When it comes to being a balanced, transformational leader, there are three characteristics that are essential in helping that person succeed, according to the Rev. Dr. Graham Standish.
“They have a set of strong and effective foundational principles,” he said. “They understand and work with the church’s DNA – they understand what the church’s story has been and they ground what they’re doing in that story instead of trying to re-create the church they came from or the church they want to go to. And they know how to craft a healthy narrative of leadership – they know how to help the church write the next few chapters.”
This was the focus of a three-part webinar titled “Forgotten Foundations for Church Leadership: Building the Future on Great Ground,” which was presented by the Synod of the Trinity on three consecutive Thursdays in September. The series was led by Graham, who is the executive director of Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting in Sewickley, PA, and former pastor at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, PA.
“As long as we see our churches as an indication of how well we’re doing, it actually increases our leadership,” Graham continued. “If you don’t care if this is a steppingstone or whether this is an end and you care about creating a healthy church, when your ambition is for that, that makes all of the difference.”
Martha Jordan, a Synod commissioner from Lackawanna Presbytery, was part of a group of people who took part in the webinar at the presbytery office building.
“When I received the information from (the Synod) about the webinar, I casually mentioned that I was going to watch it and hoped that others would consider participating with me,” she said. “I emailed everyone on my COM figuring that if any wanted to participate, they would want to do it from their home. I was delightfully surprised when we had eight people ask to participate at my office. It helped me to look forward to the webinars knowing that others were interested in participating and hopefully making a difference in the leadership of the church in our presbytery.”
Martha was challenged by the webinar and hopes to take what she learned into future conversations with her presbytery.
“I think as Presbyterians we sometimes struggle to figure out our why,” she said. “As a pastor, I follow God’s calling, which sometimes can be a different direction than I want to go. It is easy for churches to get confused as to what God is calling us to do as a church. The three webinars were helpful in being reminded to have healthy conversations about our purpose as a congregation. At a time in our presbytery when we have leadership shifts, it was helpful to try and find the common narrative or at least understand the other person’s perspective as they shared their narrative about the impact of the presbytery’s ministry.
“Graham’s webinars were helpful in sharing resources that include books that I plan to read along with colleagues in ministry. I also found his webinar hopeful. We are a people of hope, a people who believe the resurrection story and yet, with the challenges of small churches with dwindling resources, we need to find a way to share the hope. People often craft narratives about their lives and tend to focus on the failure, scarcity, oppression and the negatives. We as the Body of Christ are called to be a church that is hopeful and need to develop a narrative that includes hope in the midst of all that we struggle with.”
To view the webinars, click on the links below:
- Leading from a Foundation: What are our leadership principles, and how do they help or hinder our authority and authorship?
- Who and Why We Are: What is our purpose and call, and how do they lead us as we lead others?
- Writing the Next Few Chapters: How do we build on the church’s story to create new chapters for their lives?
Prior to coming to Samaritan Counseling in the fall of 2017, Graham was the senior pastor at Calvin Church for 22 years, where he also had a personal ministry of spiritual direction and clergy coaching. Over the past 20 years, he has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada leading workshops and conferences on congregational transformation from a spiritual foundation. Before that he was an individual, family and group therapist with experience in drug and alcohol and psychiatric counseling. His years of experience of working with people has taught him, among other things, that good leadership is essential to creating healthy organizations, and healthy organizations always look for good leadership.
“This may seem obvious,” Graham explained. “But among many mainline church pastors, it’s not. Working with a pastor, he said a colleague of his told him that she is not a leader, and that she looks to her session to be the leaders. ‘I’m only here to be the preacher and the teacher.’ I told him that’s someone who’s not going to have a church that’s healthy. Those leaders in the church are not looking for us as pastors to just be teaching elders. They’re looking to us to also lead them. They’re looking for us to cast a vision. They’re looking for us to articulate a vision. They’re looking for us to offer steps on how to move toward that vision.”
Other fundamental points of leadership that Graham emphasized were:
- Good leaders lead leaders and help them – and train them – to lead others.
- Good leaders create positive relationships that motivate others.
One problem that might be plaguing some churches is that they have fallen away from their original purpose, and this can be a critical error, Graham said.
“God has created every single one of us with a purpose, and our purpose is to live out our purpose in life,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to know what our purpose is. There’s only one way to figure out what our purpose is, and that one way is to listen to what God’s call is for us. When we listen for God’s call and follow God’s call, it makes us more aware of our purpose.”
Referencing the words of author Robert McKee, Graham emphasized the importance of storytelling, saying that “Story is a metaphor for life.” He added that pastoral leaders should become the primary storytellers of a church’s ongoing story.
“When you tell stories, you transform people,” Graham said. “Pastoral leaders, when they come to a church, they become the primary storytellers of a church’s ongoing story. You are the one who tells them who they are by the stories you tell about the church. If you latch on to the stories of how caring and compassionate they are, they will grow their caring and compassion.
“Pastors are like new authors of an old story.”
And that story, Graham said, is simply waiting to be told. Again.