by Bill Wilson

It comes in a variety of accents. It can be a man’s voice or a woman’s (my favorite is the female Australian). It can break your heart or serve as a warning. It will mock you. It will scold you. When I am behind the wheel, to hear it makes me cringe. If you have a GPS in your vehicle, you know the word “recalculating”. It means you have taken a wrong turn, you might be lost, or at the very least you have wandered off the path your GPS prefers that you take. The unspoken message is “way to go dummy, now wait patiently while I figure out how to get us out of this mess.”

Every generation comes up with words that aptly describe their era. From “groovy” to “whatever”, the English language has an amazing ability to morph and shape itself to fit an ever-changing population. Could it be that “recalculating” is a word that describes congregational life early in the 21st century?

Every healthy minister and congregation I know is doing some form of recalculating. Most ministers come out of their theological training only semi-prepared for what they find when they go to work in a local church. No surprise there, that is the prevailing model of higher education in most specialties. Why do you think Medical School graduates go from Medical School to a Residency, rather than straight into practice? For most clergy, our theological education is the background for the ongoing education that begins at graduation. Every sensible minister understands that recalculating is the normative way of life for us. To be described as relevant is one of the greatest compliments one can receive as a minister or as a congregation.

While we serve an unchanging God and represent eternal truth, the methods by which we do so change daily. Recalculating is the standard operating stance for effective ministers. Every day, our antennae are up and sensitive to the ebb and flow of the world we live in. We must read, think, pray, and experience our culture constantly if we are to be able to link the Good News of Christ with those around us. We cannot assume that what we knew five years ago about our community or those we serve holds true today.

Likewise, congregations are awakening to the fact that recalculating is an essential skill that we must master. Some things do not change about us, and those unchanging eternal truths are the values at our very core. Everything else, however, is changeable. Whether it be worship times, styles, music, structure, facilities, VBS schedule, ministry partners, or staff job descriptions, the operative word must be “recalculating”. Everything that is not eternal is temporal, and should be regarded as open to recalculation.

Healthy congregations and clergy invest significant money, time and effort in this regard. They engage in proactive thinking, rather than reactive. This means they actually schedule time to think, brainstorm and project into the future. Most of us are so busy trying to do all that has to be done this week, that the idea of taking time away to think and reflect, in the spirit of Jesus, is laughable. Actually, it is laughable to imagine that we can do the work of the Kingdom without time devoted to recalculating.

To embrace “recalculating” as an essential ingredient in our congregational life will mean sending staff and key leaders away on retreats, to conferences, and insisting that they leave day-to-day operations to others in order to recalculate. It will mean we invite clergy to think more and do less, to pray more and perform less, to reflect more and talk less.

The new reality of congregational and clergy health includes a healthy dose of what the corporate world calls “R and D”: research and development. How are you going to make such thinking part of your daily and weekly diet of responsibilities? What you are going to do to encourage your ministerial staff members to recalculate regularly?

Occasionally, I get fed up with my GPS and it’s insistence on recalculating. I turn it off and launch out on my own, choosing to ignore the fact that I am hopelessly lost. Such journeys seldom end well, either for me, your staff or your congregation.

Perhaps we need a female Australian voice over our loudspeakers at church inviting us to stop, admit we are a bit lost, and “recalculate.” Would we be so wise as to cultivate a congregational culture that encourages recalculating among its leadership? If we do, we may find ourselves squarely on the path God has envisioned for us as we move into the future.

Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health (

Congregational Shift: Can a Congregation Transition without Carnage?

For Baptists Today

Congregational Shift: Can a Congregation Transition without Carnage?

By Chris Gambill

There is no change without pain. Change processes in congregations often have unintended as well as intended consequences. Unintended consequences can include conflict, anger, grief, loss of energy and momentum, or even the loss of staff or members. Regardless of how well intentioned a change process may be, it has the potential to bring more harm than good.

For some congregations, these potential liabilities are enough to check any movement toward change. However, as most faith communities surely know, not changing also has serious liabilities and consequences. Refusing change puts a congregation at risk of irrelevance or even extinction. Church history, both ancient and modern, is brimming with evidence that this can and still does happen. The choice should not be between change and no change. The real challenge is to create transition processes that produce the kind of results congregations hope for and avoid as much as possible those things they least desire. With careful and prayerful planning, a congregation can transition without carnage.

When considering change, congregations should seek to be faithful to their own particular sense of calling. Scripture and tradition offers various points of view about change that can inform a congregation as it seeks to be faithful and relevant. For example, in regard to change in general, scripture seems to revere and value both stability and change.

  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV)
  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

Regarding the speed of change and the energy or patience required to see it through, there also seems to be paradoxical guidance from scripture.

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV)
  • “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’(Matthew 10:34-36, NIV)

In our experience at the Center for Congregational Health, most congregational change processes fall along a continuum where one end represents a revolutionary approach and the other end an evolutionary approach. A revolutionary approach is one that is typically carried out in a short timeframe and seeks to establish significantly different ways of thinking and behaving. An evolutionary approach typically utilizes a longer timeframe and may or may not seek to establish the degree of change sought through a revolutionary approach. The biggest difference between the two approaches is the impact on the congregation members, themselves. Revolutionary change is hard to miss. Evolutionary change can happen so slowly that the transition is almost indiscernible. Both have a significant emotional, psychological and spiritual impact on members of a faith community.

For congregations ready for a revolutionary approach, the sudden and often dramatic change is welcomed by most people. However, if a congregation is not carefully prepared and does not have enough of a sense of urgency to support quick and dramatic change, then the transition may be resisted or rejected. Quick change processes have less time to build cohesion and consensus. This means there is a higher risk of congregation members not “owning” the changes or of feeling left out of the decision-making processes.

Evolutionary change, because it is slower and more gradual, may be more readily accepted or produce less resistance. Because more time is available for the progression, it has a higher likelihood of producing broader ownership for the change and decision-making processes. On the other hand, the slow pace of evolutionary transition may be frustrating to those with a greater sense of urgency about what they perceive to be needed change.

Which is better, revolutionary or evolutionary change? Neither. Just as it is not an option for a congregation to simply choose change or no change, the choice is also not simply between a revolutionary or evolutionary approach. Picturing change processes on a continuum with the two extremes being revolutionary and evolutionary allows change leaders to move back and forth along the continuum to find the appropriate methodology, speed and forcefulness for any particular situation.

Those seeking to lead change processes in congregational life need to ask good questions. For example:

  1. Which theological principles should take precedence in the change process?
  2. How urgent is the need for change?
  3. How much time does the congregation have to devote to a change process?
  4. How much emotional energy surrounds the potential change?
  5. How much risk can the congregation afford regarding potential unintended consequences?

Listening carefully and answering these questions accurately can help congregational leaders determine the right speed and energy needed for a change process. While congregational transitions are never easy, they can be managed in ways that bring largely positive results.

Chris Gambill is senior consultant and manager of congregational health services for the Center for Congregational Health ( based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Please site Chris Gambill, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.


Resources for Communication

The Center is available to help with transition. We can provide consultation, coaching, leadership development and spiritual formation.

Learn more at If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

A Healthy Handoff: the Crucial Relationship between Former and Current Pastor

For Baptists Today

A Healthy Handoff: the Crucial Relationship between Former and Current Pastor

By Bill Wilson

The transition from one pastor to the next is a precarious handoff. Too often, the exchange is bungled and the ministers and local church suffer from a litany of bruised feelings, resentment, wounded ego, and crippled ministry. I regularly talk with current and former pastors, their spouses and their children, who express deep hurt and regret about the way a pastoral transition has taken place. I know there is a better way because I had a ringside seat for a transition that went well.

My late father, Bill Wilson Sr., was the founding pastor of a church in Brentwood, TN, and after twenty years as pastor, left to work for the state Baptist Convention. His successor, Mike Glenn, walked into a situation filled with both opportunity and peril. Over the ensuing twenty years, the church has relocated, grown exponentially and thrived. These two men and their families managed this precarious situation with grace, humility and wisdom. The result is a congregation that continues to live into its remarkable story with vigor, health and passion. Brentwood Baptist today is a congregation 8,000 strong, with an amazing story of growth and innovation.


Space for the new pastor

Mike and I spoke recently about his relationship with my father. Mike regularly and publicly affirms my father’s ministry and insists that when he does so, he is affirming the church itself and the fact that it’s past is inextricably linked to both present and future. One thing that helped the transition at Brentwood was the fact that for Mike’s first five years as pastor my father did interims, preached other places and attended a church plant. That time away gave Mike space to become the pastor. Eventually, Mike and the church called my father and mother back on staff as co-ministers of missions. Upon their return, Mike saw the congregation begin to enjoy the warm relationship between my father and himself. “People loved the fact that the former and current pastors were good friends. He never missed a chance to brag on me, and I never missed a chance to say how much he meant to me. He never tolerated criticism of me from others, even when it was deserved.”

Over the years, Dad became Mike’s counselor, prayer partner and encourager. Mike, never threatened by the respect and affection the congregation had for my father, even channeled it in positive ways. “One time, in the midst of a church-wide crisis,” he explained, “the anxiety in a large meeting was very high. At a critical moment, I told the congregation that the first thing I had done upon discovering the problem was to go to Bill Wilson (Sr.) for counsel and advice. When I said that, you could feel the tension ease and the whole church exhale. His voice of wisdom, earned over the years, was invaluable to me.”

Mike maintains that part of the strong growth and health of Brentwood Baptist has to do with how he, my father and the congregation managed that handoff from founding pastor to successor. I believe their individual ego strength and maturity were critical as the two of them modeled a healthy transition that perpetuated a healthy church culture.

Later, in my own career, I was blessed to succeed Billy Nimmons at FBC Dalton, GA following his retirement. Billy was always gracious and generous with his support and encouragement, which coupled with his undying love for the congregation, helped make our remarkable work there possible.

Another story of a successful transition involves Michael Lea, of the First Baptist Church of West Jefferson, NC, who followed Pastor Emeritus Ken Morris, when he retired after 33 years there. Michael entered the situation with eyes wide open: “I knew that Ken could be my greatest threat or my greatest ally.” Before coming in 2008, Michael discussed the transition process with the search committee and then spoke to Ken both by phone and in person. He was reassured of a healthy handoff, and said of Ken recently, “He has been my greatest asset.”


Healthy boundaries

Before Michael entered the picture, Ken prepared the congregation to love another pastor. He reminded them on numerous occasions that he was retiring because he wanted to, and he announced his intention to fully support the new pastor.

Ken stayed out of the search process, and was often absent from the church during the two-year interim between his retirement and Michael’s arrival. Like my father, Ken served other churches as he transitioned away from pastoring his long-time congregation. Serving as an interim pastor for two churches outside the county helped him separate. “That feeling that I belonged to another church helped me feel that not all of my roots were at First Baptist,” he said.

Today he calls Michael his pastor and friend. When Ken is asked to do a funeral, he requests that the family to go through Michael. Then he lets Michael assign him a role. If Ken visits church members in the hospital, he goes as a friend – not a pastor – and tells them, “Michael will take good care of you.”


Trust and respect

Like the friendship between Mike and my father, Michael and Ken’s relationship is one of trust and open communication. Michael explained, “Ken has provided a great deal of leadership here by saying to people, ‘Michael is our pastor now; let’s ask him,’ or ‘let’s look to him for leadership at this time.’” On the other hand, Michael understands that many in the church have a rich history with Ken, so they want him to be involved in funerals and weddings.  The two have proactively avoided triangulation. When someone mentions Michael to Ken, Ken responds with how fortunate he is to have Michael as his pastor. When someone mentions Ken to Michael, Michael responds with a narrative description of the great pastoral leadership that has brought the church to this point.

The respect between former and current pastor is clear. Ken refuses to serve on committees or teach Sunday school, but he stays involved in music at the church and occasionally volunteers in the library. Michael invites Ken to meetings of the larger staff. “This is Christ’s ministry,” Michael insisted, “not Ken’s or mine.”

A healthy handoff between former and current pastor never just happens. It requires careful planning and sustained effort. How can we manage this pivotal transition in a way that is healthy and promotes growth for all concerned? What follows is sound advice from Mike, Ken and Michael.

Advice for incoming pastors:

1. Do not rush the transition.

2. Recognize the principle of different gifts for different times. That allows you to bless your predecessor without reservation.

3. Be respectful of and sensitive to the history and culture of the church.

4. Honor your elders.

5. Watch your territorial language. Remember that it is Christ’s church , not yours or your predecessor’s.

6. Leave your ego at the door.

7. Work to build trust with the former pastor and congregation.

Advice for former pastors:

1. Work to find interests and an identity apart from pastoring that congregation.

2. Tell the congregation that you are no longer the pastor, and believe it yourself.

3. Show support and confidence in the church and in the new pastor and pastoral staff.

4. Set boundaries around funerals, weddings and hospital visits.

For BOTH: model health, even if it is not reciprocated.

– Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health ( based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Please site Bill Wilson, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

Read the Full Interviews

Read the full interviews with

Mike Glenn,

Michael Lea and

Ken Morris.

Share Your Own Advice

What have you learned along the way – both good and bad? Leave us a comment.

Resources for Transitions

The Center is available to help with your time of transition – as a minister or as a congregation. We can provide consultation, coaching, leadership development and spiritual formation.

Learn more at If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Constructive Approaches to Calling a Minister

For Baptists Today

Constructive Approaches to Calling a Minister

By Jack Causey with Bill Wilson

When a pastor search committee is working, it is the most important committee in the church. The decision of whom to call as senior pastor is one that has repercussions for generations. Calling any minister – from senior pastor to children’s minister – takes prayer and preparation.

Churches used to search for the best preacher for their congregation, and the denomination provided the few services needed to guide the process. Those were simpler times; today the search landscape has changed. It is far more complex. Denominations are no longer homogeneous; churches must depend less on seminaries for help; and the leadership skills required to lead congregations extend far beyond teaching and pastoral visits.

What is needed today to call a minister? Certainly, two things have not changed – whether for a senior pastor or a staff minister – every search process is unique and God’s spirit must lead the process. Members of the search committee and congregation should pray for spiritual guidance for the committee, the candidate and the congregation.

The other essential to calling a minister is establishing and adhering to a multi-step plan. The process should go in pre-determined phases. That way the committee can keep the congregation apprised of progress by reporting on what phase they are in without divulging a confidence. I recommend that a search proceed in set stages. These were developed for calling a senior pastor, but can be modified for any ministry position.

Stage One:  Getting Organized and Acquainted

The committee must get to know each other by sharing prayer, faith stories, experience with former churches, pastors, etc. It is important that members bring forward any personal agendas and biases.

During this initial stage, the committee should select officers and establish the search process. It is important for the committee to determine exactly how they will make the final decision. Will it be a unanimous vote or a majority consensus? If the pastor is part of the committee searching for a staff position, will the pastor make the final decision? A coach or transition consultant can be helpful. Whatever the process, the committee must let the congregation know what is going on. Regular reports to the congregation and requests for prayer are essential.

Stage Two:  Gathering Information / Self Study

This stage is crucial to calling a pastor who fits with the church. It is the same stage recommended for an intentional interim process. Although lead by a team of lay leaders and clergy, often with an outside facilitator or coach, the congregation does the work. Steps involve looking at a church’s heritage – celebrating some parts, grieving and healing from others. It involves looking at the mission of the church – exploring the core values of the congregation – and clarifying vision. At every step of the search, the committee must seek alignment between the position for which they are hiring and the focus and mission of the congregation.

Leadership issues need to be determined during this second stage and connections with ministry partners/denominational alliances and relationships clarified. The direction of the church must be prayerfully considered and verbalized by examining the church’s resources and core values. Once that is established, members of the leadership team can develop a profile of the church and its demographics as well as a leadership expectations profile describing the congregation’s expectations for its next pastor. This phase must not be rushed. A congregation must know who it is before calling a leader.

Stage Three:  Considering Candidates

During this time, the committee gathers names for potential candidates from church members and friends, organizations, seminaries and divinity schools. As the committee begins to read and prayerfully consider resumes, an outside facilitator can be helpful. There are resources to help the committee prioritize candidates relative to the pastoral leadership expectations developed in Stage Two.

Stage Four:  Contacting and Interviewing Candidates

In Stage Four, the committee narrows the search to five to 10 high priority candidates, with the intention of interviewing at least three of those. A letter of inquiry sent to each asks about their interest, and includes the church, congregation and community profiles.

All interviews must be confidential, and the church should pay for travel, food and lodging. The initial interview should include the candidate’s spouse and consist of carefully prepared questions. One important thing to learn about a candidate is their level of emotional intelligence. A candidate’s ability to relate to people is as important as preaching ability or public persona.

A visit and worship in the candidate’s church should precede a second interview. The committee should consider candidates one at a time and notify each in a timely manner as to where they stand relative to others in the process. By the second interview, candidates should be offered an opportunity to interview with staff ministers who accept the principle of confidentiality, and know that while their observations are important, the committee must make the final decision. The committee should ask permission to conduct criminal and credit checks, and should check references carefully, even “going behind” by seeking additional references.

In consultation with the stewardship committee, a compensation package should be prepared. In doing so, it is worthwhile to consider incorporating a sabbatical or study leave, vacation time commensurate with or greater than what the candidate has currently. Providing leadership coaching for your new minister is a wise way to encourage success. For new ministers, it is especially wise to offer coaching to help them transition from academia to the congregational environment. Some congregations provide in-church support teams. It is important to offer things unique to your congregation that can help your new minister to be successful.

In the third interview, the formal compensation package is presented – but not with the entire search committee present – and any lingering questions are answered. It is important to establish whether the candidate will accept if called. If so, then determine when the candidate can visit the church for congregational visits and a trial sermon.

Stage Five:  Presenting the Candidate

Now is the time for the candidate to visit the congregation. A warning: be careful when releasing the candidate’s name and biographical information to the congregation, as he or she will want to carefully inform the home church. Coordinate that timing.

This is an exciting time for the congregation. When the candidate visits, opportunities must be set up for meeting as many people as possible. Dinner with the deacons, breakfast with youth leaders, a congregational reception after church and lunch with more leaders…. Send the candidate home exhausted, and vote that very day. The next step is extending the congregational call as soon as possible and welcoming the new pastor.

Two items need to be emphasized about any search process. The first is to select the committee carefully. A strategically chosen committee, representing the various facets of the congregation, has more chance for success than a committee elected by popular vote.

The second item of importance is to treat every candidate with utmost respect. Retain confidentiality and let candidates know where they stand during the search process. Do not string anyone along. For a minister, investigating opportunities elsewhere is a secretive and emotionally draining process. Conduct a search with authenticity, integrity and confidentiality, and remember, ministers do talk to each other. If someone feels mistreated, it can hurt the reputation of your congregation.

The stages spelled out above are tried and true. For any search, it is important not to hurry the process. Skipping a stage can result in a bad fit. The process is spiritually deep and intensive, but I can promise that the reward is worth the effort.

– Jack Causey is services to ministers coordinator for the Center for Congregational Health ( based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

– Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health.


Please site Jack Causey, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

Share Your Own Experiences

How has your own experience compared with this process? Share in our discussion.

Resources for Calling a Minister

The Center is available to help with your process of calling a minister. We can provide consultation, search committee process development, Interim Ministry, as well as transitional support once a minister has been called.

Learn more at If we can help you in any way, please contact us! We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Marks of a Healthy Faith Community

For Baptists Today

Marks of a Healthy Faith Community

By Chris Gambill

What is a healthy faith community? That seems to be one of the great mysteries of the faith. There are many approaches to describing church health and definitions vary widely. As a consultant to hundreds of churches over the past 17 years, I have yet to find the one all-encompassing definition. I can say with assurance that, while no one definition of health fits all, there are some basic characteristics, or marks, of a healthy faith community.

In the Center for Congregational Health’s® extensive 17 year experience in working with faith communities, we have discovered that healthy congregations don’t all look or act the same. We have observed healthy faith communities in a variety of sizes and ministry contexts, with vastly different resources, and with varying outlooks for significant growth and development.

Congregational health is often viewed in light of theological principles derived from scripture. These include transforming spirituality, prayer, discipleship, compassion, evangelism, stewardship and generosity. It is important to point out that, while a sound theological foundation is vital to any faith community, it is simply not enough to keep it healthy. The Center for Congregational Health’s® approach to opening doors to hope and wholeness for faith communities, lay leaders and clergy enables faith communities to maintain their own theological perspectives. Our goal is to help them develop and maintain the framework within which these ideals and aspirations can flourish.

To understand and identify the marks of a healthy community of faith, I suggest turning to scripture. Examples from the earliest Christian communities provide helpful glimpses into the lives of God’s people striving to live together well.

The Biblical marks of a healthy faith community

Constructive conflict resolution

A healthy faith community is not one that never has conflict; it is one that resolves conflict constructively. When faced with internal conflict over the distribution of food in Acts 6, the apostles allowed the congregation to own the problem and participate in solving it. They avoided polarization (Grecian Jews versus Hebraic Jews) and sought what was best for the congregation. They were able to remain in a constructive, problem-solving mode and find a collaborative solution.

Adaptation to change

A healthy faith community has the capacity to adapt. Beginning in Acts 10, the scriptures portray an early church facing a potentially crippling crisis over identity and diversity. Christ followers were no longer limited to Jews. With this change, questions arose over who could rightfully be a member of the faith community and under what circumstances. Faced with this challenge to its most fundamental sense of identity, the early church adapted, emerging stronger, more inclusive and ready to take on the task of evangelizing the world.

Authentic community

A third mark of a healthy faith community is, well, community. One of the many casualties of life in the twenty-first century is the loss of what Robert Putnam calls our social capital.[i] He has documented numerous ways in which our relational connections have broken. This is in stark contrast to the church where “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46, NRSV). Many faith communities attempt to make difficult decisions, resolve conflict, overcome a financial crisis, grow and develop their ministry, and plan their future with minimal social capital within the congregation. The result is a decision-making that erupts into conflict and processes that produce not progress but frustration.

Ministry that reaches out as well as in

A healthy faith community ministers to those outside as well as inside the church. The Acts 2 believers shared among themselves as needs arose. They sold their possessions and “had everything in common.” Their strong ministry to believers was balanced by Peter’s and John’s healing and preaching outside the community of believers, as when they healed the beggar at the temple gate in chapter 3. They were also bold in proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. It is easy for churches to be caught in the trap of spending the vast majority of their resources, time and energy on those within the faith community, while neglecting their mission and service to those outside the walls of the church.

Good communication

A healthy faith community encourages honest and civil discourse. Communication is between people, not about them. In Acts 10 -11, when facing a critical juncture in the development of Christianity, the earliest Christians had to wrestle with whether Gentiles could be full members of the Christian community. To their credit, they were able to have what was, no doubt, a challenging conversation. It ended with Peter describing his experiences and the assembled apostles and believers declaring, “then God has given to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). The scriptures are full of many examples of God’s people having honest, but difficult, conversations about important issues. On their best days, the honest discourse led to a realization of God’s will and purposes and a desire to fulfill them together.

A balance between clergy authority and lay leadership

A healthy faith community supports participatory leadership. Clergy and lay leaders see themselves as ministry partners and work together to build fundamental capacities within the congregation. Clergy support, encourage, mentor and coach developing leaders. In Acts 6, seven church members were elected to share leadership responsibility. Their empowerment helped the church to grow. In I Corinthians 12, Paul emphasizes the importance of every gift within the church.

Clarity of identity and mission

A healthy faith community is bound together by a shared identity and mission. Faith communities are riddled with differences of opinion and belief about everything from politics to theology. They need something to bind them together that is bigger and more compelling than those things that could tear them apart. Getting clear about identity—understanding the congregation’s values, its shared history and culture, and its unique strengths and challenges—is one kind of binding agent. Another is identifying what inspires the congregation and pulls them forward into mission and ministry.

The early church in Acts again provides an example of a faith community with an overarching sense of identity and mission. In Acts 4:32, the writer says of this community, “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Their sense of connectedness was so deep that “there was not a needy person among them” (4:34). Though Acts clearly shows there were significant differences among the early believers, they were able to overcome these and seek the greater good of the community and their calling in Christ.

It must be said of healthy communities of faith that there are no perfect ones. A case in point can again be found in the Book of Acts. For many Christians, the most compelling picture of a healthy church is the early church described in Acts 2. However, later portrayals of this same church in Acts 5 and 6 reveal major shortcomings. Even within healthy communities of faith, it takes balanced effort and resourceful leadership to live together well in a fallen world. The striving for well-being is continuous, but absolutely worth the effort.

[i] Putnam, Robert, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
Chris Gambill is senior consultant and manager of congregational health services for the Center for Congregational Health ( based in Winston-Salem, N.C.


Please site Chris Gambill, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

What’s Next? – Transitions

What’s Next? When You are Considering a Change in Location, Vocation or Both

This article by Bill Wilson with Chris Gambill ran in the March 2011 edition of Baptists Today.

Resources for Considering a Change

The Center is available to help with your decisions about transitions.

  • Ask yourself these important questions:
    • What do you think is the ideal length of time for a minister to stay at one church?
    • Do you have a tenure in mind when you start at a ministry position?
    • Does knowing that Jesus provided us with a “theology of failure” (Mt. 10:14) make your ministry struggles more bearable?
    • Would you consider using a coach to guide you through the process of career choices?
  • If you are looking for a coach, turn to the Center for help. Our coaches guide ministers through strategic and goal-setting exercises to achieve better results in both personal and professional environments.
  • The Center for Congregational Health offers other services such as leadership development and consulting. Let us help you and your congregation through decisions of transitions.

Learn more at If we can help you in any way, please contact us! We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Managing Transitions from the Inside Out

For Baptists Today
December 2010

Emotionally Intelligent Ministry: Managing Transitions from the Inside Out
By Chris Gambill

Few like change. It creates anxiety and discomfort and it is just plain hard. Yet change is necessary for any faith community seeking to remain healthy and relevant. Intelligent ministry seeks effective ways to lead a congregation through constructive transition. Emotionally intelligent ministry recognizes and welcomes emotion as an integral part of any change scenario.

After all, the majority of ministry is set within an emotional context. Any change – large or small – within a congregational setting can stir up emotion. Knowing how to perceive and use emotion is a key to effective ministry. Emotional intelligence has a huge impact on an individual’s ability to form and maintain effective relationships. It also plays a vital role in how we respond to and manage any sort of change or conflict. The good news is that with proper assessment and coaching emotional intelligence can be improved.

So just what is emotional intelligence? According to John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who defined it in 1997, emotional intelligence is “the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” This concept was further refined by psychologist David Caruso for use in business management, and it works equally well in a congregational setting.

To put it simply, emotional intelligence is using emotion to help us cope with our environment successfully. The goal is to let emotion motivate and inspire us to constructive action.

The Flip Side of Conventional Leadership

In many ways emotionally intelligent ministry turns upside down conventional wisdom about good leadership. Conventional wisdom has encouraged leaders to focus on facts and to assume that emotional undercurrents are at best unhelpful and at worst dangerous and to be avoided. This cold and logical approach seeks to weigh the facts for sober evaluation of possible alternatives and choose the one with the most benefits and least liabilities. This approach, though sensible, often falls short.

The alternative, emotionally intelligent approach – a warm approach – rather than being avoidant of emotions takes them seriously and receives them as vital information to be included in the decision making and transition processes. This warm approach combines both cold data and emotional realities. Ministry leaders who consider rational and emotional channels of information together are best able to manage successful transitions inside and out.

We have all witnessed failures of congregational leaders’ cold approach to change. One that comes to mind is that of a church that built a modern sanctuary – a lovely facility that won architectural awards. The old, decaying sanctuary – insufficient and located too close to a major roadway – was expensive to maintain. Despite leadership efforts, emotional ties prevented the congregation from mustering the votes to tear it down. That church is now saddled with an eyesore and money pit.

Congregations often use a cold approach to the revisioning process. Leaders design a congregational survey, but receive fewer responses than expected. Too late, they realize that the survey does not provide information needed, or that it contains mountains of unusable data. The next step in the cold approach usually involves an ad-hoc visioning team of twelve of the smartest people in the congregation going on a retreat to create a new vision for the church. They come back excited and present the plan to a congregation that responds with a big, collective yawn.

What has happened in each of these change processes? The critical role of emotion was downplayed or ignored. The best transition efforts will fail unless the action plan not only addresses surface needs for change, but also considers how those affected by change will respond emotionally.

Exercising Emotionally Intelligent Ministry

The first step toward exercising emotionally intelligent ministry is developing the emotional self-awareness that allows one to ask questions such as:

1. What is my own emotional response or investment in this decision?

2. What are my natural strengths and tendencies, and are they helpful in this situation?

3. What are my defense mechanisms when there is opposition to my leadership?

4. What are my stress responses? How do I exhibit stress and anxiety?

The other aspect of emotional intelligence is an awareness of the emotional response of others. After ministry leaders identify their own feelings about upcoming changes, they must identify the feelings of the people involved in the transition. Emotional awareness requires empathy toward others and imagining how they might respond to a proposed change, then trying to recognize those who will become angry, those who will become anxious, and the people who might not be happy but who will take a wait and see attitude. Leaders who take a warm, emotionally intelligent approach to transition consider the various points of view and emotions of the faith community. Then they work to utilize and manage emotions to support the change process knowing that change will result in some discomfort but, ultimately, in a stronger ministry.

Competence in Four Areas

Emotionally intelligent ministry involves competence in four areas:

1. Perceiving Emotion

Perceiving emotion depends upon our ability to be observant. It begins with asking, “What emotions am I experiencing?” That leads to questions about what others are feeling and tests our ability to read facial expressions, voice tone, pitch and speed, and body language. A word of caution: a primary tool that congregations use to manage transition is the written word. It is important to read emotional communication in writing, but it is difficult. Never assume the emotional content of a written message. Ask.

2. Using Emotion

If we know how to perceive and then use emotions, we can more effectively accomplish a task. It is worth asking, “Are the emotions present helping or hindering decision-making and thought processes?” Or “What emotional climate do we need to do this work right now?” For example, if you need creativity and spontaneity, a positive, energized climate is best. If you need to spot errors or analyze a plan, a subdued energy level is best.

3. Understanding Emotion

Understanding emotion enables us to foresee what might happen during a transition. Emotions develop along a predictable progression. It is important to know if a current emotional movement is helpful or detrimental. For example, one that can happen during a period of change is this negative slide: someone starts out skeptical, something happens and he becomes anxious, then distrustful. The situation escalates and he becomes alienated, angry and finally enraged. If we recognize the sequence, we may be able to head things off at the skeptical or anxious stage and avoid the rage. Conversely, there are patterns in positive emotional chains, such as the progression from calm and content to happy and joyful. These are worth knowing and utilizing.

4. Managing Emotion

Managing emotions does not mean suppressing them. It means recognizing emotional states and deciding how best to utilize or adjust them in order to support the leadership needs of the moment. This involves realizing our own emotional state and deciding whether we need to do some self-coaching to change to a more helpful one. It also involves knowing ways to manage the emotional state of the larger group in order to help in decision-making and transition.

Though some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, it can be improved with self-awareness, practice and coaching. There are a number of good tools to develop self-awareness around emotional intelligence, such as the WorkPlace Big Five Profile, emotional intelligence tests, and 360 feedback assessments. These tools, combined with personal coaching can help to increase emotionally intelligent ministry.

Chris Gambill is senior consultant and manager of congregational health services for the Center for Congregational Health ( based in Winston-Salem, N.C.


Please site Chris Gambill, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.