Thursday, November 8, 2012

My DS is breaking up with me

The United Methodist system has been more helpful to me as a local church pastor here in the Baltimore-Washington Conference these past several years than at any other time during my forty-some years in ministry.

We had coaches. In my case my district superintendent was my coach. I had a half-hour of my superintendent's time and attention once a month. It was great.

I could talk about issues and problems I was facing in ministry and decisions I had to make. My superintendent would think it through with me. Next month he or she would start the conversation by asking me how the decision I'd made during our last conversation actually worked out.

I felt as if someone at the conference level was thinking about my work and trying to help me figure things out. Someone had an investment in me and my pastoral leadership. Someone was helping me do the hard things that pastors are sometimes required to do.

It is over.

At a meeting earlier this week, the dean of the cabinet announced that there would be no more coaching.

If I heard and understood correctly, the reason is because the leaders of the conference and their consultants believe that superintendents who evaluate and appoint pastors can not be our coaches because we will not be honest with the person who evaluates and appoints us.

Oh my. Frankly, I want the person responsible to evaluate and appoint me to be listening to me and talking with me. How can anybody who doesn't talk to me about my work evaluate me? How will they know how I think and how I go about making decisions?

I think we are confusing coaching with therapy or pastoral care. I don't want my superintendent to be my therapist or counsellor. I don't want to tell my superintendent my dreams and secrets. I really don't care if my superintendent visits me in the hospital. I don't need a pastor. I need someone to help me do my work well.

I want my superintendent to help me think and decide about my work, not my psyche or marriage. I want my superintendent to challenge me when I am not thinking clearly or wisely about my work. I want my superintendent to encourage me when I am. I want my superintendent to hold me accountable to do the hard stuff I don't want to do but know I must do to be an effective leader.

What I'd actually like is to have a supervisor who gives me feedback on what I am doing effectively and what isn't working. Supervision is not a bad thing. Coaching was the closest thing to supervision I have ever experienced with a superintendent.

It is over.

Now our superintendents will hold district meetings for pastors a couple times a year and chair our charge conferences. I suppose this is easier and less time consuming than actually talking with us.  I can't imagine it being more fulfilling. Probably less risky. If anything goes wrong, they won't know anything about it if they haven't been talking with us.

But will this really help them evaluate and appoint us better than, like,  having conversations with us?

What kind of logic is this? Superintendents can not be our coaches because we don't trust them so they are going to stop talking to us regularly? Not talking with us is an interesting way to handle a trust issue.


  1. How many pastors did your DS meet with each month? Districts in Indiana have upwards of 150 charges in them. It would be tough to coach that many people.

  2. John, By my math, we had 8 DSs and 8 guides. Each DS and guide did coaching. We have around 600 churches. So that works out to maybe 35-40 per person.

    Each sessions was limited to 1/2 hour and was done by phone. So DSs might have been spending 20 hours a month on the phone with us. I don't know the actual numbers. Some people may have opted out of coaching so the numbers may have been less.

    I didn't expect more than the DS to think with me for 1/2 hour each month and then ask me next month whether I had followed through on the decision I'd made.

    1. Wow. Well the ratios are much different in Indiana. I like the idea of DS as coach, but I could not imagine that being possible here.

  3. Is this just in your district or do you think it will be in all districts?