Martin Copenhaver & Lillian Daniel: Leadership is loving people
Two United Church of Christ pastors talk about practicing ministry “with delight.”
January 5, 2010 | To hear an excerpt of the interview with Martin Copenhaver and Lillian Daniel, click the play button on the audio player at the right of this screen. Or download this free on iTunes U.
Lillian Daniel is senior minister of First Congregational Church (UCC) in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and co-host of the Chicago-based television program, “30 Good Minutes.” Martin Copenhaver is senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational Church (UCC) in Wellesley, Mass. The two recently co-wrote “This Odd and Wondrous Calling,” a book about their experiences in ministry.
They spoke with Faith & Leadership about how their work as pastoral leaders might inform leaders outside the church, the importance of humor and storytelling, and why institutions matter.
Q: What prompted you to write “This Odd and Wondrous Calling”?
Copenhaver: We were looking for a book that described ministry honestly and appreciatively by authors who still practice it with delight. We wanted a book to give someone considering ministry or someone who has forgotten why they got into it. But we couldn’t find that book.
Daniel: We love Rick Lischer’s “Open Secrets,” but it’s set in a different time. Heidi Neumark’s “Breathing Spaces” is beautiful, but it’s about a unique ministry in the South Bronx. We’re both pastors in the suburbs and wanted to show how that is also odd and wondrous.
Q: Why did you do this project together rather than individually?
Daniel: We were both influenced by Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Leaving Church,” and we both do a lot of writing and speaking to encourage ministers to stay in church. We had a fair amount of material already, and Martin said, “Why don’t we write this book together?”
Copenhaver: To have two perspectives -- as well as male and female voices -- helps show that there is more than one way to go at this work.
Q: How can your collaborative approach apply to leadership more broadly?
Copenhaver: A pastor needs to initiate and collaborate. An initiating leader has a sense of what the gospel calls us to do, but then she or he must always collaborate with others. In our Congregational tradition we emphasize that discernment is always a communal exercise.
Daniel: Friendship is important to both of us. The higher one goes in leadership, the greater the need for peers. Yet it’s precisely then that peers are harder to find. It may be difficult to be friends with the minister across the street because you might feel some competition. Plus we’re often scattered around the country from friends from seminary. So we’ve always been intentional about having rich, deep friendships with other ministers, making the effort to get together and talk on the phone. Clergy can get lost without friendships.
Q: What can church leaders contribute to leaders in other spheres?
Copenhaver: The literature has focused a lot on what business leaders can teach leaders in the church. There is also something to be said about how leadership in a church can apply to other settings. I find very little that’s more gratifying than folks saying, “There’s something I learned in church that I’m applying in my work.” It tends to be around communal discernment. Leaders have to take the time to hear from a broad group of people. We have to listen to everyone because we never know who the Holy Spirit is going to choose to speak through, who is going to have that critical insight at any given moment.
Daniel: Pastors are not CEOs. Or, if we are, it’s of a very tiny business. We’re working with all volunteers. We’re trying to motivate people who don’t work for us. We don’t have any financial leverage over them. We can’t fire them. It requires an incredible agility to be able to switch from a business model to the church, where all you have is charm and persuasion. Often business leaders in my church will get into church leadership positions and they’ll say, “All the stuff from work does not work here.”
Q: What other image besides “CEO” better describes your ministries?
Daniel: Discipleship. There is a difference between a culture of membership where you’re an expert and a culture of discipleship where you’re trying to cultivate the ministry of others.
But I don’t shy away from the word “leader.” Leader is a very different word from CEO. You’re not a leader if you turn around and no one is following. You may be a leader on a given day and the next day you may not be.
Copenhaver: I’m really impatient with folks who eschew the title of leader. Often it feels like leadership is sitting on the table waiting for somebody to pick it up. If you’re not going to pick it up as a pastor, someone else will.