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Love and Truth-Telling

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. The majority of blog posts this month will share stories from church leaders who participated in a pilot coaching cohort in 2017. They will share the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Beth Goss

I’m a second career pastor who spent my first career in public accounting with a large firm that had clients and business relationships around the world. It was a twelve-year heady immersion into business practices and culture and a marvelous experience for me. I learned a lot about myself as well as about the way large organizations do business — successfully and unsuccessfully. So when I began following a call to ordained pastoral ministry, I kept thinking about business practices and the way our peculiar Reformed tribe’s heritage has influenced our own structural (infra-structural) ways — the business of church.

Churches in North America often look to the successful business practices found in modern Western corporations with a mixture of admiration and skepticism. Our own Presbyterian heritage has put us in close parallel to the development of capitalist corporations and their best management practices. This is partly because the power and leadership in mainline denominations have often overlapped with the leadership in those same corporations. Think of the famous Presbyterian business people you know: Andrew Carnegie, Ross Perot, Sam Walton — all of whom had significant influence in the church at one time or another. Yet Presbyterians remain suspicious of worldly success. Not infrequently do I encounter a voiced objection to adopting business best practices into church management. “We’re a church and we shouldn’t do things the way businesses do,” is the way it’s stated. Because I have seen them up close and personal, I have similar reservations about corporate personnel policies, designed first and foremost to protect corporate objectives: making money for shareholders, sometimes sacrificing employees in the process.

So when I found myself as a solo pastor in a small church, I was in the same conflicted state. Best practices in business don’t translate easily into church settings. My dilemma was how to handle an employee whose behavior had become more and more difficult over a long tenure that preceded mine. For a variety of reasons, the prior pastor and leaders had not taken steps to address it. For at least seven years, I had not taken definite steps, either. The employee was growing less and less effective in the position, partly as a result of age, and partly as a result of failing to keep current in their field of expertise. The person had also seemed unaware of their own declining ability to do the job.

After several years of poor evaluations, and several offers for honorable retirement, the person had steadfastly refused to step down, and instead engaged parishioners (not involved in the process of personnel evaluation) in conversations about how “the powers that be” were poor judges and “out to get me” because there was “no decline in my abilities.” Not surprisingly, that behavior created a lot of distress both for the employee and the church leadership who could see what was happening, to say nothing of those church members who were unaware of the full picture. Those of us in leadership put off confronting the situation, instead hoping that the employee would eventually step down. We felt it was the loving thing to do.

Finally, it became clear to me that the situation could no longer be ignored. This happened about the same time I found an opportunity to participate in peer group coaching. My colleagues in the group gave me the opportunity to share my frustrations and clarify my own leadership role in the quandary: How could church leaders and I behave in such a way that the employee’s own distress could be acknowledged and dealt with in love, and, at the same time, fill a critical position on the church staff with a person who could do the job we feel needs to be done in this moment in the life of the church? The church had been trapped by a picture of ourselves as “loving,” thinking that failing to tell the truth — to either the employee or ourselves — was the way to express that love.

What we needed to learn was that there are spiritually healthy ways for churches to relate to employees that don’t undercut our values as a community of faith. Sometimes these ways are remarkably similar to business best practices. Truth-telling has to be part of it. We had to acknowledge our own failure to be honest and forthright about past employee evaluations, and we had to admit we had not been clear about employee expectations. We have taken steps remedy both, and put in process a way to fill the position. “What would Jesus do?” is still a valid question and an aspiration. Our read of the gospel helps us see that love and accountability are not mutually exclusive. Jesus actually practiced both all the time. And we’re trying to as well.


Beth Goss is pastor of Church of the Covenant in Arlington, VA.

Continually Growing

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Tanner Pickett and Elizabeth Link are curating a series that will reflect experiences of those in the beginnings of their ministry, particularly through the lens of Trent@Montreat. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear reflections from past and future participants, track leaders, and members of the leadership team of Trent@Montreat. We hope these stories will encourage you along your journey – and maybe encourage you to join us next April! We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!

by Andrew Whaley

“They didn’t teach us that in seminary!” How many times have pastors shared this phrase when relating the beautiful and confusing and frustrating stories of ministry? The truth is, though, that there is no way three years of study can help us to gain even rudimentary exposure to the biblical knowledge, theological skill, questions of pastoral presence, and leadership ability needed to navigate this lifelong calling. In fact, most of those experiences that seminary did not train us for are only learned in the daily practice of ministry in the Church.

Photo from Raleigh Court Presbyterian Facebook page

In August of 2015, I accepted a head of staff position at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. I told the Pastor Nominating Committee during our season of discernment that managing a church staff and daily church administration was the area in which I would need to grow the most.

I was incredibly grateful, then, to learn about the Trent@Montreat conference that I attended in April of that year. Trent@Monteat is a unique conference where participants can sign up for a particular “track” that explores a specific area of practical ministry while participating in worship and social times as a large group. I was overjoyed to learn that one of the tracks for the 2016 conference was titled, “Staff as a Gift Instead of a Headache.”

In sessions with several others pastors who found themselves in similar situations, we met with the Rev. Millie Snyder, the Executive Pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Millie led us in team building exercises we could use with our own church staffs. She walked through how you could lead weekly meetings, conduct regular evaluations, organize requests for vacation time, write job descriptions, observe appropriate boundaries, schedule ministry, and go through hiring processes. She sent us links to particular documents that she uses in her ministry for things like scheduling vacations and policies around personnel issues.
Millie then welcomed our questions, and she and the group helped us to develop strategies to address particular challenges in our congregations. Then, after we had been back in our contexts for a month, she e-mailed the group to follow up and see where we were in our plans.

Having these resources, peers, and an experienced leader is such an asset as I navigate these questions for the first time! Learning in this way is essential to our continual growth as pastors in congregations, and learning experiences like Trent@Montreat are most appropriately offered to us once we have completed our formal theological education. Without the practical experience and the frequent feelings of failure and inadequacy that regularly accompany days in pastoral ministry, lessons about team-building and staff management are hollow. You cannot manufacture these experiences in a classroom or in an internship. They must be learned by necessity and because we are continually called to grow.

Our continual growth in the practice of ministry is one of the ways we live out our sanctification, a theological concept that we do learn in seminary. The Holy Spirit is continually calling us to into deeper faithfulness, not complacency. We need peers who push us beyond ourselves to realize God’s call on our life, mentors and coaches who can give us practical tools to utilize in our ministry, and ongoing opportunities for learning so that the Church might continue to become the fully-functioning Body of Christ.


Andrew C. Whaley is the pastor and head of staff at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, he is a graduate of Rhodes College where he double majored in theatre and religious studies. In 2011 he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary. Andrew previously served the First Presbyterian Church of Jefferson City, Tennessee. He is married to Rebecca and they have two children, Simon (5) and Joanna (2.5). He loves to eat good food, hear hilarious stories, play bad golf, run slowly and regularly, and cheer for lackluster sports teams (the University of Tennessee football team and the Atlanta Braves).