October 26, 2011

Vestry Selection

While most congregations elect vestry members in the new year, it’s not too early to be thinking about who will serve next. And not just thinking, but praying and discerning.     

I remember one annual meeting, midway through the agenda, when it was time to elect wardens. My heart sank upon realizing the floor was open for nominations – with no candidate. How could it be possible, I wondered, that parish leaders hadn’t identified anyone in advance for this essential leadership position? Perplexed and nervous, I couldn’t believe we were going to make this decision on the fly.

One upside of that situation: the long-term senior warden was stepping down. At least the clergy and vestry had taken steps to return to best practices of term limits and rotation.

Thankfully, the other upside: we elected a fantastic new senior warden. All credit goes to the Holy Spirit. During a few moments of (panicked) silence, a respected member of the congregation nominated, from the floor, a woman who was somewhat new but very engaged in congregational life. A discussion of real discernment ensued among everyone gathered. Did she know the responsibilities of the position? Would she have the time to serve well in this role? Did she have experience that would be relevant to the responsibilities?

Little did we know, this relative newcomer had been a senior warden in another parish and led it through an interim time. She knew full well what it took, in both spiritual and practical terms. Also, changes in her personal life meant she had more time available. Finally, she had already been considering vestry service. After a robust question and answer time, she humbly agreed to be nominated for warden. With unanimous approval, we honest to God knew we were calling and electing the right person at the right moment. Her leadership for several years since confirmed this call.

My advice: Do not try this at your home church! I always trust the Holy Spirit to act on our behalf. Yet I’m sure the Spirit would have helped us two months earlier, had we started our discernment process in advance!

Let’s not leave our big decisions to the last minute. And let’s not take discernment for leadership lightly. Unfortunately, it’s all too common.

During a workshop I led on vestry leadership, one lay woman recounted her own “worst practice” scenario. When approached to consider serving on the vestry, she was told: “Don’t worry, you really won’t have to do much.” Wrong answer! In fact, this responsible woman agreed to serve on the vestry, then dedicated her time and talent to changing the culture of leadership in that congregation.

What are you doing – now – to identify and raise up new leaders for vestry service?  How will you invite and discern with potential candidates? How will you convey expectations for vestry service?

We’d love to hear below your best practices or your questions about improving your selection process.

Or join us on a free webinar Sound Practices for Vestry Leaders on November 8 at 6:30pm Eastern Time. My colleague Miguel Escobar and I will be leading a presentation and discussion about ten practices – including vestry selection and orientation – to improve vestry leadership. We all have a lot to learn and share – together! Click here for more details.