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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Tough medicine for tough problems in tough times

Six suggestions for church leadership

Now begins the annual season of church leadership workshops, retreats and formation events. It's an important time because when leaders have their act together, the faith community can move forward.

Here are my six suggestions for church leadership. I know they represent course changes — and serious ones at that — but I'm concerned about congregational well-being and think these steps are critical.

1) Elected leaders need to stop running churches.

Leave that to staff and lay volunteers. A healthy organization needs an elected leadership that sees its charge as the future and its task as strategic thinking.

In a corporation, that would be the board of directors. In a congregation, elected leaders should work in partnership with the clergy — perhaps starting by studying how successful congregations are thinking about their futures.

photodisc2) Leaders need to embrace risk and change.

I don't see any way forward for congregations that does not involve substantial risk and change. Leaders need to stop trying to avoid, minimize or even manage risk. After nearly 50 years of relentless decline, leaders need to make a radical commitment to change, including moving away from Sunday morning worship as the primary locus of ministry. More importantly, they need to invest aggressively in technology and rethink their devotion to inherited facilities.

The "over-my-dead-body" attitude toward change that prevailed in the tumultuous 1970s and 1980s needs to stop. If longtime leaders can't imagine a future beyond what they know, they need to step aside.


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