With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: Our congregation has called a new director of Christian education who is beginning with us this summer. A good friend of mine is in another LCMS congregation that is having a couple new Lutheran schoolteachers join the faculty of their school. We were talking about this the other day and decided to write you.
These three church workers are all newly graduated workers. They are beginning their church-worker lives with us. We want them to do well in their work and we want them to be secure and satisfied with us.
Do you have any thoughts about how we can help their satisfaction as workers with us? This would then, we thought, help them be more satisfied and productive in the years of their work.
A: Would it seem too self-serving if I recommend that each of you purchase my book, Holding Up the Prophet’s Hand, available from Concordia Publishing House? It offers lots more rationale and detail about supporting church workers than is possible in this brief column.
You are already taking a crucial first step by being intentional thinkers about how church workers can be supported.
A lot regarding this topic is often left to chance. A new worker comes into a congregation or school and is more or less expected to adapt to the new situation through personal initiative and skill. On the other hand — as in the case you present — intentional thinkers and leaders anticipate a transitional point and begin to plan how to be helpful to the worker’s successful change from their schoolwork to their life’s work.
This brings me to a second step that I think you are already taking: to plan. Develop strategies and tactics that are going to be helpful. Intentionality forces a leadership change from a more passive waiting-to-see-what-happens approach to a more active one that commits to putting lots of energy into helping with the transition.
You might ask who will be on hand to greet them and show them around. Who will introduce them to congregational leaders? Initially, who will have longer conversations with them about the community, the church or school culture and history? How will they be introduced to the congregation as a whole? Who will help them move in? Will a meal or meals be delivered in the first days to take away the anxiety of shopping for food and preparing it? What is the orientation process?
Basically, in this second step, specific pieces of an orientation process are planned, with particular people in the congregation taking the lead. Little that can be anticipated is left to chance. Rather, proactive steps are developed for welcoming and hospitality.
But this is just the beginning of proactive engagement in supporting the health and well-being of your workers. This should not just be done for your “new” workers, but also for those who are currently serving in their church vocations. The same intentional planning that goes into welcoming and orienting your new workers is used to develop strategies and tactics that will help sustain, nourish and strengthen them.
Fundamental to this longer-term strategy is the development of a worker support team — members of the community of the baptized whose function in the congregation or school is to attend to worker health and to be advocates for the worker within the congregation or school. These are folks who are tasked with worker care. I hope that this is part of a larger practice of a congregation and/or school who have a culture of looking out for others. These team members begin to do the intentional work and build deeper relationships with each church worker, helping them assess their health and well-being and paying attention to their points of concern.
Using members of the congregations who are in the human resources, counseling, or health promotion professions is an added plus.
Intentionally plan, develop anticipatory strategies, determine who is going to do what and develop a lasting set of strategies, using a worker support team as the basic group. I think such steps would help you achieve your desire to be supportive of workers of the church.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is associate dean of Ministerial Formation and director of the M.Div./Alternate Route programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted May 23, 2012 / Updated May 29, 2012