Thanks to Doug Brown and Carla Pratt Keyes for this liturgy for the first Sunday of Christmas.
I think it’s very important to regularly develop mutual expectations for a pastor’s top priorities. To do that you need to try to figure out what congregational members expect, but most importantly, clarify what board members expect of you and each other. How varied are the expectations? And how realistic? Are there common wishes, hopes, and needs?
Many pastors get into difficulty because they don’t take time to have a good conversation with leaders about mutual expectations and top priorities. Pastors blissfully follow their particular interests, ignoring what key leaders think is really important. If you don’t take time to clarify expectations, then you are bound to disappoint a number of key members. They will then lose trust in their pastor. Conversely, when the board and pastor are clear on priorities and communicate the priorities to the congregation and the pastor spends time and energy in accordance with these priorities, then trust will build. You will be seen as a leader who both has strong character and is competent.
So, how do you clarify expectations? Here is an approach to clarifying priorities I have used for clients and for myself. It is best done in a half-day retreat or meeting involving both board members and other key leaders. You might invite a coach or consultant or judicatory staff member to lead the retreat. (this is adapted from my nearly completed book aimed at pastors new to a parish so it is written directly to pastors)
1. Open with prayer and a trust building exercise. (15 minutes)
2. Ask participants to individually list what they expect you to do and to note roughly how many hours/week they expect you to spend on that task. You might give them your job description or what was developed in the pastor search process or a denominational list of pastoral responsibilities. (5 minutes)
3. Quickly compile the results and estimate the total number of hours per week their expectations would require you to work. When I’ve done this, the total hours often top 100! (5 minutes)
4. Discuss what you see in their list, and then invite them to describe what they see. Note similarities and variations in their expectations. (10 minutes)
5. List 10 to 15 responsibilities, each on a separate sheet of 11″x17″ paper, and tape these on a wall. I suggest that you prepare around 8 to 12 sheets in advance identifying typical expectations (for example, sermon and worship preparation, leadership, teaching an adult Bible class, evangelism). Also add expectations that were on the congregational profile that was prepared for the pastor search process and any you heard several identify as you interviewed leaders using the Eleven Curious Questions. Invite the leaders to add other expectations to the sheets on the wall. Post them too. Invite participants to reflect on the array of expectations before them. Invite questions for clarification about the meaning of specific expectations. I encourage you to limit the sheets on the wall to no more than 15. Be sure to summarize and combine expectations that are similar. It’s better to post one sheet saying “sermon and worship preparation” than two sheets with “sermon preparation” on one and “worship planning and preparation” on the other.(20 minutes)
6. Instruct the participants to each indicate what they think the top six priorities should be for you in your first year by writing their name on six of these sheets. I suggest that you tell them that after they make their selections, they may take a ten-minute break.
7. In the total group, review the voting and identify the top four to six priorities, and have a conversation about why these are most important. If the congregation did a mission/vision study during its search process or has done one recently, reflect on how study findings correlate with the priorities the board just identified. Discuss what these top priorities likely mean you will and won’t do in the next year (recognizing that surprises always happen). Invite conversation about how board members will respond when members complain about something they think you should be doing.
For example, Mr. Jones may have expected you to visit his home-bound wife monthly, but the board and you agree that quarterly visits are sufficient, since other members are visiting her. Instead of visiting home-bound persons so frequently, you and the board have agreed that, in an effort to welcome newcomers, you will visit every newcomer to worship. Or perhaps you and the board determine that you should spend eight hours a week with musicians and a contemporary worship planning team to begin a new service or strengthen an existing one. Most important, you and board members agree that if members complain that you haven’t met their expectations and in fact you have been meeting these mutually agreed expectations, the board supports your focus and use of time. (30 minutes)
8. Discuss how your focusing on these priorities directly affects how you will work with leaders and various committees. For example, previous pastors may have been expected to attend every committee meeting. These priorities might mean that you won’t normally attend the property committee meeting but that the chair of the committee will talk with you about plans and any issues they are dealing with. Perhaps you and they will explore having an all committee evening at which you will attend portions of the meetings as necessary. If there has been staff dissension and the board wants you to spend significant time strengthening staff relationships, then you might not have time to teach an adult class, and so the education committee will have to arrange for someone else to teach that class. Take time to be clear about what you expect of each other. (20 minutes)
9. Clarify how achieving these top priorities will be measured. For example, if you are fairly new to the congregation, board members and you might agree that the most important thing is for you to talk with most of the church members as soon as possible. Together you might set a goal that by the end of your first year, you will have had conversations with 75 percent of the active members. (20 minutes)
10. Request that the board pass a motion naming these priorities and that the appropriate lay leaders communicate these priorities to the congregation through varied media (e.g., newsletter, email, oral announcement). Also request that the Personnel Committee adapt its appraisal instrument to reflect these priorities. If you take time to develop mutual expectations with the board and communicate these priorities clearly, then members know what to expect, thus building trust as you meet the expectations.
Robert A. (Bob) Harris is a semi-retired pastor now serving as a leadership coach and consultant. Over his career he was called pastor in five congregations; he also served four churches as Interim Pastor. A Professional Certified Coach member of the International Coach Federation, he is especially interested in helping pastors who are new to their church get off to a good start. An outcome of that passion is a book due to be published by Alban Institute: Entering Wonderland: Tips and Tools for Pastors New to a Congregation. This article is adapted from his current draft.
“The first day of the new lectionary, on kick-off Sunday, we’re supposed to read the creation story. All seven days.” Cue internal pastoral eye-rolling. Haven’t I preached all the available sermons on the seven days of creation? With a word…separates…makes order…science and religion… Enter Holy Spirit. “What if, instead of the same creation sermon we’ve all heard, we create something together? Like, if we enacted the creation by making a creation?” And so the idea was born: to create, as a congregation, a visual representation of the seven days of creation, and to display that artwork in our worship space for the whole program year. It took a bit of convincing to remind the worship committee that it didn’t have to be permanent or perfect artwork—what mattered was that we made it together and that it conveyed an ongoing message of God’s creative work in community.
One person measured each space (because of course they aren’t uniform, nor are they perfectly square). We asked a couple of people to help draw. We bought foam core and cut/taped it to the right size for each space (they’re all 23” tall, and range from 40-7/8” to 42.75” long), and handed the panels out to artists. Each artist was assigned a day and asked to read the relevant verses and pray about the best way to visually represent that creation in a relatively simple design. The artists drew in pencil, then labeled each section with a color, so that ultimately it was like a “mosaic by number.”
A trip to the craft store for 12×12 scrapbook paper in every color we needed (mostly patterns and varieties of the same shade, so the final product would look textured without any actual three dimensional work on our part), a couple of hours at the paper cutter turning 150 sheets of paper into thousands of 1-inch squares, and we were ready to go. Each panel went onto a table laid across the pews, surrounded by labeled bowls of paper squares. Then the hardest work began: two of us spent hours filling in what I call “the fussy parts”—any segment of the design that couldn’t be easily done with 1” squares. We cut pointy pieces, wavy pieces, round pieces, and glued them into the design so that each panel had a start. This ultimately meant doing all of panel 1, because the design I had drawn was beautiful but entirely impractical. However, that did give a wonderful visual example for what we hoped they would all look like in the end.
Sunday morning, ten minutes before worship, we sprayed each panel with a heavy dose of spray adhesive, which turned them into huge sticky notes by the middle of worship. During the children’s time, we talked about how the very first thing we learn about God is that God is creator, and the end of the story says that human beings are created in the image of God—so to say “I’m not creative” is to say “I’m not made in the image of God!” Since we know that every person is made in God’s image, that must mean that everyone has a bit of the creative spirit in them, and today we are letting that spirit flow. I gave the instructions to the kids: where it says yellow, stick on yellow squares. Where it says dark, stick on dark squares. etc.
They continued to work while the scripture was read, and then it was the time when normally I would preach for 12 minutes. Instead, I invited everyone in the sanctuary to join together as the body of Christ, also created in the image of a Creator God, in making a message together. I explained that when the panels were finished, they would make a mural we could see every week, reminding us to take God’s creative work with us into the world (they are at the back of the sanctuary). I talked about the importance of opening our minds, hearts, and bodies to encountering God in new ways, and that creating together was one important way we could become aware of the Holy Spirit in our midst. And then we made mosaics together for about 15 minutes.
At the end of 15 minutes, I mentioned a couple of interesting things about the interplay of the text and the experience—that the Hebrew words “tohu-va-bohu” implied an uncontrollable chaos, not unlike 75 people milling around a sanctuary, but that out of that chaos came something that God called good over and over and over. I mentioned that the poetry of the creation story repeats “and God said…and it was so” and that this is something we can remember whenever we look at these mosaics: that with a word, God created, and that we enacted that word and created something too.
After worship, I stayed for a couple of hours and mod-podged all the panels. On Monday afternoon, I sprayed them with a sealant. On Tuesday afternoon I flipped them over and super-glued some ribbons on the back of each panel, and laid all 12 volumes of the New Interpreter’s Bible on them to ensure they were as flat as possible. On Thursday afternoon I installed them, tying them to the grate in the balcony railing. And on Sunday morning, one week after they were created, the whole congregation was admiring and remembering and pledging to let the spirit of creativity flourish in our space and in our lives. The behind-the-scenes work was much more time consuming than I originally anticipated, but the experience of creating an ongoing message together is one I wouldn’t trade for all those hours spent cutting and gluing. The Spirit was speaking not only to the church, but through the church. Out of chaos, it was good. The seven panels:
Teri Peterson is a Presbyterian pastor in the suburbs of Chicago. She holds a degree in clarinet performance from DePaul University and an MDiv from Columbia Theological Seminary. She enjoys exploring new cities, being a bit of a music snob, writing, and coming up with creative ideas for worship. Teri co-authored Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation (Chalice 2013), co-founded and contributes to Liturgy Link, as well as her own blog, CleverTitleHere, and is a contributing author to the Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014 and 2015. Teri is a great lover of farmer’s markets, reading, Doctor Who, snuggling with kitties, and any TV show made by Joss Whedon.
Brownson, James V. et al: Storm Front: The Good News of God. Eerdmans 2003
Butler Bass, Diana: Christianity After Religion. Harper One 2012
Hudson, Jill M.: When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century Church. Alban 2004
Kitchens, Jim: The Postmodern Parish: New Ministry for a New Era. Alban 2003
Mancini, Will: Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement. Jossey-Bass 2008
Merritt, Carol Howard: Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. Alban 2010
Rendle, Gil: The Multigenerational Congregation: Meeting the Leadership Challenge. Alban 2002
Whitsett, Landon: Open Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of All. Alban 2011
Taking a cue from Stacy Johnson (Dallas 2012), MaryAnn begins to reimagine the gospel through the lens of improv. She traces the “rules” of improv and notes the ways in which church communities might begin to live by these rules of engagement.
MaryAnn is pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, VA and a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Team. This keynote presentation was given at the Rochester, NY regional gathering on November 5, 2012.
Just as yeast makes space for the bread to rise, the work of the kingdom is making space for others. Listen to Esta’s sermon reflection on ministry in Western North Carolina.
Esta is pastor of Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, NC and part of the For Such a Time as This program of the PC(USA). This sermon was given at the Durham regional gathering on August 18, 2012.
Amanda Diekman leads a panel of the “heroes” of the Durham Church community: Angel (from Immanuel Church), Angie (Worship leader), and Charlene (Durham Church member and candidate for ministry). They share poignant reflections on the joy and difficulty of being a multi-racial, multi-ethnic community.
Amanda is the Co-Pastor of Durham Church in Durham, NC. This testimony panel took place on August 18, 2012, at the Durham, NC regional gathering.
Franklin Golden tells the story of the Gospel exploding in the creative and reconciling work of creating community out of three distinct, yet unified, worshipping communities.
Franklin is the Co-Pastor of Durham Church in Durham, NC. This testimony was given at the Durham, NC regional gathering on August 18, 2012.
Using the image of wilderness, Lori reflects on the difficulties of living in community at the regional gathering in Durham on August 18, 2012.
Lori is the Associate Pastor of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.