Usually held on a weekly basis in most large congregations, the staff meeting is one of the most important disciplines a staff team can practice. Both the congregation and the staff need to identify where they are going and for what they are to be held accountable. The staff meeting is a primary place to provide a center that offers both a clearinghouse for information and a point of alignment for the efforts of all staff members. It is the place to have conversations about vision, mission, purpose, and how the pieces fit together.
Following is a list of purposes that are addressed in staff meetings in large congregations. Every staff meeting may not intentionally touch all of these areas, but these purposes rest at the heart of forming a healthy team of called and employed staff for ministry.
The staff meeting is the place where the senior clergy can rehearse and remind others of the larger ministry of the congregation. It is the visioning task of the senior clergy to bring clarity to the picture of the congregation’s calling. One of the central purposes of the staff meeting is to remember and rehearse the vision of the congregation so that each staff person can find the way in which his or her part supports and deepens the mission of the whole. The staff meeting provides the platform for this visioning work of the senior clergy because it is one of the few times when staff are all gathered together.
Staff members in a large congregation are not commonly gathered in one place because their work is scattered over different areas in the facility and community, over different days and hours, and among different congregational and community constituencies. The fact that so much of the work of each individual staff member is done without significant overlap in place, time, or constituency lends to the temptation and perception of working alone. Staff members need a reminder that they are part of a community called to a shared purpose and that the mission of the congregation will not and cannot move ahead just with their own skills and efforts. Seeing people’s faces and remembering their presence—even if our work does not frequently cross paths with theirs—is a powerful reminder of team and community.
Information Sharing: “No Surprises”
Staff meetings are principle times of sharing information. Every staff member does not need to, and should not expect to, know everything that all other staff are doing. Staff teams are not responsible for strategizing and shaping the work of each of the individual people who make up the team. Staff teams are not themselves accountable for the full ministry of the congregation. That is the task of the senior clergy and the board.
The basic principle of information sharing that needs to be practiced is “no surprises.” Everyone on staff does not need to know everything that others are doing. No one on staff, however, should be surprised to hear, generally, what is being done in the congregation and, specifically, what has been decided or planned that will have a direct impact on their own work and responsibility. The “no-surprise” criteria can be a helpful measure of what needs to be shared as information at a staff meeting. From one perspective, as Gil has learned to say after working for years with congregations around issues of conflict, “Surprised people behave badly.” From an even more important perspective, “surprises” among or between staff team members may be evidence of the absence of alignment and coordination.
Supervision of Group Work
The staff meeting is an opportunity to invite the team to do group formative evaluation. While a formative conversation may not be on the agenda every time the team meets, the staff meeting nonetheless is an opportune—and often rare—moment to do the reflective work of formative evaluation. The senior clergy can introduce this group supervision by putting formative questions on the agenda, for example:
- What have we been doing?
- What are we learning about our work and our mission?
- With whom do we need to build new or better relationships and coalitions to advance our work?
- What should we be giving ourselves to with priority in the next week, month, and quarter?
As work moves ahead, we all find that our job descriptions and assigned roles are necessarily malleable and need to be held loosely. Ministry in large, complex congregations demands great interplay and flexibility. Corporations have long discovered that departments and workers that operate in silos—stand-alone units without connections to other departments or functions—reduce productivity and results. Organizations need clear but fluid boundaries so that departments, programs, and staff can function appropriately across silos to support the mission of the congregation. The staff meeting is a forum for discovering where boundaries need to be porous and where work must be collaborative rather than siloed.
On a similar but less formal level, work patterns can be negotiated at staff meetings. Staff members can be invited to state their needs during staff meetings and thus clue others as to how they might appropriately offer support or reduce distractions. Staff meetings are appropriate clearinghouses for such statements of need. “I need all worship bulletin information by Wednesday” or “I need to know who is in the building” or even “I need people to close their office doors in our cramped office suite when they are going to be on the telephone for an extended period of time.”
Developing Staff (and Congregational) Culture
Every congregation has its own unique personality and culture. Walter Wink speaks of the “angel of the church”—the sense of both personality and vocation that reflects where a congregation has come from, where it is going, and what it is like to be within it. Formal or informal, introverted or extroverted, valuing give-and-take as a team or deferring to the authority of certain leaders, valuing seriousness and insight or valuing play and creativity, expecting polite harmony or expecting statements of directness—every congregation is both guided and constrained by a silent and tacit set of norms that can either support or suppress ministry. The staff meeting is a place, a platform, where norms can be tested and changed as senior clergy work with their staff.
Health comes from the center of an organization—by the healthy practices of the staff and volunteers who sit in the central positions of leaders. Staff and volunteer leaders actually model and mentor the rest of the congregation in appropriate ways of relating to one another, talking with one another, making decisions with each other, and a host of other critical but hidden norms that guide the life of the congregation. The staff meeting is a dominant and public place of gathering for a key group of congregational leaders. It is a platform from which new norms can be tried and modeled for the congregation and from which healthy practices of honesty and trust can be introduced into the larger body of the congregation.
Adapted from When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations, copyright © 2007 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
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