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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Changes Edition

Providing opportunities through which congregational members can grow in knowledge and strengthen relationships is the to-do list for many pastors. But times change, members' involvement changes, and programs usually to change too. How do we keep ministries like these fresh when we have a lot of ourselves invested in them...that is this week's question.

When I was called to this congregation, one of the things they asked for was for their new Associate (me) to start a midweek program combining music, fellowship, and education. It took me almost a whole year, but I did, and that program began my second autumn.

That's 4 years ago now, and while the program is still running, it's obviously in need of some rethinking. For instance, the dinner and adult education portions of the evening are significantly less well-attended than they were at the beginning, and the program is no longer financially self-sustainable (we are paying more for dinner than we are taking in in dinner donations).

Obviously, things have changed since we implemented this program (the economy tanked, the Head of Staff left, the interim was...not a good experience...and now we have a new Head of Staff) and it's also just time to reevaluate and possibly make some changes.

The trouble I'm having, interestingly, is that I feel too close to the program to even have a constructive conversation about changing it. It's like I've become one of those people who insists that the mission project they've always headed up must continue to run in exactly the same way because it's their pet project...and I don't want to be that person. But I also don't know how to put aside the feeling that something I worked so hard on and am so invested in is somehow a failure if we have to re-invent it or make major changes to it.

So I guess I'm looking for stories and experience to help me frame this in a different way and to take the burnout factor out so I can empower people to make this the best program it can be, or to see how others have approached similar problems of changing things they are close to and invested in (or that they started)...thoughts?

~in need of a brainstorm~

From Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart

What a great, honest question! Who doesn’t feel close to, and less objective about, something in which we have a great emotional investment?Self awareness is a beautiful thing.

Is there any chance that a group of people you trust and respect can help you with evaluating and re-tooling for a new day? I think you could stay involved, as long as the folks you bring to the table to work with have your permission to be honest and just as transparent as you are to breathe some new life into a good midweek program.

You’ve acknowledged that the program needs some rethinking, and much has happened in four years’ time. Look to the future with that in mind and enjoy what the Spirit might bring to something new and exciting. I know you’re designing a midweek program, but Marcia McFee’s book The Worship Workshop might have some ideas to help you, and others with you, think in new ways. I think there might be some portions of that which could be adapted to help you think about the midweek program.

And from Muthah+ who blogs at Stone of Witness

Dear Deadhead,

I am so impressed with your own self-knowledge that you know when you need to step out. Can you talk to your Head of Staff about this and see if there is someone else who can take over this part of the ministry of the church? It definitely needs fresh eyes.

However, if it is part of your job to make this change, try to find some folk in the church who can provide some really different views of that component of your church's ministry. Get some folk who have started new small businesses, or have begun new careers lately--folks who can think outside of the box.

I have been seeing quite a few "Emerging Church" seminars out there. Perhaps if you could attend one of those with a lay person who is also intrigued by the idea. It might provide some new ideas or connect you with others who can. Get in touch with all the technology, the various things that folks in your area struggling with, or some prayer practices that might prime the spiritual pumps as alternatives to what you have been doing.

In the meantime, cut back your present program, continue the community gatherings and the intellectual stimulation. If your content is flagging find a published program and use it while letting it be known that a wholly NEW program is in the making. Keep your faithful ones while whetting their appetite for the new program you and others are planning.

But most of all: Do not think of your past program as something that failed. It is of the nature of education to need change. And no matter how invested we are in the previous program, just know that the previous program has just been outgrown. And isn't that what we are all working for---to grow Christians?

Add your own insights and suggestions; use the Post a Comment function to join the conversation.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


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  1. I can so appreciate what you are facing. Taking a realistic look at ministry, with such an openness to something new emerging, is a courageous thing to do. Of course you are close to what's going on, but not too close. You are the perfect person to admit how difficult it is to care so much and be open to change. Given the stuff that your congregation has been through, that admission might be a great gift, indeed.

    There is nothing about this that is a failure! In these changing times, the program that you describe is a success if it met the needs of many for 4 whole years!

    Some great stories that might help you and your team are found all through Scripture, even as early as God re-thinking his humans' venue in early Genesis. Plan A was perfect, and even that didn't work out forever. Plan B: Clothe them and send them out to face a new world. Or in Acts where the Greek widows complained and they had to come up with deacons to oversee the food program.

    May God continue to bless you and to bless your church through you!

  2. As the others have said, you most definitely haven't failed; this was a great program for several years, and now it needs to find a new way of being significant. Maybe it will help a little if you can think of it as a growing process; what works with a baby needs to change for a toddler, and then for a preschooler, and so on. Growth involves change as a natural part of things, and that's what's happening here. And hooray to you for seeing the personal challenges involved!


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