The following is a completely fictional account of a conversation that I never had. It’s a conversation I could have had many times over, and it’s true that I’ve had similar conversations over the years, but this one is fictional. Do not imagine that I am talking about you or your congregation — this is fiction.
It’s that time of year, the time when religious educators in Unitarian Universalist congregations are gossiping about who quit their jobs this year, and why. I happened to be talking to Sue, an old friend of mine who’s Director of Religious Education (DRE) at First Universalist on the Beach.
“So I talked with ——, and asked her why she’s leaving,” said Sue.
“What’d she say?” I said.
“The usual,” said Sue. “Low salary. When they passed the budget this year, she finally realized that they were never going to get her salary up to guidelines in spite of all their promises.”
“How about you?” I said. “Last time I talked with you, you were talking about leaving.” Sue has been working at her new DRE job for a year and a half now.
“No, I’m going to stick it out for a while,” Sue said. “It’s a pretty good job. The money sucks, but it’s better than I could make working retail. I have flextime, so I can be there for my kids when I need to. And the minister pretty much leaves me alone. When I started, he told me, ‘Technically I’m your supervisor, but as far as I’m concerned you’re on your own.’”
“Actually, that’s pretty cold-blooded,” I said.
Sue was taken aback. She had left her first DRE job because of a new minister who micro-managed everything she did. Which meant that she was perfectly happy to be working with a minister who left her alone.
“OK, but he’s your supervisor,” I said, “which means he’s supposed to be offering support and guidance. That’s what supervisors are supposed to do. And he should be going to bat for you in the budget process, trying to get your salary up to guidelines.”
No need to recount the rest of this (fictional) conversation. It’s a conversation I’ve heard before. Many ministers supervise the staff in their congregation — yet many ministers seem to think that supervision means either (a) abdicating all responsibility for the employees they supervise, or (b) micromanaging everything those employees do.
Not that I’m a good supervisor yet, but I’m working on it. Over the years, I’ve found that good supervision takes a lot of my time. In the short term, it’s quicker (and easier) to abdicate responsibility or to micromanage — but in the long term, either of those approaches will lead to fast employee turnover and poorly-trained employees who don’t have the training and/or the resources to do their jobs. On the other hand, even though it takes more of the supervisor’s time and effort, good supervision will make the whole staff much more effective and efficient — which means the whole church will benefit.
If you’re looking for reasons why so many congregations remain small and ineffective, look at the supervisory skills of ministers for one such reason. But if you find ministers who are lousy supervisors, don’t jump to conclusions and blame the ministers — maybe you should blame a system that forces ministers to be supervisors without giving them adequate training and without giving them the time to supervise the staff — maybe you should blame congregations who don’t allow their ministers the time to be good supervisors. Actually, instead of blaming anyone, why not change the system so that your minister has the time and training to be a good supervisor of staff?