Next week I will meet for the first time with a new Parish Council (elected leadership) of the parish in which I serve. We will begin by discussing how we hope to work together. To facilitate our discussion we will look at some notes on how we might seek to be together in leadership.

These notes for discussion are quite personal to me and probably will appear a tiny bit peculiar to many people. But, perhaps they might serve to stimulate conversation about how we conduct ourselves as leaders in the church.

 

Parish Council (PC) Guidelines
February 2019

(Nb: The environment, spirit and atmosphere we create on PC affects the entire parish.  Therefore, the tone we establish together and how we conduct ourselves as leaders in the church are vital to the well-being of our community. To a large degree, the way we are together is the way the parish will be.)

Here are Ten Guidelines I believe offer the best chance of being together in leadership in ways that are life-giving for the parish and even the world beyond:

  1. Church is a living organism. We come together because we share a common commitment to being aware of the presence and action of that Love we believe we see embodied in Jesus.

We seek to foster an environment in which we experience the call to open more deeply to the presence of the Love that is the purpose and meaning of human existence.

We aim to be the community that, according to Tertullian (c. 200), the world saw when it looked at the early church and observed, “See how they love one another.”

  1. We exist to encourage one another in being more conscious of the work of Love and in living more deeply in tune with the Spirit of Love. To this end we commit ourselves to taking personal responsibility for our own inner state.

We aim to avoid finger-pointing, blaming, or any form of scapegoating. We resist the temptation to give away power over our inner state to anyone.

We understand that the presence of peacefulness and love in an organization begins with those who are in leadership. Therefore, we commit ourselves to doing all we can to know peace and love in our own hearts. From this grounded place within ourselves we hope to live peacefully, lovingly, and respectfully in relation to all people, even those with whom we may disagree or by whom we feel hurt or let down.

  1. We see our primary call as opening to the unpredictable Spirit which “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8).

To live in tune with this creative Spirit requires that we submit to that Spirit and live the gentle, flexible, open lives that characterize the Spirit of love.

We want to accept and nurture the gifts of all people. We want people to feel free to offer themselves in ministry, but never under compulsion or demand. We agree with Paul that, it is “for freedom Christ has set us free”. (Galatians 5:1)

We seek to live responsively, discerning what seems to be emerging and cooperating with one another as we discern the Spirit’s work.

  1. While we want to be responsible and recognize the need to be careful stewards of the resources entrusted to us, we do not navigate primarily by rules, precedents, standards, formulas, or long-range plans.

We acknowledge the need for structure but seek to avoid allowing “the way things are done,” to imprison the free moving of the Spirit.

We seek to embody Paul’s conviction that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2).

We aim to be open and flexible.

  1. We do not want to operate from a sense of scarcity or be controlled by fear or anxiety. We trust deeply that God is in charge and God provides.

We seek to be a non-anxious presence avoiding urgency, pressure and heavy demand. We aim at generosity and gentleness.

We want to start from “Yes” and only move to “No” if it becomes clear that a direction is not likely to be fundamentally life-giving.

We avoid fostering negative energy. We acknowledge the need to hold our positions lightly and remain open to the wisdom of the group. We are willing to say, “I may be wrong”. We aim to listen more than tell.

  1. We do not operate primarily from a product/results-based orientation. We seek to discern goals that arise naturally from our life together as God’s people.

We are a relational organization. We start from connection and unity. We try to avoid divisive votes. We hope to conduct ourselves in ways that allow everyone to feel genuinely able to commit to a common direction.

We reject abuse of power, enemy-formation, manipulation, or coercion in an attempt to exert our will over others just to “get the job done”.  We affirm that how we do what we do is more important than what we do.

  1. We believe the Spirit speaks through all people and so PC’s first responsibility is to listen deeply. We are willing to say, “By myself, I only have a partial picture”. We understand we need each other to see more clearly.

We try to pay close attention to what is actually going on and cooperate with the energy of the moment as it manifests among us and in the world.

  1. We seek to operate with mutual respect and gentleness. The Spirit seldom pushes, demands, or uses guilt to motivate, and never manipulates or resorts to shame.

We understand that we operate in a most life-giving way when we communicate clearly and operate transparently. We know however that churches, that seek to follow the Spirit, are inherently messy organizations.

We do not operate under strong domineering centralized leadership or a simple hierarchy. So, we acknowledge that communication at times is imperfect. While we aim to be open and transparent, we rely upon forgiveness and grace when we are not entirely clear or fail to communicate adequately.

We trust that most people are guided by good intentions and are doing the best they can.

  1. We hope to avoid urgency or pressure. We understand that there are few ditches worth dying in.

Intensity, drama, and tension are seldom signs of the Spirit.

When we find ourselves becoming strident, pushy, or demanding, we commit to stopping, stepping back, taking a deep breath, and trying to see more clearly and listen more carefully to what is really going on.  We do not want to react to symptoms while ignoring deeper causes and failing to hear the real message in the reality of our circumstances. We affirm that disagreement may indicate that we have not heard clearly.

  1. At times our life together may be messy and unpredictable. But mess, surprise and some uncertainty are signs of life. We release our need for the tidiness, predictability, and illusion of safety that characterize the surface of organizations that are too tightly structured and too rigidly controlled.

Our process may unfold more slowly than we wish. So, we seek to move with patience and humility. We resist anything that may cause anyone to feel pushed in a direction they do not sense they are genuinely called to go.

Paul issued a challenge when he wrote that those “who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)

The onus for making the community work lies with those “who are strong”. So, we desire to accommodate ourselves to the needs of those who are “weak”. We are willing to acknowledge when our attachment to getting our way or satisfying our personal wishes and desires hinders the spirit of openness and flexibility that is essential to the well-being of our community.

Above all we seek to operate under the banner of Colossians 3:14 in which we are instructed to:

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.