their work.
The church vestry is innately designed to function as a team with shared responsibility for church governance, structure and selection. It holds a place at the top of the local congregation’s organizational structure, with the purpose of helping the congregation fulfill its mission. The best of vestry life happens when the organization functions as a team accomplishing its work productively and collaboratively. The worst of vestry life plays out when it behaves as a group of individuals protecting their silo areas, fighting for turf and refusing to budge for the greater good of the congregation.
A research study involving thousands of teams identified as effective, found these six common factors:
The study on Team Effectiveness found that when the first five of these factors are in place, there is a 60% chance that the team will be effective in doing its work. The other 40% chance of success in effectiveness depends upon the quality of leadership provided to the team.
This research suggests that it is imperative for the vestry to have a clear sense of purpose, membership that is chosen with intention and leadership that is capable. These elements are sometimes challenging in volunteer organizations with limited resources. However, they are essential for vestries in the process of becoming life-giving teams.
Strong leaders are shaped, not born. In vestry life we have the great opportunity to help increase the leadership ability of those placed in positions of leadership in the church by teaching them the skills needed to succeed.
Consider holding a vestry workshop for new church leaders called, “How to Lead a Stellar Church Meeting,” covering these essential ingredients:
Very often, this kind of workshop can be led by a vestry member who learned team leadership skills in their workplace.
Vestry service does not have to be contentious, frustrating drudgery. Who wouldn’t rather serve on a vestry that works joyfully as a team and focuses on God’s amazing work in the world as the body of Christ? Life-giving vestries don’t just materialize on their own, they happen on purpose when attention is given to careful election of membership, clarity of purpose with a focus on mission and intentional training of leaders.
Chris Holmes leads The Holmes Coaching Group, Inc. specializing in coaching church vestries, pastors and denominational leaders. He is a United Methodist Pastor, consultant to the Episcopal Church Foundation, and author of The Art of Coaching Clergy.
A friend/parishioner walked into my office the other day and asked me a great question about what I planned to do after I retired. I’ve got a plan and a lot of excitement about this impending chapter in my life, so I began telling her. At the first pause between my words she began to share her experience with retirement, and that’s what we talked about for the next ten minutes.
As soon as we quit talking about me, I realized how hungry I was to talk about this new phase of my life with someone who would listen to what I was thinking, but this person was not a coach.
I’m not wanting to be too hard on my parishioner/friend. She’s a kind person who came to me with a genuine question, but her mind quickly traveled to a familiar thought of her own. I think we often ask questions with the unconscious intention of providing an opportunity to express our own thoughts. That’s a common occurrence, but that small interaction reminded me of the difference between coaching and casual conversation. Coaching requires a form of disciplined listening that we generally fail to exercise in casual conversation. It doesn’t take a genius to realize this, but this is the genius of coaching.
Gratefully, you don’t have to be brilliant to be a coach. The task of a coach is to listen for and to extract the brilliance in others. This is no small task, and it’s particularly difficult with individuals who are quick to put their genius on parade. But there aren’t any of us who don’t need a little help managing our inner wisdom, which is the work of a coach. Moving into new territory is rarely an easy journey, and there’s nothing like a well-crafted question and a listening heart to provide needed light and to promote effective action. Coaching isn’t rocket science, but done properly, a good coach will enable a client to explore their outer limits, and who doesn’t want to go on such a journey!
I’m grateful to my parishioner for asking me a good question and for inadvertently reminding me of the very thing that fuels successful coaching – hunger for more understanding of who we are and what we can do. I’m grateful for the hunger.
It’s that hunger that keeps us all asking and listening and praying and finding!
In his classic The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), William James conducts a pragmatic examination of a large and varied sample of documented religious experiences from Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. His pragmatic approach assumes anything that produces results must be real. He concludes the act of praying produces beneficial personal results beyond what the individual’s own self-development efforts are able to produce. James theorizes that in the less conscious recesses of our being we interact with God in a holistic and genuine way, a mysterious sacred relatedness. This is where and how spiritual healing and practical spiritual revelation occurs. This is the type of healing our own egos resist. Because, as the ego attempts to change itself, it is also seeking to maintain its status quo.
A careful review of the ICF Master Coaching Criteria reveals qualities of interaction one might intuit as sacred relatedness, similar to the relatedness James describes, we experience with the Divine at the deeper levels of our being. The following statements are a small sample selected from the ICF Master level competencies.
Please do not misunderstand what is being proposed. The coach is not taking the place of the Universal Divine within the client, but rather the coach is walking with the client into the depths of their being to explore the gifts of a Divinity that is the Ground of Being. Paradoxically, the deeper we go the more we experience higher wisdom. My first awareness of walking with another into the cavernous mystery of self-exploration came to me as a Stephens Minister. The more the person being ministered to felt my presence with them as they explored the depths and mystery of their own being, the more willing and optimistic they were about the process and potential of that exploration. This is not to suggest that Master Coaches are gods, but rather, our willingness to enter into that state of mystery with the client encourages the client to be more willing to explore and discover their undiscovered self, underutilized knowledge, skills, abilities, hopes, passions, spirit, and purposes….and their relationship with the Divine within.
The level of relatedness described above is rare and fleeting, but the benefits are powerful and lasting. The obvious benefit for the coachee is identified issues are addressed, which is important. But perhaps the more important and lasting benefit is the coachee develops trust in the process of exploring their deeper self, the confidence to engage in that process, assurance they can count on the Divine within, and the abilities to do so. The benefits for the Coach are similar. The coach and coachee are often both profoundly moved by this level of sacred relatedness.
Perhaps the greatest danger of coaching is not developing ineffective action plans, but a coaching session that ends with the coachee celebrating the skills and wisdom of the coach, giving the coach credit for the insights and action plan. This comes dangerously close to the coach playing God, and denies the client the opportunity to explore and develop their relationship with the Divine within themselves, creating a dependent relationship with the coach and undermining the client’s and the coach’s relationship with the Divine within.
A Modern Parable: The Way Life Is and the Three Little Churches by Rev. Chris Holmes
(I had the idea for creating this parable from a sermon illustration by Jackie Prim)
Once upon a time there were three little churches. One was built out of the doctrine of love, the second out of love for family, and the third out of…well…just love.
One day The Way Life Is was walking down a path that suddenly split into three different directions. He decided to follow the path on the left which led to the first little church. It was a pretty little building with a hand-painted sign out front which said, “Come experience God’s love: All are welcome!” So, he knocked on the door saying, “Little church, little church, let me come in.”
Well the people in the church took one good look at The Way Life Is and replied, “Not by the hair on our chinny, chin, chin; we will not let you in.”
After a few minutes they shoved a slip of paper under the door to him. It was a list of the 10 doctrinal positions on love to which he must first sign his agreement before they would let him come in, including that he would live and love just like them.
Just then a storm came up. It huffed and puffed and blew that little church over side-ways. The people tipped their little church back upright and, this time, buckled it down even tighter to the ground than before. They took their sign down and kept a watchful eye out for The Way Life Is and the storms that sometimes accompany it.
The Way Life Is went back and followed the path on the right which led to the second little church. It was a larger church that had a tall shiny metal fence around it. Through the gate he could see that it had tennis courts, picnic tables, a school, an indoor pool and lots of happy families with children everywhere. It too had a sign on the gate which read, “Come experience God’s love: All are welcome!” So, he knocked on the gate of the second little church saying, “Little church, little church, let me come in.”
The families all stopped what they were doing and gathered in a clump on the other side of the gate. Knowingly, they said to one another, “But he is different from us, and how do we know he won’t hurt our children?” They replied to him, “Not by the hair on our chinny, chin, chin; we will not let you in.”
Just then, a strong wind came out of nowhere and leveled all their buildings. Two months later the families bought an even larger plot of ground where they rebuilt their church far far away from everyone else. This time the metal wall around it was twice a tall as before, with signs that said, “KEEP OUT” and “NO TRESPASSING.” Guards were posted outside to protect them from The Way Life Is and the strong winds that sometimes blow through life.
Lastly, The Way Life Is followed the path straight ahead which led to the third little church. Let’s just say the small building looked well worn and sort of patched together. The crooked sign outside read, “Come experience God’s love: All are welcome!” So, he knocked on the door saying, “Little church, little church, let me come in.”
And the people of the third little church opened the door and welcomed The Way Life Is into their lives and their little church. It wasn’t always easy, but over the years as they prayed together, laughed together and raised their kids together, they realized that they were all very much alike.
Eventually, a strong storm came along, because…well, you know… that’s just the way life is sometimes. The high winds did damage to the little church, but soon the people came with boards and hammers and shingles and did their best to patch up their raggedy little church one more time.
To this very day, when you come to a three-way fork in your path, you can follow the path straight ahead and find that little church still standing. It is pretty patched up and tilts to the side quite a bit, but by God, it is still standing.
And out in front is a worn little sign which reads, “Come experience God’s love: All are welcome.” And, they mean it.