Newcomers and New Questions

In this fourth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about being like a “CEO” and communication. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “Oversight (Being CEO) Is a Worthy Calling,” and “Communication: Ministry Means Messaging” (pgs. 143-199) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.

This past weekend I taught a new member’s class for the first time. We had about ten people made up of young families, couples old and young, and some on their own. I got to steward my experience from the last eight months of internship with a hope and a prayer, and hopefully I represented our congregation well.

Reflecting on it now, I know I want to share about all the wonderful stories I heard, thoughtful and open conversations we had on church, LGBTQIA, communion, and Theology on Tap, all the beautiful and broken people I met, and an ADORABLE infant who will be the youngest new member in the next couple months. But I truly want to stick to the administrative side of it. I don’t mean to paint “administration” and “human moments” as polar opposites. In fact I’m finding that they’re more intertwined than I thought.

This week Bacher and Cooper-White responded to 1st Timothy 3:1 by saying, “Such a ministry of oversight [someone trusted to lead a congregation or region], whether as bishop of a diocese or pastor of a congregation, inevitably includes administrative dimensions” (144). This is all too true. As with all pastoral interns, I came into a congregation with systems and a culture already in place, churning, and shaking. So when I asked our Office Administrator if I could make copies of the forms I knew we were going to have the new members fill out at the end of the evening, I saw that there was one that was used a while ago but hadn’t been brought out recently.

In the spirit of the old form, I created something new: “Harvesting of Gifts, Interests, Passions, and Growing Edges,” where you can find things like “Telling stories,” “Comforting people who are sad,” “Making people laugh,” and “Making breakfast,” to select under I enjoy/want to learn more about… The other column are options (strengths and talents) to check for If I were to guess, I think I am…

The form can’t be more than 20 lines long, but it gets people identifying their gifts and growing edges, while giving staff members a way to introduce and connect them with people at our church who can get a new person to feel like we’re their people, and they’re our people. Over half of the people there filled it out and I can’t wait to connect them with people who are experts at giving new folks opportunities to share, serve, be known, and feel like they belong.

Prepping the multi-media, scheduling guest speakers, making sure there was enough material for participants without killing too many trees, answering emails, coordinating with the Office Administrator to invite people, following-up with staff connectors, expressing thanks and asking for previous teaching content, crafting an agenda, making copies, playing with babies (ok maybe not the last one)–were all part of the administrative picture of this wonderful New Members class.

My role as facilitator, teacher, and pastor was to set the table; Bacher and Cooper-White write, “the way the table is set for a meeting will have a significant impact on its ultimate results” (169). I didn’t make the dinner, but I confirmed with the cook that we could squeeze in two more for dinner. We set out dark chocolate candies to hold people over for the dinner break an hour in to my presentation. But I also set the table by setting expectations and setting the space to maximize the learning and connection of the people gathered there.

I shared with them the objectives for the evening, why they were there, and what I wanted them to think and dream about together.

Believe it or not, this whole church thing isn’t 100% unchanging (!). God’s promises are unchanging, but the Holy Spirit has a funny way of blowing people in (and out of) communities and bringing with them (or leaving room for) new questions, new perspectives, new backgrounds, and new pairs of lens with which we read the Bible and the world. I hope I established a space to share how our church is sensing God’s call, and also invited these new members to imagine how their presence and new contribution might enrich this congregation’s response to God’s call and vision for this church. I’m grateful for the staff people that supported me in this teaching, and I’m excited for more opportunities to engage with ministry and administrative tasks in new and creative ways!

Is there a particular class, activity, service, or project that you facilitate regularly that engages in administrative tasks that enrich that experience for your participants? Or do these administrative tasks do the opposite? What’s a way that you engage in administrative tasks with joy and gratitude?

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Adults and lifelong learning: expectations

So one of the exciting thing about designing your own independent study or learning experience, is that you have just as many printed words on a syllabus as you do pen-scribbled words.

I’ll be writing four reflections for Prof. Mary Hess on what I’ve learned from readings and experiences throughout the spring on adults and lifelong learning. We decided that using my blog to publish these learnings will: 1. make it fun, 2. generate a sense of collegiality, because friends in calls and jobs and are asking these questions too, & 3. help me remember what I learned after the class is done. First call pastors, synod staffers, congregational staff people, people in the pew, honestly my family members (hi mom & dad), students, seminary staff leaders – have all expressed a desire to learn too in this broad topic of adults and lifelong learning. So, are my first thoughts – reflection #1, guided by my reading of In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life by Robert Kegan out of Harvard.

The scribbled words on my syllabus (below) for the first reflection say, “What does learning look like for adults?” This is because Mary and I sat down with my drafted syllabus and realized that my initial “first reflection guiding question” was too detailed. I was going to ask “Why should church leadership coach adults to be learners/Why is lifelong learning important?”

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Yes, those are letters and words. Clear handwriting is not my forte.

You can’t really answer that unless you find out how adults learn. So that’s the first question. Here’s what I learned in reading the first 100 pages of Kegan’s book:

The environment in which adults learn is really complex and really heavy. Yes, In Over Our Heads is just over 20 years old. I was seven when this was published, and the expectations that our culture (Western American, middle class) has on adolescents specifically, not adults, are still very real:

– Employable

– A good citizen

– A critical thinker

– Emotionally self-reflective

– Personally trustworthy

– Possessed of common sense and meaningful ideals

Even the author says “This is a lot to want” (19).

Think about then the expectations that culture places on adults? I’m only a fourth of the way into the book, but I have a feeling that he will start to make the argument that the “training” or “instruction” that adults receive about how to be adults is not inadequate to meet the expectations that culture has on adults, and for what it means to be an adult.

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Kegan talks about personal development in terms of consciousness – not mental capacity or behavior (which are parts of consciousness) – there are first-fourth orders of consciousness. The first is very simplistic, linear thinking, and the fourth is when you are able navigate the complexities of being yourself and honoring the other, and at the same time maintaining boundaries. This is all in the realm of psychology which I’m not terribly familiar with, but that’s how I would summarize the framework he’s using. I believe he is trying to make the point that to meet the expectations that culture places on adults, adults must be functioning with a fourth-order consciousness.

I would argue that this is a really difficult and complex environment in which adults learn. Adults are expected, by culture, to communicate in various ways, to set limits, maintain boundaries, create and preserve roles, and exercise executive leadership (99).

So, where in there do adults find the space for listening and humility, crucial elements in learning, since to learn is to admit that you have something to learn, right? Perhaps listening and humility is implied in these cultural expectations. That’s the next question I would ask to the author – and honestly to anyone whose interested in this too. How do adults learn about new things, especially things that help them maximize their strengths or grow their vocation as leader/servant – and at the same time meet the needs that our culture expects of them?

Honestly, I read these few chapters and I got stressed out. Now that I’m an adult I have to do all this stuff? I have to maintain boundaries, communicate, preserve roles, etc.? Oh my goodness!

It also made me wonder: What is the list we all silently carry around of things we expects adult to do/be? What do we expect of our colleagues? Of our empty-nester parents? Of our pastors? Or our for profit people or non-profit people? I’m guessing that others might read this and panic too, thinking, “I don’t do all those things!!” So maybe a take-away is that we’re all under that cultural pressure. None of us are immune to the expectations of our culture – and at the same time we can feel comfort knowing we are not alone. That’s the good news I see in this. That adults are under similar cultural expectations – none “bad” or “good” – and we can empathize with each other and know that we’re all together.

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Well, in an ideal world. That’s a good thought. Does it actually happen? Are there communities where adults lift each other up and say, “I’ve been there too, and you can totally maintain healthy boundaries too.” Where might that comradary be? What might that look like? What does it look like – is there a place or group that empathizes together as adults come together to support each other in the cultural expectations that are placed on them?

Adults are under a lot of cultural expectations. But I think we can shape our response (not reaction) to those expectations with care and with each other. Kegan brings the challenges and dynamics of this to light and I’m glad to have him as a companion, if only in text, in this journey of learning about adults and their lifelong learning.