Important Information for Today’s Church Leaders with Jim Chandler
Jim Chandler began coaching and consulting in 2016 after nearly 30 years of experience as a pastor and church planter in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church. He also served on the staff as a campus pastor and leader of the stewardship system at The Journey Church in New York City — a dynamic multi-site church known for its effective church ministry and small groups systems.
Jim brings a positive and encouraging approach, believing that God is at work in churches of all shapes and sizes, and knowing from experience that small changes can make a big difference.
Jim did his undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina, double-majoring in Economics and Political Science. Following graduation, he operated small businesses and his work eventually led him to Northern Virginia. It was there, in 1987, that he finally answered a call he had felt and resisted for years: to enter pastoral ministry. Jim received his MDiv degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.
Jim currently serves as the Coordinator for New Church Development for the Alexandria District of The United Methodist Church in Northern Virginia (DC Metro area) and as a consultant for church vitality for the Charlottesville District of The United Methodist Church.
Jim and his wife, Lynda, celebrated 30 years of marriage in June of 2016. They have two grown daughters, Whitney and Hannah, and a lovable rescued dog, Tabasco. Jim enjoys reading, sports, and traveling with his wife on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
More about Jim Chandler at www.360intentionality.com
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, and welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. We got another really good session today. Russell we’re going to focus on the unique issues around church leadership. You and I know something about that, being inside the space of the church, and working with them. How are you doing, Russell David Dennis?
Russell Dennis: I am in the middle of all sorts of new things. We are rolling into a new vision at my church. There are all sorts of things, everything from A to Z, from change to conflict. In the church environment, that is a bit unique. I am looking forward to hearing some of Jim’s insights on this.
Hugh: Sure. He’s got a lot of good things for us. He and I have had a chance to chat, and he comes highly recommended from my wife.
Russell: The brains of the operation.
Hugh: That’s right. She is the chairman of Jim’s fan club. Without us getting too far afield, Jim Chandler, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange.
Jim Chandler: Thank you very much. Good to be with you today.
Hugh: We like to ask our guests to talk a little bit about themselves. It’s a lot more interesting than me reading a bio that is flat. Tell us a little bit about your background. I know you’re ordained clergy and you spent some time in the church and you’re doing something different than that now. Just a little bit about you and how you arrived at what you’re doing now, and maybe why you have chosen to do what you do now.
Jim: I grew up in North Carolina. My family was part of the church. We were there every time the doors were open. When I was a teenager, the people were telling me, “You’re going to be a pastor.” I kept saying no. When I went to college, my plan for my life was to be a lawyer. I went to UNC in Chapel Hill and double majored in economics and political science, did the pre-law track. Matter of fact, when my wife agreed to marry me, she thought she was marrying a lawyer. It was a classic bait and switch. After college, I was working managing some businesses, really saving money to go to law school. There was something in my heart that I think I’d been suppressing for a long time and finally said yes to it. I went to seminary, was ordained, and pastored local churches for about 30 years. Had the opportunity to plant a brand new church in the Richmond, Virginia area. I really enjoyed being a pastor and working with different churches.
A couple of years ago, felt another redirection in my heart and life. For the past two years, I have been working as a coach and a consultant with pastors and churches and really focusing on helping lead into what the church needs to be in the 21st century. I work with establishing some brand new churches and also do some work with pastors and churches that have been around for a couple hundred years. A good variety of work.
Hugh: Wow. What makes Jim Chandler unique? You said words that a lot of people use, coach and consultant. What’s different about what you do?
Jim: The reason I really felt drawn to this was there is a lot of coaching and consulting out there, and there is a lot being offered to churches. One of the things that I saw a lot of was what I call the template approach. You can buy a package online, download it, change out the church’s name, put your name in. I won’t say that doesn’t work for some people, but I know it doesn’t work for a lot of people. One of the things I believe to my core is that every pastor is unique, every church, every community is unique. I love, rather than taking some template and trying to put it over what they have, really working to find out what is unique, what is the call to be present in this community.
Hugh: Looking back on not being a lawyer, being a pastor and taking the ministry track, any regrets?
Jim: No, none at all. For years, I kinda had this back and forth with God because I was wondering why those years were wasted studying economics when I went to become a pastor. Rather than thinking those were wasted, I think they have been critical to the work I did as a pastor and the work I do now. I love leadership. I love reading about and studying leadership. The more when I was pastoring that I read and studied leadership in the non-church world, in the business world, the parallels for what we were dealing with in the church were just so obvious. I think sometimes church people are resistant to some of those leadership principles. They’re for business, they’re for people who are not part of the church, but they are principles that really do transfer. Leadership is leadership.
Hugh: Bishop Willimon was at my leadership symposium recently in Lynchburg. He got up and said, “Nothing happens without leadership.” Of course, he was bishop at North Alabama for two quadrennials. He’s back at Duke teaching clergy. He is focusing on leadership because he says it’s the biggest deficit he sees in the church.
You and I talked before. There are several things I’d like to unpack here. The Methodist church, I don’t know what the current number is, but our former bishop visited our local church a few years ago and threw out the statistic that the Methodist church was losing 1,200 members a week at that point. It’s still going down in numbers. I just shared with you that I attended a national conference, and the numbers were very low. It was focusing on church growth. People there were saying it was a downward trend, that people were not coming to that particular conference. Underneath that, you and I had explored that. From where I sit, what SynerVision Leadership Foundation is called is to help people in power to be better leaders. What do you think the core deficit is in leadership? Are you of a different opinion than me that we are losing members, and at the heart of it is the lack of leadership?
Jim: I agree with you. What Bishop Willimon is doing now in teaching leadership is so needed because a lot of seminaries, maybe even most seminaries, you can go through and get your Master of Divinity to be ordained and to pastor churches, and leadership isn’t taught. So much of seminary training, it’s important, you learn Biblical languages, you learn to preach and teach, but the leadership skills that are necessary because the church is one of the most leadership-intensive organizations around. Most churches, there is not enough paid staff to do all the things that need to be done. To live into the mission of the church, you are dependent upon people using the gifts and talents that they have to serve without any financial remuneration. A lot of seminary training teaches you to do, not to lead. I think that’s one of the struggles that churches face, where the pastors, the professional clergy, sometimes I say we are the professional Christians, we are trying to do everything rather than use the skills of effective delegation and empowering other people in the church to lead.
Hugh: Generically, Russell and I find the burnout rate of nonprofit leaders, I think the Meyer Foundation did a study that said 45%. I would imagine that if you go to clergy only, it’s higher than that.
Jim: I can’t quote the exact percentage, but I have been reading some things lately that talks about how the dropout rate among clergy is high, and it’s getting higher.
Hugh: Some of the stats I have seen repeatedly is that 1/10 pastors make it to retirement, which is alarming. Alarming. Now you chose a different path. I chose a different path. I am in my third career. I timed out after 40 years in the church. I think I did what I could do in 40 years. I am working as an eternal presence, similar to you, but I am more generic nonprofit.
Going back to a sound bite that you gave us, the church is the most leadership-intensive place. My goodness. Unpack that a little bit. What are some of the specific challenges? I think you have four we talked about before. What are some of the specific challenges that church leaders face? We said clergy, but it’s more than clergy.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. You and I had this conversation a few weeks ago. I don’t know that any of these challenges are unique to church leaders or clergy, but they are specific to them. Another challenge along the leadership lines is this thing of trust, and the erosion of trust in clergy and in the church. In the last couple of months, there have been a couple of big things that have happened. One of the largest Protestant Evangelical churches, one of the mega-churches, has gone through a tremendous crisis because of allegations of sexual misconduct by the lead pastor. Led to his early retirement. Now because of the church’s mishandling of that, the whole governing body has stepped down. Everybody reads about that. Just hit the news last week with another scandal with the priest in the Catholic church. Being a clergy leader, there was a time where you were the most respected person in the community. Now, when you see lists of how professionals are viewed, maybe I didn’t become a lawyer because I wanted to be really respected, you see youth car salespeople and clergy near the bottom of the list.
One of the challenges around that is systems of accountability. I think that’s a struggle within the church to have that positive accountability. One end of the spectrum, you have no brakes. Driving a car without brakes is fun for a while until you come on a curve. Then it’s a disaster. At the other end, it’s more like a parking brake. If you ever have tried to drive your car when the parking brake is engaged, it’s really hard to make forward progress. To have a leadership structure where the accountability we all need is there so that there can be trust in that, but also allows forward movement.
Hugh: The brake thing reminds me of trying to drive in Mexico. Why use your brakes when you have a horn? Or Italy, for that matter?
You’re talking about, and it’s all over the news. It’s Bill Hybels you’re talking about in that church. The Pope came out recently denouncing the sexual impropriety. There is a leadership paradigm that we hardly look at, and it’s the power differential that psychologists talk about. Russell, our colleague David Gruder and I have taught this together at business growth conferences. The pastor is in a unique position. There is a specific power differential. When you read the research, 40% of pastors admit to sexual impropriety, having an affair. That is admitting to it. It is a high-stress, high-risk job. Unaware of how, oh yeah, it was consensual. No way. You are in a power position. Even in some ways, when pastors are leading worship, they tell people everything to do. They are talking about a program when they are leading worship. They’ll say things that are power words like, “You may sit down.” We reinforce it in subtle ways and actually make it worse.
Talk about us in a position of influence as leaders. We are talking about leadership in the church specifically, but many of these themes, all these themes, leadership is good leadership anywhere. We are focusing on some of the issues specifically with the church. It is fair to say that the mainline churches are what we are mainly looking at today. That is where you were. I had most of my experience there.
Jim: I think going back to accountability and having some healthy practices in our lives, it’s been said a lot that leadership is lonely. It’s lonely at the top. It can be if we make it that way. I don’t think it has to be. One of the struggles for pastors is taking time for themselves, being healthy, making sure that they are not allowing themselves to be stretched so thin that they are susceptible to things they otherwise would not be. One of the things that was so key for me, and I still have it in my life, is some people who not only have the invitation, but I give them the expectation they are going to speak truth into my life. Sometimes they tell me things in the moment that I may not want to hear but I need to hear, and recognizing that all of us need some healthy accountability. Otherwise, we will go places that we wouldn’t ordinarily go.
Hugh: I am rereading some of Napoleon Hill’s writings. Do you know that name?
Jim: Yes, I do. Yes.
Hugh: He talks about the 500 leaders he interviewed. Thomas Edison had very little education, but he surrounded himself with very knowledgeable people. It was this mastermind concept. Andrew Carnegie is the one who really turned him on to the mastermind principle. As leaders, we get in this lonely space. As a nonprofit executive director or pastor, we don’t have this peer group around us. Part of it is accountability; part of it is nurture. In the church, we preach the Sabbath, but we rarely take it ourselves.
Jim: Yeah, exactly.
Hugh: I read in the Washington Post a year or so ago the mainline denominations have 23 Easters left at their current trajectory of losing members. Looking at some of the, how much has the church changed, and how much does it need to change to remain vital? How much does the Methodist church have to go down? It has lost a lot of members. What is the right size for the denomination? What needs to change in the church? It’s not on a good trajectory right now.
Jim: One of the things is how we deal with nostalgia. There are still a lot of people around in the church who were there when the biggest problem was how to build buildings fast enough to have space for everybody. There are pictures on the walls of the rooms being overflowing. I don’t think we need to forget that past. It needs to be celebrated. We need to learn what we can from the past. But there is a point at which nostalgia gets expensive because it costs us focusing on what the future can hold. It will look different. One of the things I really love about the work I do now is working with some new churches. The model is very different than it was 21 years ago when I planted a church. Recognizing that there is still so much good that needs to be done, and the church has a great role to play in that. Nostalgia is not going to help us get there because it will not look the way it did in the 1950s and 60s.
Hugh: Russell, what do you think of that? Nostalgia. You have been around churches a big part of your life, haven’t you?
Russell: I have. I am in a community that is different than any others I have been in. There are a couple things I want to comment on in respect to leadership for pastors. One of the key roles for pastors is that they are the spiritual leader of that community. Like other nonprofits, to flourish and operate smoothly, you need some business systems in place. That is an awful lot to heap onto one person because both may not be in their wheelhouse. In order to avoid isolating themselves, having people that are truthtellers, that Jim spoke to, he’s got truthtellers in his congregation, every one of us needs those people in our lives. That’s critical. I think that in large part, a lot of leaders, not just in churches but in other organizations, aren’t really taught how to deal with conflict. Conflict in the church is a completely different animal. Not only do you have to look at some of the standard paradigms for conflict, but for a pastor, dealing with conflict has to involve use of scriptures and other principles that other parts of society aren’t holding themselves to necessarily. That’s really critical. Going forward, the church has to ask itself, “What are we here to do? What does that look like?” I can speak to our church. We are looking at expanding our role in the community. The church was there to be a beacon in the community. I think there has been a loss of sight of the fact the church is supposed to be a beacon for the community with so many other things going on. It’s going to look very different. Like everybody else, any other organization, a nonprofit, a business, a church, we have to look at our role. Are we fulfilling that role? What needs to change? There is a different dynamic. Like everybody else, we have to appeal to the people we are trying to attract. What is the message that is going to resonate? Whether we like it or not, we are in sales and marketing to some degree. What it is that we are selling is different. Selling to me is just service and solving problems. That’s kind of the role, and a big part of the ministry is solving problems, wherever they are.
Jim: Russell, I want to follow up on what you were talking about with the leadership systems. I think that is so critical. One of the big challenges that churches are facing now is alignment. Their structure. Aligning the structure with the mission. Churches that I work with, we look at their structure, I break it down into two categories. There is church work – that is the stuff that keeps the organization going. Needs to be done and done well. Administration, finances, property management, HR, things like that. But that’s not why the church exists. The mission and ministry is why the church exists. That’s not church work. That is the work of the church. What I do with churches is we look at how much time and energy they are putting into the church work side of it. A lot of times there is a structure that has been around for decades. It’s done nothing but grow, as structures tend to do. You just add different layers of bureaucracy. It’s really eye-opening when a church sees how much time and energy. We look not just at how many meetings you have, but how many people are in that, what is the person’s hours, what is the opportunity cost of that? It’s encouraging to see churches that are really trying to bring efficiencies to that church work side of it so that there is more time and energy freed up to really live in why the church exists.
Hugh: That’s a lot of really good stuff. I am processing it. In the narrative, when you respond to some of these, you show a real depth of wisdom. You have been around; you have seen things. Now you are seeing it from the outside. Part of what I was thinking about when you were talking about the mission. We get sideways in the church. We think the great commission is our mission. I believe as a strategist that great commission is a mandate. It’s a Biblical mandate. It’s not a choice. A mission is a choice. It’s what we do after we make disciples. It’s like the dog chasing the car. After they get the car, what do they do?
Speak to having a profound vision. Bishop Wills, when I worked with the cabinet when he was the bishop in Tennessee, he told me, “I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where God gave a vision to a committee.” It’s the leader’s duty in the light to say, “Here is my vision.” When we run the vision down, what I have seen over and over is we run the vision down, and it comes back up from the masses, and the leaders emerge. We articulate how we are going to do that, which is the mission. We are making disciples. What are we called to do? Speak to that strategy and structure. I don’t know if that is the context you coach and consult in. How do we rally behind what God has called us to do as this particular body?
Jim: I love what you just said because when you look at a lot of mission statements for local churches, they are the same. Oftentimes, that is because it’s easy to take that Biblical mandate and say that’s it and not do the hard work of really looking at this community in which we are located. Who is here? What are the needs here? What are we gifted and equipped to do? I love seeing some of these things I am seeing now. Churches really have articulated the clear vision and then are doing the work of making sure that they are aligning what they do with fulfilling that. It’s hard, particularly in an existing church where you have dozens of committees that have been around for a long time. There are a few people who love those things and don’t want to let go of them. To look at 2018, what are we called to do? Who in this community are we positioned to reach? What do we need to put in place structurally? What do we need to do to organize ourselves in order to live into that? I do believe it is unique for every community.
Hugh: It’s like we are all different people. We all have different personalities and talents. The communities are all uniquely different.
Hugh: That’s really important. We have a comment from somebody watching, Karen. Thank you, Karen. “I believe the drop in mainline churches is because it is a time of enlightenment. People are waking up to their spiritual connection with source God. Dogmatic religion where you are told how you must believe, or you will go to hell, just does not resonate anymore. This is why new thought centers are growing and accepting all and help you find your truth and don’t claim to be the end-all authority over you. It encourages you to find your truth and purpose. The seekers are seeking and just don’t resonate with religion anymore. I find more and more people who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious,” which is kind of a shame. Religion has gotten in the way of our Christianity, is what I take out of that. Do you want to respond to that?
Jim: There is some truth there. In the modernist age, it was the institution that was looked to, and the institution spoke. People said okay. That is not our culture now. Actually, I think that is a good thing because it gives people the invitation and the opportunity to really dig and explore for themselves. Part of the issue with the church is still trying to live in that modernist age and function in that when the culture isn’t there anymore. I do not at all believe the church is irrelevant. I believe that there is great relevance. We just need to live into that. I think the model of how we do church, this is back to how it’s going to look different, and a lot of settings, the church with one person who stands at the front and is the dispenser of all is not going to resonate with a lot of the people in our culture. It will be much more of a shared journey, participatory. In the end, I think that’s a good thing.
Hugh: Go back to earlier. We were talking about what’s working and what’s not working. Contrast those for us. You travel to a lot of different places. You have seen a lot. Typically, what od you see is working well with leadership in the church, and what’s not working? Talk about this memory of the past and living there. What else?
Jim: I am a little reticent to say this thing and this thing because our tendency is to say, “We need to do that.” Overall, the thing that I see is working is a willingness to experiment. Everybody knows that the church in our culture is changing, has changed, is changing. Bury the heads in their sand, some get freaked out about that. Others take a more innovative stance and want to try things. Knowing that some will work the way we think they will, some won’t, but this willingness to experiment. That trait that I think is working. I see people experimenting with different things in their communities. They are engaging with people they were not in the traditional model of church. This isn’t just they are doing a pub theology, so everybody should do a pub theology. Meet in the bar and have conversation. I don’t think it’s programmatic. I think it’s more mindset of being willing to innovate and experiment.
Hugh: That is fascinating. You and I have talked before we started about Father Gregory Boyle and his work with homeless people. Where is he, Los Angeles?
Hugh: Quite remarkable. He just turns the paradigm around. He doesn’t try to fix it. He goes and relates to them, learns from them, has conversations, values them. We tend to have our little- Richard Rohr says this. We have a social club. A country club mentality in the church. You have to obey these rules. Karen says that she didn’t say the church was irrelevant. I said that. But they don’t resonate. We have developed some best practices, but we don’t use them, or we skew them to what we think they ought to be. Is that part of the nostalgia piece? We are not thinking, we are just walking through the motions of what we think it ought to be.
Jim: With that nostalgia, if you remember what worked really well, it is easy to fall into, “We need to put more emphasis on that and try harder to do that same thing that worked a couple of decades ago” rather than really being open to “Let’s try something new. Let’s try something that is different.” This cycle of learning that we hear about in the business world with think, try, and learn, and this cycle of innovation, that is what we need in the church. Let’s just iterate. Let’s try something new. What we did we learn from that? Now what did we learn? One of the big obstacles for the church is how we deal with data. Numbers aren’t the whole story, but you can’t know the whole story without the numbers. There is this fear of data because we feel like it’s going to be bad. By some of the traditional metrics, maybe they don’t look good. What can we learn? What is working? Then let’s try something. How are we going to measure whether it’s effective or not? Things in other parts of our culture that are done and proven best practices, sometimes we are just reluctant, probably for a myriad of reasons, to implement those in the church.
Hugh: The seven last words of the church: “Never done it that way before.”
Jim: When I planted a new church, one of the things that was eye-opening was how quickly into a brand-new church, you are starting with a blank sheet of paper, is how quickly you would hear things like that being voiced. We have always done it this way. That means we have done it once.
Hugh: Wow. That is scary, isn’t it? Oh my word. We don’t care. It’s like the reporter in the church and interviews the guy, “What do you think about apathy and indifference?” He says, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” I have toured a lot of churches lately, just visiting, getting acquainted with them. There is no millennials. I do think I have read in some studies the millennials think the church does more harm than good. Back to what Karen said about spirituality. We aren’t really aware of our spiritual being and how God has called us and how the spirit world works in communities of faith. We are called together to do some good. Sometimes it’s the war zone, where we are picking on people. I keep hearing the theme of, “Let’s try something different.”
When a church calls you and wants to work with you, what kind of qualifier do you have to want to work with them?
Jim: That’s a really good question. Sometimes it’s desperation at the other end. We have exhausted everything, so let’s try this. One of the questions that I ask in the initial vetting of one another to see if this is going to be a good match is, “What is it that you are called to do?” The second question is “What are you unwilling to change in order to pursue that?” Try to get that out on the table. We try to do that without any judgment in that. But let’s just be real. Sometimes, where I’m not a fit is where a church is just wanting to keep things as they are, but just get more people to come and participate in that. Where I really feel my passion flowing is when a church is intent on reaching their community, they just don’t know how to do it, but they are not going to sell out what they believe, and I wouldn’t ask them to do that anyway. But they are willing to change tactics, willing to experiment with different approaches, willing to get out of their comfort zone in order to engage with the people in the community that they feel called to reach. There are churches that are doing that. A lot of this can make it sound like everything is horrible in the church. I don’t believe that. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I believed that. But it does take a sense of mission and a passion and a willingness to do some new things. The way I say it is to do things differently and do some different things. A combination of those two.
Hugh: Russell, I hear some hope in his words. He’s in this because he sees there is a better future. What are you hearing?
Russell: There is a load of it. If you are spiritually-minded, you don’t really have a choice. You stand on the sideline and watch it grow. The community that I’m in is a new thought community. For a lot of years, churches thought of themselves as middlemen for this relationship with spirit. That is not the case. People don’t need a middleman. They need guidance and encouragement to see how this way of life can be put to practical use every single day. That’s what it is about. A lot of leaders are resistant to doing these things differently. I’m sure Jim runs into a lot of resistance. I’m sure part of that is fear. Seminary didn’t prepare any of these folks for all of these extra roles that they have to play and some of the problems that are taking place today. There are a lot of dedicated spiritually-minded people in church.
We use Jim Collins’ good to great model for social sectors to build our vision over the last couple of years, and it’s worked very well. Every church has what he calls level five leaders. That pastor is the spearhead of that vision. That is where that initial vision comes from. It’s usually pretty big and scary. The board supports that. You go in and do the work, and you bring in the congregation. A church is a community. Not only is a church a community within the communities that they serve, but church is relevant in the community. Churches, as they shrink, something happens. When conditions get difficult, a lot of times as individuals we shrink back instead of going full out to be who we are. That happens with the church. You lose pace of who you are. We are relevant here in this community. Who are the people we want to talk to? Who do we want to bring in? Who are level five leaders? There are a lot of questions to ask and answer. To get something that I have never gotten before, I have to do something I have never done before. Therein lies the challenge with churches.
There are other folks out there. Karen Frank mentioned Ken Wilber, who has done a lot of church leadership books. There are a lot of good things out there. It’s up to people within the church community to be open and willing and to support that pastor. With so much being put on the pastor’s shoulders, sometimes they feel that they can’t delegate it. I can’t hand off my responsibility to be the spiritual leader, but I can sure as heck go out and hire a business manager so I am not fiddling around with day-to-day stuff. I am looking at large questions of how to build a community. According to this vision I have been given, what kind of process can I create to go out and get feelers, find my level five leaders, put this thing on track, grow this thing, and really become a big part of this community? We have to change perceptions that other people have. If we don’t set a narrative, people are going to do it for us. That is really critical for church leaders to look at today. Who do we want to be in this community? What are we about? Are we making a difference? This is where it starts. Those are a lot of large questions. It takes a lot of heavy lifting. It takes a lot of conversation. But when you enlist a whole community, and you start bringing your board in and your level five leaders in, more hands makes the work lighter.
Hugh: Russell, you have hit a really big deal here. I think this is integral in Jim’s work as I understand. We have had bad models, I guess. We have been taught leadership as having all the right answers. This autocratic model. What Russell and I teach is transformational leadership. It’s the culture of building leaders. The leader is the inspiration, the influencer. We don’t have a flock. We do have a flock, but we don’t herd them like sheep, not in today’s world. The autocratic model is not something that succeeds. I was just in Fort Lauderdale a week ago, and I was remembering Coleridge when it was the big TV church. The other coast was in California, Chris Cathedral. Those are both built on a personality. When those people died, both those ministries crumbled. Creating this culture of high-performing. Russell, you just exposed some leadership fallacies. I have to have all the answers. We have this scarcity mentality, too. The scarcity mentality, we can’t hire a good accountant or a good coach/consultant. We can’t get this person who is an expert in that; we have to figure it out ourselves.
I have thrown a lot of things at you, Jim. But some of these are fallacies of leadership. Do you see that often?
Jim: What you just talked about, the scarcity mindset, you think about it. The one place that you would think would not exist would be in the church. I don’t believe God freaks out over green pictures of dead presidents. There is not enough money. That is prevalent in a lot of churches. We can’t. We can’t. We don’t have. We don’t have. Rather than looking at what we do have and what we can do. I believe this again in my core that if you are called to do something by God, you have what you need among you to get it done. It is really- The scriptures, there is this powerful image of the body. That is what the church is. There are different parts with different functions. It works when the hand is not trying to be the ear, but being the hand fully. For us to have this abundance mindset, that we have what we need, it can be a scary time.
Todd Bolsinger wrote a book a couple years ago called Canoeing the Mountains. He used this story of Lewis and Clark. It’s so powerful because he talked about their expedition. He believed when they crested these mountains that there was going to be a waterway that was going to take them gently to the Pacific Ocean. They believed it so much they had canoes with them. When they crested the mountain, they saw the Rocky Mountains. They were not at all prepared for it. They were not equipped. But he uses that story to say when you are in that situation, that is a decision point. Now what? Do we go back? Do we quit? Or do we abandon the canoes and find some people to help us traverse those mountains? We get to that same place. What we thought was going to work, or what used to work, doesn’t work now. But then there is the leadership moment of now what? Do we sit down and cry, or go back, or do we forge on?
Hugh: Absolutely. I use the model, obviously as a conductor, of an orchestra. They are all consummate leaders. They are very good at what they do, but we don’t tell them. We don’t hire a good oboe player and tell them how to play the oboe. Micromanaging thing doesn’t work. We do have a lot of leaders who think we have to give people every step of the plan and spoonfeed them when really it’s not what they want at all. They want to use their brain.
Russell has been holding back. He usually has some thoughtful questions. He has good observations. Russell, we are coming to our last ten minutes here. I want to make sure you get one of your profound questions for Jim around whatever topic you have heard or one you haven’t started yet.
Russell: There has been a lot of good dialogue around what we have covered so far. It’s important to look at where we are in every aspect of society. I had a thought that I lost. But what I would like to ask you in your conversations with others because from my practice, we believe that you are manifesting results, whether you’re taking action or not, you’re manifesting results. Inaction can result in people leaving the church. In terms of dealing with churches, have you found that a lot of them are working toward having the congregations look at all of their practices in a practical way? Applying what they are learning to their daily lives with a positive expectation. Are you running into communities that are able to do that? Where do you see that as being a possible solution, making spiritual practices practical on the daily level for folks?
Jim: Where I see it working is where pastors do not as we said a few minutes ago, se e themselves as the answer person. They are giving spiritual leadership to the church. They are casting a vision. But they recognize that there are other parts of that body that are necessary to carry that out. One of the things that is maybe not unique but is definitely characteristic of a lot of pastors, and I struggled with this myself, is we like to be liked. Sometimes, in leadership, you don’t set out to offend anybody or anything like that, but leadership sometimes gets messy. This reticence to really lead and challenge, it can become difficult to a lot of pastors. It’s hard when you realize, Okay, if we do this that we need to do, there are some people who won’t carry my picture in their wallet anymore. I definitely see churches really growing and becoming effective is where the pastor is the visionary leader, but there is ownership of that vision that will survive beyond them. Hugh cited a couple of examples where the leader left or died, and it crumbled. Jim Collins’ work, he talks about that. It’s not the charismatic leader that makes those organizations successful for 100 years because nobody lives that long.
Russell: I’ve got this group of people who I call truthtellers. They are the ones who are going to tell us our superpowers, but they are going to tell us where our Kryptonite is, too. That is sort of the pastor who has a spiritual mandate to be that truthteller in the lives of people who turn to him/her. That may not win you any popularity contests. But by teaching people how to live scripturally-based lives, to take their faith and put it into practical applications, which is what I think my community does, is very useful. People have to see the work the church is doing is still relevant, and it matters and has an impact on their lives. I think that is true. I believe a lot of people have lost sight of that. With a church that returns to its roots and says, “Hey, we are here to be spiritual, to provide a beacon of leadership and excellence in our communities for people through spiritual practices,” this is not mythology. This is stuff that has practical applications in the lives of people. We are here to serve and love one another. We can make things better.
Hugh: We started out this interview thinking about leadership. What I see, Jim, is that pastors really, not only have they not studied it seriously like they study Greek and Hebrew and other subjects in seminary, but they also don’t have a style of leadership in mind. What I discovered through 40 years of working in middle management as a music director is that transformational leadership is the core of a culture. We look at the servant leadership. We have to be a servant before we can be a leader. That inspires preachers to be passive. Charismatic leadership is autocratic leadership; it’s about me. The transformational leader is charismatic, but it’s about the vision, not about me. It’s about us being the cheerleader and the encourager for people.
Go back to understanding- I don’t know if transformational leadership is something you embrace or not, but we find it as the champion for the culture performing at a higher level. I first stumbled upon this in a church in St. Pete, and our pastor said, “We are the leadership resource for the people in the trenches. We don’t do it. We resource them and help them do it.” Speak to the paradigm of leadership, as we are wrapping up here. What do you think?
Jim: I agree with that, and what you are talking about transformational leadership and it being charismatic about the vision. I think that is so key. The church that I was blessed to plant, I knew I wasn’t going to stay there forever. I really wasn’t worried about leaving that because I really did believe that the people who were part of that were there because some of them liked me, but they were there because they believed in what we were doing. I see that in a lot of churches where there is an ownership of that vision that is not just dependent upon the one person who could get hit by a bus.
I remember a time when that church, we just moved into our new building, we were having, it was the equivalent of a vacation Bible school. Lots of kids from the community were coming. One core value is nobody is turned away. I was walking down the hallway. I wasn’t in the meeting. They were having a planning meeting about this coming up. I overheard somebody in the room say, “We will have to set a registration limit because we can only have so many people in the building.” I did one of those little turn on my heels and headed back toward the room. Before I could get there, somebody spoke up and said, “No, we don’t turn anybody away here. What can we do?” They rented four or five of these outdoor tents so people could come. It was one of those times I realized it wasn’t just me. This vision is held by everybody here.
Churches that are growing and growing in a healthy way, it is not about the leader, but it is about the vision that the leader has cast.
Hugh: Lots of good specific data here. I am going to give you a chance to leave a closing thought.
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Jim, we are rounding out the hour here. What do you want to leave people with?
Jim: I’d like to leave people with the fact that I am encouraged. The challenges are real, and there are not easy answers to them. I am encouraged. I get to spend a lot of time around some of our young clergy, people who are just coming into this now. The giftedness and the passion that they bring, not in an arrogant way, but in a very clear way, they are not going to settle for the status quo. They are not throwing out all of the tradition. They are reclaiming a lot of that and just really leading well in the future. Makes me feel great about the future of the church.
But also I am working with some people who are just three or four years from retirement. Rather than coasting or having a calendar where they are marking off days, they are committed to experimenting, innovating, doing what they can do with the time that they have remaining to help people be reached by the grace and love of God. It’s just encouraging to see people across the age spectrum who are willing to do the hard work, willing to risk failure, willing to try some different things. It really does encourage me.
Hugh: Being encouraged, that’s great. Russell, you heard it here. We gotta do something different. Thanks, Russ for your thoughtful comments, and Jim Chandler, it’s an honor to know you and know that you’re out there in the trenches, coaching pastors and church leaders in being their best self and responding to God’s call. Thank you for being on The Nonprofit Exchange today.
Jim: It was a pleasure.
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