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Friday, June 27, 2008

Beyond Business as Usual

NB: The following Book Review appears in this week's edition of The Living Church.

Beyond Business As Usual: Vestry Leadership Development
Neal O. Michell, Church Publishing

Vestry meetings can be exhausting – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve even heard some rectors and vestry members describe them as “necessary evils.”

Not so, says Neal Michell, canon missioner for strategic development with the Diocese of Dallas. Michell’s perspective of the vestry is solidly incarnational, which not only changes traditional ideas about the purpose, role and function of a vestry in communities of faith, but also challenges clergy and other religious leaders to think more creatively and wholistically about this particular religious vocation.

In his clear, accessible style, Michell has written a most helpful book, filled with examples of situations that will be easily recognizable and solutions that are solidly relevant for church communities who live in the tension between the spiritual and material concerns of the church. Michell’s work addresses the particular challenges of ‘the business of doing ministry.’

He challenges clergy to develop the vestry as a ‘community of leaders,’ offering the helpful image of the vestry as ‘learning community,’ which is ‘a microcosm of the church’s vision being lived out.’ Over years of experience, Michell has developed provocative aphorisms such as, “The way to grow a church is not by brining in more people, but by developing strong leaders,” and “Leaders will attract leaders only at their leadership level and below.”

My only disappointment is that Michell seems honestly unaware that his work has joined another conversation already active in many areas of the church in the approach known as ‘family process’, begun by Edwin Freidman. It’s not a major flaw, but since Michell seems to rely heavily on an adaptation of secular books and seminars on leadership and organizational theory, the book would be enhanced by acknowledging and utilizing more of the important work already going on in religious communities, such as the idea of the ‘non-anxious presence,’ which he does discuss and value.

I shared this book with both my Wardens who have embraced it enthusiastically as a valuable resource. They have purchased copies for the vestry as our ‘summer reading project’ and plan to use a few of his wonderful collection of resources and exercises for our Vestry Summer Retreat. I suspect Michell’s bible studies, teachings, mental exercises and reflective readings will prove to be transformational.

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