The Difference When You Make a Difference

turtleThe scholarship fund at the Midwest Leadership School, called “Flame Keepers” was not growing.  Sadly, in the summer of 2013 only $10 had been donated to the fund.  The volunteer lay staff had all experienced the transformative power of the week-long school and had enthusiastically promoted the fund with skits and songs to help provide that experience for leaders with financial need.  This past summer they decided to try something new, based on a lecture about stewardship by visiting faculty member Kathy McGowan.  She had said:

People give money to make a difference.  People give money to change lives. You need to tell the story of how you are making a difference in the lives of real people.

MLWS Chair Jennifer Thomas reached out to a MWLS graduate, Sayer Johnson, that she had met when she was a student in 2011. Thomas asked for a testimonial that could be shared when they invited the current students to donate to the Flame Keepers fund.  This is the result:

Jennifer Sayer
Jennifer Thomas reads testimonial by Sayer Johnson. Photo by Darthe Jennings.

MWLS changed my life.

 

As the week unfolded, I knew I’d never be the same, and I was right.  My congregation saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself and they took a chance on me. My congregation was generous with their open hearts. Strangers were generous with their financial support, and because of a Flamekeepers scholarship, I was able to make MWLS a reality.

 

Two years before stepping foot onto the Beloit campus I was emerging as my authentic self. I was declaring my space as a transgender man. My family and my congregation stood by me, held me up, and eventually challenged me to be here–where you are now–and have this experience at Beloit. My time at MWLS resonates with me still.

 

My time at MWLS was my first experience with meeting folks who only knew me as Sayer…not by my old name  and not as my former self. It was daunting and frightening and overwhelming, but in the end one of the most amazing and soul-inspiring welcomes into my new world as I could have possibly wished for.

 

Beloit lit a spark… and because of the Flamekeepers, the spark became light. MWLS would  NEVER have been possible for me without the generosity of strangers.  

Now four years later, I’m still benefiting from my time at MWLS.  Upon returning, I was able to facilitate growth in my congregation. I also co-founded a support group for other transgender men in the St. Louis metro area. The impact of MWLS is powerful, intimate and far-reaching.

 

My story is one of many.  And I am grateful.

The response was amazing. People wrote checks. People rounded up their bookstore purchases to donate to the fund.  MWLS student and folk musician Darthe Jennings donated all of the proceeds from her CDs sold at the bookstore to the fund.  The result?  Instead of $10, the fund received over $1000!

Make a difference, then tell the story of how you make a difference.

Additional Resources:

Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate: A New Vision or Financial Stewardship by J. Clif Christopher

The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leading Multiracial and Multicultural Congregations by Jacqueline Lewis

The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving by Mark V. Ewert

The Wi$dom Path: Money, Spirit, and Life A Tapestry of Faith Program for Adults  by Patricia Hall Infante and David H. Messner

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, CERG – The Central East Regional Group

 

 

 

There’s a Hole in the Bucket…

bucketIt happens more often than you think it should.  The church seems to be vital, even growing, but the money in the collection plate doesn’t keep up with the growth, or there seems to be a shortfall every month.  There might be grumbling about how the new folks aren’t pulling their weight financially.  Then someone notices some irregularities, even though a trusted, long-time volunteer has been responsible for the money. And then it comes to light that hundreds, even thousands of dollars are unaccounted for.

Churches are especially susceptible to theft, embezzlement and fraud.  We foster an environment that encourages trust and vulnerability in other aspects of congregational life.  We are often so desperate for volunteers we don’t ask for the kind of skills or accountability that we should to meet our fiduciary responsibilities.  And we often inherit systems, habits and volunteers that would be hard to change without a good reason.

Here are some basic practices and policies that every congregation should have in place:

Finance Policies

  • Two signers for checks
  • Separate duties of income, check writing, check signing and reconciling accounts to provide checks and balances  (e.g. the person who makes the deposits should not write checks)
  • Reimbursements must have receipts and proper paperwork and signatures
  • Duplicate Bank Statements that go to non-signers
  • Mandatory vacations for employees who have financial duties
  • Have the finance committee or other appointed committee review church financial records annually
  • Have the finance committee track patterns of giving over time
  • Permanent financial records should be kept at the church, not in someone’s home

The Collection Plate

  • Have two unrelated counters of every offering
  • Rotate count teams
  • Have 2 copies of the deposit slip. One goes with the money to be deposited, the second goes to another person that can provide a financial check and balance
  • Immediately deposit the money after the service using a sealed bank security bag.  NEVER allow anyone to take the offering home.

Uh-Oh…We Might Have a Problem

If you think that your congregation might be a victim of theft, embezzlement or fraud:

  • contact your attorney immediately
  • contact your District or Regional Congregational Life staff person.
  • consider engaging a Certified Fraud Examiner to assist you with the formal investigation

  • DO NOT confront the person

  • keep the investigation confidential
  • don’t be afraid to press charges
  • Once the investigation is complete and charges have been files, be as transparent as possible with the congregation.  Let them know the amount of the theft and what changes in policy and procedure have been put in place to prevent such occurrences in the future. Your members need to know that their financial gifts are being well-stewarded.

Additional Resources:

Financial Management for Congregations  UUA Website

Subscribe to the UU-Money Email List A forum for congregational money leaders.

A financial pandemic is sweeping the country article from Church Mutual

We’ve Been Embezzled! from Church Law & Tax

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Congregational Life Staff

Going With the Flow

go-with-the-flow-thumb26062172In my travels around the region, I sometimes hear members of congregations say something like, “Church shouldn’t be like work.  It should be fun.”  Several current research studies support this contention and might explain one of the reasons that congregational leaders get “burned out.”

In a New York Times (September 7, 2014) article, Paul O’Keefe, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, contends that people who see a task as interesting and enjoyable will work harder on that task and perform better.  Further, knowing that your work will make a difference or has possibilities for changing things for the better will help people to feel energized rather than exhausted, motivated rather than morose.  One of the psychologists cited in the study calls it “flow”, the experience we have when we are in the zone.

The implications for leaders in our congregations, then, is obvious.  The more leaders see their tasks as interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful, the harder and longer they work on the task and the better they will perform at it.

So how do we help leaders to get in the “zone”?  Additional research at the Universities of Virginia and Wisconsin suggest that for most of us, whether we find something interesting and motivating is a matter of whether we find it personally valuable.  We need to help leaders see their work as meaningful not only to the congregation or to our faith, but meaningful and valuable to them as well.  Research also shows that social engagement in activities can foster greater interest and motivation.  Leaders need to know that they are not alone and church activities done in a group rather than in isolation will result in happier, more motivated and more productive leaders.

Perception truly is in the eye of the beholder.  As staff, ministerial and lay leaders, let’s help each other to see things in a positive and meaningful way.  Let’s work together so that no leader needs to feel alone.  Let’s make church fun.

 

Announcements: A Terrible Death to Die

announcementsI remember my first church family camp, the Ohio Meadville Summer Institute.  At the end of the morning worship, one of the planning committee members would go up to the podium and start singing:

 

 

Announcements, Announcements, An-NOW-ounce-ments!
A terrible death to die, a terrible death to die,
A terrible death, a terrible death, a terrible death to die.
Announcements, Announcements, An-NOW-ounce-ments!

I visit a lot of different congregations in my work, and occasionally this hits a little too close to home!

Fortunately, I also have had other experiences.  I was at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church last Sunday where the co-ministers announced that the announcements for that Sunday were going to be the last.  The Rev. Kathleen Rolenz announced the change and the Rev. Wayne Arnison articulated the discomfort that such a change will create.

How will people know what is going on?  How will we get more Sunday School teachers if we don’t ask from the pulpit?  How will we let people know that our pledge payments have dropped off over the summer, and we need folks to catch up?

Rich Birch at unSeminary points out in his article 8 Reasons People Aren’t Listening to your Announcements that announcements are counter-productive.  Our goal is to get people’s attention, but instead we get their eyes to glaze over.  The “added noise” of the announcements may actually interfere with the effectiveness of the transformative message that our worship team has worked so hard to provide.  What is our core purpose, to change lives or to staff the rummage sale?

Of course, re-thinking how we communicate to our members will require patience and creativity on the part of congregational leaders.  I think you are up to the challenge!   Please share your ideas of how you communicate more effectively!

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Additional Resources can be found at:  Communication Skills for Leaders

5 Shades of Ministry

Allegheny UU Church in Pittsburgh, PA has a commitment to shared ministry.
Allegheny UU Church in Pittsburgh, PA has a commitment to shared ministry.

I’ve spent most of my summer working with different programs and events that help to grow lay leaders in our faith.  I have had the blessing of encountering dozens of earnest, committed and evangelical lay leaders wanting to spread the good news of our liberal faith.  Ministry shows up in many forms, and each has high value and an important role in the life of our faith communities.  Often ordained ministry is held up as “real ministry,” relegating other forms of ministry to lesser status.  I think all forms of ministry are important and complementary.

Ministry comes in many shades that, when layered, become a  rich hue. I can think of five — perhaps you might come up with more.

  • Pastoral Ministry is compassion.
    It is offering comfort and care to each other when we are in need.
  • Teaching Ministry is consciousness.
    It is encouraging one another to form our beliefs, live our values and engage our world.
  • Prophetic Ministry is agency.
    It is how we use our religious convictions to transform the world.
  • Ordained Ministry is devotion.
    It is a life devoted to serving the transcendent religious ideal.
  • Shared Ministry is covenantal.
    It is the time and intention that lay people carve out of their busy lives, also in their commitment to partner in serving the transcendent religious ideal. It is the time and attention that the clergy give to the spiritual formation of those leaders. Shared ministry is the greatest of these because it creates space for all gifts of ministry.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant

 

 

 

Art Doesn’t Happen by Committee – Part 2

I had just finished leading a worship service as a guest preacher. This congregation had been experiencing a gentle decline in membership over the past decade. Several congregants came up to me afterward and exclaimed, “It was wonderful how the music, the readings and the children’s story all connected to the sermon. Did you plan for that to happen?”  Actually, I made sure to work with the music director, the religious educator and the worship associate to help that to happen.  I casted my vision of the theme and made some suggestions, and they made other suggestions, and together we created a holistic service.

paletteWorship is a peculiar art form, especially in Unitarian Universalist congregations. The meaning of the word is derived from the Old English weorthscipe: ‘worthiness, acknowledgment of worth.’  In our traditional style of worship, we have a sermon, which is a kind of teaching, and the liturgy, which is the form of the rest of the service.  The meaning of the word liturgy is derived from the Greek lēitos ‘public’ + -ergos ‘working.’

In too many of our congregations’ worship services, there is a disconnect between the elements of the liturgy because the individuals contributing to it do not have a shared vision of the theme, or are not in alignment with the theme.

Similar to when an artist selects a palette of colors for a painting, the worship team should ensure that the elements of the liturgy blend together to achieve the desired overall effect. Having several diverse people contributing and riffing off of one another helps to create a rich experience.  However, there should always be a designated leader of the team who can make the final decision when there is disagreement or lack of direction.  Usually, that leader is the minister — a trained professional in Worship Arts and entrusted with “freedom of the pulpit” by the congregation.

When there is not a leader trusted with being the actual leader of worship for the congregation, or worse yet, there are factions that “control” the different elements of the Sunday service, the quality of worship suffers, and those who come for religious and/or spiritual sustenance leave unfed.

This year, the various worship services at our annual General Assembly had a much more holistic quality than they had in previous years.  The reason?  There was clear leadership by a worship professional who was entrusted with the authority to oversee the worship services and to ensure cohesiveness and connection to the overall theme of “Love Reaches Out.”

To me, the worship also seemed to have a deeper quality, because of the common theme and the variations on that theme that each worship service provided.  (There is a movement among vibrant congregations to use monthly themes for worship, faith development classes and small group ministry for this very reason!)  Reconnecting to our depth is what will help our faith bend the arc of the universe toward love and justice.

In the closing worship service, Nora Collins shared a reading from “Reimagining the American Dream”, an essay by Marilyn Sewell that captures the need for depth:

I [am] intrigued by…words often attributed to Rudolf Behro, an East German dissident: “When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.” I…[think] about us as Unitarian Universalists. This is who we are—we are not afraid to be insecure. We are not afraid to search, to go deeper, to find the truth, even when the truth is unpalatable. We are seekers who want to live out of that truth….

 

Unitarian Universalists, though few in number, can be the yeast in the loaf. However, let us be wary of the usual distractions and follies of our movement. It’s grown-up time now. We [can] no longer prioritize petty quarrels about how “religious” our language should be, conflicts between the humanists and the more spiritually inclined, or squabbles about who is in charge. The mission of the church is not to meet our needs; the mission of the church is to heal our world. It is to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves. Ironically, when we give of ourselves in this way, we find that our deepest needs are met.

Resources for Worship:

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant, CERG (The Central East Regional Group)

Teamwork for the Win!

Our Guest Blogger today is Jan Gartner.

The World Cup has been the big talk lately, but I’m never on the leading edge of sports conversations so I’m still thinking about the Basketball playersNBA playoffs! I was not surprised when the San Antonio Spurs skillfully beat the Miami Heat in the NBA finals. Why? Well, to be honest, I don’t pay a lot of attention to pro sports. So you could have told me that the Podunk Potato Heads won, and I wouldn’t have been too surprised about that either.
No actually, my husband, Mike, had explained the situation to me: this was a re-match between the two awesome teams who’d played each other in last year’s Finals. In 2013, the Heat had won after a riveting 7-game contest. Heading into this year’s playoffs, there were a lot of folks who seemed to think – how could the Heat not win again, with 3 players as incredible as LeBron James (even I know who LeBron James is), Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh? So, I was drawn in by the drama…and I found myself hoping that the Spurs would get their turn as champions.
I’m obviously not a sophisticated spectator, but I couldn’t help but notice that the Heat’s offense revolved around the talents of the 3 superstars. Meanwhile, watching the Spurs, I could see that it was truly a team effort. Each player seemed to have this uncanny intuition about his teammates’ strengths and style. It wasn’t about any particular person; at any given moment, it was simply about what was best for the team as a whole. The way the Spurs worked together was cohesive and synergetic.
This got me thinking about congregational leadership. Sometimes we tend to rely on one impressive leader (or a small handful) to rack up the points for us. Maybe it’s the minister. Or the music director. A number of the congregation’s efforts may fall to an exceptional lay leader or two. These standout performers become the focus of the congregation’s attention and activity.
Of course we need strong individual leaders in our congregations! But what will really make our faith communities fly is teamwork. Among the professional leadership, this means staff who appreciate and leverage each other’s talents to create experiences that transcend any individual’s contributions. Moreover, it requires staff to trust one another, to strive for common goals, and to focus is on what’s right for the whole organization. There are no ball hogs.
For lay leaders, roles are not prescribed by job descriptions and the “team” is far larger – effectively (ideally) the whole congregation. This presents the opportunity for intentional exploration of gifts and passions. Are congregants’ time and talent being utilized effectively? Is the work of the congregation (or a particular ministry area) distributed well among the team? What roles and responsibilities tend to fall to your “LeBron” and why?
In their book The Wisdom of Teams, JR Katzenbach and DK Smith define a team as “a small number of people with complementary skills; who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach; for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” The success of the Spurs proves that your congregation can be a winner without LeBron, Dwyane, or Chris – without Reverend Remarkable or Lucy the Luminary Lay Leader. What you do need is a theology of teamwork, with cohesiveness, common purpose, and collective accountability at its core.
So here’s the drill: explore how teamwork can improve your congregation’s score. I’ll be rooting for you!


Jan gartnerJan Gartner is Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders in the Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group of the UUA, telecommuting from her home near Rochester, NY. Her portfolio includes staff team development.

You are not the boss of me!

combine1My father-in-law was a no-nonsense businessman who worked a 600 acre farm. Fiercely independent, he liked to play by his own rules.  When he bought a new piece of machinery, he would remove all of the pesky shields and other safety devices that slowed him down or got in the way during maintenance or repair.  It was a family farm, so it was unlikely that OSHA would have investigated or intervened — at least until there was an “incident.”

In some ways, our UUA board, staff and professional organizations (UUMA, LREDA etc.) operate like OSHA:  We are Congregational Safety and Health advisors.

  • We recommend best practices for governance, finance, growth and leadership development.
  • We offer leadership schools and other trainings to help our leaders foster healthy systems and behaviors in their congregations.
  • We advise on how you might implement safety policies to keep your children safe from predators and your community safe from disruptive behavior.
  • We do our best to make sure our religious professionals are equipped to serve and are held accountable to professional guidelines and actionable codes of conduct.
  • We provide a process where ministers and congregations have the opportunity to learn deeply about one another before a call or a hire.

And yet, we still have congregations who–in the name of congregational polity–circumvent the safety and health recommendations.  Then, when conflict or other trouble erupts, the “Congregational Safety and Health advisors” are called in.

How do these patterns happen?

My father-in-law felt that the farm was always in danger of going under, so he did everything he could to avoid losing money or productivity.  The danger might have been real in the early years, but the habits remained when the farm was consistently profitable.

The story behind a congregational habit of stubbornly rejecting “best practices” is a bit more complex.  Part of rejecting solid advice is a pervasive allergy to authority that still lurks in some of our liberal religious communities.

Being suspicious of authority is part of our congregational birthright and is reflected in our polity.  We rejected the authority of bishops and presbyteries because of they held power and power tends to corrupt.  We kept the power and authority in the gathered body community — not to be a “majority rules” democracy but a covenantal community.  We choose our own leaders to teach and guide us and  we discern together to test our assumptions and beliefs. We organize as an association of congregations, and hire staff (like me) to help share knowledge, experiences and resources.

Holding ourselves accountable to one another in service of our transcendent values is also a part of our congregational birthright. When it is done well, the sense of purpose in the community is joyful and palpable to the visitor.   This accountability is our ultimate safety shield.  Without it, a liberal faith community is in peril.

A recent article on Occupy.com pointed out five dysfunctional liberal tendencies that plagued the Occupy movement.  These tendencies also show up in our troubled congregations.  The one that resonated the most for me was the tendency of Liberal Libertarianism:

“The Liberal Libertarian would rather see our collective efforts grind to a screeching halt than see one person “silenced” for any reason under any context. The Liberal Libertarian doesn’t actually care about collective power; they simply seek individual self-realization.”

In our congregations, the Liberal Libertarian is not interested in what it means to be “free” in a faith community.  They do not want any kind of accountability for their behavior.  The article recommends:

“We need to be vigilant against the attempts of isolated people to impose their priorities on everyone else in the name of their individuality (after all, the beauty of free association implies the option of free disassociation) and use organizing structures that are durable and designed to withstand interference.”

In other words, we need to trust the leaders that we choose to hold the boundaries that will keep the congregation healthy. This will enable the congregation to put its energy into building the beloved community rather than dealing with disruptions.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Congregational Resources:

 

Art Doesn’t Happen by Committee – Part 1

classiceditorguyOnce upon a time there was a congregation that wanted a mission statement. They appointed a committee that worked hard. They held cottage meetings, World Café conversations, and got a real sense of the identity of the congregation, who they were as a “whole” — or (as described in this clip from Rise of the Guardians) their “center.”  It became time to draft the mission statement.

Another committee was convened with representatives from different constituencies. They spent several meetings where they wordsmithed* the statement over….and over…and over…again.  The finished statement ended up being awkward and clunky.  Sadly, it didn’t have the desired effect of “making the congregation’s heart sing.”  At the congregational meeting, there was some more wordsmithing from the floor before the half-hearted congregational vote to approve it.  Afterward, it was tucked away with the meeting minutes and slowly faded from memory.

In a parallel universe, this congregation did all of the same things…until it came time to draft the mission statement. They had decided early in the process to leave the drafting of the actual mission statement to “congregational poets” — a member (or two) who is known for their ability to turn a beautiful phrase.  The finished statement resonated with the members and served as a portable way for leaders and others to remind themselves of their center as a faith community.

As leaders, it’s important to know we need to organize ourselves depending on the job to be done.  If you have a big, complicated event to run, you put one person in charge and help to recruit volunteers to help make it happen.  If you have finances to steward, you want to have skilled and competent folks doing the paperwork and trusted leaders doing the oversight.  If you have a problem to solve with creativity, you want to bring in some diverse viewpoints and experiences to engage with it as a group.  And if you want something crafted that touches the heart and soul, you need an artist.

*Note:  I have heard wordsmith being used as a verb to describe this phenomenon in many different situations, but could not find this definition of it, or even that is it recognized as a verb.  The word “wordsmith” does not even appear in my 1980 Webster Dictionary in any form.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Do you have “Committee Alphabet Soup?”

one brainI often use General Motors as an example of the top-down model of organization and leadership that is the opposite of what our congregations need to be nimble and vital (and I might add, attractive to Gen-Xers and Millennials). Today’s story from Bloomberg “GM Recalls Stalled in 10 Years of Committee Alphabet Soup” exemplifies how–even though GM has rallied since the bailout back in 2009–GM still has a culture that stifles communication and slows response time.

Inherent in the GM culture is the foundational notion that the brains are in the boardroom, and the rest of the organization’s role is to receive commands and send back reports.

Brian Johnson, an auto analyst for Barclay’s states some of the results of this model:  “The committee culture of the old GM was rooted in organizational paralysis and characterized by a lack of accountability.”  “I’m amazed that even the government bureaucrats couldn’t understand GM’s plodding processes.”

Tom Stallkamp, a former president of Chrysler, adds that top executives often don’t hear about internal recall investigations, especially since there is inherent tension between engineers and safety/quality folks as they chase reports back and forth.   Speaking as an executive he says: “If you tried to react to every single issue coming in, or every dozen issues spread over a dozen cars, you’d go crazy.”

My short hand for this style of organization is “one brain, many hands.”  It’s also been described as a “spider” organization in the book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman et al.

“Spider” organizations are very structured and invest most of the power and authority in the “brain” or top leadership. Congregations organized on this model have:

  • lots of committees with no one willing to staff them
  • committees that have people willing to staff them, but there is no energy at the meetings
  • a requirement for committees to send reports to the board, but they seldom do
  • committees that have had the same chair for over 5 years
  • turf wars
  • silos between ministries
  • annual reports from committees that show little difference from year to year
  • understanding of the mission is held only by a few people in leadership

“Starfish” organizations look to share power and authority (with accountability) throughout the organization. Congregations organized on this model have:

  • A clear sense of mission throughout all of the leadership, including those on committees and task forces
  • Attention to alignment with the mission as well as accountability structures
  • leaders who reinforce that sense of mission through annual goals based on strategic planning
  • committees where some people plan, and task forces where other people can just “do” without showing up to a committee meeting
  • a permission-giving culture that encourages and supports new ministries that are in alignment with the mission
  • good communication between leaders of various ministries that don’t need to go through the board

Another handy checklist for your congregation might be this list of qualities of growing and stalled congregations developed by http://waytolead.files.wordpress.com/

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant, CERG