Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating a series on officer training. We’ll hear from various perspectives about how churches might best equip those they call to the ministry of ruling elder for that service. How might we feed, encourage, and enable the imagination of our church officers? How can we balance the role of officers as discerners of the Spirit alongside church polity? How might we all learn how to fail — and learn from it? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Melodie Jones-Pointon
I first felt the call to professional ministry in the church when I was 21 years old. At the time, I made a “deal” with God: I would go anywhere God called (almost). I imagined this deal with God would lead me to ministry in Hawaii. But that has not yet been the case. So far, my calls have led me from my hometown in Idaho to Washington State, from Arkansas to New Jersey, from Michigan to Mississippi. Currently I call Lincoln, Nebraska my home.
In the Presbyterian call system, church professionals are often called far from home to lead in congregations and communities that have unique cultures. Discovering those cultures and naming them help us navigate those cultures in ways that make our leadership connected and effective.
Here are three insights I have gleaned over the years:1
If you want to know how something really functions, ask the custodian. Okay, so my current church has a professional cleaning company, so this doesn’t always work. I would happily insert the office manager, administrative assistant, or maintenance/security personnel in this spot. The larger point is that oftentimes the pastor and leadership aren’t around for some of the important happenings at the church.
Here’s the truth – as the senior pastor, I love to rattle off the list of things we support and believe in at the church. I am proud that we currently are a meeting site for AA and Girl Scouts, non-profit board meetings and senior citizen groups. I read the calendar every week and am thrilled at how we are growing into using our building better. It’s my job to look at the big picture.
But I don’t always know what is really happening. I recently learned that our new AA meeting is growing quickly in number and that our food pantry is hosting their first volunteer staff and client picnic where they anticipate at least 40 people. I learned this because our office manager brought up details for set up at a staff meeting so she could pass these details on to our maintenance staff.
Sometimes the most important conversations and decisions are made outside of the committee meeting. I learned this in my second call, in a small town in Mississippi. I found myself frustrated that I would sit at committee meetings where items were discussed, decisions made, and then changed later in the week.
I started paying attention, and discovered that the most important discussions in the community took place at the ball field and the grocery store parking lot. That particular congregation and community was (and is) relationship-driven. So they couldn’t make decisions without those conversations. In other areas of the country, the Catholic or Lutheran church has been a large community influence, and committees would never make a decision outside of a meeting with a pastor present. These are issues of culture and influence that affect how we lead.
Cultures aren’t “one-size fits all.” I am often asked how I like my current call and current city. The truth is, I love it. And I know why. It’s a growing larger-sized farming community with an emphasis on higher education. It is very similar to my home congregation and community. I’m comfortable here because I understand the culture.
But it’s just a culture. There’s no one ultimate right or wrong way to run a church. In today’s culture of change, it’s important for us to focus on the vision and mission of our congregation and community. As new people move into the community, they bring different experiences and ideas that are valuable. Don’t let the established culture run them off! Pay attention to it, be able to name it, and learn to either work within it (if it works) or change it (if it’s toxic).
For further reading and reference, see the works of Eric H.F. Law, Nancy Tatom Ammerman, and Israel Galindo.
1 These are in chronological order of discovery, not in order of importance.
Growing up in Idaho, Melodie has always had a great love for Christ and for the church. Melodie received her Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Seminary in May 2017 and has served at Presbyterian churches in Idaho, Washington State, Arkansas, New Jersey, Michigan, Mississippi, and finally here in Nebraska! Her pastor husband, Steve, is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and together they have two children, Phoebe and Eli, and a 4-legged friend named Pebbles.