Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Principles of Supervision

One of the key responsibilities of the District Superintendent is that of supervision.  For me, the purposes of supervision are to help someone improve skills, identify patterns of behavior that may be producing ineffectiveness, affirm strengths, reinforce strengths, and to share from my experience, drawing on my failures and lessons learned along the way.  I do not see myself as some ministry whiz kid imparting vast knowledge from the mountain top.  Supervision comes with the DS territory and I bring my experience for better or worse.  I want our supervisory relationship to one that helps them grow to their next level and helps me help facilitate this growth.  I want to challenge them.  I am committed to honesty in supervision.  To me supervision is pointless unless specific problems and practices are clearly identified and persons are encouraged and equipped with workable options.  I believe good supervision leaves a person's ego in tact.  I believe that good supervision is clear about expectations.  I believe that good supervision gives encouragement.  While there are some issues that involve specific legal processes as specified in our Discipline, some basic principles I use for general supervision that I use are:

1.  Open with prayer.

2.  I always remember that throughout most of my career, I have been extended much grace when I have done less than my best, and gotten into a mess.  I want to pass that on.

3. I do not do supervision that involves reprimands, has negative connotations, or addresses mistakes, bad judgement or inappropriate conduct over the phone, by email or correspondence.  If there is a serious issue to be addressed, it is face to face.

4.  Occasionally a pastor will call and we will process an issue over  the phone.  If we need further in depth discussion, we will meet face to face.

5.  I begin the discussion with clearly describing the issue and ask them how they understand it.  I always get context.  They tell their story.  I inquire as to whether or not they were familiar with any policies, rules, laws or disciplinary guidelines.  I share any adverse consequences or fallout that may have come from their actions or inactions.  I discuss accountability and responsibility on both our parts.  I try to learn why they did what they did the way they did.

6.  I try to help them understand how their action or failure to act produced results or set things in motion that were not helpful to them, their ministry or to the church.

7.  I  have conversation with them to see what insights they have gained and how they would do it differently next time.

8.  If necessary, we develop a plan with measurable benchmarks.  This will become a topic of their annual review with me in terms of progress.

9.  Close with prayer.

Blessings, Bill

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stay Out of Three Sided Circles

Circles are round and don’t have 3 sides.  I know that, even though my grades in geometry were barely passing.  However, when you are drawn into a conflict between two or more persons or groups, you become triangulated.  They make two assumptions.  First, you have the spiritual gift of “refereeing”.  Second, the fact that they got to you first and even came to you at all probably mean that they are assuming you will be on their side.  If you allow yourself to be triangulated, you will find yourself running in circles, putting out fires. 

When I first became a DS, I naively got pulled into issues and ended up adversely impacting the ministry of the pastor at times, and the church at other times.   I would inevitably discover that initially, I did not have the whole story.  On one occasion, some SPRC members asked me if pastors were supposed to teach or lead Bible studies.  My assumption was their pastor wasn’t.  I said, “Yes they were.”  Immediately, from the looks on their faces, I knew I had been had and had given them some ammunition against their pastor.  I spoke with the pastor and discovered that several studies were offered, with an invitation to suggest topics for studies.  No one came or signed up.  It ultimately worked out, but took a lot of time and energy on my part.

While there are times when you have to be the tie breaker, all interpersonal conflicts are not such times.  You need discernment.  Yes, you will probably pay a price for not jumping into the fray over whether to use 8” or 9” plates at the church supper.  As a DS you may have letters generated to the bishop because you didn’t step in and straighten the pastor out.  You may have to live with threats of withholding giving, resigning or leaving altogether.  Unfortunately, people doing these things fail to understand the spiritual implications of such threats.

Here are some strategies for staying out of 3 sided circles.

  1. Approach all conflicts or disagreements in the spirit of Matthew 18:25-17.  Essentially, Jesus says, “Work it out at the lowest level-one on one.”  Therefore, when Brother or Sister X comes presenting their side and wanting you straighten out Brother or Sister Y, you can direct them to God’s word and each other.
  2. Know when to use the authority you have, granted either by scripture or the United Methodist Book of Discipline. 
  3. Know when not to use the authority you have.  Understand the authority you don’t have.  Don’t waste or misuse the authority you have. 
  4. Say, “NO” and tell them they have to work it out.
  5. Maintain boundaries.
  6. If a leadership team or committee has made the decision that someone wants you to overturn, support the team decision.  Direct the person to express their concerns to the team.
  7. If you have to act, be sure to accurately get both sides of the issue.
  8. If you do have to intervene, work to create win-win situations.  Realize that sometimes, you won’t and be prepared to live with it.
Blessings, Bill

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Control Your Calendar

I went from high school, to college, to serving a church while in college, and directly to seminary.  The first September when I did not have to go to school anywhere was a shocker.  It wasn't  until November that my school clock finally wound down and stopped ringing.  It was weird.  The initial months after becoming a DS was similar.  I didn't have to get up and go to church or write a sermon.  Wow!! What an experience after 34 years of the 7 day cycle.  And yes, I go to church on Sunday.  Sometimes I preach.  Sometimes I am just part of the congregation.

Freedom has a price.  The price for the DS is  the many demands and interruptions that are part of the job.  It was tough controlling my calendar in the local church.  It is more challenging as a DS, even though you have greater freedom to say, "No" and "Wait" to persons.  I struggle to control my calendar, especially my personal time with God,  my wife and our kids.  I learned long ago that the church, life and the world can survive without me for periods of time.  It did before I got on the scene, it is surviving me being on the scene, and will continue to do so until Jesus comes.

My wife would chuckle and tell you I am a work in progress when it comes to controlling my calendar and response to interruptions.  But I know that time is one of the most precious gifts that I give myself and the people I love.  There are no second chances for time lost.   Here are some drafts of my progress.

1.  I block a day a week as the day off.  Only life, death, or legal emergencies break it.  Additionally, when a schedule is unusually full, such as in Charge Conference season(the annual church meeting season), I work additional  days in with my wife and family.  On a paper calendar, they are marked off in red.  In Outlook, they have a red designation.  If I have to do something on a Friday, I take another day.  When projecting out meetings and schedules, I review the calendar with my wife and we block us the "us" times that we need to plan for.

2.  The worst personal time killers are my cell phone and my DS laptop.  On my day off, or time with my wife, I usually (not always) leave it home.  I don't find turning it off helpful for two reasons.  First, if I turn it off to protect your day, why have it with me in the first place?  Second, I usually don't need an excuse to turn it on just to check.  If I have my laptop, I will check my DS mail.  It's like chocolate covered peanuts in a bowl on the table.  It's there, and you are always just taking "one" and "one" and "one".

3.  I purchased a small, inexpensive netbook for my personal use.  Rarely do I do any DS stuff on it.  I have my Google account on it and that is fine.  I will do Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. there.  That's my stuff.
I did purchase a cheap cell phone on my wife's account and usually have it with me.  Only my family has the number.  Sometimes, we just take hers.

4.  I carve out Thanksgiving week, the week after Christmas and Easter as my renewal time with my family.    I take my vacations.  I keep the two weeks prior to Christmas as light as possible.  I don't schedule anything that can wait.  I don't miss special events such as births, graduations, etc.  I only cancel planned family time and activities for emergencies.

5.  My wife holds me accountable which means that there are times I have to apologize and ask her forgiveness.  I don't take her patience and love for granted.  She is my biggest supporter, my best friend, and I love her.

6.  I typically don't take preaching engagements in July or August.  Occasionally I will cover for a pastor in the Course of Study (a summer educational program for licensed pastors).

What do you do to control your calendar and protect your time?  Send me a comment.

Blessings.  Bill

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Who, Me?

Who, Me? You've Got to Be Kidding!!”

God gives gives us a life of purpose filled with many purposes. God calls us to live out those purposes. God's call, rather for vocation or to simply respond to an invitation to get involved in something, comes in countless ways. My life has had many callings. The call to be a District Superintendent (DS) was a call to a vocational change in direction. I am beginning this blog with my call to be a DS and am wondering, not just for all of you DS's out there, but for anyone who has heard and responded to God's call in their lives. What was it like for you? What has it been like for you?

How did you react when your Bishop called you and invited you to be a District Superintendent? It was a bitter cold day in February when my call came. I was at a doctor’s office. The doctor was running late. I went to my truck to check voice mail on my cell. A message from my wife said, “Call the Bishop.” Assuming that he wanted to discuss something about a committee I served on, I called. After pleasantries, he said, “I want to invite you to come on the cabinet.” Quickly, I wondered what he wanted me to do. The rumor mill was dry regarding cabinet changes. I couldn’t figure it out. Then he continued, “I would like you to serve as the District Superintendent of the Easton District.” I was stunned. I started shaking, almost dropping the phone. I am not sure, but I think I said something impressive like, “Are you serious?” A superintendent! The largest geographical district in the conference. Me? Unbelievable! I was serving a church that could easily be the last one I served before retirement. I had absolutely no aspirations to be a district superintendent. Frankly, knowing me as I, I would not have asked me to be a DS. Now, out of the blue, disrupting the well planned world of my life, this conversation. He graciously gave my wife and me 48 hours to pray about it. We drove through the district, riding by the parsonage that we would live in. The fenced in backyard that would allow our basset hound to run free was the deal closer for my wife. She knew God was in it. In reality she was not surprised at the invitation and believed God was in it all along. It took me longer. Today, I am in my fourth year of superintendency. In moments of reflection, I wonder, “Why me?” It has been a roller coaster ride for sure, causing a great deal of introspection. There has never been one moment when I have felt fully adequate for the job. Yet, somehow I feel I am where I am supposed to be, doing what God wants me to do. What has your call been like?