Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Challenge of Settled Ministry – Knowing What You Don’t Know

an update from the August 29 Board Planning Retreat

If you work on projects for long enough – whether they’re crafts or home improvements, work or school or church – sooner or later you’ll find yourself in the position of realizing that you don’t know as much as you thought you did when you started the project.

When that happens, you have two choices. You can say “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” and keep going with your original plan. Occasionally that works, through brute force or dumb luck. More frequently, the lack of knowledge results in something that doesn’t resemble the outcome you had in mind when you began.

Alternatively, you can stop what you’re doing, figure out what you don’t know, go about learning it, then pick the project up again with the confidence you know what you need to know to make it turn out the way you want.

At our planning retreat, the Board of Trustees found that we didn’t know as much as we need to know about two key projects, so we’ve decided to study them and request some expert opinions before we proceed.

Rev. Heath is in her third and final year as our Consulting Minister. We had assumed we’d begin a search for another half-time consulting minister, but several Board members raised the concern that continued reliance on consulting ministers would hold us back from reaching our ultimate goal, a full-time settled minister. Our facilitator (Gretchen Reihl, Vice President of First UU Dallas) helped us realize our disagreement wasn’t over the goal, but over the method. Some of us believe we need a consistent ministerial presence in order to grow large enough to afford a full-time minister. Others believe we need to forgo a minister for a year or two and put the money we would have paid a minister into a reserve fund toward a full-time minister’s salary. Our discussion was vigorous and at times passionate, but in the end we realized we simply didn’t know which course of action would be more successful.

We also need to revise and update our by-laws to give our minister, staff, and volunteers the flexibility that a modern, effective church or fellowship requires. We listened as our facilitator and Rev Heath talked about their experiences with new forms of governance at First UU and other UU congregations. The Board agreed on the need for change, but we want a clearer idea of how to structure and implement a new form of governance that will work at DUUF.

Ultimately, the issues of settled ministry and governance go hand in hand. So we’re going to talk with our District Executive and District Settlement officer, and we’re going to look for congregations and consultants with experience in leading a church from part-time ministry to full-time settled ministry and knowledge about the forms of governance that work best under a settled ministry. We need to learn what’s worked well in other places and what hasn’t worked well. Then we’ll have the information we need to chart the right course for the future of ministry at DUUF.

Our journey toward becoming a full-service church with a full-time minister will have many steps. Taking the time to learn what we don’t know will cause some short-term delays, but it will help insure we take the most direct route and that we don’t have to retrace any of those steps.

We’ll keep everyone informed as we proceed.