My husband and I were part of a team that started our church 6 years ago and since its inception I have been part of the vestry (similar to elder board). We are allowed 2 3-year terms and then we are off. So I am looking at about 3 more months of vestry meetings before I am free to follow my whim (or God's leading) to other ministry opportunities without having the responsibility of overall church direction or knowing how much everything at the church costs (and other stuff).
As I think about getting off the vestry I have been reflecting on the leadership skills and confidence in my ideas I have developed as part of this ministry. While I had plenty of experience with leadership roles in "women's" ministries like kids, mom's and women, the vestry felt a little intimidating and I think for about the first year I was there I asked myself every month what our pastor could have possibly been thinking when he asked me to be part of it. It didn't help that I was a stay-at-home, non-college educated mom serving with 2 doctors and a college librarian who had formerly pastored a church and all of whom had experience on other church boards. Again, what was I doing there?
Yet month after month I would leave the meetings really feeling like I had contributed something, like my ideas had been validated and that good discussion had come from them. I finally stopped questioning why I was there and simply trusted God to use me in the ministry He had put me in.
There are 2 big things that come to mind when I think about the leadership lessons I have learned from this experience.
The first lesson I learned was simply how to lead meetings.
The first couple years I served as the Jr. warden, sort of the second in command of the vestry. I seemed to end up in this role more by default than any sort of definite plan. The senior warden was some sort of department head at children's hospital and it sounds like spent a lot of time in meetings. He had developed a great leadership style, among his strengths he kept the meetings moving and didn't allow them to go on and on and on. Exactly what we needed in those early years when we had a lot of decisions to make and none of us wanted to be there all night. You often hear of legendary vestry or elder board meetings that go into the wee hours of the morning. None of us wanted that. On the other hand there were nights I was home before 10pm wondering if we had actually finished discussing some topics before the decision was made and feeling like I had more to think about on the topic.
Not being in charge of those meetings I was free to just participate and say whatever popped into my head (not always a good thing.) I often noticed the senior warden giving me "the look" which seemed to say, "do you mind? we are trying to have a meeting here." or "Would you please stop talking." Don't get me wrong, I wasn't inappropriate, but I would occasionally break topic or decide to disagree just as he was about to move on to the next thing.
After a couple years he moved out of state and I was asked to take over as senior warden. I spent a lot of time praying about it and I really didn't think I was going to say yes until almost the last minute. I don't remember what changed my mind only that I initially didn't want to do it. And again, I probably spent about a year wondering if I made the right choice.
During one of the first meetings I remember having a startling revelation. There we were in discussion about whatever hot topic of the month we had before us. Lots of thought, lots of opinions. I was listening and participating as the discussion went on when suddenly I realized something--I was the one in charge of bringing this discussion to a conclusion! My years in the peanut gallery were over. It was time to step up or get out.
Initially I operated from something of a "what would the former senior warden do?" mentality and occasionally still default to it but as the years have passed I think I have developed a style all my own. We have a lot more discussion than we used to but I still try to get us home by 10pm. And I am still not afraid to throw out the slightly off topic comment occasionally but I don't let it get us too distracted. I often say that my parenting style is "subtle". At first glance you might think I am not doing anything but upon further inspection you notice a lot going on. My leadership style is similar, it is also subtle. It might not seem immediately obvious that I am leading the team if you were to visit but I know what is going on and keep it moving.
The second thing I have gained from my vestry experience is confidence.
As I said, I spent quite a long time wondering what on earth I was doing on this team. Frankly I sometimes felt the same way when I was on leadership teams at the large church we used to attend but I at least had some qualification, like I was a mom and it was a mom's ministry. I didn't know much but I did know how to be a mom. Of course when we would go around and say what we did "before" we were mom's I could quickly loose confidence. When one of the women I had gotten to be friends with mentioned that she had graduated from Harvard I was definitely intimidated! Yet somehow she liked "dumb" me anyway and we moved on.
When I first started on the vestry I was a little hesitant to share my ideas. I would tell myself that if they were really valid thoughts that the others would have thought of them. Or I would worry that the questions would reveal the depth of my cluelessness rather than just being a point of clarity. However, as I bravely shared a few thoughts, ideas or questions they were almost always validated, encouraged and built upon. I found myself feeling part of the conversation rather than someone who had to be carried by the rest of the group. Yet I was still unsure of myself and never introduced a new idea. Then a couple years ago we did a team building exercise where we all said what we saw as a strength and weakness we had and then the team had an opportunity to agree, disagree or just discuss. I don't remember what I said my strength and weakness was but I remember that someone said, and the other's agreed, that I had great ideas and input and they often wished I would have shared my thoughts sooner so they could have avoided some of the discussion. It was such a shock to me to hear someone say they wished I would share more. So ever since I have been bugging them with my opinion whether they wanted it or not. Sometimes I wonder if they just created a monster!
I think about these things today as I prepare to lead a new group in women's ministry and am excited to step into this roll with a confidence I have never had before. I still have plenty to learn and am excited to see how God directs this next ministry and what lessons He has in store for me.