Clergy: Power and Vulnerability
With the exception of family-sized congregations, clergy are generally the individuals who hold the most power in a local parish. Depending upon the polity, this includes the political, relational, moral, and platform dimensions of power. The introduction of organizational intelligence (OI) into a system has the consequence of making the clergy person one of the most vulnerable, because he or she is the only person in the system where perceptions are individually focused. This combination of power and vulnerability merits sensitivity on the part of OI interpretive and application consultants.
Since most middle judicatories are charged with particular oversight of their clergy, it is desirable for these bodies to prepare resources for clergy in congregations that are utilizing OI, especially if they are using OI systematically as an information system. This is particularly true for clergy-focused systems.
The technical definition of a clergy-focused system can be found elsewhere. Here it will suffice to say that a clergy-focused system is one where members tend to evaluate the vitality of the church through the lens of perceived clergy performance. A clergy-critical system is one where members perceive that an improvement in the pastor-congregation relationship is the decisive factor in improving the vitality of the church.
Implications for a Clergy-Focused System
The fact that a system is clergy-focused can have a number of different implications and possible trajectories:
- A “front and center” clergy person who can parley his/her relational capital into ministry and is a good fit for the congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership manage any narcissistic risks.
- An overfunctioning clergy person who is paying a psychic price for success. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership manage tendencies to burn-out or flame-out.
Implications for a Clergy-Critical System
A clergy-critical system is essentially a clergy-focused system where things are not going well. Again, there are a number of different implications and possible trajectories:
- A pastor who is exercising the necessary leadership to shift the culture of a congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership by publicly and privately standing with them. This usually occurs within the first several years of clergy tenure.
- A pastor who is no longer, or never was a good fit for the congregation. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership in a process of discernment regarding the pastoral relationship.
- A leadership team that is beginning to engage in a project (strategic planning, leadership development, financial campaign) that avoids the clergy issue. The middle judicatory can help the clergy person/church leadership avoid the costs of those failure paths by keeping the system focused on the primary issue. Are they being led to (a) shift the church culture, (b) work on the pastoral relationship, or (c) dissolve the pastoral relationship?
In many cases, these will not be easy conversations. However, many issues in clergy-
focused or clergy-critical systems will not improve with time. Sometimes they will devolve into full-fledged crises of one kind or another in which no one wins and options are diminished.
Regardless of where the congregation is, whether a clergy-focused or a clergy-critical system, there are important roles and conversations that the Middle Judicatory can be a part of – both in the short and long term. Those early conversations on the part of middle judicatories can avoid painful, costly interventions down the road. These conversations and efforts can also aid clergy who may feel the weight of the congregation on their shoulders – before that weight becomes too much to bear alone.
From Holy Cow! Consulting and Crow’s Feet Consulting