Bishop Janice Huie: Key Qualities of Episcopal Leadership

Date Posted: 1/14/2016

As Bishop Janice Huie prepares for her next journey in ministry, she shares thoughts on the ideal qualities of the TAC’s next Bishop. She prepared these insights at the request of the Committee on Episcopacy, headed by Rev. Tom Pace of St. Luke’s UMC, Houston, as they begin their work to recommend the next TAC bishop.
A Passionate desire to learn
Whoever comes to this conference will be (or should be) awed, amazed, and incredulous at the scope and complexity of the TAC as well as the challenges we face.   This conference has tremendous strengths—our clergy and lay leadership as well as our institutions.   We are also a leading area for demographic change.   If we expect to have a strong UM presence in this part of Texas in 50 years, we have to learn how to become a multi-cultural church.  We have to learn how to reach the millenial generation.  We have to learn how to be in mission together with the poor.   We have to learn how to connect with persons who define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  To enjoy being a bishop, one has to enjoy learning and to inspire the desire to learn in clergy and laity.

Missionary Heart/Social Conscience
Given the state of the UMC and the world at the present time, the TAC would be well served by a bishop who has a passionate desire to lead congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ and to transform the world.  Holding together a missionary heart and a social conscience is consistent with Jesus’ teachings and our Wesleyan heritage.   Look for both/and patterns of thinking/acting rather than either/or.  Think “opposable mind.”

Seeks the good of the whole
One of the historic functions of the episcopacy is to be/speak/act on behalf of unity.  The TAC is frequently cited as one of the most polarized conferences in the denomination.  In some ways we mirror our national environment of special interests and carelessness with respect to the good of the whole church, including its many diverse beliefs and people.  I believe this conference will do better with a bishop who seeks to build bridges than with a bishop who enjoys announcing “Here I stand.”  Perhaps it would be wise to inquire about past behaviors of networking with diverse people and not “owing” any group special favors.    The TAC bishop needs to have a high tolerance for ambiguity.

Strong hope for a better future (Reign of God) that inspires a willingness to take risks on behalf of that future.  Willingness to lead beyond one’s authority for the sake of God’s reign.   Encourager of risk-taking leadership by pastors and congregations to both improve and change our present system in order to create new connections with persons who live in our 58 counties but who are not connected to the UMC.
The pace of change—demographic, social, cultural—is increasing much more rapidly than many people realize, and the TAC must continue to risk adaptive change.  Discontent with present realities and a strong sense of the Spirit’s leading for “God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven” is essential to leadership in this area.  Bishops must constantly navigate around and through numerous constraints related to our current bureaucratic structure and ways of thinking, and they must be willing to lead where there are no clearly marked pathways.  A bishop must be willing to fail, dust himself/herself off and try again.
Understands and engages the new challenge of financial sustainability
As local churches experience increasing financial challenges, so will the annual conference and the general church.  Declining congregations lead to declining income.  In addition, the TAC is now the largest apportionment-paying unit in the denomination.  These two realities mean that the TAC budget is already stressed and that will likely get worse.   If the TAC wants to continue to start new churches, equip the next generation of clergy, and engage in mission locally and abroad, the TAC must create and develop multiple new revenue streams for itself.   The proliferation of wonderful non-profit organizations with clearly articulated outcomes and the well-oiled development operations of highly recognized institutions are far down the road of enhancing their own charitable giving.  A new TAC bishop will need to be very attentive to this priority. 

Ability to set clear, appropriate boundaries and hold them
A TAC bishop spends some part of everyday setting boundaries—with pastors, congregations, boards and agencies, conference funds and institutions, and encouraging superintendents to do the same.  Striking the right balance between compassion and boundary-setting that inflicts pain is one of a bishop’s toughest jobs.  For example, how will he/she deal with incompetent or low-functioning clergy?  How will he/she deal with someone who is over “over-appointed” and needs to move to a smaller, lower compensation church?  How will he/she deal with irresponsible congregations?  What about pastors who violate the sacred trust of the pastoral covenant?   If the bishop doesn’t set boundaries, neither do superintendents or boards.  If the bishop doesn’t act, other pastors and congregations take it as permission to “go and do likewise.” Boundary setting and keeping is a high consumer of energy.  It is easier to blink, but it doesn’t serve the kingdom.

Courage, Resilience, and a high threshold for pain
This quality is related to all the items above.  Because the UMC is in transition, the level of pain is high.  Every day a bishop disappoints someone.  Every day someone gets angry with the bishop for something.  Every week I watch bishops and superintendents—including me—pull back from some hard decision because the pain threshold is just too high.  When I preach in the Council of Bishops and various other places, I am increasingly finding myself preaching about courage and resilience, and I know I’m preaching about me.

Deep spiritual grounding. Strong physical health
I have placed this one last—not because it is the least important, but because I thought most people would be already thinking about these qualities.  However, please don’t take them for granted.  Deep, consistent practices of spiritual disciplines form the core of our being and our practice.  Continual grounding in Scripture feeds our soul.  Spiritual reading gives us another window into God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.  The erratic schedules of Episcopal life are a major detriment to faithful practices, but faith practices are vital both to our own salvation and continuing Episcopal leadership.  People detect inauthentic faith in a heartbeat.

Episcopacy is a physically demanding job to do well.  To nurture, support, and challenge pastors and congregations as well as to participate in the life of the Council of Bishops and General Church leads to many nights away from home.  When a bishop makes a mistake, lots of people suffer and complain.  Consequently, stress levels are high.  Physical resilience and stamina are not to be underestimated.