A Faculty Coach Reflects on the Leadership in Ministry Experience
August 8, 2016—The Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) has been offering the Leadership in Ministry workshops (LIM) on its campus since 2014. It has expanded the program to offer workshops in Boston, Portland, Lynchburg VA, and now Kansas City MO. Fourteen faculty coaches teach in the workshops. The CLL asked Dr. Israel Galindo to reflect on his experiences as a faculty coach in the Leadership in Ministry workshops. The workshops are part of the Pastoral Excellence Program of the Center for Lifelong Learning.
CLL: How long have you been a faculty-coach in LIM?
Dr. G: I joined the faculty in 1994 or 1995 at the invitation of Larry Matthews, founder and coordinator of the LIM workshops. I continued with LIM during my time as faculty at another seminary, but had to drop when I became dean there in 2010. Until this year I’d only participated in the West Virginia workshops.
CLL: What were your primary interests or motivations for becoming a LIM faculty member?
Dr. G: I was motivated to join as a faculty coach out of my interest in BFST and as an educator. My primary motivation was I thought it was a great way to continue to “learn the theory” through learning from the coaching groups and in opportunities to present plenary sessions.
CLL: What insights have you gained about clergy and their ministries in the course of your small group coaching work?
Dr. G: I’ve gained so many! Some insights are:
- Most ministers/leaders seem to lack a rigorous “theory of practice” which informs their approach to ministry work or to self-work. Most tend to fly by the seat of their pants. It has been impressive to see how BFST provides a powerful theory of practice for ministers.
- Given that most do not have a theory of practice, they have a tendency to lack discernment about their role and function as leaders and will go years chasing after leadership and ministry fads.
- Ministry is tough, and many clergy are not tough enough soon enough to have effective early successes in their ministry trajectory. This seems to set them up with early acquired patterns of functioning they often cannot get out of.
- Pain is a great motivator for change, and acute pain is often the gateway for clergy to seek out resources and support they need. Unfortunately, the number of effective resources that address what clergy ACTUALLY need is scarce.
- The acquisition of a functional theory of practice takes a long time and requires a support system, including peer-support and accountability. That LIM provides for all those elements is part of why I think it is so effective.
- I’ve been impressed by those who immediately “get it” and work hard at the theory over time by committing to the ongoing work of growth and maturity. And I’ve been impressed at the level of humility, transparency, and vulnerability it takes to do that work—and very impressed at the way participants arrive at those postures in the context of the LIM experience.
CLL: What insights have you gained about BFST as a “theory of practice” for clergy and for leaders?
Dr. G: As I said, I’ve been impressed over the years to see how BFST provides a powerful theory of practice for ministers. It addresses three significant domains: the functioning of the leader, a more accurate means of interpreting the context in which the minister/leader functions, and work on self.
The theory does tend to be counter-intuitive in contrast to most of the “leadership theories” out there—including many adopted by clergy and promoted by leadership “experts” in ministry. It’s no surprise then that the challenges posed to common perceptions and assumptions about leadership are often resisted by “novices” or by those who are looking for the quick fix.
After 20 years of working with the theory, clergy, and congregations, I can honestly say I’ve not encountered a comparable theory of practice for the challenges of ministry of self-work. In fact, when I was a dean, I remember that BFST was consistently the top answer alumni gave to the question, “What was the most helpful thing you learned in seminary?” (with preaching and theology ranking the next most highest).
CLL: Are there concepts in the theory that you find most relevant and helpful (e.g. the eight concepts or derivatives)? Are any concepts in the theory less relevant? Which concepts in the theory are most recurrent in small group work?
Dr. G: Likely no surprises here. Most relevant and helpful concepts in my experience are triangles, anxiety and reactivity, systemic homeostasis, family of origin dynamics (e.g. birth order), and differentiation of self.
Less relevant tends to be societal regression, but I suppose that’s because of the nature of the immediacy and pace of day-to-day ministry.
CLL: What tend to be most challenging for you as you lead your small groups?
Dr. G: Being patient with slackers who show up but don’t do the work. But I can stick to my principle of “never work harder than your students.” That doesn’t happen often, and the peer-group dynamics in the small groups tend to provide correctives in holding people accountable. When most people in the group show up to do “real work,” they have little patience with those who are not putting in the effort. Ministry is “real,” and these folks come to do “real work.”
CLL: In your opinion, what makes for a strong and effective plenary presentation in the workshops?
Dr. G: I appreciate most those presentations that are well-presented, give evidence of thoughtful preparation, and which “stick close to the theory.” While my presentations tend to be a bit “theoretical” I very much appreciate those presentations that illustrate the theory in actual cases—congregational or family of origin. Some are hit-or-miss in that sometimes the “interpretation” of systemic emotional process may not be accurate—at least as how I perceive them, but nevertheless, I appreciate when presenters use the opportunity to “think out loud” with the participants.
CLL: As you reflect on the participants in your small group over the years, what indicators or evidence of growth, maturity, or increased ministry effectiveness have you seen?
Dr. G: There are individuals who have evidenced dramatic growth and change in the workshops. Needless to say, each that I recall have been in the workshops for years—five or more. I’ve witness some become more “relaxed” (less anxious), less reactive, more thoughtful, able to reflect better (more accurately) on their experiences in ministry. They become great resources in the coaching groups and help the process of learning. I’ve seen some get to the point of being able to make courageous decisions in their ministries and relationships. Others were able to practice greater agency in decision-making.
CLL: Share your reflections about your own growth as a result of being a faculty coach.
Dr. G: I think I’ve gotten better in my presentation skills over the years. The challenge of preparing a plenary theory presentation periodically is always an opportunity to “think about” the theory and always yields new insight, in the preparations, the presentation, and through participant feedback. These are motivated folks and they tend to be highly engaged during the presentations. On occasion, they don’t mind challenging you, which provides a great opportunity for me as presenter to “differentiate in place.” That’s not a bad thing!
I think I’ve gotten better, and quicker, at recognizing emotional process dynamics as I listen to participants share their case studies. And I’m better at being aware when I don’t know what the hell is going in in a case. Those are opportunities to strive to ask better “systems questions” to solicit thinking on the part of the participant. Fortunately, we’re not their to solve their problems for them or to do their thinking for them.
I think I’ve gotten more patient with the struggles of participants in their sincere attempts to be effective clergy leaders. I’ve come to appreciate how long it can take to do self-work to the point where significant enough change happens so as to make possible a change in functioning, if not in perspective. Ministry is challenging enough—working on self and on maturity is harder; participants need to do both concurrently.
Want to learn more about leadership from a systems perspective? Join us for the Leadership in Ministry workshops at the Center for Lifelong Learning. Registration is now open.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.