THE ART OF SUPERINTENDENCY
Denny Wayman – October 2020
For over forty years I have supervised persons in ministry. From the more formal structure of the Free Methodist polity to the informal conversations of counseling and friendship, these relationships have taught me what is and is not effective in supervising local church and conference ministries. I learned most of these principles through direct experience as a lead pastor for 40 years, an Assistant Superintendent for 20 years and a Conference Superintendent for 10 years. But I also learned other valuable insights through embarrassing and often debilitating failures. The Southern California Conference is an extremely complex multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual ministry with varying sizes and styles of churches and with vast differences in pastoral training and experience.
I present these thoughts in service to God in fulfilling His call on my life and what I hope to be a gift to those who have similarly been called to superintend His church. The unnecessary pain in so many of our pastors, pastoral families, congregations and conferences grieves us all. It is my desire to help give the eyes to see the opportunities and dangers long before they come upon us. To do this we need each other’s insights and experiences. My thoughts are conversation starters. It is my hope that each of us will bring our own experiences and unique situations into this discussion as together we can develop a robust understanding of the art required in effective superintending.
As a side note, I write this in the latter stages of the year 2020 when a pandemic came upon us that no one saw coming. But as we walked together through this difficult experience, we did find solutions to help us survive if not thrive. In such moments it is not so much about training or experience but about our resilience, dependence on God to lead us, and faithfulness to walk through the unexpected challenges of life together.
It is my prayer that all of us who superintend conferences of churches will work together under the leadership of Jesus Christ so that His Kingdom might come in its full and healthy form.
Dr. Denny Wayman, 2020
Dedicated to my father, former Supt. Hugh D. Wayman, who has taught me throughout my life.
- WHY SUPERINTENDENTS?
- ARE SUPERINTENDENTS LEADERS? SUPERVISORS? PASTORS? MANAGERS?
- HOW DOES A SUPERINTENDENT CREATE AND SUSTAIN MOMENTUM?
- WHAT IS NOT SUPERINTENDING BUT FOOLS US INTO THINKING IT IS?
- WHAT SKILLS ARE NEEDED TO SUPERINTEND A CONFERENCE AND HOW DO WE GET THEM?
- HOW CAN THE SUPERINTENDING LOAD BE SHARED?
- HOW DOES A SUPERINTENDENT MANAGE-UP TO A BISHOP?
- HOW ARE SUPERINTENDENTS MEASURED APPROPRIATELY?
- WHAT PITFALLS CAN TRAP A SUPERINTENDENT?
- HOW DO YOU SUPERINTEND A REBELLIOUS/RELUCTANT PASTOR/CHURCH?
- WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE PERSONAL AND FAMILIAL STRUGGLES OF A SUPERINTENDENT?
CHAPTER 1: WHY SUPERINTENDENTS?
It is clear that not all churches or denominations recognize the necessity or calling of a Superintendent. So why does the Free Methodist Church do so? I suggest that there are four interwoven truths that experience teaches us:
- The biblical church identified “overseers” as a calling needed for a healthy congregation or group of churches. The FMC uses the biblical word translated overseer, episkopos, to describe our denominational polity. We value God’s calling to episkopos.
- Providing oversight for a pastor and a congregation protects both. Due to our fallenness, a pastor needs a supervisor to hold them accountable personally and have authority to protect them from a sick or sinful congregation. Likewise, a congregation needs an overseer to hold a pastor accountable spiritually and professionally. In my experience, the greatest destruction I have witnessed in a church was when an independent pastor/congregation that had no one outside the power structure of that local church to turn to in a time that injustice and sin was perpetrated. As a pastoral counselor, I have spent hours walking through the ongoing pain, loss of faith, and difficulty forgiving that an individual experiences when there is no one to turn to for help.
- When a pastor is negligent in the fulfilling of their calling, a superintendent is needed for accountability and resourcing. Due to the nature of a dispersed “work force” a pastor can easily coast on their natural charm or skills when there is no one holding them accountable for the work of multiplying disciples, groups and churches. Similarly, if a pastor avoids the difficult work of discipleship, mentoring, assisting or finding assistance in providing the healing of counseling, then a superintendent can help the pastor develop the courage needed to have the hard conversations and the skills to provide shepherding guidance that is needed.
- When a congregation is complacent in fulfilling the call of Jesus as expressed in the Great Commission, a superintendent needs to call them to fulfill their mission. Due to the nature of organizational life, many congregations become comfortable with the size they are and the ministry they share. A pastor’s call is to risk and move beyond comfort to mission. Even when done with the best of mentoring preparation, this can put the pastor in professional danger with the congregation. In smaller churches, a “church boss” may threaten the pastor’s position but in larger congregations it is often a “friendship group” that together challenges the Commission given by God by claiming it is merely a pastor’s inappropriate expectation.
Experience teaches us that the presence of a Superintendent watching over pastor and people is the most likely solution to a multitude of unique individual and congregational circumstances that roughly fit into these four general categories. But there are other things I’ve experienced that can demonstrate the necessity of a Superintendent’s interventions: Pastors who blame congregations and congregations who blame pastors – avoiding the responsibility either or both have; Inbred congregations that are focused inwardly or caught up in a multitude of petty squabbles that take not only the time of the pastor, but also diverts the mission as they divide the congregation; Unhealthy individuals that find a position of power or authority and exert a narcissistic or ambitious control over others; Any situation in which the congregation as a whole and the pastor in particular cannot solve the problem. I made it part of my bi-monthly conversations with pastors to ask for the good happening in their churches/ministries and then the problems so that we can often keep a problem from becoming too oversized for the pastor to handle. But in those cases where a problem cannot be handled within the local church, the Superintendent can step in from the outside with authority that is needed to resolve or at least mediate the solution. This authority includes such things as removing problem-causing members from boards to counseling such individuals to remove themselves by resigning.
In the sections that follow, there are many other aspects of superintending we will discuss from leadership and leadership development, from multiplication of churches and church planting, to denominational advancement and world missions.
CHAPTER 2: ARE SUPERINTENDENTS LEADERS? SUPERVISORS? PASTORS? MANAGERS?
Perhaps the most important question any superintendent asks is: “How has God gifted me to serve this conference?” No matter the specific needs of a conference, a person brings their own gifts to the task. Sometimes this reveals that a person’s gifts are best suited in a supportive role. For their sake as well as the sake of the conference, it is important that they accept their God-assigned place in His church. But in all cases, the complex work of a conference can best be accomplished by the creation of an effective team handling the work. This does not mean that the team has to be a shared superintendency, but it does mean that all aspects of the work must be cared for by those with the gifts and abilities to do the work. There must be leadership. There must be supervision. There must be management. There must be pastoral care. Theoretically, it might be claimed that one individual could have all of these gifts and the conference might be small enough that one person could have the time to do all of the tasks required, but in my years of experience, I have never seen such a person. What I have seen is that a person gets tapped to work in their area of gifting and that part of superintending is done well, but the remainder of the job is not recognized or accomplished. This is especially true if a superintendent is unusually gifted in that one area that takes most if not all of their attention and focus.
Often, those in leadership on the Board of Administration decide the problem is organizational management, i.e., we don’t have the job descriptions clearly developed enough so that the conference can hold the superintendent to the task. This thinking reveals why a person with the gift of management is often called to serve on boards. Boards look at the whole, as they should, but don’t see the unique gifts, abilities and weaknesses of the person who is before them. Such a focus lacks understanding and appreciation for the specific call and gifting of God’s people. It is described in business as placing the right people in the right seats on the bus. A person with leadership does not focus on a job description but on the ministry that needs leading. Thinking that a change in organizational structure solves this is a management gift and works if the need is efficiency but a management gift is not usually gifted in creating vision, values, momentum, belonging, and joint mission. These are of a different nature than management. But, having said that, if there is not a manager on the superintendent’s team then organizational inefficiencies can become so overwhelming that the conference becomes focused on management.
Similarly, if a superintendent is gifted in pastoral care, the time they spend together with the pastors is spent in ways that may be healing and compassionate, but the conversation may not rise to the level of accountable supervision and necessary vision/mission casting. Care of our pastors is extremely important, and a person with the gift of pastor must be on the superintendent’s team, but if there is not more than pastoral care done, the conference could slide into a gathering of dependent or dysfunctional pastors and leaders who are unable to lead.
In my experience, the two gifts most necessary for an effective superintendent are that of Leadership and Supervision. One of the realities of a gifted leader is that others gifted in leadership are inspired and drawn to that person, the vision of the conference they communicate and they are excited to join that leader and that team. Just as a gifted musician can “hear” another true musician and is eager to join them in making music, so a leader recognizes a true leader and is eager to partner with them and so the team expands. However, if a superintendent is insecure, jealous, ambitious or has strong tendencies toward narcissism, then gifted leaders easily spot this and either do not join them or leave their team quickly.
The same is true of supervision. A gifted supervisor not only helps a pastor engage their strengths but also helps identify and address their weaknesses. From actions such as requiring a person to fulfill their responsibilities, to replying in a timely way to emails/communication, to continuing their education and training, to accepting the need for help in areas where they are not gifted, to holding them accountable for sin, a gifted supervisor helps their pastors become all they can be in Christ and in ministry. However, if a superintendent is only gifted in supervision, then perhaps being a mentor would be a better seat on the bus. In my experience, a superintendent is best equipped for the demands of leading a conference when they have the dual gifts of leader-supervisor. Having the gift of leadership is necessary because it takes a leader to teach their pastors to lead their congregations effectively as well as to earn the respect of pastors who are good leaders.
CHAPTER 3: HOW DOES A SUPERINTENDENT CREATE AND SUSTAIN MOMENTUM?
The inadequacy of the analogy of the right people in the right seats on the bus is that a superintendent is not driving a single bus. Instead, the superintendent is leading a fleet of buses with only intermittent communication with the drivers of those buses. In addition to the superintendent being responsible to drive the conference leadership team on that lead bus, the superintendent is also responsible for each of the buses in the fleet. Each bus has a pastor assigned by the Superintendent and Ministerial Appointments Committee to drive their own bus and has the responsibility to supervise and develop pastors within their own team of leaders and help them excel in the right seat that fits their gifting. Thankfully, this impossible situation of leading a fleet of churches has the empowering leadership of the Holy Spirit at work within the pastors and churches with a shared commitment to the biblical mission of global salvation. It is clear then that it is not so much the superintendent creating and sustaining momentum as it is the superintendent following the Creator and Sustainer of our mutual faith in such a way that the fleet recognizes the transcendent anointing and blessing of their human leader.
There are of course many biblical examples of human leaders called by God and gifted to take His people to the promised land or into healthy ecclesia, but there are also too many examples of human leaders who use their position and gifting to take their fleet or their individual bus in dysfunctional and divergent directions. This is when the superintendent either leads, is led by others, or misleads the conference.
In my experience, the best superintendents have a gifted ability to manifest the vision of God and live the passion of the mission in such a way that pastors and churches want to keep on the course that the superintendent is taking. This is not something that can be faked, at least not for long. If a superintendent is not deeply connected God and answering an obvious call with commensurate gifting, then the buses start breaking down, breaking apart, or losing focus and interest.
Thus, when the fleet doesn’t see new drivers being raised up and new buses joining the fleet because leadership development and church planting is neglected, then it has the same result as when a local congregation no longer sees new believers brought into church membership, be equipped for service or deployed for ministry. It is not difficult to see if the Great Co-mission of God is not the true purpose or vision of the conference. In my experience, it is the younger leaders who see this most clearly and need to be given a listening ear when they express concern.
In my own ministry at both the local church and the conference, my task as pastor and superintendent was to hold before everyone the Great Commission to Go and Make Disciples, Teaching and Baptizing. When a congregation has become too comfortable and isn’t fulfilling this mission, the pastor/superintendent holds up the vision of this world-changing task that God has invited us to share. This is an ongoing, unending responsibility. Linked to it is the absolutely necessity to fund the communication of that vision such that a conference puts major money into leadership identification, development, education and internship. It is also the reason that the conference puts major money into church planting. Wherever the conference accepts the call to go into all the world with the Gospel of Jesus, it raises up missionaries and supports their work. It is the reason that the management of the conference takes only a fraction of the tithes of the people in order to function while the majority of the funds are used in fulfilling the Great Commission.
I was once told by a superintendent that their former superintendent told them of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in their conference coffers and that the new superintendent would need to protect that fund from being spent. If the purpose/vision/values of a conference is to amass a large fund, then that former superintendent is right. But if the purpose/vision/values of a conference is to truly fulfill the Great Commission as stated in the vision statement of the FMC: to be “healthy biblical communities of holy people multiplying disciples, leaders, groups, and churches,” then true pastors and people of God will join in fulfilling that mission with joy. They will gladly sacrifice to see that mission succeed. To fund a church or conference focused on anything else will not only lose momentum but will lose its way. An excellent leader taught me that money follows ministry. If we focus on the ministry/mission of the church, money will seldom be an issue.
CHAPTER 4: WHAT IS NOT SUPERINTENDING BUT FOOLS US INTO THINKING IT IS?
One of the most frequent disappointing things I’ve seen over the years are people who like to suit up for the game but don’t actually want to play. They like to have the position. They like to belong. But if anything takes effort, they do the minimum to stay on the team. They aren’t really in it to win it. Coaching/supervision is seemingly accepted but they do not put it into practice. Their “yes” in the supervision moment is a polite way to do what is required to stay on the team. There isn’t open rebellion, which is clearly seen in supervision, but they have a complexion of patterns of behavior that keep them or their churches from growing. These patterns can include such things as not coming to conference meetings/training times/relationship-building times. Another pattern is a bare minimum attempt to report in, or “manage up” to their superintendent. Other patterns can be to “go dark”, completely hide, go solo, or to identify with some other church network than Free Methodist.
What fools us as superintendents in such situations is that these pastors are usually “nice people.” They are often our friends. But when we step back from the relationship and reframe their behavior, (which I experienced most often during my time of prayer alone with our Lord and looked at the pastor/church from His perspective), then we move from being a friend or pastor to being their supervisor and leader. One of the superintendent’s responsibilities includes both holding a pastor accountable for their professional behavior as well as getting everyone “off the bench and onto the field”, working together to accomplish God’s mission. We can be fooled into thinking that our patient but non-evaluative care of our pastors fulfills both our responsibility and God’s call on our lives as superintendents.
I wish I could say that I moved from being Pastor to Superintendent easily, but I had been a pastoral counselor to many pastors in our conference before I became Superintendent. I had to say to each pastor in my region that I would no longer engage with them as a confidential counselor, but as a supervisor – and that I would take what is said by them as reports to supervise them and make the leadership decisions that supervision required. This both clarified and confused the relationship, with some feeling rejected, others feeling judged, but most accepting this transition. Judgment about professional behaviors is the responsibility of a superintendent while leading the overall direction and personnel on the team.
There are other areas that fool us as well, such as I mentioned above: becoming focused on administration/management rather than on needed leadership/supervision. In a study of the history of our conference, those superintendents whose primary gift was administration experienced a 1% – 2% growth in the conference during their decade of having the position of superintendent. The conference was “well-run.” Systems of reporting replaced direct supervision as reports were made about how many books the pastors read, how many house calls were made, how many board meetings were held, and so on. Equally diverting us from accomplishing our mission, I lived through a time when pastors were required by their managing superintendent to develop what was believed at the time to help a church grow, but actually took time away from the work that did actually produce “church growth.” The most common assignment was requiring each pastor to develop a unique vision statement with specific goals while analyzing the statistics of their community and identifying a homogeneous target. These activities fit nicely into administrative reports but proved to not actually have much effect in growing a congregation. Growth takes true leaders being joined by others in fulfilling the mission of God. That is not to say that vision statements, defining goals, reading books, getting continuing education, and similar activities are not helpful, but they are no substitute for leading.
I am sure there are other false-but-positive activities that fool us into thinking we are accomplishing our task as superintendents. What would you identify?
CHAPTER 5: WHAT SKILLS ARE NEEDED TO SUPERINTEND AND HOW DO WE GET THEM?
It is my experience that leaders are born and supervisors are trained. Serving in the same congregation for over 40 years, I had the privilege of observing many people grow from birth to middle adulthood. This vantage point allowed me to see that leaders lead within their preschool, elementary school and on through their lives. Leading is as natural as breathing to them and others joyfully join them. I say “joined” purposefully, as others don’t “follow” a gifted leader but rather freely choose to become a part of whatever the leader is doing, from playing a game in the preschool to leading a church. But what serving with a consummate leader, Supt. Larry Walkemeyer taught me is that leaders are not equal. Walkemeyer would give a teaching based on Jethro’s advice to Moses. He reminded us that there are leaders of 10 (small group), of 100 (congregation) of 1,000 (larger church) and of thousands (mega churches, conferences and denominations). This observation recognizes that it takes vastly more people who are gifted to lead ten than it takes to lead thousands. As the complexity of the leadership grows there are fewer leaders with the capacity to lead at that next level. I have experienced that it may look the same in many ways, but although a little league player is doing the same things as a major league player, the capacity between the two is manifestly different. A community’s little league will have hundreds of players, while the high school baseball team will have 20 players, and maybe one of those will go on to play professionally.
Since past achievements predict future ones, the question that a superintendent must discern is: what is the capacity of the leaders who have joined the work? Are they a Bible Study leader who can get 10 – 12 people to choose to join their study? Or are they a Pastor of a single congregation who can get 100 – 120 people to join their church? Perhaps they are a Lead Pastor who can get 400 – 1000 people to join in their multi-congregational church while needing multiple congregation-level pastors working together for a common goal. The larger the bus, the more leadership seats need to be filled. In my experience, a church of 500 will have a Lead Pastor with the capacity to gain the joyful joining of five congregation-level pastors as well as 50 leaders at work leading Bible Studies, boards, and ministries.
When we come to the leadership of a superintendent, I have observed that a conference grows when the leader has the capacity to lead a fleet of buses larger than they now have, or it shrinks to the capacity of the leader who was elected. Just as a church will grow to the level of the gifting/capacity of a pastor, so the conference will grow to the level of the gifting/capacity of a superintendent or team of superintendents. Like the parable of the talents, some leaders have five, some have two and some have one. Each is capable of doubling the ministry suited to their talent/gift/capacity.
However, saying that leadership is born rather than trained, is not to say that leaders are not continually learning. I have observed that the leaders with the largest capacities are the ones who are the first to sign up for training events. They seek out mentors, classes, degrees and every manner of opportunity to learn. This is true of superintendents, pastors, associate pastors and congregational leaders. It is obvious who has capacity by how they enlarge the area of their ministry, whether they are a pastor of discipleship, education, music, or any other specific area within a church, or the lead pastor of an expanding ministry. All you need do is look to that area and see if there are others joyfully learning how to do the work of that ministry or is the “leader” working alone. Leaders bring leaders onboard and give them the experience, mentoring, encouragement, and education so that they can excel to the level of their God-given capacity.
Supervision, however is different. In my experience, people are not born as a good supervisor, they learn how to be so. Granted, there are some necessary skills that help a person in their supervision and the healthier the leader, the more accurate the supervision, but every personality type can supervise from their areas of strengths.
Similar to leadership, superintendents learn to supervise by working alongside supervisors who are gifted in supervision. But having said that, formal training is necessary. The reasons for this are many:
- Supervision is not controlling or neglecting, it is training and accountability. Everyone needs training in whatever is lacking in their skill set or misunderstood in their task, but it is treating a person as a child to specifically tell them how and what to do. A mature person, let alone a gifted leader, will not remain or join a superintendent or the organization that reflects this disrespect. Similarly, everyone needs accountability – from the simple report of what is being accomplished, to the more difficult but necessary discussion of problems, hindrances, or difficulties that their church is experiencing. When a superintendent neglects this supervision, this leaves a pastor feeling alone, often overwhelmed, not sure how to proceed and lacking the cues of how to gain the approval of the superintendent.
- Supervision is multi-layered. In my experience, good supervision starts at the outside of the onion and moves deeper as the need arises.
- This starts at the outermost level of encouragement. Pastors are often discouraged by the enormity of our task. This means, at the very least, superintendents are the voice of encouragement that with God as our Helper, we can do the work we are called by God to achieve.
- The next level deeper is making sure the person has the skills needed to do their ministry. This can be formal or informal, giving books to read, requiring a course or a degree, being an intern or having an in-depth conversation or training session with someone who excels at the skill.
- But if after this training the newly-learned skill is not applied, then the next level of supervision is to find out why. What is inside this pastor that is keeping them from being able to be an encouraged practitioner in their church? The answer to this is often complex and has to do with such things as confidence, trust, courage, risk, or even the possible hindrance of a personality disorder. The superintendent needs to gain the training to at least identify when a deeper problem is present and create a referral base to get the pastor to the right teacher, mentor or counselor. The art of this level of supervision is to know which hindrances can be removed and which are more difficult. If the hindrance is difficult then the superintendent needs to make the necessary supervisory call to provide the pastor with a sabbatical from the church or even to remove them from ministry. It is my experience that superintendents will make this call if there is a moral failure but not often for a psychological problem. At this level, supervision needs to require time with a professional counselor or pastoral counselor.
- The deepest level of supervision is to be sensitive to Satanic/spiritual battles. Some superintendents have the gift of discernment and easily sense when evil is present. However, all superintendents must learn the cues and be aware of the symptoms present when a pastor and congregation need supernatural assistance. In my experience, the superintendent needs to discover not only who the best Christian counselors are in their area but also which pastors/lay people have the gift of discernment and can be called on for spiritual assistance.
CHAPTER 6: HOW CAN THE SUPERINTENDING LOAD BE SHARED?
I have watched superintendents become buried in their work and increasingly isolate themselves. Why this happens is an important question to ask in order to find a solution. Does it come from a hidden insecurity? Is there a lack of trust in others? Is it a workaholic addiction that has become pervasive? Is it even a grandiose or narcissistic disorder?
The biblical expectation is that all ministry will operate like a body with many parts, each uniquely suited to accomplish a portion of the task while all are under the leadership of Jesus Christ. So it should be a warning to all of us when there is not a team of people, paid or unpaid, who are carrying the load of Superintending. At the simplest level, this means that superintendents as leaders have people who joyfully want to join them in their work. If people come and go more than the usual moving of individuals into larger ministries, then attention needs to be given to answer the question of “why”. The classic question in this area is: “what am I doing that someone else could do, and perhaps even do better?” This helps us find the right person for the right seat on the lead superintendent bus.
The superintendent load occurs in several ways:
- Leadership and Supervision. As discussed above, this is the primary responsibility of the superintendent. However, even this does not need to be done alone. I have seen other conferences do what we did in creating teams of “regional leaders” who make direct contact with pastors and work together with the superintendent to lead and supervise the conference. Not only is this a great opportunity for people to be trained and given the experience of the superintendency, but it shares the load. (I would note that this is not as easy as it sounds since different pastors and different cultures do not accept a “delegated authority” which this implies.)
This can be taken to the next level, which we did in Southern California, to have a Superintendent Team who works together in the same way as the Bishops. In our case, we divided the conference into three regions and each region had a superintendent assigned to supervise the pastors in that geographic region. Leadership with our strategic priorities was shared by the Superintendent Team as each accepted responsibility to champion a Leadership Development program, a Church Planting effort, a Pastoral Care presence, World Missions, and Community Justice.
- Management and Administration. As also discussed above, this is a secondary responsibility of the superintendent just as it is for a pastor. This can be cared for by a clergy person gifted in administration, a devout gifted lay person or a team of persons who, under the guidance of the superintendent, provide efficient and effective management of the conference. This includes logistics, finances, denomination, or any other aspects of conference functioning.
CHAPTER 7: HOW DOES A SUPERINTENDENT MANAGE-UP TO A BISHOP?
The area bishop is the leader/supervisor of the superintendent. This means that much of what a superintendent does for the conference, the bishops do for the denomination. There are national and international ministries, boards, initiatives, leadership teams that the superintendent helps the bishops lead/achieve. As mentioned above, Managing Up means the superintendent commits to helping the bishops be effective in their work.
At the simplest level, the superintendent should regularly keep the bishop informed. As a superintendent, I requested pastors to keep me informed of all that was happening in their churches. Some were better at that than others, for a variety of reasons. For example, it is often seen as a failure to bring a problem to a supervisor. The solution to this is to have them bring a few solutions with the problem so that it becomes a “teachable moment” as we walk through those and other solutions. Another example is that it seems like “tooting your own horn” when you inform your superintendent of your successes. But that is the very nature of managing up. The superintendent’s responsibility is to further the work of the conference, and when a local church is achieving success, then it is success for the superintendent as well.
As in the analogy above of the superintendent leading a fleet of buses, the bishop is leading a fleet of fleets. The lack of daily contact requires a tremendous amount of trust by the superintendent and the bishop. But trust is built by being a trust-worthy partner in the work and managing up is how that trust is built. In a trust-bound working relationship, there are no surprises and there is ample opportunity to celebrate successes or solve problems together. In my own experience, I found that I was good at managing up to my superintendent, but not as good at managing up to my bishop. I’m not sure the reason for this, but I think it had to do with being on a team of superintendents who were talking regularly to each other about the successes and problems and finding solutions together. If I had been alone in the superintendent work, I would have benefited from having similar discussions with my bishop.
CHAPTER 8: HOW ARE SUPERINTENDENTS MEASURED APPROPRIATELY?
Pleasing our bishop, conference and pastors is a difficult if not impossible task. Due to the nature of these varied relationships, the importance of confidentiality in handling problems that arise, and the geographically dispersed reality of our work, most people have very little understanding of the superintendent’s work, let alone any real insight into what they do each day. Just as the expectations on a pastor are as many as there are people in their congregation, the expectations of a superintendent are multiplied by the number of congregations and people within them in their conference. Managing those expectations is difficult but necessary.
In the past, there was the expectation that the superintendent would come to visit each church in their conference on successive Sundays. My father was Superintendent of the Oklahoma Conference for many years. The expectation was that he and we (his family) would visit each of the 20 or so churches, he would preach at every one of them a few times a year, hold quarterly meetings with the pastors, plant/build new churches and grow the conference. A successful superintendent then was one who was seen regularly, held meetings, planted churches and whose churches/conference grew numerically in Sunday worship attendance and finances.
In my own life as a Superintendent of the Southern California Conference, I had a supervisorial skype meeting every six weeks with each pastor but mostly visited the churches during the week when needed and seldom on Sundays due to being a stationed superintendent with my own church to preach at, as well as due to a change in the pastors’ expectations to see me in person. Along with the large geographical size of the conference, traffic and distance in traveling between the churches making visits difficult, the people of the local churches seldom saw me and I seldom preached at the churches under my care. By the standards of evaluation in my father’s ministry era, I was not doing my job. Yet in this 21st century, the use of electronic meetings, a working-from-home norm as a conference team, and the diverse gifting of our team of three stationed superintendents working on our six strategic initiatives caused the conference to grow in disciples, leaders, groups and churches. We had regular conference-wide educational events and we increased the diversity in clergy and lay leadership. By our standards, a successful superintendent was one who also pastors a larger church, gains financial resources by selling the conference office, disperses the conference support team to work from home, supervises pastors and conference staff by Skype meetings, creates momentum in developing leaders, plants churches, empowers pastors and increases diversity in a growing conference. So, is that the new list of expectations from which to evaluate effective superintendents going forward?
As you can see, the answer is clearly no. There is no uniform way of superintending, just as there is no uniform way of pastoring. There is no uniform way of even worshiping God! So how do we measure the effectiveness of a superintendent? In our annual reports there is a vast variety of information requested in virtually every area of church life. It is difficult to say which of those is most important in evaluating a pastor, let alone their supervisor/superintendent.
I really don’t know if we can develop a universal evaluation instrument any more than we could do so for a father or mother in a family. But it does seem like the biblical guidance should be applied at this basic level. To evaluate a superintendent, we could ask questions such as these in ongoing supervisorial meetings:
- Are the fruits of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control evident and maturing in the superintendent’s life? If not, is the supervision by the bishop holding each superintendent accountable for living life in a way that these will grow?
- Is there unity within the diversity of the conference? The divisions of our society are in need of an example demonstrating clear unity and peace within churches and conferences demonstrating the love that marks us as being Christians.
- Is there expansion of the Kingdom of God? The parable of the talents states a clear expectation that we would risk the investment of time and money to see the Kingdom grow: locally, conference-wide, nationally and globally. Is that happening or is the conference just maintaining or even decreasing in numbers and strength? Is the budget primarily funding salaries and administration? What part of the budget is funding mission?
- Are there gifted leaders joining the superintendent in the work of ministry? Conversely, are leaders leaving ministry or the conference? Is there a leadership development plan? Is it successful in producing new leaders and not just a plan on paper? Is there a mentoring plan and is it successful? Is the level of pastoral skills and character maturity increasing? Is there an educational emphasis for the conference as a whole and continuing education for each pastor?
- Are new congregations being planted? Does the conference budget reflect this value, or is the budget reflecting a different priority?
- Is the superintendent respected and listened to by those who are on the bus/fleet of buses? Does the superintendent respect and listen to leaders and engage them in leading the work? Does the superintendent engage the leaders on the boards to work together in accomplishing the mission, or is there a divide/conflict between the superintendent and the boards?
- What other pertinent questions would you add from your own experience?
CHAPTER 9: WHAT PITFALLS CAN TRAP A SUPERINTENDENT?
When a superintendent has begun the difficult leadership task of creating momentum and moving the fleet of buses forward, there are many pits into which the superintendent can fall. Knowing what to look for can be a great protection. These are just some of the traps that I’ve experienced or seen in my 30 years of doing superintending work.
- One of the most common is to get trapped by a “black hole”, a person or problem which does not get better but sucks our thoughts, time, energy and focus, and from which we cannot easily escape. As in the physical universe where there is a darkness from which light itself cannot escape, there are dark areas in a superintendent, pastor, congregation, or congregant that can envelop us. In my experience, the most common “black hole” is to become entangled with a person or congregation that has a disorder. In such a person, it can be one of the 10 types of psychological disorders presently identified. In such a congregation, it can be a dysfunctional system. In my experience, the most common disorders in a person or pastor which can entrap a superintendent are Borderline, Narcissistic, Avoidant or Dependent Disorders. These are difficult to identify and have hooks that can grab onto a well-meaning but unwary superintendent. Once fallen into the darkness, time, effort, money and confusion can take over. Often the disorder that can most easily entrap us is that which is uniquely suited to capture our well-intentioned heart. For example, a Dependent Personality invites a Codependent superintendent to help, help, help and help the pastor with an unsatisfiable need. Similarly, an Avoidant Personality finds a foothold in a superintendent who needs to get everyone in line (appealing to the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the superintendent, or at the least, their need to control by requiring total compliance at every level from their team of pastors).
The system of a congregation is pervasive and difficult to change. In my own ministry, I saw a pastor with an addiction to pornography growing into infidelity contaminate a congregation such that double-entendre sexual joking was seen in choir practices, church socials and other events. This is a systemic problem that began with the pastor but became habitual within the congregation. Similarly, a legalistic pastor focusing on rules will create a negative, judgmental congregation that enforces those rules in a systematic manner. In all systemic dysfunctions, the key is to identify the source. It is not always the pastor, and it can be generational. I’ve seen a congregation destroy the marriages of multiple pastoral families. The superintendents led a prayer time for spiritual protection at one of our churches at which the pastors had for decades experienced marital difficulties. But, the next pastor assigned after that prayer time left that church to “save his marriage.” Although a system dysfunction is not a personality disorder, it can take the focus of the superintendent to such a degree that there is little time for other pastors and other situations. In systems language, this is an IP or “Identified Patient” on whom an inappropriate level of the superintendent’s focus is placed. This can also be true when a “favored child” or an unusually successful congregation takes an inappropriate level of a superintendent’s time and focus.
- The opposite pitfall is not to become absorbed into a disorder or a systemic dysfunction, but to be overwhelmed with the responsibility of being the superintendent, perhaps because of having been promoted above their competence or contrary to their gifts. When a person is overwhelmed, they are often like a “deer in headlights” or a person with “stage fright.” Unable to see or know what needs to be done, the superintendent does little to nothing and can end up neglecting all or some of the pastors/churches. This superintendent needs to be given the opportunity to gracefully step out of the responsibility, or at least be given a sabbatical for needed skill training.
- Perhaps the most common pitfall is to try to please everyone. Although “people pleasing” is a form of dysfunction and can literally cause a break in a person’s health and/or mental stability, the responsibility of a superintendent is, in fact, impossible. Never will everything be addressed and neither will everyone be pleased. Therefore, a superintendent needs to have a clear conception of their own priorities of responsibilities, a clear awareness of the pitfalls to avoid, and the inward satisfaction of a job well done, regardless of fulfilling the expectations of the various constituencies throughout the conference. In my time as a student at Greenville College, my social-psychology professor was a former Free Methodist pastor. He focused his dissertation on the expectations that congregants have of their pastor. He discovered that they were impossible to fulfill. In a metanalysis, he said it would take a gifted pastor well over 120 hours a week to even begin to please all the people, and then it could be done at only a minimal level. If that is true of beloved pastors, then imagine the disparity between a superintendent and the conference, pastors, and congregations they serve.
CHAPTER 10: HOW DO YOU SUPERINTEND A REBELLIOUS/RELUCTANT PASTOR/CHURCH?
As noted above, if a pastor has a personality disorder then the answer is: you can’t. The genius of the Free Methodist polity is that we have a Ministerial Education and Guidance (MEG) board and Ministerial Appointments Committee (MAC) in each conference to help us make and identify the accuracy of our assessments of our pastors and pastoral appointments. In my experience, gifted members of the MEG and MAC provided not only correctives to me in my perceptions, but also discernment and confirmation to me in my supervisorial confusion or intuitions.
But the truth is that a pastor does not need to have a personality disorder to be rebellious or a reluctant participant in the conference. From the Garden of Eden on, there have been spiritual choices made to rebel against God and against leaders. The difficulty is that when it comes to us as superintendents, sometimes the “pushing back” to our leadership or decisions is needed. As noted above, leadership doesn’t rest on authority or position but on gifting. But even a gifted leader is not always correct. To demand unquestioning obedience is not biblical. The biblical concept is to “hyper-listen” to our superintendent and then join in their sincere leadership decisions. But as implied, it also means that the superintendent needs to listen and join with those through whom God is also speaking and come together as we all hyper-listen to God.
Sadly, though noting that there needs to be a mutual submission in our mutual obedience to God, there are those who rebel simply because they do not want to listen to God or to any authority, including the superintendent. Similar to the conversation of the serpent in the Garden, there are those who take the words of God, and of superintendents, and twist their meaning in a way that causes havoc and the loss of intimacy with God and others. Such rebellion is intentional even if the person is not self-aware, or excuses themselves from having contrary motives. Such spiritual rebellion requires the direct action of a superintendent. So how do you superintend such a rebellion?
First, we cannot ignore it or merely be patient with it, expecting it to change on its own. Rebellion is the core of the sin in the Garden and is paired with blame. In my own experience, when a pastor pushes back then I open my mind, heart and arms to them as we join together in our mutual goal to do our best action for God. During such an experience I watch for blaming attitudes or words: blaming me, blaming others, blaming “the conference”, blaming the boards, blaming the congregation. When blame is present, I look with the heart of a pastor and the mind of a leader. What is in the heart of this pastor? What will these words and actions do to their congregation and to our conference? Is this blaming indicating a pastor with a rebellious heart or an organizational defiance? I then bring both into one analysis. I do not assume that I know the thoughts of a person’s heart – only God does. So I hyper-listen and closely observe. I refer the person to counseling, spiritual direction, mentoring, and I provide consultations on their gifts and vocational call. But I do not wait to let rebellion infiltrate the church or conference. In my own experience, I have observed pastors who go through our ordination process, in which I taught them Polity and Doctrine myself, and then after a few years as a church planter when at Annual Conference we ordained a woman as an elder, their entire congregation is appalled and rebels. This did not just happen. The pastor in their training, evaluations, and supervision did not reveal their disagreement with the FMC’s stand on women’s ordination which caused the rebellion. When asked, the pastor explained that he could not go against his own conscience. But I had told him myself, from the very beginning, that this is who we are and if you are not in agreement, then go and find a place where you can serve God without hiding or harming the FMC. By then, it was too late to resolve the breach with the deceptive pastor and his misinformed congregation.
CHAPTER 11: WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE PERSONAL AND FAMILIAL STRUGGLES OF A SUPERINTENDENT?
There are many books that provide guidance in living the pastoral life. However, I have never seen one that speaks uniquely to the life a superintendent lives. Having been raised in a superintendent’s home, having assisted two full-time superintendents and partnered with three stationed superintendents, I make the following observations. They are not based on any statistical study but are instead anecdotal.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of being a full-time superintendent is that they most often go from being a beloved and sought-after pastor in their local church to being a person without a home church. Although this is changing as other expectations are changing, this shift can be destructive to a superintendent as well as for the superintendent’s family. Some people seem to handle this shift with little thought, but others feel the isolation intensely. In my experience, superintendents are not beloved, at least not at first. The avoidance of the supervisor, the cultural differences in how a leader is viewed and treated, the replacement of equal friendship relationships with hierarchical business relationships can all be disconcerting. Even after years of superintending, the respect and honor can be present but closeness is still lost. Even as a retired superintendent, in those instances when a person calls me “pastor”, it feels like we are getting back to a mutual relationship of appreciation, and sometimes love.
As a stationed superintendent, the core loss of no longer being beloved by the family of God was removed. The love of a congregation for their pastor is unequivocally fulfilling. The superintendent’s family remains connected to their family of God and the Sunday pressure remains to be the usual pastoral one of preparing and offering the Word and Table. The superintending work is certainly a pressure with the larger overwhelming problems that were building over years, but the family was stable and my own worship and sense of belonging was stable as well. This provided a secure foundation for my superintending work.
But if you are a full-time superintendent rather than stationed, then this is what I’ve seen work: Create your own community of beloved friends with whom you have daily or at least weekly contact. It is best if they are not under your supervision and even not in your conference so that time with them is not spent working through problems. Find business leaders, life-long friends, other superintendents who are friends, and anyone else who is mature in their faith, confidential, safe, nurturing, honest and cares deeply about you for your emotional support.
Similarly, as is true of pastors, the life of a superintendent is not defined by their conference or church. Ministry with other organizations, serving on other boards, writing, and other life-giving work that fits your gifts and goals are all important parts of a healthy superintendent’s life.
And finally, every person needs a mentor or at least a truth-speaker who supports you in your ministry work. This person is often a spouse, a professor, a pastor, a spiritual director, a pastoral counselor or someone who you can trust to both care about you and speak truth to you. In my own life, I have been nourished both within my own family by my wife and father, as well as by very close friends in ministry, both laity and clergy. Additionally, every person needs to broaden their lives to include other parts of God’s kingdom. In my own life, I began a ministry noting the values in films by writing a movie review column with a friend of unusual leadership and writing abilities. I served on community boards, seminary boards and a university board. I serve now on a foundation board. All of these enrich my interests and my relationships. Look to your heart and be a disciple of Jesus first and foremost as your self-definition is much larger than your position as a superintendent.
CHAPTER 12: CONCLUSION
There are many questions left unanswered by this writing and I invite other active and retired superintendents to join in on this discussion. What have you learned and how can we help the next generations of superintendents to do this vital and difficult task? These are other questions you might consider:
- Are FM Bishops like General Superintendents or how is their responsibility different?
- Should we experiment and document the various ways superintendents are fulfilling their responsibility to help discover which are most effective? For example, are multiple stationed superintendents more or less effective than solo full-time ones?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a superintendent oversee more than one conference? Does combining conferences help or hinder the work?
- What is the optimal age of a superintendent?
- What is the optimal path for a superintendent to get the experience and education needed to do the work? Does a superintendent need to have led a larger church with multiple staff pastors to learn the art of leading and supervising conference pastors?
- What are the best ways to do continuing education for a superintendent?
- Should superintendents be elected by their conference or appointed by their bishop? Another way of asking this could be: are superintendents on the bishop’s staff or the conference’s staff?
- How do we prepare a diverse group of leaders to become superintendents?
 My experience as a lead pastor with assistant and associate pastors, musicians, support staff, school administrators and teaching staff gave me daily experience for 40 years. My experience as a superintendent began with 20 years serving as Assistant Superintendent with two excellent Superintendents. The first was Dr. Kevin Mannoia. During these years our conference grew in worship attendance by 20%, not counting the 24% increase from merging with the Pacific Latin Conference. The second was Dr. Steve Fitch where I served as Assistant until the final two years I served as one of three Regional Superintendents on his team. During this time our conference grew 12%. I then served for 8 years as the Lead Superintendent with Larry Walkemeyer and Gary Enniss as a team of Superintendents. During our years the conference grew 26%, the highest growth in the history of the conference numerically and the highest percentage in the last 90 years.
 Jim Collins developed this analogy and gives this guidance: 1) Get the right people on the bus. Leaders must be rigorous in the selection process for getting new people on the bus. 2) Get the right people in the right seats. Have 100% of the key seats on the bus filled with the right people. 3)Get the wrong people off the bus. Once you know you need to make a people change be rigorous in the decision, but not ruthless in the implementation. 4) Put who before what. When confronted with any problem or opportunity, shift the decision from a “what” question (“what should we do?”) into a “who” decision (“who would be the right person to take responsibility for this?”). Spend a significant portion of time on people decisions: get the right people on the bus, get the right people in the right seats, get the wrong people off the bus, develop people into bigger seats, plan for succession, etc.
 We’ll talk more about MANAGING UP, but this Harvard Business School identified practice is described here. https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/what-does-it-mean-to-manage-up
 I learned this clarification the hard way as I fell into the trap of counseling a school administrator, support staff and associate pastors in my church in Santa Barbara. I had to clarify which hat I was wearing when and what I would and would not keep confidential. That distinction became such a difficult one to know and hold that when it came to superintendency, I no longer provided confidential counseling to the pastors in my conference but only supervision. When counseling was needed a referral was made to a licensed, Christian therapist.
- Paranoidpersonality disorder
- Schizoidpersonality disorder
- Schizotypalpersonality disorder
- Antisocialpersonality disorder
Emotional and impulsive:
- Borderlinepersonality disorder (BPD)
- Histrionicpersonality disorder
- Narcissisticpersonality disorder
- Avoidantpersonality disorder
- Dependentpersonality disorder
- Obsessivecompulsive personality disorder (OCPD)
 In systems theory there are various dysfunctions. One good resource is Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Edwin H. Friedman. https://www.amazon.com/Generation-Process-Synagogue-Guilford-Therapy/dp/1609182367
 One that I use in my Pastoral Counseling class is: Life in a Glass House – The Minister’s Family and the Local Congregation. https://www.amazon.com/Life-Glass-House-Ministers-Congregation/dp/1881266230