Creating Safe Spaces

This month, our blog series is actually a vlog series – a video blog, that is! We’re calling it “The NEXT Few Minutes.” Over the next several weeks, we’ll share with you short, 2-3 minute videos from a variety of folks around the country with the hopes they spark your own imagination. We hope you’ll learn about some trends, ask questions, and think deeply about the practice of ministry in your own setting.

Nancy Myer and Kim McNeill of University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, NC, share thoughts on effective child protection policies. How can you best educate your entire church on child protection? What might be the part of your church’s policy that is hardest to grasp or remember? Join the conversation by commenting on this blog post or on our Facebook/Twitter pages! And learn more about University Presbyterian’s policies on their website.

To see all of our videos in our “The NEXT Few Minutes” series, check out our playlist on Youtube.

Active Questioning About Transition

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jan Nolting Carter is curating a mosaic of perspectives on the art of transitional ministry. How do we work with people and systems in the midst of change? What does transitional ministry look like inside and outside of the church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Paul Rhebergen

All ministry is transitional. We are living in the midst of a sea of change in every element of life: our own and the life of the people, systems, and cultures in which we serve as ministers. Transitional ministry is consciously using our gifts and abilities to work with others to live into this change as Jesus Christ would have us live. We are called to use our particular gifts, for a particular time, in a particular place, for the greater purpose of empowering the good news of God’s grace. Martin Luther King, Jr, one of the best transitional pastors, observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I would humbly add that the arc of the gospel is long, and it bends towards love.

I believe these arcs are one, and this arc informs the direction of the church as it moves forward with the flow of change. Transitional ministry seeks to consciously work with the change bringing us more fully into God’s arc of justice and of love. Standing against the flow is to be washed away, and invites failure to understand that the flood of change is part of God’s creative action. Attempting to channel the flow for our own purposes fails to accept our need to be continually transformed by the Spirit at work in the world in which we live. Simply riding the flow of change without thought to the arc of the gospel leaves us adrift in a flood of anxiety.

paul transitional seaTo participate in the flow of God’s grace in the midst of change, here are some questions to consider as we seek to move with the church into the future Christ holds for us:

Would it be helpful for us to strip away the language of Installed Pastors and Temporary Pastors? Congregations often experience anxiety when it thinks it is without “real” pastoral ministry. In contrast, pastors often feel the lack of personal financial and professional security that comes with ending one temporary position and searching for another.  For many of us, both ordained clergy and the congregations, the false perception of a “permanent position” becomes idolatrous as we enter into the seductive search for the “one” position or pastor that is God’s choice for us.  What has happened to the understanding that God will work for good in all things for those who believe?

Would any “good” pastor work well in all pastoral positions?  While there are a few teaching elders, and perhaps many more ruling elders, who can function well in any situation, for most of us there needs to be a good matching of the skills, talents, abilities, and energy of the pastor with the needs of a congregation.  Our matching process has often become a beauty pageant that doesn’t respect the real stories of both congregations and teaching elders. The placement for interims and transitional pastors has become about finding an available body to fill the position.  What if we took seriously understandings of “congregational lifecycles” and placed clergy with leadership traits most appropriate for the lifecycle stage of a particular congregation? What if we considered personality profiles and stopped calling introverted teaching elders to extroverted congregations? We could do “what ifs” with every tool we use to look at the identity and make up of a congregation.  What if we taught our search committees the value of these tools?

What if we considered the reality of a particular congregation? We tend to measure the life of a congregation and the ability of a pastor against a scale of success measured by numbers of members and dollars. The church of Jerusalem did not tally numbers when the Apostles appealed for an offering to assist the followers of the Way. We need pastors who are able to challenge congregations to run with them into the future, just as we need pastors who will walk with congregations through the changes that have enveloped them. Some churches need pastors who can sit with congregations suffering deep wounds from conflict and abuse, and some need the mercy of a chaplain who will be with them through their time of decline and even death.  Shouldn’t we take seriously the varied needs of congregations and find ways to provide pastoral presence appropriate to where they are?

What if we keep on asking the questions that will help congregations and their leaders to better understand how navigate the river of change that is carrying us into God’s future?

paul transitionalPaul Rhebergen is a long time pastor working in transitional settings, who enjoys asking questions, and living with the tension between what has been and what will be.  He also loves walking in the woods, reading suspense novels, and finding time with his wife and three adult daughters.

The Art of Making All Things New

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jan Nolting Carter is curating a mosaic of perspectives on the art of transitional ministry. How do we work with people and systems in the midst of change? What does transitional ministry look like inside and outside of the church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Stuart Malina

“Where are the young families?”
“Many people consider us irrelevant to their lives.”
“We need to adapt our offerings to a new world.”
“Our core constituency is old and aging. Who will replace them?”
“Why don’t you lighten things up?”

These are the things I hear week after week. But I am not a pastor of a church. I am the music director of a symphony orchestra. A few months ago, I chaired a committee at my synagogue (a Conservative Egalitarian congregation in Harrisburg, PA) that was charged with reimagining all aspects of synagogue life, and was struck again and again by the similarities of the challenges faced by houses of worship and orchestras across the world.

orchestra transitional minDiagnosing the problem is easy. Many people are disconnected from what we offer – be it great orchestral music or the worship experience. Some feel that it just doesn’t resonate with them or they find it boring. Others have never experienced it and just assume they won’t like it. Still others experience concerts or services as too old-fashioned, too formal and too restrictive. Many younger people consider what we offer to be the music (or spirituality) of old people. There are also too many other options for things to do on a Saturday or Sunday morning (or a Friday or Saturday night).

Coming up with solutions is much trickier. A lot of talk of late focuses on how we can make the concert experience more user friendly. Offer music in smaller bites. Add more audio-visual components. Have the orchestra dress more casually. Allow audience members to tweet during the concerts. And so on. All of these ideas potentially could bring in new people, but they all run the risk of turning off our core constituents. Even worse, they risk altering the essence of what we do.

At its core, what orchestras play, like what churches preach, is to a large degree immutable and sacrosanct. A Brahms symphony is a complete work of art, runs about 45 minutes, needs to be performed by 75 or so players, and is best experienced in a relatively quiet environment with few distractions. The word of God is the word of God.

I firmly believe in the power of great music. I strive to make every performance memorable and wonderful. I know in my heart of hearts that the works we perform have the potential to bring audiences to a higher spiritual plane. On the other hand, it is very dangerous to assume that because something is important to me it is of course important to everyone. I work tirelessly preaching the “gospel” of orchestral music. The ultimate challenge is finding ways to get people in the door once, and letting the experience speak for itself.

stuart malinaStuart Malina is the music director of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Florida Orchestra. He is also an active concert pianist and in 2003 won the Tony Award for orchestration with Billy Joel for the musical “Movin’ Out.” Stuart is a good friend of this month’s curator, Jan Nolting Carter, and has been talking with her about our common concerns for nearly a decade.

The Art of Embracing Change

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jan Nolting Carter is curating a mosaic of perspectives on the art of transitional ministry. How do we work with people and systems in the midst of change? What does transitional ministry look like inside and outside of the church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Bill Lawser

“How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them;” and “How a situation occurs arises in language;” are two of The Three Laws of Performance as outlined by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan in their book by that title. When I served in several interim pastor and an interim presbytery position in the 1990’s and later became part of one of the teams offering interim pastor education for our denomination, there was an ethos and a language about interim ministry that defined this type of ministry. It made sense and had correlation to the view of how the situation of churches generally occurred.

tsr_4405_webThere was specificity to interim ministry with rules, norms, and practices that presented a difference to other forms of parish and governing body leadership relationships. One way to picture this was to see a congregation with an installed pastor as a place with stability. The interim’s job was to help the congregation prepare for a new installed pastor and a time of stability. Developmental tasks which were the work of the congregation and process tasks as the work of the pastor guided this interim time. (These tasks are still helpful in providing leadership focus for congregational leaders.) So the model looked like stability –> interim –> stability.

However, as we all are aware, the rapid pace of change surrounding both church and society questioned our ideals of stability. Just helping congregations examine its ministry and move through an interim time to the call of a new installed pastor no longer seemed to be enough. Our ideas of stability had most likely been becoming more of a fantasy for a longer period of time than we as a church were ready to admit, so this challenged interim ministry in the way we defined it. At the same time the practice of interim ministry by those so engaged was evolving.

Language and correlation in evolving practice both lead and follow one another. The language change to transitional ministry is and was a part of changes in how the situation for congregations is and was changing. One way to illustrate the change is stability/installed leader –> transition –> faithful ministry in a time of change with appropriate leadership.

Like all transitions, language change is only part of the process. We change our language as the way the situation occurs to us changes as at the same time the change in language helps to change how the situation occurs. The next process is to see what needs to change behaviorally so that our performance correlates with how the situation now occurs. This is the fertile ground for new growth and possibility. This is also the place where even though we are using new language if we still perform out of old views of church and ministry conflict both personal and corporate may arise.

As I have embraced, promoted, and sought to grow as a transitional leader, what began in the arena of interim ministry has expanded to a view of all ministry in this ‘season’ as transitional. We are all called to transitional ministry whether as an installed transitional pastor who is a head of staff or associate; transitional leader in a temporary relationship either part time or between installed pastors or mid council or national leadership positions; transitional leader who only leads worship or moderates a session; or _____.  Transitional Ministry Education has not been stagnant and its ever evolving components can be a part of growing leadership abilities. I am also fascinated by the many other areas in which transitional leaders are exploring ways to grow and enhance their leadership. Improvisation, art, dance, worship and liturgy styles, use of buildings and facilities, social media, use of media and technology, and creating networks for study and action.

How do church and future possibilities occur to you?  What language do you use to express how this occurs?

lawserBill Lawser has been a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) for thirty-seven years. Since 1998, Bill has focused on congregational transformation and leadership development, consulting congregations, pastors, and mid councils. He has taught interim ministry training as part of the Transitional Ministry Education Consortium and served as a New Beginnings facilitator. He works with pastors, congregations and governing bodies in sharing his enthusiasm for new possibilities for ministry during times of change.

The Art of Transitional Ministry

by Jan Nolting Carter

Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.

– Saul Bellow (1915–2005)

mosaicMy kids’ school has a wonderful art teacher. In a time where art in so many schools has been diminished or cut out entirely, Cindi invites the kids to try new things and to believe they are each artists. One of my favorite projects my son Seth did was a mosaic. A couple of years ago, he surprised me with it as a birthday present. This month’s NEXT Church blog theme is “The Art of Transitional Ministry.” Ten colleagues and I will offer you a mosaic of perspectives about what it means to be in transition, each a snapshot or a facet of a much greater, God-given mosaic of change, and each written by someone who is an artist — an artist who works with people and systems in the midst of change. Together, we are a mosaic of people and ideas.

Many of us are engaged in intentional transitional ministry, formerly understood as interim ministry, although some of us are not. My friend Stuart Malina offers us words from the art world as the music director of the Harrisburg Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Florida Symphony. Bill Carter offers us the metaphor of jazz for transitional ministry. Helen Blier offers us thoughts on holy listening from her perspective as director of continuing education at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Some of us teach the art of transitional ministry across the country in connection with the Transitional Ministry Consortium (TMEC): Bill Lawser, Libby Rollins, Paul Rhebergen and me. Others are engaged in artful transitional ministry of that invites us to think of different kinds of transition: bi-vocational churches, post-split churches and even personal transition — Beth Scribienski, Cathi King and Robin Curras.

We invite you to join us this month as together we think about the mosaic of The Art of Transitional Ministry.

jancarterJan Nolting Carter serves St. James Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsburg, PA as its Interim Pastor. She has served six transitional positions in the Carlisle Presbytery in varied contexts. In 2016, she joined the Transitional Ministry Education Consortium Faculty on the team teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. For fun, Jan loves sharing hospitality, photography, nature and spending time with her family.

Greatest Hit: Challenges of Membership

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on the challenges of membership is one of our most popular posts on the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource for you.

By Leslie King

membership smallAfter enjoying discussion in August’s Church Leaders Roundtable (2013) regarding church growth, I was asked to expand on experience I had implementing a response to the challenges of membership within a particular Presbyterian church. The particular challenge that we faced was a stagnant demographic (little to no growth), a declining membership base and a desire to grow. The first two realities seemed to make the third impossible.

It was 1994 and the congregation had called me right out of seminary to partner with them in this adaptive challenge. The most pressing concern among the congregation was membership. And as the congregation and I got to know one another, it became apparent and when we imagined membership, we were primarily understanding it as a way to “keep the doors open.” In other words, Christian membership, which may be best understood as the organic and emergent response to Christ, was imagined to be something that elders, deacons, clergy and the existing congregation could orchestrate or “control” in order to get a solvent budget and a full sanctuary. Of course, this best guess sounds obviously faulty to the reader of this blog. But perhaps, our best guess in early 1994 is not too far from underlying assumptions of many congregational redevelopment and new church development models.

Without fully understanding why, I remember feeling a need to be freed from our desperate desire for new members. Our desperation was keeping us anxious. Our desperation was keeping our esteem sub par among our Presbyterian peers and colleagues – not to mention other churches in town. In order to calm our system, I experimented with a new response to the congregation’s lament. When, in the Sunday morning receiving line they would declare,  “We wish more people were here on Sunday mornings,” I would respond by saying, “The crowd that gathers is the perfect crowd, I want no more.” This took us back at first. I was not even sure I believed it. But the phrase was the beginning of our healing. Though the congregation was surprised by the phrase it began to allow freedom from desperation and anxiety. It provided care to our esteem which allowed us the energy to gently build an imperfect but genuine program. (We learned that many church seekers were not looking for perfection, as much as they were looking for a genuine faith community.) Perhaps, most importantly, the phrase helped me, as pastor, to get off the dime and begin the dance of ministry with those gathered. I did not wait for a better circumstance in which to invest my skills and talents.

In the wake of our new response, we enjoyed a surge in energy. The session was a pulse point within that energy surge.  They were in sync with their congregation. In the midst of the energy surge, the session made two important decisions.

They first decided to invest their mission money in their stagnant community. We were not the only ones struggling. We met with our presbytery and asked for the blessing to keep our mission money local to our community. These were hard conversations for us to have with the presbytery, but important. In the end, we decided that we could best serve our presbytery and national church by serving those in our community. If our community did not know the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a reliable and invested group, it seemed unlikely that we would be practicing faithfulness to the itinerant Christ.

Secondly, the session decided to stop examinations for membership. It was an ironic decision since we weren’t hosting more than one a year anyway. This decision was a break with the Book of Order. The break with the Book of Order kept us from pretending that the problem was that “people just didn’t want to come to church.” We began to live the question “Who is it that want to come to this church and what can they teach us?” This allowed a break from the pressure of pretending to know more about the church than our visitors. We participated in the energy of the gospel which remembers people reaching toward and claiming a faith in Christ of their own initiative. We stopped asking people to prove themselves up front. We put our efforts into educating and nurturing them in the Presbyterian way AFTER they joined. The session effectively said to one another “let’s see who claims us,” then we will love and educate those people. We did not publicly display them and demand questions of them in a worship service because it seemed “showy” to them and to us.

The membership model became:

  1. Meet with the pastor to discuss faith and life in the church.
  2. Dine over pie with the session and be received into membership.
  3. Find leadership positions/involvement positions for those individuals right away.
  4. The pulpit and Christian education environments were encouraged as ways to learn more about faith and denomination.

The results were mixed. Some became people who could talk the Presbyterian talk and others were more connected with the local congregation than the denomination. (Though these results seem to be prominent in every church, even those with rigorous membership requirements.)

Over the years, worship attendance expanded from 30 or so worshippers to as many as 120 on an average Sunday. In all that time, we completed our year-end statistical reports. And every year, we wondered if we had been faithful in our understanding of membership and the adjustments we had made in order to be a congregation who might expand. Years later, I would read the book The Unfinished Church by Bernard Prusak. The book provided me a comfort that I have received no place else but the gospel regarding an expanding community. In it, Prusak notes,

The emerging Church did not stress unchangeability or a fixity of structures . . . To the contrary, it was still open-ended, and had to be.  Jesus had chosen the Twelve and had left an emphasis on service or “pro-existence” but did not otherwise predetermine the development of his community.  (56)

After serving in her first call at First Presbyterian Church of Osawatomie, Kansas, Leslie King is currently pastor of First Presbyterian of Waco Texas.  She is happily a wife and mother. Leslie is on the NEXT Church Advisory Team.


Looking for more? Check out these resources on church growth and new members:

Tracking Energy Savings with Portfolio Manager

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter! Read more

Wherefore Robert’s Rules of Order?

Each month we assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, we’re curating a conversation around governance and connection. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here. If you like what you read, subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right sidebar) and receive an email when there is a new blog article. 


By Michael D. Kirby

Roberts Rules are best you know, for the Bible tells us so.

Thankfully those are NOT the words to a Presbyterian verse of “Jesus Loves Me,” but sometimes one might wonder. As Presbyterians of every stripe prepare to gather in Detroit this week for the 221st General Assembly, many are having to pull out, or download, their latest version of Robert’s Rules of Order, the ancient, yet-oft-revised (11th Edition) bible of parliamentary procedure not just for the PC(USA), but also for thousands of other organizations, from the the Evangelical Lutheran Church to the local Eastern Star chapter to Toastmasters to many chambers of commerce.

The purpose of Robert’s Rules is very simple. It’s right there in the definition on the first page of most of the recent edition: “a set of rules for conduct at meetings, that allows everyone to be heard and to make decisions without confusion.” Many religious organizations adopt Roberts Rules because we heed the Biblical instruction that Paul gives to the early church at Corinth,“let all things be done decently, and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:40. (Yes, it’s Biblical!)

For many, Roberts Rules, and indeed any rules of Parliamentary procedure, are seen as obstacles to the movement of the Spirit because they impose a seemingly burdensome structure on the actions of a body. The goal of the Rules is not burdensomeness, but exactly the opposite, to allow for work to be done efficiently yet fairly, and to help prevent business meetings with a multitude of opinions from devolving into chaos.

At their core, Robert’s Rules are designed to even the playing field in the work of organizations, large or small, by creating a set of ground rules for how business is to be conducted, namely by motion (a proposal is presented by a person or committee), perfection (the body makes changes that the majority believes will make the motion more effective/efficient), debate (proponents and opponents express their views and suggest a desired outcome) and vote.

The beauty of this system is that, ideally, anyone with voice who so desires can speak, (subject to restrictions on available time and relevance); any participant can bring motions, or seek to modify existing motions (subject to various agreed rules regarding timing, relevance and other procedural safeguards); any participant gets the same vote as any other (subject to rules about advisory voters). The system is designed, ideally, to prevent anyone from being silenced and to protect against the use of process to prevent fair consideration of the matters before the body.

Ironically, therein lies one of the great problems that many have had with Roberts Rules over the years. Ask anyone who has been a General Assembly commissioner or anyone who has been a parliamentarian in any organization and they will be able to recall a time when they felt someone was trying to use “loopholes” or their superior knowledge of the rules to subvert debate or prevent certain items from coming up for a vote on merits. In other words, the main problem that many people have with Robert’s Rules is we don’t trust people are using the rules fairly or that leaders are fairly interpreting and applying those rules.

The bad news is that Roberts can’t create trust where it doesn’t exist. The good news is that Roberts anticipates situations where trust is threadbare, and seeks through transparency, minimal structure and discretion given to moderators and parliamentarians, to craft a framework that can serve, like a walking cast on a broken foot, to allow the system to function, and through the work that is accomplished to provide space for trust to be renewed and to grow.

We must always remember that Roberts is a tool, and just a tool, not holy writ. Like any tool, knowledge as to its use is essential to effectiveness AND to group cohesion. Like a car, a power drill, or an axe, Roberts is a tool that can cause more than a little damage if misused or used without adequate knowledge or experience. Those conducting business need to know the basics of how it works, both to trust its use and understand what is happening or how to make something happen. The Roberts folks have made those basics available for you online. If you will be following the work of the Assembly or any committee in person or online, you will want to make a quick review of those basics.

In his book “Great Boards for Small Groups,” Andy Robinson suggests that in smaller groups, where trust is strong, the “consensus model” for decision-making is less stressful and more effective. The structure he proposes (1. Idea, 2. Discussion, 3. Modification, 4. Discernment if consensus is developing, and 5. Respond to dissenters with further discussion and modification until unanimity is achieved) is essentially a restatement of the steps used in Roberts, with discussion preceding “perfection.” The key difference is the headless character of the model, where there is no formal structure and no single decision-making moderator.

As we move forward as a connectional people, only we can decide if the groups we are a part of can live in the freedom of the consensus model. In the meantime, Roberts can be an effective tool to maintain order, foster trust and get difficult things done “decently and in order.”


299535_10150311824339581_958859489_nMichael D. Kirby is a teaching elder and serves as pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He will be attending the 221st General Assembly as an overture advocate from the Presbytery of Chicago.

Why Church Boards Need to Die

Each month we assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, we’re curating a conversation around governance and connection. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here. If you like what you read, subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right sidebar) and receive an email when there is a new blog article. 

By Bill Habicht

visionI’m sure I just spoke devil words up in here.

Have the church board disappear?


My own church board members are probably scratching their heads by now.  “Does he really mean that?”  Well, yes and no.

Look.  The reality is that the iteration of church we know and love today is slowly fading away into oblivion.  We read the data.  We can see the churches closing left and right.

This past week from the PC(USA) regarding membership numbers

Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination… But the numbers also illustrate fewer losses than the previous year.

 Everybody put your hands in the air, say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!???  Fewer losses.  Awesome.

Now, I don’t want to spend all my time re-hashing what’s been discussed ad nauseam regarding the state of the church.  So, I’ll just use a picture to sum it up.

There.  Now that that’s out of the way, we don’t have to dwell on dismal numbers anymore.

I also don’t want to spend my time positing more theology or theories about where the church is or should be going.  I’ll leave that for the theologians out there.

I’m more of a pragmatist.  I’m interested in the actual steps, experimental steps if need be, that might help us move toward a new expression of Christianity as Jesus followers.

So over the next little while I want to explore actionable ideas (and I hope you chime in and add your own!) that might help us move in paradigmatically different ways.  It may be uncomfortable for some who are steeped in tradition, but discomfort isn’t always a bad thing, right?.  So here we go.

In my mind, it all begins with church boards.

Church Boards Need to Disappear!

And by disappear, I mean step to the side for a while and allow another group to take the lead (at least that’s what it will feel like).

What I’d like to propose is that the church adopt a bicameral system; not of Deacons and Elders, but of Present Church (the traditional board) and Future Church (a future-oriented board).  Both on equal footing, both equally valued, both receiving funding they oversee, but each with very different foci.  It isn’t earth shattering, but it might just provide enough space for something paradigmatically different to arise from the established church.

Whether we want to admit it or not, established church boards operate within a certain predefined framework; a framework that is structured to serve the needs and spiritual yearnings of those present.  Here’s what I know about church boards:

1.  Church boards generally serve in a management capacity.

Though visioning is also a part of their duties, church boards primarily manage and troubleshoot.  There’s simply too much on their plates to allow for creative, long-term, outside-the-box visioning.  They are often consumed with putting out the fires, hearing reports from committees, ensuring quality care of the congregation and deepening their relationship with God and one another.  It is largely a ministry of management and dealing with the issues of the hear and now.

2.  Church boards are largely comprised of Shepherds not Entrepreneurs.

Because church boards are largely consumed with management tasks and caring for the congregation, they’re often comprised of leaders who can resource and support the tasks at hand.  Makes sense to me.

They generally want their leaders, including pastors, to be Shepherds.  Let’s be honest here… they want leaders who can deepen the group, not innovate.  They want to be cared for and loved and nurtured, and they want to share that love and nurturing with the congregation.

All good things, mind you, but it doesn’t exactly create a space that invites bold ideas and challenges to the status quo.  (If you’re an entrepreneurial leader, this might explain why you often feel like the oddball at board meetings).

Pastor and blogger Carey Nieuwhof drove this home for me in Why We Need More Entrepreneurial Church Leaders, Not More Shepherds (a MUST READ post btw),

The church today is flooded with leaders who fit the Shepherd model, caring for people who are already assembled, managing what’s been built and helping to meet people’s needs. Conventional seminaries are mostly addicted to producing Shepherds.  But we have far too few leaders who have the spiritual gift of apostleship (entrepreneurship). I believe this helps explain the malaise in much of the Western church in which the vast majority of churches are plateaued or declining.

Church boards are really built for Shepherds, not Entrepreneurs. Yet Entrepreneurs are the key, missing component for the Future Church.  That might be taking things a little far, cause God will no doubt work in amazing ways.  But you get my point.

3.  Church boards are largely comprised of folks who like church as it is.

Which makes logical sense sense….if board members didn’t like the church as it is, then why in world would they be there in the first place?

This, of course, puts the church board in a difficult position when it comes to dreaming up new expressions of what it could be.  It’s difficult, even when you know it might be necessary, to let go of what you love and what’s familiar to risk for future generations.  That’s not a blame thing.  It’s just human nature.

Churches across the country run up against this every day.  “Yes, we know we need to change, but…”  More often than not, the “but” is the deal breaker.

4.  Church boards are homogeneous.

Every person on the board is officially a “church member,” at least in the PC(USA)… which kinda sours things for those who’ve been attending a church for 20 years but never officially joined for whatever reason.

Beyond the whole “you need to be a church member” thing, there’s often unwritten rules in place that undermine diversity.

Oh, she can’t be on the board.  She hasn’t served on a committee yet.


I like him.  It’s just that he’s new and doesn’t understand the culture and how things work around here.

OR my favorite

That type of person will be disruptive.

Even churches committed to diversity have unwritten rules like these that preclude new perspectives from entering the inner circle (and I’m not talking about worship times here folks).

These unwritten rules exist in every church and are almost always developed with the best of intentions, but they do have a shadow side.

5.  Church boards are stuck.

Church boards know this, right?  They know that something drastic needs to change, but they just don’t know where to go or how to do it.  Often it’s not for lack of will, but lack of knowledge.  Yup, that probably includes all of us.  No one really knows what the future church will look like.  All we know is that what we’re doing now ain’t gonna cut it.  So, church boards rub up against what they desire and what they’re equipped and have time to do.

Churches also like to operate with a pretty high level of certainty, which can’t be assured when talking about the future church.  So, the default is to hunker down in defense mode and get stuck, wishing for a magic solution that doesn’t involve risk or money.

Here’s the thing…

The problem isn’t that church boards are doing things wrong.

They serve a very important function, which is to care for the present community.  And they have excelled at this for generations (and will continue do so), which is no small feat if you think about it. (Check out this article for some great lessons on longevity that businesses can learn from the church).

The problem is that church boards aren’t really equipped or have time to envision a new expression of church for those not yet here… for all the reasons outlined above.

To move the church forward, we might need a different sort of group

We might need a group, a Future Church Board, comprised (at least in part) of

  1. Visionaries & Matrix Thinkers
  2. Entrepreneurs
  3. Outsiders
  4. Linkers and
  5. Champions

The foci of this board is not on managing and caring for the present church, but on exploring options for the future church and experimenting, experimenting, experimenting.  And, in all honesty, I think that a Future Church board would need to be on equal footing with a Present Church board.  Otherwise, the hunker down position will prevail when “those crazy ideas” start a comin’.

We’ll delve more into a possible composition, as well as foci, for a Future Church board in Part II of this series.  For now, I want to hear your thoughts.

What do you think?  What structural changes could you imagine that would truly break-open the church when it comes to the church board?

Bill Habicht is associate pastor of Davis Community Church in Davis, CA. He is a contributing blogger at Pedestrian People, where this post was first shared.

photo credit: DaveLawler via photopin cc

Creating Tension is a Pastoral Skill

By Andrew Foster Connors

tension copy“Madame Mayor,” I said, opening the meeting as our group of leaders had planned, “we’re here today because we are disappointed in your lack of leadership.  You’ve told us you were going to double the number of jobs for youth and that hasn’t happened.  You said you would double funding for afterschool funding and that hasn’t happened.  And you’re closing rec centers after we agreed that Baltimore’s youth need more recreation, not less.  When you were elected you made a promise that you would be the Mayor for opportunities for youth.  We’ve come here today to see whether we can count on you to make good on your promises.”

Tension.  All community organizing expects tension at some point in time. Sometimes we introduce it intentionally.  We “agitate” leaders to produce a reaction.

Yet within the congregation, most of us are reluctant to introduce tension.  Some of us see introducing tension as inconsistent with pastoral ethics or approach.

Many of us in the pastorate either grew up in systems that trained us to smooth over tension, or were intentionally trained that reducing tension is part of our job description. Our comfort with tension has been further eroded by the qualities of tension that we have witnessed within our denomination and within our political environment that we have experienced as tension leading to the destruction of relationships rather than in the deepening of them.

And yet, even a novice student of the Jesus Way would recognize early on how much tension there is in the Gospels.  Anytime Jesus comes around, someone is likely to be challenged.  In any church that finds itself “stuck,” or leans toward a status quo that has or will endanger its ability to adjust to changing circumstances, tension is the fire that we light to get people moving.  Those of us who have completed Clinical Pastoral Education often report learning the most from the supervisor who asked the question that seemed too “impolite” or “aggressive” to ask.  “The patient said she was afraid of dying and you responded by asking her if she was enjoying the food. Why did you ask that question? Are you afraid of hearing her fears?”

We should expect tension in our communities and learn how to face it with more confidence.  In fact, we should learn how to introduce it in constructive ways that shift the burden and the opportunity of leadership off the pastor(s) and onto more leaders and potential leaders in the congregation.

Pastors who want to become leaders within and beyond their congregations can start by practicing creative tension in their own backyard.  Take one example – someone comes to you and says they are disappointed with the lack of small group ministry in your church.  In their previous church, they say, there were all kinds of small groups that were active.

Pastors afraid of tension are likely to react in a couple of predictable ways.  We might react as if this is our responsibility: “I really need to do something about the lack of small groups.  I need to work harder on this!”  Or we might react defensively: “Well, sorry, but this is not your former church, and we don’t have the resources for a small group ministry.” Both responses deprive the person of the possibility to grow as a leader.  They deprive the community of the potential gifts that arise as a result of this leader’s passion and willingness to act on that passion.

A pastor who is comfortable with tension, after listening well, might respond with all sorts of questions that preserve tension rather than dissipating it: “Have you talked with others who share your concern? Would you be willing to? Is this important enough to you that you would be willing to lead such a group or to recruit others to do so? How could I support you in that effort?” By placing some of the tension for the lack of small groups back on the person who first noticed it, the pastor gives that person the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership potential, and prevents the pastor from inadvertently becoming the fix-it person for everything that’s wrong with the church.

Of course, that person might not be a leader and might not be interested in becoming one.  But we’ll never know unless we’re willing to test them out.  Every pastor who introduces tension must be prepared to receive at least as much as she gives.  But this is a good thing.  Imagine the leader who returns to you and says, “I want to start three new small groups. I’m willing to recruit those leaders if you’re willing to train all of us.” Or imagine the mayor who responds to the tension our organization introduced into the room by coming back with, “I’m prepared to double afterschool funding, but I need you to meet with these five council people and pressure them to vote for my budget.”

Such leadership expands the involvement of all involved, asks more from everybody, and when directed by prayerful discernment, delivers more for the kingdom of God.

Admittedly this kind of agitation is an art, not a science.  Tension is only as effective as the strength of the relationships that bear it.  There is a fine line between effective agitation that challenges people to act in ways that are consistent with what they say is important to them, and irritation that poisons relationships unnecessarily.  But while irritation is never a good thing, neither is a boring church that never expects anything of its own members.  The best way to learn how to navigate tension is to practice it, evaluate it, and try again.

AFCAndrew Foster Connors is the pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD. He is co-chair of the NEXT Church Strategy Team and co-chair of the IAF community organization, BUILD.