Although church dynamics may be invisible to most people within a congregation, they are a crucial factor in healthy, effective ministry.

That claim was at the center of the workshop that Israel Galindo, author of The Hidden Life of Congregations: Discerning Church Dynamics, held at the Alban Institute on November 19.

Those dynamics, he explained, often operate beneath the surface of congregations’ day-to-day lives but are at the center of congregational life and play a huge role in determining what congregational experiences will be.

The Question of Identity
One factor that Galindo, professor of Christian Education at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, identified at work beneath the surface of congregations is the question of identity. That question is often hard for a congregation to talk about, according to Galindo, because people confuse the concept of “congregation” with “Church” or “church.”

Galindo sees “Church” as a theological construct and a cosmic reality, equating it with the kingdom of God. A “church” is a local gathering of believers, a faith community where members achieve true meaning and intimacy with each other. A congregation, on the other hand, is a local, institutionalized organization that may or may not offer the faith community of a “church,” and while it may be an authentic expression of “Church,” it is not equivalent to it. He emphasized that it is important for leaders to understand that people who join congregations often do so with widely differing expectations and hopes.

The Ministerial Lifecycle
Another hidden dynamic identified by Israel Galindo was the lifecycle of people in congregational ministry. According Galindo, there is a predictable pattern to the calling of ministers in a congregation that is based on the nature of corporate congregational relationship patterns and the unique function of ministers in the congregational system. If understood, the ministerial lifecycle can be anticipated and managed.

As Galindo sees the seasons of ministry, the first several years in ministry with a congregation are spent discovering its rhythms, habits, and practices and working on administrative problems, while ministers begin to form the vision for their tenure. It takes until the third year of ministry with a congregation for ministers to feel comfortable with their role and to hit a stride. Galindo says that by the third year ministers will have learned more about ministry and about themselves than was learned in seminary or will be learned in the rest of their careers.

By the fourth year, ministers are starting to get restless and think about what else might be out there. According to Galindo, the fourth year is typically one of low energy where problems in the church go from being challenges to being nuisances. This is a good time, says Galindo, to learn new skills, read books and journals on ministry, and consider enrolling in a doctorate of ministry program.

Ministers in their fifth and sixth years have people in the congregation who support them and are able to initiate some creative programs and start to make their mark on the neighborhood and the networks to which they belong. It is also a time for ministers to renegotiate their salaries and start making sabbatical plans.

The next years in the ministerial lifecycle are crucial as ministers start to make a serious emotional commitment to the congregation. First, in the seventh year, ministers in most denominations must take a sabbatical no matter what. It is very important to recharge at this point or face potential burnout. The eighth year in ministry is pivotal for beginning to understand the congregation as one’s home and family. In the ninth year and beyond, the congregation responds accordingly to ministers’ commitment to them and ministry becomes more about relationships than management.

The Myth of Competence
One of most difficult hidden factors that congregational leaders have to deal with is the myth of competence. Galindo sees this myth as an attitude, fed by chronic anxiety, that leads to the operational belief that personal self-worth, relevance, and meaning reside in the external assurances of being competent in everything one does. The myth of competence, which can have its roots in one’s family of origin, operates on both personal and systematic levels and can manifest itself in dysfunctional relationships at work, in the family, and in community. Instead of confidence and effective ministry, the myth of competence leads to insecurity and weak leadership.

Galindo was clear that dispelling the myth of competence doesn’t mean that incompetence or laziness should be tolerated. Leaders should always strive to do the best they can with their gifts and work within systems of accountability.

To confront the myth and work toward wholeness, Galindo recommended that leaders learn to accept failures as progress toward a goal, confess incompetence, and adopt a functional theology of grace. Personal excellence should be the standard of one’s ministry, not competence; and leaders should keep in mind the quote by Henry James, that “excellence does not require perfection.”

Authentic Leadership
As much as we might wish otherwise, says Galindo, ministers play a critical role and congregations cannot exist without them. But many people, both lay and clergy, misunderstand the role of congregational leadership. Galindo says that, among other things, leadership is not about personality, technique, or authority. Neither is there just one biblical model for leadership. Rather, Galindo defines leadership as providing the critical functions required of the system to which one belongs given the position one occupies in the system. Congregational leadership provides vision, theological interpretation, institutional development; and works to form a true faith community. Ministers should operate as the resident theologian in congregations, provide leadership in times of crises and change, stay connected to others, and practice leading through influence.

Effective congregational leaders, says Galindo, are journeying toward wholeness. They have a clear sense of their own identities and principles. They understand themselves and the relationships in which they participate. By being aware of the hidden dynamics at work in their own lives and in the congregation of which they are a part, leaders can tap into the forces that inform appropriate, healthy, and authentic practices of congregations.


Featured Resources

AL297_SMThe Hidden Lives of Congregations: Understanding Church Dynamics by Israel Galindo

Faced with crisis, lack of direction, or just plain “stuckness,” many congregations and their leaders are content to deal only with surface issues and symptoms—only to discover that the same problems keep recurring, often in different, and more serious, ways. In The Hidden Lives of Congregations, Christian educator and consultant Israel Galindo takes leaders below the surface of congregational life to provide a comprehensive, holistic look at the corporate nature of church relationships and the invisible dynamics at play.

AL283_SM Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement by Paul Moots

Western culture has made a cult of success, and the church
has accepted the larger culture’s definition, focusing on success as growth in membership and budget, rather growth in faithfulness as disciples of Jesus. When we do not measure up, we become discouraged, disillusioned, and perhaps even envious.