What Makes for a Strong Partnership?

by Dan Hotchkiss
Nothing is more important to a congregation’s dynamism than strong partnership between the clergy leader and the governing board.

By a strong partnership, I don’t mean one in which the partners are necessarily comfortable or happy all the time. A strong partnership is one that produces results in keeping with the congregation’s mission. To accomplish that, the partners need to agree about the mission and their plan for achieving it. They need to know what to expect of one another, so that over time they can build trust. They need to communicate frankly about what is going well and what needs fixing. And they need a way to make decisions that allows the work to move ahead.

How to Give Away Your Power

by Dan Hotchkiss It’s relatively easy to find people willing to do tasks. It’s hard to cultivate real leaders—people to take charge of projects and gather others to get something done. As one pastor put it, “We have willing workers, but I can’t seem to create leaders. I can delegate work, but I don’t know … Read more

The Rabbis

by Dan Hotchkiss
The job was to facilitate what may have been the most diverse and ecumenical gathering of rabbis ever. For this three-day rabbinical retreat, I had prepared three days’ worth of material. But I became an awed spectator of a learned debate, with lasting admiration for the willingness of fourteen rabbis to struggle with their differences in the name of a shared purpose.

What’s Good about That?

by Dan Hotchkiss It’s good to pay attention to what’s going well. Most congregations—like most people—can accomplish more by building on their strengths than worrying about how to fix everything that could be better. That’s the basic insight of Appreciative Inquiry and other asset-based approaches to strategic planning: Instead of asking “What’s the matter?” ask, … Read more

Left Behind

by Dan Hotchkiss It was an awkward moment. I stood in a glorious stone room with the remnant of a once-large congregation, doing my best to play the neutral as I facilitated their planning conversation. We went round and round, till finally an older gent stood up and nailed me. “Do you think we can … Read more

Two Ways to Vote

by Dan Hotchkiss We vote a lot in congregations. Sometimes we do it with our hands—and sometimes with our feet. By “voting with our hands,” I am referring to the politics of congregational decision-making: conversation, group discernment, and consensus-seeking, in which voting may play only a small role. Boards and committees often wrangle and discuss until … Read more

Great Committees

by Dan Hotchkiss In an old cartoon by Charles Addams, a man and his son walk through a park and look at statues, each of which depicts a little clutch of people. “There are no great men, my boy,” the father says, “only great committees.” (The New Yorker, May 5, 1975) We laugh. A great … Read more

The Power to Make Promises

by Dan Hotchkiss Bondage is the opposite of liberty: what could be more obvious than that? When a prisoner is released, we say, “he’s free!” But bondage can be voluntary. In fact, the power to make binding promises is part of being legally adult. Without the right to make a binding contract, we would be like … Read more

Pastor-centered churches

A reader writes: “I’m aware of the movement away from boards and committees in church life–a movement that I believe was first put forward from non-denominational churches such as Willow Creek. This is a quite different way of viewing church life and governance, but I’m not sure how it works. Is this something your book … Read more

Putting staff in charge without losing volunteer commitment

Boards that try to delegate authority to staff often worry that volunteers will lose commitment. It’s a realistic concern: volunteers who handled large responsibilities under the board do sometimes decide, when the board passes the management baton to the head of staff, that they are no longer needed. This used to surprise me. Why would … Read more