The main thing that emerged for me across the course of both the CGC and the ECRF—in addition to feeling awfully lucky myself to get to come alongside the great work at Lake Institute!—was how much it mattered that we were all in this together. The great content from the instructors took root as the members of the cohorts started talking with each other and discovered shared struggle, shared purpose, and shared hope even across all the differences in their experiences.
In my previous role, I was the Director of the Center for Clergy Excellence for the 1600+ clergy of the United Methodist Church in Virginia. Those clergy had some similar (but not identical) faith commitments, but vastly different backgrounds and contexts—from tiny country churches to large suburban ones, or leading in nonprofit, academic, and even governmental positions outside of congregations. In my first weeks at Lake Institute I’ve been struck by the parallels in both roles of the privilege of getting to bring faith-minded organizational leaders together into life-giving connection. Even when the groups are gathered to talk about money (I read recently where 57% of American adults would rather talk about their own deaths than about money) or the groups are mandatory (like the new-clergy mentoring groups I used to convene), joining in the conversation together draws out the sting and—most importantly—multiplies the impact.
When a group comes together around a topic and there’s thoughtful, deep expertise for them to engage with, great things happen! Clergy share good advice with each other—even across tremendously different theological perspectives. Lay people bring a perspective that cuts through hazy good intentions to arrive directly at lived experience. Congregational leaders hear from religious nonprofit leaders, and vice-versa, about what life is like on the other side of the street. Development experts and ministry experts come a little closer in finding the ways their powers can combine for the common good.
My early background was in law, and the experience of Socratic dialog and seminar study around thorny issues has stuck with me—not so much for the gulp factor of getting called on, but for how much more you learn and discover when there are other people to walk alongside whatever challenge you’re wrestling with.
I’m delighted to get to come alongside Lake Institute’s wonderful staff and faculty team, and I’m thrilled to get to walk with our participants as I take on more teaching responsibilities for Lake Institute, particularly with the ECRF. As Managing Director Melissa Spas is quick to remind us, there’s no such thing as “six easy steps to increase religious fundraising”—but coming together to study, to reflect, and to approach a changed and changing world of congregational life and faith-connected nonprofits is a source of life for leaders and a source of inspiration for how to resource a mission.
From even just a few weeks as a part of Lake Institute’s courses, I’ve witnessed tired organizational leaders find new energy and ideas, isolated clergy make new bonds, nonprofit leaders link up with new networks, social media connections get started… I even got a copy of my seatmate’s (electronic) recipe box after a shared avocation for cooking came out during a session break! The relational pieces were a critical part of the blessing, and all along the way, we got to go deeper, together, into the challenge and the delight of cultivating generosity and helping others to live out their faith through giving.