It’s the beginning of the year, and Ministerial Search Committees have just received a list of names of ministers who are interested in learning more about their congregation.  Savvy Search Committees know that they are

Photo by Jan Kunst
Photo by Jan Kunst

looking for a good match, not a perfect candidate, and the best way to find a good match is to present the congregation as mindfully and authentically as possible.  Taking a cue from the Charlotte Kasl book If the Buddha Dated, here are some suggestions for all leaders of congregations to help them frame themselves while in search:

  • Be guided by Spirit, not Ego:
    • Does the congregation have a sense of mission and connection that extends beyond its walls?
    • Have you discerned a strong forward-looking sense of purpose that enables you to “retire” programs and practices that no longer serve the mission?
    • Do your leaders feel a sense of call that enables them to partner with the new minister to lead the congregation outside of its comfort zone?

 

  • Know thyself as a system: both your strengths and your growing edges
    • Can you articulate what is at your center?  i.e. What are the core, defining values make up your congregation’s DNA?
    • What does it take to “fit in” with your faith community?  Are there barriers around class, education, culture?
    • How do you handle conflict?  Do people communicate directly, or do they tend to triangulate?
    • Do you set annual congregational ministry goals and assess how the ministries did at the end of the year? Where is the accountability (both for lay and/or professional people)?
    • Are you able to address your growing edges with humility and/or a sense of humor?

 

  • Be mindful of “unfinished business” from your congregation’s recent (and not-so-recent) history
    • Can you talk openly about uncomfortable parts of your congregation’s history?  Can you articulate how that history might have affected the congregation and what might be done to move it forward?
    • Are there areas of the congregation that operate outside of the official lines of authority? (website/Facebook, ministry programs, social justice, endowment, etc.?)
    • Where are the past presidents?  Are they still active, or burned out?
    • How did your previous ministries end? If there was conflict involved, what part did your congregation play?  How have the leaders responded to conflict since then?

 

  • Understand your relationship with power and authority, covenant and stewardship
    • Do the lines of accountability align with lines of authority?  (e.g. Is the minister head of program staff? Is the board fulfilling its fiduciary duties? Does the board trust and treat the minister as a covenantal partner?  Are staff who are also members clear about their boundaries?)
    • Do you have well-established policies and procedures to deal with members who are disruptive or just out of covenant that include strong lay leadership involvement?
    • What is your relationship to money?  Do members and friends pledge generously?  Does the congregation compensate staff and contribute to the region and UUA at suggested levels?
    • What is your relationship to the wider UU movement?  Do your leaders interact with other UU leaders? Do you seek out “best practices” of other congregations shared by the UUA?

 

  • Practice “beginner’s mind” as part of your own living tradition
    • Do you have youth and young adults in leadership?
    • Do you have active leaders with different identities (race, class, culture, ability, gender) who are appreciated for the different perspectives that they bring?
    • Do you have examples of how you tried something, failed, but no one resigned their leadership position or left the congregation as a result?

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, Central East Region of the UUA

 

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.
  • Roger Fritts

    Having served five congregations, of all these questions, this is the one that is most important to me: “Do the lines of accountability align with lines of authority? (e.g. Is the minister head of program staff? Is the board fulfilling its fiduciary duties? Does the board trust and treat the minister as a covenantal partner? Are staff who are also members clear about their boundaries?)” I remember arriving at a church where the President said to me “You are not really the Senior Minister. That is just a title that we give you because of tradition. The other program staff are not accountable to you. They report to the board. We are not going to let you run things around here.”

    • vitalleaders

      Yikes! It’s too bad they weren’t as clear in their search materials as the president was with you after you arrived!

      • Roger Fritts

        The Search Committee wanted a “Senior Minister,” the Board did not. As you clearly state, during a search process it is important for the board and the search committee to be in agreement about the role of the minister.