Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Leadership Change

Theo Epstein, the young general manager of the Boston Red Sox for the last 9 years recently resigned to become president of operations in the Chicago Cubs organization. During his tenure in his position, the Boston Red Sox ended their 86 year drought without a World Series championship by winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007. They were able to acquire many players that were instrumental in making this dream of not only the organization, but many fans, a reality.

Epstein felt the need to expound upon his decision to retire and wrote a piece for the Boston Globe. In his op-ed piece, he wrote:

"Football legend Bill Walsh used to say that coaches and executives should seek change after 10 years with the same team. The theory is that both the individual and the organization benefit from a change after so much time together. The executive gets rebirth and the energy that comes with a new challenge; the organization gets a fresh perspective, and the chance for true change that comes with new leadership. This idea resonated with me. Although I tried my best to fight it, I couldn't escape the conclusion that both the Red Sox and I would benefit from a change sometime soon."

It's an interesting point that Epstein brings up, obviously not one that he came up with on his own as he is quoting Bill Walsh. Is there a time limit to a person's tenure in a specific position? Should everyone follow a set of rules that governs how long they can remain in a specific role and in a specific company?

I think of this in terms of ministry and have seen some pastors remain in churches for 40 years. My own father retired nearly a year ago after having served at the same church for over 36 years. The church where I currently serve had a pastor who had been here for 20 years. If you ask people, I am sure that you would have opinions on both sides of the fence in every situation where a pastor who has had longevity exits.

How about pastors who have been in a position for a short period of time and decide that their tenure has come to an end? I would imagine that there would be people coming down on both sides of this issue as well, some saying "good riddance" while others lament the departure.

Overall, I am not sure that I buy into the idea of a set term. I know that there are some denominations that mandated moves for pastors every certain number of years. My understanding is that those requirements have been loosened a bit in recent years. In my opinion, it's about effectiveness and passion. If a person remains effective and passionate in a specific role, should they be required to leave? Is it possible for someone to still be passionate and effective after a long time in a role?

For those who are in ministry, what safeguards and checkpoints do you have in place that keep you accountable for remaining effective and passionate? More importantly, what people do you have in your life that can ask you the difficult questions about whether or not you are still effective and passionate in your current ministry context? These are important questions and in order to prevent potential issues, we need to be willing to ask these difficult questions of ourselves and have others who are willing to do the same with us.

Any of us who have spent a considerable amount of time in churches have probably seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of ministry. We can probably point to people who had outstayed their effectiveness and their persistence may have caused some difficulties for the congregation that remained. Some of us have probably also seen those who were simply using certain positions as stepping stones, allowing a place to be where they park for a few years while on their way to bigger and grander opportunities. Both of these situations are hard on churches and should be avoided.

Are we willing to ask difficult questions of ourselves and those who are in leadership over us within the church? Are we willing to deal with the discomfort of losing a cherished pastor when their effectiveness has run out? I have also seen instances when a pastor was not necessarily properly confronted on their perceived ineffectiveness. Instead, people went behind their back to begin making adjustments. If we are living up to Jesus' mandate in Matthew 18 to confront people in a proper way, this has no place whatsoever in the kingdom of God.

The bottom line is that any of us who value the Church as the body of Christ, his hands and feet on the earth, need to take this seriously. We need to be willing to allow people to ask hard questions and find the answers, regardless of how uncomfortable those questions and answers might be. Our goal is to be as effective as we can in bringing the message of Christ to the world. The moment that we lose our effectiveness is the moment that we need to ask ourselves what is getting in the way. Are you being effective? Have you outstayed your welcome?

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