Dr. Alfred Bamsey fits into both our ReadTheSpirit and Interfaith Heroes projects!
He is semi-retired now after a long career as a United Methodist pastor and a congregational consultant who crisscrossed the U.S., working with religious groups who were going through tough transitions. He has slowed down from that hectic pace in recent years, but he continues to consult with congregations going through major changes. Several years ago, he also co-founded the non-profit Center for Spirituality in American Life, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to help explore new directions in clergy and congregational consulting.
That brings us to his remarkable, new idea.
Over many years, Al has worked extensively with Christian congregations in various denominations and also with Jewish leaders — but his new effort is an attempt to form a professional, clergy-seminar group that would explore leadership issues and congregational-planning strategies IN AN INTERFAITH SETTING.
This kind of professional seminar group is common within individual denominations. These professional groups also are formed by consultants, like Al. So, the general principles behind such groups are well established — and Al is a nationally recognized expert in the field.
The innovation here is trying to form such a group with a pilot circle of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy. Al is interested in seeing what clergy colleagues from such different religious traditions will be able to learn from each other about leadership and congregational dynamics.
As you read Al’s offerings this week — if you’re interested in learning more about this idea: CLICK HERE to EMAIL US and we’ll pass the information along to Al.
IN TODAY’S ARTICLE, Al answers one of our most important questions at ReadTheSpirit: So, what are YOU reading?
The following are Al’s reading recommendations. Read about the books here — or click on any book title or cover in this article to jump to our bookstore, where you’ll find more information about each book — and you can order copies, if you wish.
STRENGTHENING CONGREGATIONAL LIFE
By Dr. Alfred Bamsey
If you want to lead — you’ve got to read.
Keeping up with major voices in congregational leadership and development is simply that important, if you really want your community to thrive. This is not just a job for clergy, alone. Both clergy and lay leaders in congregations need to read in order to strengthen the entire community. In fact, in this challenging era of social change, all of us who are concerned about congregational health need to continually look for ways to freshen our focus.
Fortunately, we have some fine authors in our midst these days who provide great resources for our reflections — and good direction for our actions.
The following is an alphabetical listing of books that I’ve found useful in working with religious leaders. See what you think. Click Here to email me with your own reactions — and any interest you may have in the idea of developing an interfaith clergy group.
CHRISTIANITY FOR THE REST OF US, Diana Butler Bass, Harper One.
Bass is currently writing some of the best resources for at least mainline Protestant congregations. Not only does she provide a 10-point guide for those interested in recharging the batteries of church life, she also offers the reader a reflection on the history of congregational life in America. She’s a “don’t miss” author for leaders interested in re-energizing plateaued or failing congregations.
EMERGING CHURCHES, Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Baker Academic.
Gibbs and Bolger interviewed more than 100 people who are involved in churches in England and America that are growing up all around us but are below the radar. Seldom large, these congregations are meeting in clubs, kitchens and various other venues. They may or may not be led by clergy, may or may not be connected with other congregations, and may or may not meet on the traditional Sunday morning. This book is for those who lead congregations who want to become more hospitable to strangers and are eager to engage the surrounding culture. It also will stir up leaders of churches in vertically organized denominations.
GENERATION TO GENERATION , Edwin H. Friedman, The Guilford Press.
This book, although only a little more than 20 years old, has become a classic for those who want to understand how congregations and congregants really operate. Friedman has successful translated Family Systems Theory into congregational life and consequently provided leaders with knowledge that can enormously enhance a leader’s operational life in a congregation. Many other authors have followed the outlines that Friedman has offered, but none can match reading his magnum opus. Read this with a group of comrades to get the best results.
GOOD TO GREAT, Jim Collins, Harper Business.
If you’ve read a lot of business books you’ve discovered that they are as faddish as some theological trips. Jim Collins is among the business authors who did research among several corporations to discover what activities and attitudes make some businesses great while others remain only good. While any business book has the downside of being “rational” as opposed to the “emotional” quality of congregations, Collins provides many pointers that can be translated into the lives of congregations.
HOLY CONVERSATIONS, Gil Rendle and Alice Mann, The Alban Institute.
If you only buy one book about strategic planning, this is the one to buy. Rendle and Mann are expert at providing congregations with a map for strategic planning with all the “whys” and “whens” that you’ll ever need. It’s very readable and flexible and worth the investment if you are moving toward a time of thoughtful planning in your congregation.
LEADERSHIP ON THE LINE, Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Harvard Business School Press.
In this follow-up book to Heifetz’s fine book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, the authors delve into the hard and dangerous work of leading in the face of challenging situations. The book contains down-to-earth strategies for responding well to challenges in many parts of our lives, not the least of which are those provided by congregations.
LEADING CHANGE, John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School Press.
Kotter teaches leadership to CEOs of companies at the Harvard Business School. Consequently, his work has to be translated for use by congregational leaders. Nevertheless, his eight-stage process for leading change is invaluable. Indeed, his chapter on establishing a sense of urgency in a firm or a church is worth the price of the book. If you understand the inevitability of change in life (and who doesn’t), you’ll want to know how to lead it rather than being led by it.
THE EQUIPPING PASTOR, R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins, The Alban Institute.
These two writers provide the best handbook for helping leaders of congregations figure out how to actually lead. They apply “systems” thinking to congregations and help leaders follow a process that can ensure that they begin well in forming their partnership with congregations, lead appropriately, embody themselves as servant-leaders and unleash their laity for ministry.
THE NEXT CHRISTENDOM, Philip Jenkins, Oxford University Press.
If you are interested in getting a “feel” for the coming generations of faith, you’ll want to read Jenkins’ “take” on the rise of Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere and his evaluation of some of the possible impacts on such things as church and state in North America, along with strong multi-faith communities in the north. After reading this book I’m very curious, especially, to learn more about how imams and other leaders within Islam would respond to Jenkins’ “read” on the revolution that is coming from countries south of the equator.
COME BACK TOMORROW for Dr. Al Bamsey’s take on our Weekly Quiz. He plans to check on how well-equipped we are for understanding and moving along new directions in religious life.