Finding Partners

April 18, 2011

The pastor was presenting to a few of us a conflict that centered around one of the sacraments, namely, who could participate, who could not. The pastor took the issue to the appropriate committee and sought counsel. The committee, along with the pastor, decided that she should lead a class on the sacraments in which the history and polity of the denomination, along with the congregation’s policy, could be reviewed and discussed.

A pastor friend asked this question: “Is the committee saying, ‘We like the idea. Go do it;’ or ‘We will recommend to the church that this class be offered with you (pastor) leading. And we’ll be there with you.’”

It is the difference in these responses I want to accentuate. The first response — “good idea, go for it” — makes the pastor responsible and takes the “heat” off the committee. Thereby, the tension between committee and congregation is diminished by triangling in the pastor as the one to solve the conflict.

See the difference in the second response. The committee and pastor are together assuming leadership. It is “we,” not “you.” They become partners. Perhaps, even in the teaching, the committee could join the pastor.

Going alone, especially amid conflict, is dangerous. Finding partners is critical. In this case, the pastor is seeking partners in the committee. Some extra energy and patience will be required to work out what “we” will do. Collaboration takes time, may slow her down, and erode some felt autonomy.  But making the effort pays off. As the African proverb goes, “ If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

And notice this. She is finding partners outside, as well as inside the church. She turned to us, a few collegial friends, and asked for our questions and other responses (not our answers and advice).  As partners outside her congregations, we were able to provide some objectivity. Even more to the point, we could access the wisdom from knowing this pastoral role from the inside out. And this too. Outside partners are not as likely to be attached to outcomes.

I have found this puzzling: With the resources available in other pastors, why are most pastors reluctant to call or email a collegial friend with the request — “Hey, ___ when you have a minute or two, can I run a situation by you? Another set of eyes would be helpful.” Even better, pastors who meet regularly with a pastor friend or two or more create an on-going peer community in which this kind of mutual partnering can take place.

Is finding partners, both inside and outside the congregation, an intentional part of your practice of ministry? If so, I would be interested in how this works for you.

For more, look at Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky’s Leadership on the Line