Since my ordination in 1999, I have worked as an Associate Pastor in 5 different Presbyterian churches. I have been attending session meetings monthly since I was 25 years old…and I have learned a few things along the way! In my first call out of seminary, fresh and idealized about church ministry, I eagerly joined the session in the leading of the church. I was excited to gather with godly men and women who had been called and equipped to serve the church as elders. I felt proud of these elders who had stepped up to serve church with their precious time and talents (without any monetary compensation such as I was receiving).
Somewhere along the way, during my first year as an Associate Pastor, I began to feel like something was missing in the way that we functioned as a session and the way that we led the church. I talked to other pastors who felt the same way about their sessions and I began to wonder, “What is this missing piece?” So, like any good, intellectual Presbyterian would do, I bought a book to help me explore the disillusionment I was feeling: “Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders” by Charles Olsen.
Buying the book must have made me feel like I was doing something to ease the disconnect I was experiencing between my life of faith and the corporate efficiency of session. But, I am sorry to say, that the busyness of my first call left the book collecting dust on my shelf for many years. I shoved away the stirring of the Spirit that was inviting me to see a new way of doing church leadership. Instead, I chose to go with the status quo and fill the role that I was expected to fill.
Sixteen years later, the Spirit has stirred again, leading me to dust off Olsen’s book and begin again. I have learned (the hard way!) that my effectiveness as a church leader depends primarily on the nurture of my own soul in Christ. I have studied many books on leadership which have given me some good tools in my leadership tool box, but the “missing piece” was a deep faith orientation linked with my leadership skills.
Olsen (with a grant from the Lily Foundation) did years of research and interviews with church board members who had a deep hunger to do session differently, but didn’t know how. Olsen and his team use the term “worshipful work” to describe the link between our faith and our leadership. He prays for the church to:
See a future when sessions function out of the heritage of a rich faith tradition rather than out of the latest fad in management circles.
I love his vision! About the same time I was dusting off this book and diving in, I was invited to join the Elder Leadership Institute staff. Because of God’s providence, I was delighted to discover that ELI is doing the very thing God gave me a hunger for 16 years ago: helping to equip and grow elders and pastors into effective spiritual leaders in a way that satisfies their souls, inspires their congregation, and allows the church to flourish.
Charles Olsen said:
“Spirituality has touched worship, education, and counseling. It is now ready to touch administration. I believe that such a movement is afoot. I know it is not mine, but God’s. I am willing and excited to be a part of what God is doing.”
We have an Immersion Retreat on the east coast coming up May 28-30. Our time together will be a great way to jump-start your church’s transformation. To read more about Elder Leadership Institute and our 15 month, very affordable equipping process, please visit our website: www.elderleadership.org.
Contact me to have a personal conversation:
Rev. Lisa Johnson
Assistant Director, ELI