Leadership Q&A with Reverend Jim Flagg

Date Posted: 7/9/2015

At this time of year, every leadership move involves a certain amount of emotional engagement and re-engagement for both pastors and congregations. Pastors and members experience “goodbyes” and “hellos” differently, but as Rev. Jim Flagg, who just arrived at First UMC, Humble, reflects, “We are walking in with the vocational call to present Christ and nurture the bride of Christ to be who she is called to be.” Adds Jim, “The interesting twist is that each pastor will most likely have a very different view -- from his or her predecessor -- of what that should be.” Pastors appointed to churches in the Vibrant Church Initiative process benefit from reading through the self-study and any other history provided by the previous leader. His advice for easing the transition, “Take a bit of time to read through and digest any details you can find about the journey your charge has been on. Remember, you are but a scene in the video of your church’s life. Unless, you are starting a new church, this congregation has come from somewhere and has been handed to you so that you may one day hand it off to another. The hope of every pastor I know is that that the church they hand off will be even stronger than the one received.”
Q. What is a benefit of appointing new clergy from time to time?
As part of the human race, both members and leaders make mistakes, but hope springs eternal.  The benefit comes in integrating lessons learned by previous experiences and applying those to the new situation. To quote a not so old hymn, “This is the Day of New Beginnings.” A new pastor brings fresh eyes. I tell my Trustees and staff that for the next 30 days I will be walking around with a yellow pad (or iPad/tablet) and making note of things such as: signage that points to nowhere – or total lack of signage; stains, colors (purposeful or not), cleanliness — especially of nursery, bathrooms, worship space and any common areas leading to those places. The reason is that, after about a month, you become so accustomed to all those things they become the norm. This is not meant to discourage your people, but to help them see with fresh eyes, ears and noses what every guest is noticing. Jim worked with the staff of First UMC, Humble to make a creative video to mark his arrival.
Q. How can a leader inspire the best in others?
Every pastor has her or his own leadership style. This is a strength of the itinerant
system. Some pastors are predominantly “meat” others are “veggies” and still others
“dessert.” If you have only meat for 20 years, your system may be in quite a mess. A diet of veggies-only may make you look good, but protein supplements will be needed or added. We all can guess about the dessert-only pastors. Desserts may be tasty and oh so yummy but will lead to all kinds of ailments and possibly pre-mature death. So pastors can intentionally work to balance all these elements. You can do this by first knowing what your personal strengths are and how you act normally -- as well as under stress. I have found Strength Finders to be a great book that allows you to take an online assessment test which helps you be more self-aware. As for personality tests, I like the Birkman and appreciate the Conference experts who can help us build stronger teams with that resource. Personally, I tend to be a big picture kind of guy who needs a detail-oriented person to work with  -- and this allows me to pickup my pompoms and cheer the people on. I am all for teaching and engaging our laity so they can be the Kingdom builders God has called them to be.
Q. Having been involved in Vibrant Church Initiative leadership and implementation, what is the secret to success?
Secrets? That’s the key right there! There can be NO SECRETS. Communicate . . .
Communicate . . . Communicate even if you are absolutely nauseous from communicating the message. At this point you are finally reaching people. VCI is riddled with possible derailments because people think that changes will “take-away” something they love. Fear and angst are common . . . but much of it can be mitigated by regular communication that will help with the rumor mill.
If we Methodists were as good at spreading the Good News of Jesus
Christ as we are at spreading rumors in our churches, there would be no one left who had not heard the Gospel. So communicate!
Secondly, you just have to stay the course. Remember VCI is not a program it is a
process, so churches cannot place a check mark next to an item and say, “Done!” There is always something that needs to be revisited, tweaked and prepared to fit with the
big picture.
Q. How do you keep momentum in church life?
First of all, you realize that you cannot do it alone. The pastor is appointed to help lead and equip a church (the People), but it is God’s Church (People)! Invest in your personal devotion time. Invest in key lay leaders lives. One of my best moves has been to have a standing Wednesday morning breakfast with key lay leaders. It was a weekly check up on one another’s souls and the pulse of the congregation. When you have a motivated
leadership team who see value in what you are doing, and they know you care, they will
do all within their power to facilitate movement. One thing that must be there is consistency. This does not mean that you cannot change things; you just need to be consistent in how you approach situations and change.
Q. What are some ways to promote discipleship?
To make disciples you have to be one! You have to take time to read scripture along with the plethora of other books. You have to take time to pray. You as the spiritual leader must serve; be in mission. Next ask, how are disciples being made in your church? Is there an intentional method? We are Methodists after all. The most common term is an “Intentional Discipleship Pathway.” How are people moved from first time guest to a believer serving Christ in the world? Once your pathway is in place, monitor and see how it is working. Talk with people . . . talk with people who talk with other people . . . see what is helpful and what is not and then tweak it — again, it is an ongoing process.
Q. What have you learned about training other leaders?
Why: In our mobile society, you need to constantly be looking for strengths in people.
No church that I am aware of has such a thing as too many real leaders . . . real
leadership is not just telling others what to do but getting in the trenches and working as
well. Without new leadership you stagnate, you recycle ideas that long ago reached their expiration date to reach new people. I am not saying toss out current leaders, just make sure that every ministry team and administrative committee includes a healthy dose of newer members and feedback.
How: It is imperative that new people be given some knowledge and preparation that promotes unity and sets up a direction. What is the mission and vision of your church? What is your mission field focus? There is not just one way to train new leaders; it
usually is a combination of various events and tools (plus it is a continuing education
and learning process). Some of my favorites include District Training Events. (Central
South District has had phenomenal success in this.) New people coming onboard get to
hear and ask questions about their positions. I have also distributed certain books to
Ad Council to read and discuss. I have taken teams of people to Church of the
Resurrection in Leawood, KS. Again, there is personal investment as well. Just like you
spend time with your staff to see objectives accomplished; you must do the same with lay
Q. What are some of your favorite leadership resources?
Other than the Church of the Resurrection Leadership Event and District Training Event, I also give a thumbs up to the Large Church Initiative conference. As for other resources and books, I like Shaped by God’s Heart (Minatrea), Simple Church (Rainer & Geiger), Move (Hawkins & Parkinson), Renovate or Die (Far & Kotan), and The Externally Focused Church (Rusaw & Swanson). And while the clergy Facebook page is good for many things it does not take the place of having a personal group where you can hash things out face to face. Having a personal coach is great as well, and more affordable than you think. Attending Conference events such as ReFRESH or The Gathering are also revitalizing experiences. Times of personal contact with your peers are so important. I know one of the best parts of my VCI experience was my peer mentoring group. We are all dealing with similar issues even though the names and number of people and dollars change. At the same time, we all want the absolute best for our congregations, often to the point of self-sacrificing. I think this is a reason moral and burnout are such issues. Pastors are not seeing the return for their investment. This is where Peer Groups, Gatherings, ReFresh all come into play.
Q. How do you build in "down time" in a 24/7 position?
If your spouse checks the box saying, “Desire a Call from the Pastor” you probably need to re-do your planner. Truthfully, you build in down time like you do anything else — you plan for it. I regret I did not learn to do this earlier in my life. Now, I block out that time just as if I were going to do a funeral, or a wedding, or any other big event. It is that vital. Yes, there are emergencies that come up, but not everything is an emergency and if you do not have people that you can trust with some of these day to day issues, then you need to work on some leadership development. Lay leaders, lay servants in various capacities want you to succeed yet you cannot water the flock if your personal cistern is dried up. If you are really blessed, you have a spouse or good friends that remind you it is time for a break.