Improving Professional Relationships and Organizational Leadership in Congregations: Starting with Pastors and Preschool Directors

Jun 23rd, 2020 | Category: Columns, Teaching Young Children
By Douglas Krengel, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: This article grows out of the PhD work in Organizational Leadership that the author completed in 2019. His interest in early childhood education has developed out of the two centers his congregation is growing in Houston, TX, where he is the pastor.

      In order to be a leader in the church one needs to consider many aspects of leadership. One of those aspects is the definition of leadership itself. Is leadership an individual phenomenon? Or is leadership a phenomenon founded in human relationships? Sánchez (2010), noted a trend in how humans understand themselves:

Along with the modern, postmodern, and post-colonial turns to individual reason, perspective, and voice respectively, there has also been a move in the West towards an understanding of humans not simply as individuals who exist and function in and by themselves but more fully as “persons” who exist and live with and for another. Humans are social beings who find fulfillment in their relations, or better yet, are fully human through their relations. (p.57)

      This definition of humanity affects the definition of leadership in organizations – including the church. This paper considers leadership as a function of relationships in contrast to leadership as rugged individualism. Therefore, the research here presented explores one of the largest professional pairings in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the pastor and the preschool director (P-D dyad), as one example of leadership defined by relationship.

      The idea of relationships being primarily definitive to human fulfillment and church leadership may sound familiar to Lutherans, for these elements have been and continue to be part of the liturgical leadership found in the Divine Service. In the traditional worship of the church “liturgical alternation” has and continues to be celebrated. Peter Brunner (1968) in his classic work on Lutheran worship, Worship in the Name of Jesus, described liturgical alternation as shared by a pair of church workers, namely, the church fathers, Ambrose and Augustine:

The legend of the genesis of the Te Deum graphically illustrates the spiritual basis of this alternation. It relates that Ambrose intoned the hymn at Augustine’s baptism, and that Augustine, prompted by the Holy Spirit, immediately took up the song of praise, and that the two, stirred with a holy zeal, alternately added bit by bit and thus sang the hymn to its end. This legend shows the real basis of the liturgical alternating song in the profession and in other laudations; one person, as it were, takes the words from the lips of another. Both are apprehended by the same Spirit, both are absorbed in the same professing and glorifying devotion. One bears up the other, one leans on the other, one recognizes his own profession and laudation in the other. The congregation’s profession and glorification of God does not attain its most perfect form when the whole congregation simultaneously professes and sings the same words, but first when one section of the congregation takes up the words, alternately, from another section. In this duality of alternation the unity of profession and of laudation finds an unequalled expression. Even the seraphim call the Sanctus to each other alternately (Is.6:3). Also the apostolic congregations “addressed one another” in song in their worship services. (p. 238)

      Liturgical alternation and leadership alternation in the church have similarities. Just as Ambrose and Augustine alternately sang the Te Deum, leadership dyads in the church ought to serve God in such a way that “the duality of alternation” between the two roles results in “the unity of profession and laudation.”

      The author’s research (Krengel, 2020) explores one leadership alternation found between the pastor and the preschool director (P-D dyad). This dyad was explored in hope of discovering empirically how professional relationships in the church achieve a high quality in congregational ministries. The pastor and director dyad was chosen as a good place to start learning about organizational leadership in congregational ministry because such a dyad occurs frequently, suffers from a paucity of research, and holds promise to serve as a catalyst for the improvement of other professional relationships within the church.

      Early childhood education and care is one of the most popular ways many churches, including the churches of the LCMS, interact with the communities they serve (Christian 2004, 2008, 2014; Garland, Sherr, Singletary &, Gardner, 2008; Diamond, 2001; Neugebauer, 1998). With 1,774 early childhood centers in the LCMS, foundational educational offerings are the most widespread full-time agency offered in the denomination besides the congregations themselves. Of the 1,950-total number of LCMS schools from early childhood to grade 12, 90.1% are classified as serving students in the early childhood level of education. In addition, there were 96,782 early childhood students in the 2018-2019 school year in comparison to 86,208 students in K-8, and 18,317 students in grades 9-12. Therefore, almost half of the LCMS students (48.1%) between early childhood and 12th grade are early childhood students (

      The trend in the LCMS to offer foundational education came well before the more recent trend across the globe – the trend for nation-states, states, and cities to extend publicly funded early childhood education to their citizens (Bouffard, 2017; Campbell-Barr, Georgeson, & Varga, 2015; The United Nations, 1989). However, while publicly-funded initiatives supporting early childhood education and care are growing around the world, the trend within the LCMS has been one of steady decline. According to the Lutheran School Ministry (2020), for example, from the 2013-2014 school year to the 2017-2018 school year, the LCMS went from 1,285 early childhood centers to 1,127 centers. In other words, there were 158 fewer early childhood centers reported over those four school years.

      As noted earlier, the combination of ministries represented by congregations which are associated with foundational educational offerings (church-preschool dyads, or C-P dyads), provides a major intersection of such organizational dyads with their communities. At the nexus where the C-P dyads meet their communities there is a powerful opportunity for sharing the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. One way the decline of LCMS early childhood centers could be addressed is with a training program specifically designed to assist the pastors of the congregations and the directors of congregation-based early childhood centers so that their professional relationships would be of a high quality. Based on recent qualitative and quantitative research conducted by the author (Krengel, 2020) among LCMS congregations, there are four elements that are likely to assist the P-D dyads in forming high-quality professional relationships: affect, contribution, loyalty, and professional respect. These four dimensions of LMX (leader-member exchange) are defined by John M. Maslyn and Mary Uhl-Bien (2001) as they describe the development of LMX:

With notable exceptions, LMX theory has considered the exchange between members to be essentially work-related. That is, they consist of work-related behaviors such as effort toward the job or favorable task assignments. However, in a recent review of the LMX literature, Liden et al (1997) noted that LMX is not based solely on the job-related elements emphasized in the LMX research of Graen and his colleagues (Graen & Scandura, 1987; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995) but may also include socially-related “currencies.” In this vein, Dienesch and Liden (1986) and Liden and Maslyn (1998) proposed four dimensions of LMX relationships labeled contribution (e.g., performing work beyond what is specified in the job description), affect (e.g., friendship and liking), loyalty (e.g., loyalty and mutual obligation), and professional respect (e.g., respect for professional capacities). Other LMX research has produced measures of these constructs and demonstrated validity of the dimensions. (p. 699)

      In order to create a chain reaction of improvements throughout the LCMS system of education and care, or educare, the quality of the professional relationships shared in the pastor-director dyads needs to be improved. In order to improve the professional quality of the pastor-director relationship, congregational and educational leadership need to be understood as dyadic in nature, and not the work of one actor (Anand, Vidyarthi, & Park, 2016). Dyadic leadership, in turn, requires a dyadic approach to leadership training. A dyadic approach to training leadership in congregations with educare centers could include publications, workshops, conferences, and leadership initiatives that would invite both the pastor and educare director to learn together as mutual participants in a way similar to how Ambrose and Augustine collaborated in the Divine Service while singing the Te Deum.

Training Pastors and Early Childhood Directors in Dyadic Leadership: A Curriculum for Building High Quality Professional Relationships by Building on Relational Strengths

      According to the results of the author’s research (Krengel, 2020), the P-D dyad could be built upon its strongest element with the less strong elements being addressed later in the learning process. In the dissertation research, four dimensions were identified as critical to any professional relationship: affect, contribution, loyalty, and professional respect. Using the Leader-Member Exchange – 24 Survey (LMX-24) (Chaudhry, 2012, 2017), these four dimensions of professional relationships were measured. A sample size of 105 (n=105) professional church workers was received. Out of the 105 participants, 66 were educare directors or assistant directors. In addition, 39 of the 105 participants were LCMS pastors. Of the 113 educare centers in the LCMS district where the study was conducted, there were 80 dyads represented in the author’s research study in some manner. From the 105 participants and the 80 dyads, 26 intact, nonrandom, mixed-gendered, vertical dyads were identified. While survey data of all the participants were analyzed, the 52 individuals who were part of the 26 P-D dyads were the focus of the exploration.

      Out of the 26 complete dyads, 6 dyads composed of 6 pastors and 6 educare directors were further studied using semi-structured interviews. Each professional church worker was interviewed independently from the others in order to avoid any unintended influence. Interviews were conducted in private spaces, most often the participant’s own office. Each interview was recorded as an audio-file while the interviewer simultaneously took detailed handwritten notes. Numerous different types of interview questions were asked to gain as much insight as possible. These question types included the following: opinion; feeling; knowledge; sensory; background; hypothetical; devil’s advocate; ideal position, and interpretive question types (Merriam, 2009). Verbatim transcripts were provided to each interviewee in a member check process. Peer examination was also undertaken to assure this exploration was trustworthy. Dr. Donna Peavey from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary corresponded with the researcher in addition to the researcher’s dissertation committee. Emergent themes were then identified by the researcher from the transcripts using thematic analysis as he searched for units of information (UIOs), or “small pieces of meaningful information” (Teddie & Tashakkori, 2009, p.255). An iterative process was used by the researcher until stable patterns were discerned.

      This mixed-method exploration of the quality of the professional relationship shared between the pastors and the educare directors resulted in the following six meta-inferences:

  1. 1. The pastors and the directors both perceived the professional relationships they shared as being of a high quality; however, the pastors perceived the relationships to be of a   higher quality than did the directors.
  2. The directors perceived the professional relationship they shared with the pastors to be of a lower quality in the dimension of contribution/the work domain than did the pastors.
  3. The directors and the pastors agreed that professional respect was of a high quality.
  4. The directors and the pastors agreed that the dimension of affect was of a middle quality.
  5. The dimension of loyalty was of an indefinite quality relative to the spectrum of scores.
  6. A dimensional spectrum of professional relationships to relationship strengths was evident.

      Based on the quantitative and qualitative data from the author’s research (Krengel, 2020), the Dimension of Professional Respect would be the first element addressed in a training process, then the Dimension of Affect, followed by the Dimension of Loyalty, and ending with the Dimension of Contribution. This order of training would move from the strongest existing characteristic of the P-D dyad to the middle quality dimensions (Affect), followed by the indefinite dimension (Loyalty), and would conclude with the dimension needing the most improvement, the Dimension of Contribution. In this manner participants would experience a sense of affirmation at the beginning of the training and move across the four LMX dimensions to the final and most challenging LMX dimension. By proceeding in such a manner, the P-D dyads could be expected to stay motivated to complete the training together while maintaining high morale for their common work.

Building High Quality Professional Relationships on a Dyadic Definition of Leadership

      By starting the training with Meta-Inference 1, the educare directors and pastors would learn that both members of the P-D dyad perceive the dyad as sharing a high-quality professional relationship. An oppositional example was found in the research of Dr. Judith Christian (2004). Christian reported that a struggle exists between the educare directors and the predominantly male leadership in the LCMS. Christian said, “The majority of early childhood directors in the LCMS are women who often struggle to have their profession affirmed in a church body where the predominately male leadership frequently gives voice to a different set of priorities” (p. 9). This opinion may have been accurate in 2004, but the author’s research (Krengel, 2020) indicates that the pastors and the directors both perceived the professional relationships they shared to be of a high quality in 2019.

      In the proposed training, after the current perspective of the P-D dyads is shared with the community of pastors and directors, the second portion of Meta-Inference 1 would be shared: In this study, the pastors perceive the relationships to be of a higher quality than do the directors. In contrast to Christian (2004), not only does the predominately male leadership of the LCMS perceive the P-D dyads as being of a high quality, the pastors (e.g., male leadership) perceive the relationship as being of a higher quality than their corresponding educare directors.

      Since Christian’s (2004) report was used as the basis for training throughout the national synod, it is possible that reporting that educare directors “struggle to have their profession affirmed” (p. 9) could still be understood by pastors and directors in the LCMS to represent the current status of the P-D dyad. However, such an understanding would be a misunderstanding of the current state of affairs in the P-D dyads of the LCMS district that were studied.

      By addressing the new status of the P-D dyads, both members of the dyads would discover that the “struggle,” while not completely gone, is different than it was in 2004. While there are no formal training courses at either of the LCMS seminaries in the United States regarding the P-D dyad, it appears that pastors’ perspectives regarding the work of educare, and the perspectives of the educare directors, has shifted away from struggle and toward acceptance. While this study found examples of dyads that express great differences, those dyads were part of a small minority of cases.

Building High Quality Professional Relationships with the LMX Theory

      In addition to the community of P-D dyads learning that pastors are not so antagonistic to educare, the dyadic learning community would do well to be oriented to relational leadership as defined by the leader-member exchange theory (LMX). Such an orientation would include the four dimensions of LMX and its two domains. With an orientation to LMX theory, the P-D dyads could take the LMX-24 Survey and then receive their results. A facilitator could then walk the dyads through the significance of said results. Since the LMX-24 Survey is made up of just 12 questions, the results of the survey would, more than likely, not be perceived by either the educare directors or the pastors as too much of a burden.

Building High Quality Professional Relationships on Professional Respect

      The P-D dyads would begin interacting with their results from the LMX-24 Survey by considering the Dimension of Professional Respect. Even though this dimension is represented by the last three questions on the LMX-24 survey, it would be discussed first, since it is the dimension most likely to register a high level of agreement between the pastors and the educare directors. After the dyads receive an orientation to LMX theory, discover Meta-Inference 1, and then learn that their dyads have a high level of agreement regarding the Dimension of Professional Respect, then the other three dimensions of LMX would be introduced in the order outlined below.

Building High Quality Professional Relationships on the Dimension of Affect

      The Dimension of Affect would be considered next by the P-D dyads. The results that the participants are likely to experience are results in the middle-level of the quality spectrum of the professional relationships shared by the pastors and directors. However, encouraged by the orientation to LMX, and the information from Meta-Inference 1, the dyads would be able to discuss any differences openly and honestly. 

Building High Quality Professional Relationships on the Dimension of Loyalty

      In the author’s research (Krengel, 2020), loyalty was on average reported to be of an indefinite quality (i.e., no clear pattern was found in the responses). The Dimension of Loyalty would, therefore, be the third dimension of LMX discussed by the community of P-D dyads. As previously mentioned, the Dimension of Loyalty is an indefinite quality in part due to numerous valuations by the educare directors of a 4-ranking (i.e., undecided) on the LMX survey. With a well-led interaction, and with the encouragement from the preceding discussions, the dyads may be able to work through any indecision and gain clarity on how loyalty is represented in their dyad.

      Such clarity is important, as is the case for all four of the dimensions, because “the higher the quality of the exchange, the greater will be the vertical dyad linkage agreement” (Graen & Schiemann, 1978, p. 207). When the “linkage agreement” is of a high quality, then the partnership shared in the dyad is stronger, and positive organizational benefits are the result. Anand, Vidyarthi, and Park (2016) listed some such benefits as, “enhanced negotiation latitude, trust, respect, autonomy, challenging assignments, and satisfaction with job and manger, whereas the organization benefits through enhanced positive attitudes and behaviors such as organizational commitment, performance, and citizenship behaviors” (p. 263-264).

Building High Quality Professional Relationships on the LMX Domains

      At this point in the dyadic training for pastors and educare directors, the concept of LMX domains would be presented. The first three dimensions having already been introduced to the dyads, they would be further explained as representing the Personal Domain of LMX. Next, the Dimension of Contribution, also known as the Work Domain, would be introduced. Since Meta-Inference 2 expects the directors to report the Dimension of Contribution and/or the Work Domain as of a lower quality than that of the pastors, this aspect of LMX would be presented last. The leaders of the training would plan for this dimension of LMX to require more time for dyads to process since the results would be more likely to be conflicted.

      Each of the three survey questions that provide data for the Dimension of Contribution/ Work Domain would be discussed in turn. These three questions from the LMX-24 survey are as follows:

      Question 4.            My pastor/director does not mind working his/her hardest to support me.

Question 5.      My pastor/director is willing to apply extra efforts, beyond those normally
required, to meet my work goals.

Question 6.      My pastor/director does work for me that goes beyond what is normally required.

      By encouraging the P-D dyads to discuss these three questions, it would be fair to expect the professional exchange within the dyad would improve, mutual understanding between the leader and the member of the dyad would increase, and the organization could fairly expect improvements in organizational commitment, performance, and citizenship behaviors.

Building High Quality Professional Relationships Using DDA and APIM

      Lastly, Dyadic Data Analysis (DDA) would be introduced to the learning community, especially the Actor—Partner Independence Model (APIM). The concepts of the intrapersonal affect and the interpersonal affect would be explained and illustrated. The relationship between the intrapersonal affect and the interpersonal affect would be emphasized. In other words, how a member of the dyad relates to himself, or herself, affects how the member of the dyad relates to his coworker.

      Within the context of a professional church workers training event in the LCMS, the intrapersonal affect would be addressed using traditional pastoral methods of caring for souls such as Bible study, Holy Communion, prayer, worship, private confession and absolution, and the mutual encouragement of Christian believers by one another. By inviting members of the dyads to improve their intrapersonal factors, one would also be affecting the probability of improving the interpersonal factors within the dyads. In other words, if the individual person is in good care, then the dyad may also be in good care.

Training P-D dyads in Dyadic Leadership: The Pilot Training

The Training Pilot: Materials and Participant Selection

      The order of business noted in this article would be included in published materials that would be especially designed to accompany the dyadic training process. At the end of each chapter, worksheets and interactive exercises would be provided. A pilot version of such dyadic training would be best offered to a select group of P-D dyads representing a variety of Congregation – Educare Center dyads. For example, P-D dyads who serve in congregations that have educare as their only educational full-time agency would be one type of dyad. P-D dyads that serve in congregations that offered both educare and an elementary school would be a second type of dyad. Dyads which serve where educare, elementary school, and middle school services are provided would be a third type of dyad. Additionally, different kinds of educare would also be represented. With a variety of P-D dyads from a variety of organizational types established, dyads would also be sought out which represented the five official regions of the LCMS.

The Training Pilot: The Means of Delivering the Training

      The initial pilot training would be conducted using a virtual platform. This author has taken instruction online from Concordia University Chicago and from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. The synod also offers online instruction as part of its colloquy program. With the virtual platform in place, the pilot training would email each dyad a copy of the training materials. The steps of instruction outlined above would take place in five 1-hour installments.

The Training Pilot: Processing the Victim Posture and Encouraging Dyadic Efficacy.

      Previous researchers have suggested that the rapid decline of congregational educare centers in the LCMS is largely caused by exogenous variables such as a lower birthrate among LCMS members, an aging population within the LCMS membership, etc. (MacPherson, 2016a). While such exogenous variables are reported to influence the LCMS population, if the learning community is left to think that there are only exogenous variables, then the learners may possibly respond with an internal posture of victimhood. “There is no reason to persist with the educare enterprise in our congregation since our denomination as a whole is not very productive in a biological sense” is one way such a victimhood posture may be conveyed.

      To address such postures of victimization, this researcher strongly encourages the pilot training to include a reading list such as MacPherson’s articles in the Journal of Lutheran Mission (2016a), as well as his article in The Lutheran Witness (2016b) which, when referring to the latter, the following would be highlighted:

The ‘standard stories’ fail to explain the pervasive patterns of decline…,Some say: ‘We need more early childhood centers to attract young families.’ The fact is: The number of child baptisms per year plunged 55 percent from 1990 to 2010 – precisely the era in which early childhood centers were growing in both numbers and aggregate enrollment. (p. 6)

      Such comments might possibly cause members of P-D dyads to feel as if they are simply a victim of demographic forces and therefore work in vain to offer educare.

      Cook’s (2017) response in the Journal of Lutheran Mission to MacPherson’s (2016b) research should also be included on the reading list. In addition, Schumacher’s response in Lutheran Mission Matters (2017) to MacPherson’s (2016b) article also should be included on the reading list for the training. After reading all of the entries on the reading list, participants in the training should be encouraged to address the articles with their own opinions and experiences.

      Throughout the discussions of these articles, the facilitator should listen to those who share stories of being a victim of circumstance but should also encourage the participants to consider adopting an intrapersonal posture that retains agency and efficacy. For example, the facilitator could point out there are two major types of data: exogenous and endogenous. The research presented in this study of the quality of the P-D dyad is of the endogenous type and will hopefully be received as a complement to the exogenous variables commented upon by Cook (2017), MacPherson (2016b), and Schumacher (2017).

      With both the exogenous and endogenous data considered, the P-D dyads in the pilot training would be asked to analyze why there has been an average yearly decline in the number of LCMS educare centers. One possible explanation, in addition to demographics, is that the leaders in LCMS congregations with educare centers have not been trained to lead in a dyadic way. If the pastors and educare directors had been trained together before, or during, the period of educare expansion noted by MacPherson (2016b) the relationship to the number of child baptisms per year in the LCMS may not have “plunged” by 55%. Those participating in the training will be invited by the facilitator to consider that instead of the decline in LCMS educare centers being solely based on exogenous factors, and therefore outside of the realm of effect by the P-D dyads, it may just as possibly have been the absence of dyadic leadership training in the synod. The lack of a dyadic definition of leadership may have led to a lack of training professional church workers dyadically.

Further Research Regarding Organizational Leadership in the LCMS

      Further research on the LCMS’ approach to training professional church workers in leadership is encouraged. What leadership styles have been encouraged by the LCMS? Has there been an emphasis on a single male leader being the source of the ministerial initiatives and solutions? Or has the LCMS been teaching that leadership is dyadic? Or has the concept of leadership been defined in some other manner? If there has been a preferred definition of leadership in the LCMS, what has that definition been? Or have there been several preferred definitions of leadership over the history of the LCMS? If so, why were new definitions of leadership undertaken? What was the relationship between the definition of leadership promoted by the LCMS and the actual behaviors of church leaders in P-D dyads and other professional relationships? What were the consequences of the leadership behaviors based on the preferred definition of leadership?

      These questions need further research well beyond what has been provided in this brief article, or that which was offered in the research provided by the author (Krengel, 2020). Establishing dyadic training for pastors and preschool directors could be the first step in sharing something like the liturgical alternation enjoyed by Augustine and Ambrose with pastors, preschool directors, and other ministry pairings (e.g., Senior Pastor – Assistant Pastor, Senior Pastor – Director of Christian Education, Senior Pastor – Director of Music Ministry, Senior Pastor – Lutheran School Principal, etc.) that serve in congregational ministry together.

      Dave Reuter discussed one such ministry pairing: the Ministers of Religion – Ordained and Ministers of Religion – Commissioned in the LCMS. In his article, after reviewing centuries of teaching and practice about the Office of the Holy Ministry and the helping offices, Reuter (2019) stated the following: “The DCE is a second-chair leader. As such we support the ministry of the pastor and others called to serve on our team. We are there to support them as they are present to support us …. The balance is perfect” (p.52).

      This author’s research (Krengel, 2020) moves him to extend Reuter’s (2019) analogy. Is it not true that the second chair and the first chair are to focus on playing in harmony with each other? And are not both chairs (i.e., pastor and DCE) also to perform in concord with the rest of their instrumental section (i.e., the local congregation)?  And isn’t the entire instrumental section to play in coordination with the rest of the orchestra (i.e., the broader church) as directed by the conductor (i.e., Jesus) while all the musicians (i.e., the baptized believers) interpret the written musical score (i.e., the Bible) together? As in the orchestra, so in the role relationships within the church. Whether starting with the pastor-director dyad, or the pastor-DCE dyad, all professional church workers are called to pursue high-quality professional relationships for the good of the dyad, as well as the greater good.  Since the dyads are embedded in the congregation-preschool dyads, or congregation-youth ministry dyads, the quality of the professional relationships may be expected to affect the larger group (For more information on how dyads relate to larger groups see Part Four, LMX Beyond the Dyad in The Oxford Handbook of Leader – Member Exchange, 2016).

      As noted at the beginning of this article, Sanchez (2010) reminded us that persons are more likely to find fulfillment in our various vocations if the relational aspect of the vocation is celebrated. The pastor-director dyad is a good starting point for the church at large to improve in the area of professional relationships while remembering that such relationships are embedded in congregation-preschool dyads.  By learning from the sizeable and important example of the pastor-director dyad, congregations may also improve in other role relationships, and in organizational leadership, thus assisting congregations in witnessing to Christ concordantly.


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Douglas Krengel, Ph.D. has been serving as Senior Pastor at Faith Lutheran Church and Preschool in Houston, Texas for the past ten years. Prior to his work in Texas, Dr. Krengel served for over ten years in Jackson, Michigan at Trinity Lutheran Church, School, and Preschool.