Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
In the 1990s there was a series of commercials featuring the Shell Answer Man. These commercials talked about ways to save gasoline and how to keep a car maintained. The Shell Answer Man was portrayed as the expert who had the answer to any question regarding automobiles. Today, automobiles are more complex and so is motor oil! In fact, as electric vehicles (EV), plug in hybrids, and solar powered cars enter the market, motor oil may become a memory.
Congregations have also turned to experts for guidance. In the book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz writes, “In times of distress we turn to authority. To the breaking point, we place our hopes and frustration upon those whose presumed knowledge, wisdom, and skill show the promise of fulfillment. Authorities serve as repositories for our worries and aspirations, holding them, if they can, in exchange for the powers we give them.”
Authoritative experts serve us well when we are dealing with technical problems. These are problems we can both define and solve. This is the diagnosis of an infection that needs an antibiotic. But often in congregations, the problem is not technical but adaptive. Adaptive problems cannot easily be defined, and if they can be defined, there is no clear solution. When we are faced with adaptive problems, the solution requires learning and changing our behavior.
So then, how do we learn? I believe we learn together, in community. We learn by listening to one another. We learn by listening to those who are in the same situation and struggling with the same issues. We learn by having holy conversations of discernment based on scripture, prayer, confession, and commitment to change.
At our February 7th Presbytery Gathering at New Horizons in Overland MO at 1 p.m., we will have three concurrent workshops that will focus on congregational ministry. The workshops are based on the number of worshipers (not members) in a congregation. The idea is to have people with similar issues and challenges to meet in a space where they can share thoughts and ideas under the guidance of a professional facilitator from Ministry Architects. The workshops will be geared for pastors, but all congregational leaders are welcome to attend.
Congregational ministry doesn’t have a Shell Answer Man. What it does have is the Holy Spirit who is present as we listen and speak and as we open our hearts to God’s direction for our lives and our congregations.
Rev. Craig M. Howard