I used to conduct workshops and seminars for community leaders, almost always men, working together for the long range betterment of their cities and towns. It didn’t take long to discover that these assembled leaders did not know each other very well, could work together only in the most superficial way, and had brought to the table a variety of unstated personal needs and anxieties, all of which inhibited the work they had intended to do.
A one or two day workshop is not the place for group therapy, but I did stumble on one exercise that got things going. Each participant was asked to think back to an age around ten or so and write down what it was they wanted to be when they grew up. The usual cowboy and fireman always topped the list, but the discussion that followed unleashed two things. First, there was a general opening up of accountants revealing their love of music and desire to have been a concert violinists; bankers who always wanted to run a social service non-profit; retailers who had great ideas for manufacturing a new product; auto dealers who would much rather be mechanics, and so on without limit. That alone helped the group begin to appreciate each other as individuals who had dimensions other than what was seen on Main Street between 8 and 5, or at carefully orchestrated social functions.
The second thing unleashed was creative energy in wholly unexpected directions. I think it came from a combination of remembering the childish delight in imagining what one might become as a heroic cowboy or fireman, and the adult but childlike hope for the realization of possibilities yet to come.
That was a long time ago, but I’ve been reflecting on congregational leadership and wondering if the same dynamic might apply. Apart from church, how well do parish leaders really know each other? Do a few personal friendships tend to cut off genuine engagement with others outside that friendship? Have leaders become sated in the dullness of churchthink? Have possibilities been restricted by conventionally imposed limitations?
Breathing new life into congregational planning and decision making most certainly requires the presence of the Holy Spirit, but perhaps the Spirit’s presence can be made known through some fairly simple work.