Friday, November 22, 2013

Like Dating, Only Worse

Last week in my mailbox at 37 Chestnut Street in Springfield I received a free copy of this book, written by Michael Durall, with the very provocative title: Like Dating, Only Worse: Rethinking the Ministerial Search Process. It was sent to me because one aspect of my work as Canon to the Ordinary is to work with congregations in transition. When a rector leaves, in my denomination a congregation gets to have a huge say (in consultation with the Bishop and the Bishop's Office) about discerning who will be called to serve as the next rector. It's exciting and scary all rolled into one.

Yet very few congregations feel equipped to do this work alone, which is where the Bishop's Office comes in. Many lay people aren't really even sure what it is clergy do during the week, other than Sunday mornings, which is why I thought that perhaps the most valuable chapter in this book may be chapter two, "Sizing Up the Ministerial Candidate," which attempts to take a Search Committee inside the head of a potential candidate (now how is that for a scary thought?!) and even more concretely to address the question of what exactly it is that clergy do when they aren't leading public worship. If you don't have a sense of that, then how can you possibly find someone with the gifts for that work?

This is not a hard read. Nor is it a practical how-to book. If someone is looking for a step-by-step process to guide them through the Search Process, this is not the book. But the good news is that there are other books that deal with the technical side of things. This book is more focused on the adaptive change side of things. Toward this end, another very helpful chapter is chapter four, "The Greatest Peril of All." It begins with a quote from a minister who departed from a congregation after eighteen months because he took at face value this claim by the Search Committee: "they told me they wanted change."

The truth is that if a congregation says to any potential candidate "look, we are petrified to change and we want to stay exactly as we are (or get back to where we were fifty years ago)" then the healthiest clergy will run for the hills. Most clergy who feel called to hospice care would rather, well, be hospice chaplains. And make no mistake about it: a congregation that is not changing is a congregation that is dying; this is true of anything organic.

So everyone knows that the "right answer" for a congregation is to say that they are ready for change.But most aren't. And some really aren't. New clergy find this out as soon as they initiate the most basic of changes. So this chapter is a good reminder on both sides: for congregations it is a reminder that the transition process really does need to be a time for tilling the soil and asking questions and preparing for the work that lies ahead which will always include change. And for clergy it is to be mindful that while most congregation mean it when they say they are ready for change, there is never unanimity in any congregation about what that change should look like and when it comes, in big and small ways, there will always be push-back.

So who should read this book? I think clergy who are in the midst of looking or getting ready to look for a new call would benefit from this book. There is a line that no one with the possible exception of Supreme Court Justices gets scrutinized more than clergy in a search process; I don't know if that is true but it is definitely about way more than a "job search" and it is helpful to get clear about that sooner rather than later. But this book's primary audience is lay leadership in congregations that are in the midst of transition: wardens, vestries, members of the profile and search committees and other interested lay folks who just have "inquiring and discerning hearts."

Here is something to ponder even for leaders in congregations that are not yet searching for a new rector or pastor: Durall notes that "some churches are clergy healing and some are clergy draining" and then adds: "I hope your church understands the difference and opts for the former."''

In the congregational development side of my work, this is something I hope to continue to work with vestries on because if they are the latter than their clergy will leave sooner rather than later. I think it may deserve another blog post to ponder and ruminate on the differences and maybe even how a congregation moves from draining toward healing but what I know, firsthand, is that I was blessed to serve a church that has a soul (the title of chapter three of this book asks that question, "Does Your Church Have a Soul?") and I don't know how anyone could serve in a place for fifteen months let alone years in a church that does not. And some, sadly, do not.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff! Thank you for the thoughtful, helpful review. Look forward to a post about "draining" vs. "healing" churches. That's a vitally important conversation.