Intentional about the Good

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Essie Koenig-Reinke

I was eager to read Erin and Ben Napier’s recent memoir Make Something Good Today when it finally hit the shelf at my local bookstore. The book’s pages are like a dirt road that winds its way through Erin and Ben’s lives from the time they were growing up to the front porch of their home today. It’s beautiful, honest, and real in a way most memoirs are. It’s the kind of book that is meant to be read on the front porch with a cup of coffee, and sunshine. In short, Make Something Good Today is lighthearted, but through the telling of their own story the authors invite readers to gently ponder their own.

There is a part in this book where Erin gets real about life, work, love, and anxiety, and how it affects her ability to connect with her sense of call. She names the vague yet poignant, messiness of life, as well as the impact of how much her anxiety and worry were having on her daily life. Then she started a journal, where she blogged one good thing that happened during the day. No matter how wonderful or awful her day was, she blogged about one good thing. This is the practice changed how she saw herself and the world around her.

I am currently serving as an interim coordinator of youth ministry. Nothing has quite prepared me for all the weird and wonderful things about this job. Most days, I love it. It’s messy and magical. However, there are times when being in an interim time is just plain hard. Sometimes, the mess feels less magical and more monstrous. In this liminal space, I’ve noticed how easy it can be for anxiety and worry to weave themselves into the conversation. It’s almost natural. Then before we know it, we’re teetering on the fence between feeling indecisive and overwhelmed. I found myself resonating with Erin as she unpacked all of these things in her book. So, as I soaked up the words in Make Something Good Today, I found myself taking a step back from all the worry and reflecting on all the good around me. I even made the decision about being intentional about pointing out the good.

By doing so, the joy and goodness in my life and ministry became tangible. Whether writing it down in a notebook or making a mental note good things that are happening. Our youth ministry has also started to notice the joy around too. It was as almost as if by paying attention to the good around us, we were more present with each other. We listen deeper, and are finding ourselves more open to the movement of the spirit together. It’s exciting, and energizing, and holy.

This has by no means has fixed all the overwhelming, anxious feelings. However, acknowledging the good has empowered me to cultivate joy in this liminal space, and be more present in this “in between” moment, both in my own personal journey and in our ministry. It is so easy to get caught up in the next season, the next program, and forget to hold on to joy found in every day good things.

Essie is the Youth Ministries Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor. She sees herself as a recovering perfectionist and on the lookout for an overachiever’s support group. She loves coffee, lavender, mystery books, and sunflowers.

Experiencing and Creating Sacred Ground

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Jan Nolting Carter

My friend Mark turned to me in our small group at CREDO. I had just shared with them how I thought I had discerned what my next steps in ministry would be. Then he said, “Jan, you are forgetting something. I’ve watched you. You are a natural coach. You should consider exploring coach training.” Was that the voice of the Spirit? That was October. Could this be how God is calling me to help others find their giftedness?

24701264781_dd0d40ddf1_zNot entirely familiar with coaching, I did some research. I thought about the arc of my experience. When I taught social studies before I went to seminary, my primary image of teacher was coach—I saw myself as the one who was charged with drawing the gifts of my students out. Later, I found myself listening and encouraging colleagues as I served on the Committee on Ministry. Now nearly twenty years later, I have encouraged, essentially coached, folks in and out of the church. Perhaps Mark’s voice was indeed the voice of the Spirit, drawing attention to something that dwelled within me.

In January, I participated in a week-long residency with Auburn Theological Seminary and now I continue towards certification with 28 hours of teleclasses and 100 hours of student coaching. With some jest and a measure of seriousness, one of our teachers from Auburn closed our time together in Florida asking us to say our name and identify ourselves as coach.

“My name is Jan and I am a coach,” I heard myself saying as I claimed my place among our cohort of coaches-in-training.

What have I learned? Coaching is a valuable part of a tool box that offers pastors possibilities towards transformation. In this church-world that we live in that on dark days feels very discouraging, it has the potential to help pastors and church leaders identify the gifts that dwell within, pointing towards a future that is filled with hope, covenant and promise. The fine art of asking open-ended and essential questions. Through coaching, there is the possibility of being the vessel of the message of how God is nudging people and congregations towards the future that God envisions for us.

As a pastor engaged in intentional transitional ministry, using coaching skills to help leaders of congregations discover the potential within has the possibility of turning discouragement to hope and confusion to clarity. Beyond my interim work, it has the possibility of creating a coaching practice that helps me serve the church by creating a viable tent-making ministry that is both fulfilling and vital.

But that is the interesting thing. You may have noticed, to this point, I have been using the language of potential and possibility. Future-oriented. The reality, is, however, that I already am a coach. If I am really quiet, I can turn myself over to the work of the Spirit. It’s a humbling experience.

I mentioned the International Coaching Federation requires 100 hours of coaching. Three-quarters of it must be with renumeration. Peer-to-peer coaching counts—it’s bartering. A number of us in our cohort are coaching one another. So far it has been a profound experience.

Just this week, when I put the phone down, I took a deep breath. The first thought that entered into my head was, “Wow. I just experienced holy ground.” Through careful listening and asking open questions, my friend had experienced a kind of “aha” moment. She has found that what she says she really wants to do is not supported by the choices that she makes about her time. Journeying with her in her discovery felt sacred. By serving as a witness to the moment, I shared her wonder and her joy. Then, in reciprocity, as my friend coached me, I found a clarity about a question about direction that had eluded me. I felt a kind of certainty in my heart that had not been evident before.

At its best, coaching offers an invitation to be our best selves, to identify the giftedness that dwells within and to move us to action. I add my voice to the voices of Jessica Tate, Jeff Krehbiel, Laura Cunningham, and JC Austin to encourage you to seek out a coach and give it a try.

Jan Nolting Carter is a Transitional Pastor serving St. James Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She is currently engaged in Coach Training through Auburn Theological Seminary.

Interim Ministry at the Speed of Change


By Anne Fisher

The interim ministry chose me. It was never my intention to become an interim pastor, but twenty-five years and fourteen interims later, I continue to love the work I have been called to do.

Many people don’t understand interim ministry; inevitably someone will ask why I don’t want a church of my own. Colleagues feel obligated to tell me what a nightmare the interim was before they came to the church they are serving. But as I fell into this work, I discovered an exciting ministry that never becomes routine. Here are some of the reasons interim ministry benefits the Church and why I love my work—and how interim ministry can be a model and inspiration for all kinds of ministry in the “church that is becoming”:

Interim ministry is fast paced and dynamic. The church is not stagnant when we begin the interim period. If ministry was a footrace, then the interim time would be a sprint. There is a finite time for a church to articulate their vision, select a Pastoral Nominating Committee to work and prepare to welcome a new pastor, and clean up some bad habits and rejuvenate some neglected aspects. All the while they carry on with the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. The interim process means hitting the ground running, and that does not stop until the last person leaves at the good-bye party.

In the interim time, churches are more open to make changes. I feel that the leadership in a church can be at its best during the interim time. The attendance and participation at meetings is very good because the leaders cannot fall back on the pastor to get things done.  Things get put in perspective, because they realize things could get worse. At one church, members complained that the former pastor wore a white robe rather than the black academic robe. No one mentioned it when I innocently showed up wearing a white robe.

The interim time is a time for the church to come of age. Some churches define themselves through their pastors: “Those were the John Brown Years,” or “I was baptized during the Mary Smith time.” For a brief yet vital moment in their history—the interim time—it is not about the pastor. The church leadership and members of the church can set the course. This characteristic has made each of my interims unique. One church started a garden in the front of their beautifully manicured lawn as a combined mission/education/evangelism endeavor. Another church had 1/3 of their members attend a church sponsored Mardi Gras party. They said they had not had this much fun in years! Churches surprise themselves with what new things they try and do successfully during the interim time.

There is a bit of whimsy and reckless abandon that happens in the interim. When a church gets the courage to try something different, they know that they can take a risk because if it doesn’t work, it is not set in stone for the next 50 years.

In most of the churches I served, attendance and giving remained stable or increased during the interim. When I arrive, I assure them that things will most likely not get worse; perhaps they will even get better, and we will enjoy the journey.

As we rethink how we do church, perhaps all pastors need to consider themselves as an interim. Mark Devries wrote in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry that youth ministers should consider themselves as interims: “Think about the role of interims: they proactively prepare the way for the future that does not include them. Interims are midwives, not mothers, Interims help a congregation recognize, celebrate and stand guard over its core, momentum-building traditions.” [1] 

At times I fancy that I am an ecclesiastical Mary Poppins. I come into a setting, produce new ways to look at things, have some fun, and try to leave them a stronger and healthier church. It is a privilege to serve in this ministry that chose me.

Annefisher-231x300The Rev. Dr. Anne E. Fisher has served congregations in Illinois for 25 years. She currently serves as interim pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Barrington, IL.

[1] DeVries, Mark Sustainable Youth Ministry. Intervarsity Press 2008 p.92.

Photo Credit: Multiverse, installed by artist Leo Villareal in a 200-foot-long tunnel connecting the East building of the National Gallery of Art to the West building. Photo by romanlily via photopin cc