Southeastern Iowa Synod receives $40,000 grant for leadership school and network

The Southeastern Iowa Synod is the recipient of a $40,000 Renewing Congregations grant as part of the ELCA campaign Always Being Made New. The two-fold approach to enhancing leadership throughout the synod aims to identify, train, and coach talented congregational leaders through a leadership school and network so that, equipped with additional training and support, they can boldly and effectively work toward a broader Christian imagination and change concerning what it means to be the church in a rapidly changing context over the next two years.

The leadership school, open to rostered ministers, will take place June 3-7 at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center. The school will equip pastors and deacons with practical leadership skills to empower and move the congregations they serve toward greater vitality/health and provide a spiritual foundation so that leadership is experienced as a joy rather than a strain.

By borrowing skills and tools from several disciplines, a week-long leadership school will reinforce skills generally taken for granted in leadership, particularly in the corporate sector. Corporations have historically been quite successful at adaptive change because success depends upon flexibility and learning from failure. Because church enjoyed the luxury of being central to culture for so many decades it has learned few lessons with failing forward or experimentation.  Beyond learning a new mindset for experiment and failure at the school, additional practical skills include team building, fiscal responsibility, strength-based leading, and knowledge management. Through lecture, conversation, and the utilization of the Leadership 360 assessment tool, these skills will equip pastors to come away from the school with a different lens for leading in congregations.

The leadership school is not just about a toolkit for effective leadership. Because participants are leading congregations and communities of faith, there will be significant portions of the coursework dedicated to spiritual practices, discipleship, and personal faith. Clergy burnout is one of the highest among all professions, and while there have been few studies done, the Southeastern Iowa Synod suspects that this is in part due to a faith crisis among leadership.  The simple fact of the matter is that evangelism, growth in faith, and conviction that the good news of Jesus Christ changes the world is simply not a priority in a church that is facing such rapid decline. It seems that while the predictions over the last decades were intended as fair warning, they were taken as a license to simply attempt to program the church to death rather than double down on why the church exists in the first place, which is to further the proclamation of the gospel in the world.

Mirroring the practice in many other fields, the leader will be paired with a coach and encouraged to seek a mentor who can continue to walk with them in their leadership development. The type of adaptive change that comes out of training such as the Southeastern Iowa Synod Leadership School requires intensive follow-up so that the system (congregation) in which the pastor serves does not immediately derail attempts toward positive change. Learning new behaviors takes not only knowledge and resolve, but support and guidance. Once participants complete the school they will return to their congregations to implement change with the support of monthly coaching and regular meetings with the Southeastern Iowa Synod Leadership Network.

Each participant in the leadership school will be expected to implement a project in their context. The projects will be varied in nature, based on the gifts and skills of the leader and place, but the participants will be asked to choose a project that engages one of the areas following: faith practices, evangelizing outreach, or community engagement. These projects will be implemented in the 18-24 months following the leadership school and leaders will present a final project report at one of the leadership network meetings.

To request an application please send a direct inquiry to Pastor Erika Uthe, Director for Evangelical Mission, [email protected]

While the school is the most intensive and direct form of implementing change among pastors/deacons and congregations, the network is the complement that will sustain the change and broaden the reach of the program. Its intent is to continue gathering the original cohort of school participants while working to identify congregational leaders who can benefit from learning the types of skills and knowledge that will be shared in the group. Both face-to-face and electronic platforms will provide the necessary sharing and knowledge management to continue moving toward adaptive change in congregations.

The network meetings are all about connecting with other ELCA congregations and additional learning opportunities. The focus of these meetings will be to gather and share project progress (in the beginning) and then to share key learnings from the process. In addition to the sharing, there will be learning opportunities to enhance congregational leadership for ministry such as annual reviews of ministry/pastor, effectively running meetings, etc.

With the successful implementation of the Southeastern Iowa Synod Leadership School & Network, congregational leaders will model empowered leadership with a renewed and retooled lens for congregational ministry. Individuals in congregations will benefit from their rostered minister’s new skills through an increased ability to think and act strategically. Rather than a minister who is tasked with nearly everything in the congregation and who is easily burned out, the congregation will experience a healthy leader working out of their skills and passions, delegating tasks to other qualified leaders, and who is strategically, missionally, and imaginatively driven.

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