The Gardener as Leader

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


I will never forget Dr. Parisi. He taught me personnel management at DePaul University where I did my undergraduate degree. Dr. Parisi was a businessman. He always taught wearing a three-piece suit. At the end of each class he would pronounce in full self-importance and condescension, “I have given you enough of my time.”

One of the things Dr. Parisi would remind us of is that management is not about changing people. Instead, we can only create an environment in which people can be changed. Focus on the environment, not the person. This wisdom is helpful when we are expending a large amount of energy but are not getting the results we desire. It helps to know that all things are not in our control, especially when it comes to human behavior.

One of my Lenten books is Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that win wars, cure diseases, and Transform industries. The author, Safi Bahcall, challenges leaders to balance new and creative ideas along with traditional and successful ways an organization has of doing things. Bahcall’s book challenges us to change our attitude regarding how we understand leadership.

In one chapter, Bahcall writes about leaders who are more like Moses. These are leaders who determine what is approved and what is denied. These leaders are less dependent on a process or on others but make the decisions by themselves. The Moses leader is more likely to fall into a trap of saying no to new and creative ways, or saying yes to those things which they like, without using a criterion or having a rationale. Bahcall refers to Robert Dale’s book, Leadership for a Changing Church. Dale writes, “Leaders now make sense rather than make [decisions]. More accurately, they make meaning.” Dale is shifting away from the builder model of leadership to the gardener model.

The leader as gardener knows how to work with the soil, measure the rain, and determine what to plant and when. The leader as gardener realizes they cannot make things grow, but they can create the environment where growth can take place. What are you planting in your church, hospital, or school? How are you tilling the soil so things can grow and be nurtured? What is happening in your environment that is detrimental to the life you want to grow, and what are you doing about it?

Dr. Parisi may have been arrogant and distant, but his classes were popular! DePaul even has a scholarship in his name. I believe he helped us to understand a leadership style that would be with us in our careers for decades to come.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Learning in Dialogue

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry people pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Frieire

One of the six books I’m reading as part of my Lenten journey is Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a brilliant landmark book written in 1970 by Paulo Freire. Freire wrestles with the problem of teaching poor and oppressed adult peasants in South America. He creates a teaching method that shifts from the traditional hierarchal direction of teacher to student. This vertical method doesn’t recognize the gifts and learning the student brings to the classroom. Instead, Freire develops the teacher-student with students-teachers method. Teaching ceases to be a one-way conversation and becomes a dialogue between equal partners participating in the enterprise of learning.

For Freire, learning comes from a restlessness in the spirit. Something inside of us has to see things as they are and want to change them. This may happen on a session, in worship, in a hospital or classroom. For Freire, education is about changing the world. It is about being empowered to change the world with others and through others.

One of the gifts of the upcoming Education Day is the opportunity to engage with others who want to bring change. It may be change in Christian Education, Liturgy, or buildings and grounds. It may be change in church growth, digital media, or being a welcoming congregation. Education Day is a day of re-imaging what the church can be; what ministry as ruling elders and deacons can be. It is a day where restless, impatient, and hopeful people come together to rub shoulders and learn from and with each other.

Education Day needs your participation and involvement. All are invited! This includes those across the Mississippi, Missouri, and Meramec rivers, those down I-55 and the I-44 corridor, those in the lead belt, those from the inner and outer rings of St. Louis Metro, those just north of the boot heel, those in the “villes” in Illinois (Bellville, Collinsville, Edwardsville!). All are welcome!

Take the time to sign up today. The event is free and includes lunch. It happens Saturday, March 21st. It begins at 10:00 and concludes by 2:00. I look forward to seeing you all at Ladue Chapel for Education Day 2020.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Creative Leadership

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Ruling elders are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation, but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. Book of Order G-2.03

The greatest challenge of our congregations is not financial, age, or theological location. The greatest challenge is a lack of religious imagination. Congregations that are struggling often are challenged to envision who God is calling them to be, how can they become a welcoming community (beyond donuts, cookies, and punch), and how to be a viable connected part of their community. Leadership is the key to a congregation’s future. We put great emphasis on pastoral leadership, as we should. But the leadership provided by ruling elders is the pipeline of vitality that runs throughout the congregation.

The upcoming Education Day is entitled Re-Imagine. Two of the workshops will focus directly on training of ruling elders. These two workshops are for newly elected elders, weather they have had training at their church or not. The other workshops focus on church growth, the use of digital media, leading during times of transition, becoming open and sensitive to the LGBTQ+ community, rebooting Christian Education, and using creative liturgy. We’ve added a workshop just for folks who handle buildings and grounds. Ruling elders are responsible for leading ministry in all of these categories. Finally, we have two workshops for Deacons who are new or need a new way of seeing the ministry of compassion.

My vision of the church is one of good pastors with a strong session. The church can only go as far as prayerful, discerning leadership can take them. If you want to increase your knowledge, talk with others who are doing the same work, and find creative pathways forward for your congregation, then attend Education Day. It will be on Saturday March 21. It will go from 10am – 2pm at Ladue Chapel. Lunch is included. It is free for all, and all are welcome! I guarantee you will be inspired. Bring pencil and paper because you will be taking notes! I look forward to seeing you and your colleagues there! Register by clicking here.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Focus

I am so excited about the many activities going on in the presbytery. We have Education Day on March 21st. This is an opportunity for the entire congregation to come out and listen, learn, share, fellowship and get to know other members of the presbytery. The workshops are designed to entice everyone to imagine and re-imagine what the church can be.

In addition to Education Day, Dismantling Racism and Privilege (DRAP) has created Presbyterians Care. This program encourages congregations to work inside and outside of the church building, reaching out to the community through various service projects. The first big focus weekend is March 20 – 22.

And then there is Matthew 25, a denomination wide attempt to have congregations commit to dismantling systemic racism, poverty, and doing activities to promote congregational vitality. The presbytery is encouraging every congregation to be a Matthew 25 congregation and is providing financial incentives of $250 – $500 by completing the presbytery’s check list.

When put together, this can be confusing. This is a lot. My concern is that it may be too much. We’re becoming like the performer on the Ed Sullivan Show who used to balance the spinning plates on a long pole. We find ourselves running back and forth making sure nothing stops moving and crashes!

The solution is to focus. I have a poster on the wall in my office that in part reads, “. . . feel overwhelmed, (feel) crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen. Then focus!”

Matthew 25 is the focus of this presbytery. Everything flows through Matthew 25, and is centered around Matthew 25 for the year 2020. This means developing a fluid and less rigid way for congregations and members of the presbytery to participate in Matthew 25. It means creating and developing new ways to fight against poverty, racism, and being a vital congregation while doing it.

Perhaps congregations should determine what they would like to do in order to get credit toward the Matthew 25 incentives. For example, Webster Groves is doing work on Gun Violence Prevention. Their work goes toward Matthew 25 credit. Another example is having several members attend a DRAP meeting, or doing a community project for Presbyterian Cares. These all count toward Matthew 25 participation. If we focus on Matthew 25, the overwhelming amount of activity swirling around the presbytery will feel more like oxygen to breathe and less like water to drown in. Later, I will say more about Matthew 25 and how to complete the checklist. Until then, keep getting excited about what we are doing as a presbytery and what you plan to do as a church or other organization.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Creative Church

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


How do you come up with ideas? I was having lunch with a pastor who was describing an “aha” moment. I asked her what brought about the aha? She said she’d been thinking and praying about the topic for 8 years. Then this big idea struck her. Her moment of inspiration was years in the making. This pastor’s story aligns with what Kevin Ashton writes about in How to Fly a Horse. He argues that creativity is not magic, and often does not manifest in moments of clarity. Creativity comes from hard work. He writes, “To create is to work. It is that easy and that hard.”

Creativity and imagination are the challenge for our congregations and our presbytery. I remember talking with one of the most gifted pastors I’ve known. He was explaining why he was retiring. “Craig, I’ve just run out of ideas.” This is the same statement I hear while sitting around tables with discouraged session members and heartbroken elders. The problem of congregations dissolving is not just financial or aging out, we often lack creativity to see new solutions, opportunities, and breakthroughs.

Ministry in the 21st century requires imagination and creativity. The first step in creativity is to try something. Take an action. Take a risk. Do something. One creative expression of ministry is New Worshiping Communities (NWC). Imagine these as seeds for the future of the church. Our presbytery has birthed four NWC in the past three years. We currently have three remaining: UKirk, Haus Church, and Light for the Darkness. I had a conversation with Rev. Thirza Sayers who is the organizing pastor of Light for the Darkness. I asked Thirza, who is very creative, what is the source of her creativity. Her response? The Holy Spirit! She then added that coming out of a deep depression helped her to see how the light of the gospel brightened her darkness. For Thirza, and for us, our personal experience with God is also the source of our creativity. Our testimony is the key to the door of evangelism.

Education Day on March 21 at Ladue Chapel is about imagination and reimagination. It is about getting our creative chops going as we imagine leadership, church in a digital age, creative liturgy, and doing ministry in the in-between time. We will have training for ruling elders and deacons as we imagine the future church they will serve in. Registration forms will be sent later this week. I encourage everyone to come out and experience the Holy Spirit as we are moved to imagine the church God is calling us to be.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Presbyterians Care

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


The Dismantling Racism and Privilege (DRAP) team is still seeing fruit from their trip to the Legacy Museum in Alabama. Although the trip happened last October, the waves are still flowing outward from the initial event. There is energy in the presbytery that is triggered by the enthusiasm and focus of DRAP. An example is the pre-session at the presbytery gathering on this coming Thursday February 6th. Ordinarily, we anticipate 125 people at our gatherings. We already have 140 registered! We have over 110 planning to participate in the pre-session. Wow! We anticipate about 25% of the participants will be first time visitors to a presbytery gathering. These members are showing up because they are both excited and curious. They are excited about what DRAP is doing. They are curious about who we are as Presbyterians and how we live in life together beyond their particular congregations.

At the gathering you will see many people wearing Presbyterians Care shirts. This is part of the DRAP initiative designed for each congregation to reach in and reach out with acts of compassion and caring. Congregations and individuals are being asked to volunteer in community activities like visiting a Ronald McDonald House, neighborhood clean-up, or a local food pantry. They are asked to do internal mission like hold a career day, create an intergenerational event, or host a read-a-thon for children. They are asked to wear their Presbyterians Care shirt while involved in acts of compassion, peace, and justice. The idea is to raise awareness of Presbyterians in action, and to witness through the wearing of the shirts.

Simply wearing a shirt that identifies us as Presbyterian may generate conversation. It may become an entrée to sharing our faith, witnessing for Christ, and inviting someone to church. In a time where the most shocking clothing seems to be the most popular (did you see the red carpet on the Grammys!), it may be easy on the eyes for someone to see a simple and honest message. It would be even more powerful if this message is connected with an action of compassion and community service.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

From Every Tribe and Nation

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


I’ve been able to catch glimpses of the impeachment. I saw the house managers make their case for impeachment. Now I’m watching the defense state their rationale for acquittal. I know what the results will be, even before the vote is taken. When we live in a partisan world, people tend to stick with their tribe.

The Senate is showing me something. Even though most of their minds are made up, they sit and listen. They show respect. They disagree with a level of decorum.

I also noticed that I am far more interested in what one side says than the other. I watch news shows for one side, far more than I do for the other. I realize that I too am part of the partisan spirit that has engulfed our country and the world.

We live in the waters of partisanship. We take sides and we believe our side is right. I have come to accept this reality. The challenge is how do we navigate a course with people on both sides of a divide? How do we come to an agreement that both sides feel is fair and has the potential to live into what God wants for this presbytery, and the various institutions and churches that are affiliated with it?

Each presbytery gathering, I struggle with the question of capacity. Do we have the emotional capacity to make difficult decisions in a respectful way? Do we have the maturity to recognize that even though we are on different sides of an issue, we are able to listen, speak, and vote with class and decorum; we are capable of coming to a bipartisan solution?

At the February 6th gathering we will discuss and vote on the An Apology to Our African American Sisters and Brothers for the Sin Of Slavery and its Legacy, which is being submitted by Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team. We will vote on overtures for the upcoming General Assembly. We will have other business of the presbytery to vote and discuss. What will our spirit be during these times of conversation, debate, and vote?

In spite of my expressed anxiety, I am watching this presbytery evolve and grow. The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is claiming its identity as a diverse body of believers who are spread across the spectrum of theology and faith. We are a large tent that seeks to include conservative and liberal, LGBTQIA+ and straight, all people of color including white, urban and rural, wealthy and poor. We are the vision of God’s kingdom, where all are welcome to the table where Jesus Christ is host.

This is why we will gather, we will pray, we will worship, we will learn, we will fellowship, and we will vote. The more we gather, the more we can see Christ in one another, as we love each other with the love of Jesus Christ that passes all understanding.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Sugar

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Last year I received a health scare. After my semi-annual physical, my blood sugar levels spiked. Diabetes runs strong in my family. My Mother died of renal failure related to complications from diabetes. Each of my brothers are diabetic, and now so am I. The truth is I’d been diagnosed as pre-diabetic for years. But I didn’t take it seriously. I was in a weird form of denial. I figured that if I didn’t pay attention to my diabetes, nothing would happen and my numbers would decrease, and all would be well. Last August that myth was shattered.

My first response was to change my diet. Actually, my first response was a weird depression, sadness, and belief that my life would end with blindness and the loss of limbs! Once I got over my apocalyptic drama, I focused on what I can control. After talking with my brothers (they are the greatest brothers a brother can have!) I learned more about diabetes than any doctor could tell me. Perhaps it is because people who love us know how to talk to us in ways we can listen; ways we can hear with compassion what they are saying.

Back to the diet! I watched sugar and carbs. I no longer drank soda or sugary drinks. I watched my alcohol intake. I began a serious exercise program. I walked after dinner and worked out 3 – 4 days a week. I did weights and cardio. I sweat, a lot! And I began checking my blood sugar levels. I learned how my body works, when my sugar rises and when it falls, how it responds to food and exercise. I learned that the biggest contributor to a rise in my blood sugar is stress (I now take Bible reading, prayer, and meditation more seriously). By Thanksgiving I’d lost 25 pounds! My glucose levels were within normal range (my next A1C is February and I’ll know for sure). So far, I’ve kept the weight off.

I must give a huge shout out to the Board of Pensions. Through their Livongo plan I am able to obtain a blood sugar kit with an endless supply of strips and lances. The plan connects to my Call to Health monitoring as well. All of this is free. I know many of you are part of Call to Health. 46% of our eligible members participated last year. I would like to get that number up. I would like to see more of our pastors and Board of Pension members get involved with Call to Health.

I still love sugar! Just ask Ruthie down at Fisk Presbyterian church. I couldn’t resist her apple pie on Sunday after worship! My eating is a lifetime choice, a choice I make daily, and sometimes meal to meal. I am aware that the loss of sight and limbs may not be avoided, but I hope to do all I can to live a full and abundant life for those I love and myself, with the help of God.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Paradigm Shift

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


I can’t wait to hear Jennifer Harvey at our next presbytery gathering! I am looking forward to participating in worship and her workshop on February 6th at St. Mark. Jennifer is the author of the book, Dear White Christians. The presbytery will be reading the book throughout the year. Several of you are already into it! Second Presbyterian even had a class on the book (Go Second! Go Second!). Jennifer is challenging the church to shift from a paradigm of reconciliation to a paradigm of repair.

This shift is a challenge for me as well. As I read her book, I felt a shift in my own thinking and expectations. And it troubles me.

My way of understanding anti-racism has been shaped and formed in me since childhood. From kindergarten to fourth grade, I attended all black schools. From fifth grade through college, I only knew white majority integrated schools. My first day in a white school was my first school fight. I was raised to believe that if we can learn, work and live together in the same neighborhoods, and even worship in the same churches, then we can remove the scourge of racism from our society. This model of integration and reconciliation has been my underlying way of thinking.

What Jennifer helps me to see is that racism creates scars and wounds in people of color. These wounds are soothed and healed by other people of color living together in the same community and worshiping in with one another in the same church. This is why 11:00 remains the most segregated hour. Not because Blacks and Whites can’t worship together, but perhaps because Black people choose to worship where they find dignity, agency, and strength.

I still believe that integrated worship is still a sign of God’s power and a strong witness in our racialized society. I do not want the white congregations in our presbytery to give up on attracting Black people to worship. But now I value churches of color that are separated and able to express their culture in worship without justification or judgement. I get it.

If Jennifer Harvey can help change my thinking (being the old dog that I am!), I believe she can help the presbytery take steps toward racial healing and repair.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Continuing Education

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Happy New Year! The beginning of the year can bring hope and possibility. It is a grace from God to try again, afresh, and anew. I pray that each of you have a vision of improvement for your mind, body, and spirit. I pray that you find ways to connect to your community and make a difference with a focus on hope and justice. May we as a presbytery help fulfill Zachariah’s prayer for the child Jesus when he said, “Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” Luke 1:78 – 79.

One of the gifts each presbytery minister has are funds for continuing education (con-ed). The minister uses these funds to enhance their working knowledge, feed their spirit, and nurture their ministry. For some ministers this means a class or a workshop. Each year I use a portion of my con-ed to meet with a consultant. I, along with a small group of presbytery executives are given personal help and inspired by ideas to lead our presbyteries into the future. I enjoy going to lectures by authors I’ve read as well. In 2018 I attended a lecture on the Trappist monk Thomas Merton presented by Richard Rohr.

Ministers take workshops on music, painting, or other ways to express their creative side. Sometimes churches cannot see the connection between how a minister uses their con-ed, and the work of the church. This is because sometimes the connection is indirect. An inspired minister is a better leader. A relaxed and de-stressed minister is a better leader. A minister who has their creative spirit opened through photography, may find new ways of understanding a text, or solving a problem.

I want to encourage all ministers to take advantage of their con-ed. Be it a biblical class, music workshop, writing seminar, or finger painting, do something that will stretch your soul or build upon the gifts you already have. Sessions and boards should make sure each minister is improving their craft. Quality leadership is one of the keys to a vital congregation, and ministry setting. I encourage all minsters to plan and schedule their con-ed for 2020.

Rev. Craig M. Howard