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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ask The Matriarch: to dream dreams and have visions

Our question for the week comes from a pastor whose congregation is growing and who is seeking some resources for strategic planning:

This isn't an earth-shattering question, but I don't know where else to go to get such a broad spectrum of experience and knowledge of resources. Here's the quick and dirty:

I'm in my 7th year of ministry, so not really a newbie, but at the same time I've only been in this second call for 9 months. My first was as an associate pastor, and this one is solo. I know we need to do some long-range discernment and organization of ministry and mission, but I have no idea where to start and to move forward with it. I am a first career pastor, went to seminary straight out of college, so I don't have business world experience of strategic planning, etc. Sometimes I think that's a good thing, not a bad thing, but at the same time it has left me with no experience in how to do anything even similar to this. I know some of my members have some visioning experience from the business world, and I imagine I can tap them to help. At the same time, I'd like to trust that somewhere in the world of Christian thought and church leadership we have rediscovered and ancient way or developed a new one that can help us along in our process. I've looked at Alban and ordered their Holy Conversations book. The next public seminar is not for another year. We don't have funds to spend on a consultant.

Any thoughts on ways to get started, processes that have worked, resources to turn to.

Our membership will be 240 as of this coming Sunday (receiving a few new ones). We worship around 130 on an average Sunday. We are growing at a fairly good pace, but we aren't unmanageable. There's one worship service, a long established congregation, but a new building (that actually could be added onto for more comfort, but paying down our principal on the mortgage is more important right now). The congregation is AMAZING at pitching in usually, but the session and I are feeling a lull after the initial excitement of my start-up this year. We agree we need direction, but I don't know how to lead the session in discerning what that direction should be. I have an idea or two about unique opportunities to expand our ministry and partnership with and to a non-faith-based organization for youth with disabilities for which we provide almost-free meeting and office space year round. I don't know how to pitch these ideas and (hopefully) garner support and energy around them. I've been praying about it a lot and feel the Spirit's leading in that direction very surely. I talk more and more about it, and have some other folks praying on it, too, so hopefully we're moving that direction, and I'll know how to move us forward.

Anyway, there's a lot in here, and it may not be the most interesting question, but what I'm looking for is advice on how to capitalize on the energy that exists because of my newness and our growing congregation, and how we can move forward in discerning the Spirit-led vision for our congregation?

Thanks for any help you can give if this fits the realm of the feature.

She Rev

Rector in Hawai’i writes
If your presbytery doesn't offer consulting services for what you need, here are a few other options:

1) Connect with one or two or the most successful pastors (women, if possible) in your presbytery and get their better thinking on these questions. You might even consider developing a mentor relationship with one or both.

2) Check out the resources of other Christian judicatories in your location and seek one of their consultants to help.

3) Alban isn't the only game in town. Start googling for other pastoral seminars and workshops.

4) It may sound strange, but the Interim Ministry Network used to have really good and solid foundational training for parish work. Of course it was for intentional interims, but a great deal of the training can be adapted to newly entered settled ministries.

5) Invite other clergy - regardless of tradition -- to do a book study on Holy Conversations. The discussion could be most helpful.

Sally deo Gloria responds –
Dear She Rev,

Congratulations on serving a church with positive energy and forward momentum! That's not to be taken for granted these days. Your quest for the right vision to guide your congregation in the long-term seems well timed. I don't have more specific guidance, other than the Alban materials you've suggested.

Can I make a related suggestion though? Continue to make changes, even now. Waiting for the "vision" to be in place before embarking on new adventures might be a mistake. Perhaps some of your ideas will help broaden the capacity of your congregation to embrace a transformative vision. If you feel strongly that these are good ideas, based on real opportunities, then perhaps you can just ask your lay leaders to trust your leadership. If you have a good relationship with them, they're likely to follow you in these new ministries. There is risk for you (if these things don't work, you'll lose some points). There is risk for them (if these things don't work, people will ask hard questions). However, there is tremendous upside too. Success will mean that your visionary role as a leader is reinforced. Success will mean that your leaders learn that some risk-taking allows the church to do more than it might otherwise do. As I often say to people, the Bible is full of transformation stories, but people are NEVER transformed where they are. There's ALWAYS a change or a journey involved.

These are not long-term vision resources, but I have two suggestions of resources in this transitional time (while you're gearing up for the big visioning process). First, you might encourage some leaders to read Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Church. While many mainline Protestants will disagree with its evangelical theology, it's a fabulous way to encourage people to think about why their church exists -- and what larger endeavors they might undertake. There are lots of good, practical strategies for calling members to be disciples. Second, I suggest Beyond Business as Usual by Neal Michell. It's written for Episcopal vestries, but it could work well for lay leaders in any denomination. There are lots of practical exercises to encourage thoughtful reflection, prayer, and big thinking. The suggested Bible studies alone are worth the price of the book. These resources might help you prepare leaders for the visioning process you're about to enter.

May you and your congregation be blessed in your journey.
Sally Deo Gloria

It does seem that the Spirit is alive in your congregation. Plans and strategies are great but so is moving with the Spirit. Appreciative Inquiry is a way to move with the Spirit. It builds on what is already working and encourages dreaming about what can be. Google Appreciative Inquiry for more resources but here is one that offers coaching and education and ideas for how to use AI.

What other ideas do readers have for SheRev?


  1. Alban has some excellent and free resources at the Congregational Resource Guide that might give you a starting point.

  2. we have started using appreciative inquiry as the basis of our visioning process.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts so far, friends!!! I am very appreciative. The congregation I just left used AI, and while I thought it would be great, negative experiences due to the folks involved, not the process itself have left sort of a bad taste in my mouth. It may be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I don't know that I could go back to that. Again, it wasn't really the AI that was a problem, just the way the process was circumvented and not used with the most integrity that sort of messed it up.

    Purpose Driven stuff is something I should probably look at. I'm not afraid of theology that's different from mine if there's room to include mine (and others) too.

    The session and I are working through Becoming a Blessed Church by Graham Standish, which has been very good for us and is laying some good groundwork for the need for paying attention to the Spirit and discovering our call and purpose. This question just came out of my concern of "what next". I figure we're all going to be on board with the idea of discernment and finding God's visions, and there are a few general resources in the book for guiding the process, but I feel inexperienced at leading that, and then putting the discerned "plan" into action.

    Keep the ideas coming if you have them!!! :)

    Definitely plan to take the advice to keep moving even as we prepare to plan (is that so Presbyterian sounding?)!

  4. We used "Discerning Your Congregation's Future" and are just finishing up the process now--it seemed to work for us. Perhaps something to look into...

  5. Whatever the process... you as pastor need to participate... not facilitate. If you facilitate... then all of the decisions... will be "yours"... regardless of the reality of the situation. Suggested reading... Power Surge... I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church... 5 Practices of a Fruitful Congregation. Part of this change will probably include moving from a membership model to a discipleship model. 1.5 cents...

  6. i was in a similar boat (first career, no business experience, solo pastor, though without six years of associate experience), and felt like i was often reinventing the wheel. i had an annual officers retreat in early january which, on several occasions served a visioning function, once very effectively.

    since your a presby, have you checked out any of the discernment resources from the theological task force on the peace, unity, and purity of the church? i think vicky curtiss has published a useful guide recently and that could be helpful.

    further, i know that steve doughty has a new workbook, published by upper room, on discernment. worth looking into.

    also, have you heard of asset mapping? i learned that at interim training on my way out of the parish and thought it would have been REALLY helpful in our congregation. our congregation was a similar size to yours, just a bit smaller. check it out.

    and yes... the presby should be able to help, but not all presbys do.

    if you want to chat about this feel free to e-mail me at stoutearthchild at mac dot com.


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