Vestry as Team
Listener, Trainer and Goal Setter
Two years ago, I had the privilege of participating in Vital Teams Academy, an Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) program, aimed at strengthening congregational leadership teams in the Episcopal Church. In my work as Canon for Ministry Development and Congregational Vitality in the Diocese of Atlanta, I focus on congregational vitality, vocational discernment and seminarian support. This means fostering collaborative partnerships between clergy and lay leaders by equipping vestries with four basic skills – identifying a common purpose, building stronger relationships, having clear processes and focusing on results.
Over the past two years, I have worked with thirty-five vestries, using Vital Teams training as a facilitation tool. My most significant learnings over this period are that vital congregations have vestry members who:
- Understand leadership as a partnership with God in ministry
- Exercise leadership by mobilizing others in a shared common purpose
- Have strong healthy relationships and focus on one goal at a time
In my preparation for this article, I spent some time in conversation with three wardens from three different congregations of varying sizes. These wardens demonstrate, in my opinion, excellent leadership skills by creating a healthy ministry environment for their peers and the congregations they serve. I call these wardens: the Listener, the Trainer and the Goal Setter. In each warden, I find in the necessary ingredients for a vestry to become not simply a group of people working together for the church, but more importantly, a team propelled by the conviction that they are partnering with God to build God’s kingdom in their corner of God’s vineyard. Theirs is more a vocation than a job function or a role.
Joan describes herself as one who listens. A CEO (with a Ph.D. in Education) and a communications consultant, Joan brings her skills in the corporate world to her ministry as warden. She explained that in order to be successful in this translation of skills, one has to change from a “command and control” mindset to one of “holy listening,” discerning God’s mission for the congregation in its current context. Joan listens to her peers on the vestry, and the vestry team listens to the desires of the congregation. Together, they are able to discern and discover the skills and gifts they and members of the congregation bring to the service of others through the church.
It is through listening that one can determine the needs of others in order to address them. I am reminded of the story of Jesus and blind Bartimaeus, who called out to Jesus to have pity on him. When Bartimaeus finally came face to face with him, Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” We cannot assume that we know what people want. We have to ask them, and listen to their response before we can meet their specific needs. Joan said that practicing the art of listening has deepened her spiritually and led to less turmoil in her life, making her more spiritually grounded.
Ben describes himself as a consummate trainer. He holds a Ph.D. in human resource development and brings his extensive training (16+ years) to his role as warden. Ben focuses on equipping others through skill discovery and development so they can function effectively as a team. What I found most fascinating in our conversation was his deep desire to develop a strong spiritual base. He sees that as the foundation for training his vestry peers to become effective disciples of Jesus Christ.
Ben shared a conversation he once had with a priest. He told me he said to the priest, “I know what loving my neighbor is, because I see and know my neighbor, but how can I ever love God who is unseen?” The priest responded by asking Ben if he loved the sunrise and the sunset. When Ben commented that he loved sunsets, the priest said, “That is where God is.”
From this, Ben extrapolated that God is all around him – in the sunrise, the sunset, the blooming flower, the falling rain, the blazing sun and all that nature has to offer, including those who are right in front of him. He is able to use his training and facilitation skills help vestry members discover their God-given skills and talents for the sake of fulfilling God’s mission right where they are. Ben has written a customary for new vestry member orientation, ensuring that no one has to fly blind when they agree to vestry service.
The Goal Setter
Gale sees herself and her peers on the vestry as “stewards of God’s house.” An accountant, and financial and medical office consultant, she brings her gifts of project management and consulting to her role as warden. She works with the vestry to focus always on setting SMART (Specific-Measurable-Assigned-Realistic-Time-sensitive) goals and getting feedback from members of the congregation. When necessary, they recalibrate or tweak their goals and objectives to achieve their common purpose, which is building a more inviting, welcoming and hospitable environment in their church. Gale’s leadership is focused on helping the vestry address goals one at a time and making sure that they take good notes about lessons learned, so that future vestry members will not have to reinvent the wheel.
Gale strongly believes in having the right people in the right ministries. A person trained in architecture and engineering may be more suitable for the building and grounds ministry, rather than stewardship or outreach. Her role as warden is to ensure that the right skills are deployed in the right ministries. This reminds me of Jesus calling fishermen as his disciples, and telling them, “I will make you fish for people.” He brought them into ministry, using the skills they had, but in a different mode.
These three wardens demonstrate to me that our call to ministry, whether lay or ordained, is to constantly seek and serve God’s purpose in all that we do. With the right leadership, strong relationships and clear processes, all vestries can transform their congregations into thriving, vibrant and most of all, vital communities of faith.
ECF’s Vital Teams program is currently not available and the organization is in the process of reimagining the program.
The Reverend Canon C. John Thompson-Quartey is Canon for Ministry Development and Congregational Vitality in the diocese of Atlanta. Prior to arriving in Atlanta, he served as rector of St. Mary’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey for nine years. Before St. Mary’s, he was Chaplain for Pastoral Care and Director of the Community Outreach Program at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Rutgers University, New Jersey and a Master of Divinity from the General Theological Seminary, New York. In his current position, he is responsible for inspiring vitality in congregations through parish stewardship support and vestry coaching; vocational discernment and seminarian support; clergy events program planning; clergy continuing education support; serving as resource person for the Community of Deacons; and supervision of Campus Ministries and Youth Ministries.
- Vitality is an Inside Job by Altagracia Pérez-Bullard, ECF Vital Practices blog, October 28, 2016
- The Vocational Vestry by Alissa Newton, Vestry Papers, January 2018
- The Power of Discernment by Charles Fisher, ECF Vital Practices blog, April 6, 2018
- Intentional Listening by Linda Buskirk, ECF Vital Practices blog, March 28, 2016
- Ways to Let God Lead Your Vestry an ECF webinar led by Blair Pogue, February 23, 2017