Does your parish council resign itself merely to bills, budgets, and buildings? Or does your church board inspire vision rooted in Christ?
Based on extensive parish development practice and consulting, Joe Kormos shares many useful suggestions to function as a more effective parish board, including:
See the full episode transcript.
Hollie Benton 0:08
You're listening to Doulos: a podcast on the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. My guest today is Joe Kormos who serves two Dioceses of the OCA for the past 12 years leveraging 40 plus years of industry and church-related experience in the areas of strategic planning, marketing, corporate consulting, group facilitation and conference planning. Joe is currently leader of the Parish Development Ministry of the Orthodox Church in America's Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania. In this position Joe develops and presents workshops, authors a parish leadership newsletter called "Parish Pulse" and helps to create parish tools for stewardship, evangelization, parish administration and leading change. Joe lives in Cincinnati with his wife of 43 years. They both sing in the parish choir and their two children and six grandchildren are all active Orthodox Christians today.
Thank you Joe for joining me today. Tell us about your work in the diocese, what are the challenges and opportunities you see in our parishes today.
Joe Kormos 1:19
Hi Hollie, great to be with you, thanks for inviting me. Yeah, one of the things I always tell people is that probably the only good reason to listen to me is I've had a chance to visit probably 95 almost 100 parishes in the last 10 years. I really see that Orthodoxy is at a real crossroads in America. I think there are tremendous opportunities, fantastic opportunities, but we face tremendous challenges. Those challenges primarily will get worked out in the parishes. You know where that kind of rubber meets the road, where the church lives as the body of Christ on a weekly basis. A variety of issues I think that we face--a question of vision, a question of identity, the question of living a life in Christ within the parish, a question of generosity and stewardship, good practices, building ministry and good parish governance. So, there's almost an endless array of opportunities and challenges.
Hollie Benton 2:24
You mentioned parish governance and that's one of the areas you've worked in. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Joe Kormos 2:30
That's an area that isn't always the favorite topic of parishes, it sounds a little bit dry we're not as Orthodox Christians used to using the word governance so much I don't think. You know in parishes, there are a variety of groups of ministries of teams, arguably, the parish council is probably the most important, because it's the primary parish team. It's the body that sort of participates in the governance so to speak, of the parish. It represents issues seen in many groups, and it has, in most parishes as a tremendous opportunity for improvement with parish councils, you know, I often tell the story relative to governance and parish councils: of a lady and I met at a conference, she asked me what I did and I said one of the things I often do is work with parish councils and she said, "Well I, I recently got on our parish council, because I thought that we had important opportunities to improve, to build our relationship with one another as Christians and to live as the body of Christ. And I got on the parish council and all they wanted to do is talk about fixing the steps." So, kind of summarizes the you know the challenge and the opportunity or improving parish governance within somebody's parish is a very narrow focus of what we're trying to do.
Hollie Benton 3:59
Yeah, a lot more than just governing "the steps", but an opportunity for growth and improvement, just like you said. You know, you suggested we might take a look at the story of Christ healing the paralytic at the pool in Bethesda. Let me read that now from the Gospel of John, chapter five: "Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate, a pool in Hebrew called Bethesda which has five porticoes and these lay a multitude of invalid, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time he said to him, 'Do you want to be healed?' The sick man answered him, 'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool where the water is troubled, and while I am going on another steps down before me.' Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk,' and at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet, and walked." You know I'm struck by Jesus's critical question there, as he approaches the paralytic, "do you want to be healed?". The answer might seem obvious to us but I think it's helpful as we look at this story as we hear this story to imagine ourselves as the paralytic in need of God's mercy of Christ's healing, and how easy it is for us to make excuses. Even when we have healthy bodies, you know to make excuses and cast blame on others for our own problems in our parishes. Could you say a little bit more about this Joe?
Joe Kormos 5:30
Hollie, I agree with you that statement there "do you want to be healed?" always strikes me as, in some ways odd. Well of course he does. But, you know, as it applies so much to parishes and various bodies within parishes, in the case of this topic of governance and parish councils. The question I think is very relevant. Do you really want to be healed? Do you want to improve? Do you want to live a life in Christ more fully within this parish, or are we happy with the situation that we have? So many of our parishes are inward-focused. We don't see opportunities for ministry as we look out beyond the areas of the parish. So strengthening our assessment of ourselves as needing to be healed. And we have to feel the need to be healed, and to improve before we can really want to be healed. So that's what I would kind of say about that and I often find myself, referring to that story, that parable, on the front end of discussing with the parishes, where they want to go, how they want to pursue a brighter future. And you know what I've said many times what I find is that parishes that are stronger, that are better are more inclined to look at themselves and see imperfection, see how they can be stronger and better and better live a life in Christ, whereas those parishes that have probably more awards in some ways, tend to justify themselves and think in terms of, well we're just fine, because they're a little bit afraid to sometimes to to ask the question if we want to be healed.
Hollie Benton 7:30
So let's say that a parish is ready to do some of that self reflection, they're ready to take seriously that call to live and work and be the body of Christ, what would be some areas of concern or even better put--opportunities within parish governance in terms of "Yes, Lord, we do want to be healed"?
Joe Kormos 7:51
Yes, well, I'll go back quickly to the story about the lady at the conference that said that everybody wanted to focus on the steps. Parish councils have for years, I think, been too often the parish fire department, they have a short-term focus. And they see themselves as being too often, only the business managers focusing on what I call B-three: "Bills Budgets and Buildings", and sometimes thermostat settings. The question becomes can we instead shape our parish councils into a leadership body dealing instead with vision, planning, stimulating ministry, you know, can we really move from reacting to things to driving the parish to fulfill its total mission to be the body of Christ in more vernacular terms to deal with the bigger picture?
So, what are those concerns, what I've observed is that it'll vary of course with parishes, and it varies, often with the parish heritage, particularly parishes that are founded well before say 1930, often were founded in a particular context and we don't have the time to go into that. But, there tends to be a more Congregationalist, perhaps we can say, mentality, a separation of the spiritual with the material. "Father, you take care of what's in the altar and we'll take care of the money part of things and scheduling and other aspects our clubs and our things we have on our agenda here within the church and you can stay doing that." And of course that's not the structure of a good Orthodox community and quite often, older parishes, that's one of the issues that has to be dealt wit. The combining in a sort of teamwork sense, clergy and laity, to own a brighter future for the parish and to see themselves as a shared leadership organization that brings the parish into the future.
I find so often that when I have a chance to work with parish councils and that's always, quite frankly, enjoyable, and a lot of fun. There is a tendency when you ask the parish council to look back on "well, what have you done in the last year? What has occupied your time?" That they often serve more like brakes than engines. More often looking at short term opportunities as opposed to longer terms. They think very often about themselves as the current generation, what we would like to see? And one of the things that we often try to point out is that we look at quote the stakeholders in the future life, the building of a bright future for Christ's Church, that the biggest stakeholders are future generations. What do we need to do today for building a church that can serve future generations. So those are some of the key areas. Now, one of them that I point out and it goes home very much along with the "Do you want to be made well?" aspect of the Bible verse you just read. That is decide as a parish council, do you want to improve? There's no better way to improve, than to grade your paper, to look back at how you behaved and how you have done things and of course sometimes there are issues that arise that are rancorous issues within the parish and I'm not even always talking about that I'm just talking about, what are the things that you see as your role and your job? And go back grade your paper, so that's one set of actions that I often find is important for a parish.
Another is to really clarify their role. "What really is our job here again is it to be the parish fire department and work on bills budgets and buildings, or are we here to kind of move ourselves into the future, and how do we interact with one another?" Again to get back to the Clergy-Laity dynamic. With younger parishes, new, you know, we talked about with older parishes Congregationalism can be something of an issue, a separation. With newer parishes that's less likely to be the issue. But then the question becomes, "well is this an advisory body well if the priests ask us for our opinion, we offer it, or do we actually have some responsibility here beyond simply approving money?" I like to encourage parish councils to think of themselves as having a, a shared leadership role, where both are working together to own or better put to be stewards of the mission of the parish the total mission of the parish, which is to say, yes, there is some role with regard to oversight of various aspects resources of the parish, that's important. But in general I think that there is an important role for parish councils that is often missed that is associated with vision and planning. What do we want to look and feel and be like in the future? What is our mission here? If there isn't a clear mission statement already. What are the issues that are holding us back? What are our concerns? What are the emerging issues within the parish?
So vision planning, in addition to oversight, then the whole question of having identified priorities, how can we better stimulate ministry? What are the areas of ministry that we want to see developed? Sometimes that begins with culling things, removing, stopping things that are no longer useful. Parish activities that were useful at one point in the parishes life may not be. So stimulating ministry sometimes means to make room for new and better kinds of things that might be involved with evangelization, might be involved with charitable outreach, that might involve a strengthening participation in worship, there are all variety of things and I think then the key thing for a parish council to also remember is to not become micromanagers. By stimulating ministry, the issue is to articulate what those ministries need to be to help people to see themselves, not necessarily people on the parish council, but others to see themselves as having the gifts and the talents to fulfill those ministries. There's a key difference between ministry, and, and then the oversight and governance.
Hollie Benton 15:14
One way I like to think about this as a leadership body and even as an individual leader is, "let's go through the exercise of saying what we're going to do, and then actually doing what we said we're going to do." I think it was Protodeacon Peter Danilchick at that at a conference one time and it's just always resonated with me just both of those exercises articulating what we say we're going to do and then actually doing what we say we'll do, is so important.
Joe Kormos 15:42
So often we talk about parish values and the things that I always say when we work with parishes to discuss their values, they'll often say the things they think they value but then the question becomes, what would a parish that says they value these things, what would they look like? What would be going on within the parish, what we say we do isn't exactly what we're doing. Another thought relative to strengthening governance is to develop a sort of a covenant-a parish council covenant. There's a variety of examples of that. It really it comes down to, again, thinking about do we want to be made well do we want to improve and describing the kinds of behaviors, and the kinds of roles that we want to see ourselves building up and taking and to write that down, and agree, both the priest, as the head of the parish, and that's something I probably should have mentioned before, is the understanding that we all need to have--that yes the parish council, it needs to have an important shared leadership role--but the leader of the parish is the priest, who gets his authority of course from the bishop. The idea of a covenant that describes the shared leadership and then you know this is a delicate balance. We had a conference last summer in with metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America, spoke. I love the way he put it in terms of leadership. he spoke in terms of "mutual obedience", that both clergy and laity need to see one another in terms of what they can offer uniquely their unique gifts and talents and their unique roles, and to have a mutual obedience to one another.
Now, one other area that I thought might be useful to talk about with regard to parish councils and this gets at sort of into the nuts and bolts in some ways. So often we think of parish councils as being the beginning and the end of a parish council is that it has meetings on a monthly basis or whatever the periodicity is, while that's not the only opportunity for parish councils to make an impact within an orthodox parish, those meetings are a key factor. When meetings are poor, when they run off the rails so to speak, when they run too long, it becomes frustrating for those who are participants, and it becomes very hard to recruit good people to fulfill this shared leadership role. I always try to work in a very practical sense with parish councils on it, you know how taking a good look at what they do in their meetings.
One of the things of course is to simply review, what have we worked on what has been our agenda and of course everybody wants to say "well the number one thing is to have an agenda," of course, but an agenda alone usually doesn't reign in, it's only a start. One thing is to look at: are we working on only the things that are urgent or are we also making time for things that are important? One of the key ways I think, can save time and save frustration for parish councils is first of all to do some prep work and of course, almost everyone is on parish councils today has access to email or electronic form of communication. Get that agenda out there and to put in the agenda is something I call or others have called it's really not my invention, "a consent agenda". Group the things together that are simply require approval "yes or no". Quite often on a monthly basis there are things that just need to have some approval from the parish council, could be the approval to buy something, it could be to point someone to a particular role, whatever that might be-group those together in what's called an a consent agenda and offer those to the body, as one item. "We're not going to discuss this, you can only say yes or no", Now, if you want to discuss this then we have to remove it from the consent agenda and that's then going to take up some time during the meeting and so the person who is facilitating the meeting needs to try to keep things on the consent agenda that people can agree to say yes or no to. By doing that, then you eliminate a lot of extraneous discussion because when you tee up each of those things individually, invariably, somebody has to make the comment. Eventually though, it, 99% of the time those things get approved so the consent agenda is one of the things.
Another thing that I always suggest parish councils take a look at is looking at their annual calendar. Parish council meetings have this sort of format, nowhere is it written that every meeting has to have the exact same agenda. Too often their financial report is on the agenda every month yet very little is done to react to it. It's just a report that can be sent out. So not every month we have to talk about a financial report, but what is useful is to look at your annual calendar and see that there are things that might need to happen at particular times during the year. Identify those cyclical topics and focus really a healthy portion of those topics of a particular meeting on one of those monthly topics, and might be there's a planning retreat, it might be that in a particular month you're preparing for the annual meeting. It might be that in the middle of the year you might review various goals that were put together from the planning retreat that maybe you had in the beginning of the year. It might be that again, every two or three months it's important to have a good review of budget versus plan, perhaps one or two months of the year can be given over to reviewing a particular ministry that occurs within the parish not to micromanage that but simply to see how we're progressing, and is there some assistance that's needed from that ministry, for the parish council. I think that's a great tool, the idea of having an annual planning calendar so those are some of the things some of the ideas that I often try to suggest when talking to people about parish council.
Hollie Benton 22:36
Wonderful. Do you have any success story that you'd like to share with any of the parishes that you've worked with where they used to do something one way and, and now they've recognized that doing something a little bit differently is actually bringing about the, the healing and the improvement and the functioning of the Body of Christ that they so seek?
Joe Kormos 22:56
Well I can think of a couple. They've worked hard on putting together good administrative practices for the parish council, they put together, not only good practices but the various tools that they use guidelines on how they're going to accept particular earmark donations. What are their policies in various areas, keeps them from having to rethink everything at every meeting and reacting to things as they come up. I know of a couple parish councils that have done that. I think they then have more time to think about the role of planning, vision-forward thinking, and stimulating ministry, couple of them have undertaken. I'll say semi-annual parish health inventory, looking at what are the aspects and there are a variety of tools available to do that. But the parish council has initiated on a semi-annual basis really reviewing the 5-6, 10-12 areas of a good healthy orthodox parish, looking at themselves and again kind of grading the parish's paper to see what might be the kinds of things they want to focus on strengthening over the next year. Again, oh the frustration, really, is that the parishes that are furthest away from that kind of effectiveness in their parish council are the ones that are hardest to convince they need to look at themselves in a new way to decide that they need to be made well.
Hollie Benton 24:34
Right, Right. You mentioned a Parish Health Assessment and we have one available on our site at OrthodoxServantLeaders.com, and thanks to you we have that health assessment available. It's really crafted after a lot of your work. And I think it's so important to just go through that exercise once or twice a year as a parish or as a parish council to just consider the grading of the paper, where do we have room to do a little bit better? And I just want to remind our listeners too that they can go to our website to learn more about the module that you helped us design "Building Effective Parish Leadership Teams" that you can find that on our Doulos program and learn more and go a little bit deeper about parish governance and all these other ways of improving as a parish council and bringing health to the parish, and by extension to the communities that those parishes serve.
Joe Kormos 25:27
It's important that you can't fix everything all at once and so that's one of the real values of an inventory of which you're speaking, that it helps to focus the parish on one or two things.
Hollie Benton 25:39
Can't boil the ocean, but the focus can actually drive the engagement when you can actually deliver some results against the one focus area tends to bring health in other areas as well. Just because people are engaged and they're committed and working with accountability.
Unknown Speaker 25:56
And the parish, when they can see progress, we said what we're going to do, and we did it, as you mentioned earlier, we said we're going to work on this area and you know, we have been able to improve a bit here, that's tremendously fulfilling, and it builds really excitement within the parish.
Hollie Benton 26:14
Joe, thank you so much for this great discussion today, and your remarkable contribution to Doulos: The Intensive Program in Servant Leadership.
Joe Kormos 26:22
Thank you, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 26:22
Thank you so much, Joe for everything, it was really wonderful to have you.
Joe Kormos 26:26
Transcribed by https://otter.ai