Authentic Community: the transition from familiar strangers to a family of faith

For Baptists Today
09/01/11

Authentic Community: the transition from familiar strangers to a family of faith

By Beth Kennett

Authentic Community

The phrase Authentic Community creates an image of people living and working together, being honest and approachable, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, and open to healthy communication. This description offers a beautiful picture of positive attributes. However, this picture is not easy to paint. In order to be an Authentic Community, people must be willing to acknowledge reality, to be honest about likes and dislikes, and to confront difficult truths. Authentic Community is about relationships with depth, relationships that move beyond the surface of pleasantries, relationships that allow people to know something of others’ experiences and passions. Authentic Community allows people to be who they are, who God called them to be, and to nurture whom God is calling them to become as individuals and as a community of faithful people.

Congregations have an opportunity to create Authentic Community that will enhance and strengthen the lives of individuals as well as to create an impact on society that will make a difference for our current generations and generations to come.

Familiar Strangers

Unfortunately, individuals today are becoming more and more isolated. We work alone, we play alone, and we even make decisions alone — without thinking of the impact on others. We have been duped into believing that life is easier if we do not involve others. In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam states, “The single most common finding from a half century’s research on the correlates of life satisfaction, not only in the United States but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.” (p. 332) He goes on to say, “Where once we could fall back on social capital — families, churches, friends — these no longer are strong enough to cushion our fall. In our personal lives as well as in our collective life. . .  we are paying a significant price for a quarter century’s disengagement from one another.” (p.335) There is scientific evidence to prove that we are damaging our health through a lack of relationships and personal contact with others.

Every week, churches offer opportunities for individuals to connect through worship services, prayer times, Bible studies, programs and ministry — meaningful life experiences. Yet participation in these particular opportunities has been declining for 50 years. Every week fewer and fewer people, who really barely know each other, are gathering with the intent of making a difference in their lives and in the lives of others. Those who do gather, sit side by side with people they barely know or know only on the surface. Every week buildings are half-full of people who believe that they do not have the time to get to know each other as anything more than acquaintances. Every week church buildings contain groups of familiar strangers who are trying to function as congregations. Authentic community is nowhere in sight.

 

Transitioning to a Family of Faith

The apostle Paul understood the concept of Authentic Community. Throughout his letters to the early churches, Paul repeatedly shares ways congregations can live better as a group, as a church. He speaks of belonging and connecting, of communicating and accepting, of being a place where no one is an outsider. Paul encourages the church to focus on the teachings and actions of Jesus in order to develop into healthy communities of faith. Jesus, before his death, gives a new command to his disciples; he impresses on them the importance of living lives of love. It is in living love — incorporating love into every aspect of our individual lives and the life of our community — that we begin to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is through relationship with God and living the teachings of Jesus Christ that we can establish Authentic Community within the church. It is through nurturing communities that we experience healthier living.

 

Building Community

Congregations have many opportunities to build community and nurture relationships among individuals. But congregations must recognize and embrace these opportunities. It is easy to reduce the time necessary for shared prayer joys and concerns, planned fellowship activities, ice-breakers and other ways for individuals to learn more about each other. It is imperative in all of the programming that congregations do, to include opportunities for healthy relationships to develop.

I am part of a small congregation — 102 confirmed members and 36 active children. Two years ago, we intentionally began planning opportunities for individuals to connect other than on Sundays and we encourage people to connect through social media, email and texting. Our church is experiencing a stronger sense of community across generational lines. This summer, we have experienced more regular attendance than ever before during the summer months. This is a positive transition toward becoming an Authentic Community.

Through the natural process of congregational life, Authentic Community can be nurtured. If a congregation is purposeful in the day-to-day life of planning, implementing, serving and worshiping, familiar strangers will develop deeper and more meaningful relationships that will lead our congregations to being families of faithful people.

Source: Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone.New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000

Beth Kennett is network coordinator for healthy faith communities for the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org) based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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

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Resources for Conflict

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

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

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


Recalculating

9/19/11
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 (www.healthychurch.org).


Conflict as Blessing: Please Don’t Waste This Crisis

For Baptists Today
08/01/2011

Conflict as Blessing: Please Don’t Waste This Crisis

By Bill Wilson

Ask any minister, “What is the worst part of your job?” and nearly all will tell you, “Conflict!”. Ask any congregation member what they like least about their church experience, and most will answer the same. Conflict is everywhere people are, and it seems to be escalating. The incivility of our culture is having a toxic effect on ministry and congregations.

The FACT 2000 survey of 14,000 congregations found that, in the past five years, 75 percent of churches have experienced some level of conflict. At any given time, one-fifth of congregations are in active conflict. With our depressed economy and seismic job losses, many lives are deeply stressed. It comes as no surprise that churches are experiencing more conflict than ever. Regarding conflict as blessing seems foolish and naïve. Is it possible, however, to learn to manage our conflict constructively?

Speaking up early

Church leaders are wise to address conflict early and proactively before it escalates to become divisive. The issue is not whether you will have conflict, but what you will do with it. Following biblical commands means handling conflict with openness, compassion and as much transparency as possible. Speaking up early, rather than sweeping disagreement under the carpet, avoids a host of problems that over time can leave a congregation divided and deeply wounded.

Conflict within a congregation can begin as a simple difference of opinion over worship styles, carpet color or youth activities, or it can be as shame-filled as division over clergy sexual misconduct or staff financial mismanagement. It always causes discomfort, and it can be downright painful. And yet, conflict within a congregation can be a catalyst for healthy growth.

Growing through the pain

In my experience, it is the rare adult who makes any significant life change without discomfort and pain. Throughout the Bible, God uses conflict to grow his people. Paul, Peter, Martha, Mary, David and Jeremiah are examples of heroes who learned through the ache of failure and conflict. The letters to the early church are filled with instructions for managing conflict. We are not the first to walk this way.

Conflicts and crises make excellent teachers. They often lead to new and better ways of doing things. If a youth leader’s misbehavior results in a safer policy for adult interaction with teens, the youth ministry is strengthened. If employee theft inspires a smart policy that minimizes risk, congregational trust is enhanced. When bitter argument gives way to thoughtful conversation, community is built.

Keys to navigating conflict

At the Center for Congregational Health, we believe there are several keys to navigating conflict. One is to avoid triangulation. During conflict, it is tempting for people to talk about each other to anyone who will listen. Instead, we are called to take Matthew 18 seriously and learn to talk to each other about the issue. Such conversations must come in from the parking lot to the fellowship hall. Leaders can facilitate opportunities for guided conversations in a manner that allows everyone to voice an opinion. Mature leaders can help others learn to discuss deep issues of differences, disagreements and disappointments. When people feel belittled, ignored or disrespected, the outcome is very different from when they feel valued, included and heard.

A second practice is to anticipate conflict. Healthy congregations have regular times to talk about life together. Opportunities specifically devoted to open discussion create a safe place for the congregation to ask hard questions and relieve anxiety. Deacon or business meetings that include unstructured time for asking questions build trust. Congregational leaders who are willing to hear suggestions and critiques without undue defensiveness model maturity and deepen the fellowship.

A third practice is to get help. As with Paul and Timothy, in some cases, despite the best efforts of leadership and the congregation to remain open-minded and transparent, a polarity cannot be resolved. When conflict gets especially heated, a third-party intervention may be required to enable us to overcome our emotional anxiety and harmful habits.

Finally, we need to learn the art of graceful exits. If a conflict escalates beyond reconciliation, our goal as Christians ought to be to bless one another and then separate. Often, in a worst-case intractable conflict, the two sides take their focus away from the issue and set out to destroy each other. This tears at the fabric of the church and decimates our witness for Christ. We can certainly do better.

While the church of Christ may be filled with sinners and conflict, when we manage conflict in a way that leads to a healthier congregation, we become a message of hope to the larger world. There may be no better way for the church to witness to a conflict-weary culture than to handle its own, internal differences with wisdom and grace.

Crisis and conflict awaken our passions and can motivate us to a better way. When conflict arrives, as it must, please do not waste the opportunity to seek to turn it into a blessing.

Learn more about understanding conflict and a discussion of the levels of conflict, as identified by Speed Leas.

Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org).

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

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Resources for Conflict

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

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

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


Examples of Communication from The Key to All Transition

Examples of Communication from The Key to All Transition

Published in Baptists Today by Chris Gambill with Natalie Aho

Change is inevitable. Significant transitions do come, but because they occur infrequently, most congregations do not naturally have the tools to cope with them effectively. Transitions – positive or negative – create anxiety. Whether it’s hiring a new pastor, changing location, saying goodbye to a church patriarch or matriarch, adding or subtracting a worship service or even deciding how to handle a large financial gift – transitions can cause discomfort, distrust and conflict.

The primary way to decrease discomfort and anxiety and to increase trust during a transition is through communication: intentional, consistent, multi-modal communication. While effective communication is important to any faith community, it is vital during a time of transition. Communication engenders trust when leaders do what they say they will do. Effective communication can move a change process forward by creating positive energy and anticipation. Where transition can be foreseen, congregational leaders should create a communications plan and assign responsibilities.

Read the rest of this article.

We wanted to provide a few concrete examples of when we have seen churches using communication effectively during a transition.

Quarterly Church Conference:

Search Committee Process:

  • As mentioned in the article, the church first created a “logo” of sorts that provided some graphical consistency (colors, font type, font words) – example: “2011 FBC Pastor Search”. In their printed pieces (newsletters) and online (website), they provided a timeline with the full search committee process (in the consistent colors) and they would move an electronic arrow along the timeline as they moved through the process. They also created a “life-size” version of this timeline on white board and hung it in a main hallway of the church. They moved the arrow along this timeline as well.

Moving Forward:

  • To provide a participatory experience, the church created a time capsule. They wanted to say “good-bye” to their past in order to move forward with a new plan and a new future. They put in the time capsule the things (or image representations) they want to stay in the past and they also included gifts to the future members. This was an opportunity for them to physically “bury the past” and expect there will be a future. They held an elaborate, focused outside service. One particular memory for Chris Gambill was of a very old member pointing to a group of young children watching her place a “future” item into the time capsule. She then said to them, “I want you to give this to my great, great grandchildren.”
  • One congregation wrote a play depicting the life and history of the congregation. They had vignettes portrayed by characters in costumes from the past. This is a great way to mark a significant time in the life of the congregation and then move forward into a new time.

Financial Gift:

  • The best way to communicate effectively when the church receives a significant financial gift is to have a policy in place NOW (before any gift is received) to prevent any problems. The church should not have react but should be proactive. Eliminate designated funds (the outsider now handling the gift may not know if the designated fund still needs money). There should be a process of review, input, and decision making. Be thankful and acknowledge the gift. Put it in escrow, and then move through the process of discussion and input opportunities for anyone who has an investment in the outcome of this fund (which should be every member of your congregation). Every idea should be heard, and then evaluated. The conclusion of what to do with the fund should be a decision process with a possible range of outcomes (the fund may not be used in just one way).

Significant Transition of Change:

  • Recognize that a lot of change-related decisions are really about trying to resolve a polarity, rather than solving a problem. The question may be, “Do we want to be innovative or traditional?” and the answer is “yes.” Options that seem to be opposites must be held in tension with one another. You need to be able to recognize when the question at hand is really about polarity and develop a strategy to wrestle with the benefits and liabilities of any decision (from both sides). The Center for Congregational Health has experience in helping your congregation make a better decision. Contact us to learn more about polarities through a workshop or a consultation.

Interactive Communication:

  • The wide use and availability of the Internet and mobile devices has allowed the average church to communicate instantly and, in some cases, intimately, with its congregants. Visit the icm4clergy blog created by Natalie Aho for tips and theories on how to use the Internet for communication during transitions.

If your church has other examples of successful communication plans used during times of transition, please comment here or on our Facebook page.


Communication: The Key to All Transition

For Baptists Today
06/01/11

Communication: The Key to All Transition

By Chris Gambill with Natalie Aho

Change is inevitable. Significant transitions do come, but because they occur infrequently, most congregations do not naturally have the tools to cope with them effectively. Transitions – positive or negative – create anxiety. Whether it’s hiring a new pastor, changing location, saying goodbye to a church patriarch or matriarch, adding or subtracting a worship service or even deciding how to handle a large financial gift – transitions can cause discomfort, distrust and conflict.

The primary way to decrease discomfort and anxiety and to increase trust during a transition is through communication: intentional, consistent, multi-modal communication. While effective communication is important to any faith community, it is vital during a time of transition. Communication engenders trust when leaders do what they say they will do. Effective communication can move a change process forward by creating positive energy and anticipation. Where transition can be foreseen, congregational leaders should create a communications plan and assign responsibilities.

Multi-modal communication

A multi-modal approach is essential. Every individual has a preferred way to receive and process information – some of us prefer to read, others to see, hear or witness an event. Church leaders should engage all communication methods – newsletter, worship bulletin, oral announcements during worship and other community gatherings, as well as online communication tools like the church website, Facebook church page, Twitter and email newsletters and groups (see examples).

Visual communication is often neglected. One church that I know of did it effectively by placing a large, multi-colored timeline of the pastor search process and moved a large arrow along the timeline to show the congregation where the search committee was in the process. The same graphic appeared in the newsletter. (Read of other examples.)

For oral announcements, it is important to find a spokesperson with excellent speaking skills and a presence that inspires trust. The speaker should have written remarks, prepared in advance, that give the appropriate amount of information. Be thoughtful and intentional about how much to communicate. Too much detail, too soon in a transition process can increase anxiety if those details change. Too little information leaves people distrustful and wondering what they are not being told.

When using online communication, it is important to remember that most of these platforms are accessible to the general public. For example, the church website is likely to be viewed by a visitor or non-member. Be selective about what is shared with the larger population. Consider providing a “members only” area, which requires a log-in. Emails should be limited to regular releases once a week to refrain from overwhelming inboxes. One suggestion would be to set up a separate news list that members can choose to subscribe to for information regarding a transition (see example).

Talk among yourselves

Besides communicating effectively to the congregation during transition, leaders need ways to foster healthy communication from and among the congregation. Congregation members and leaders need the capacity to dialog about important issues. For example, during a pastoral transition, leaders must engage the congregation in a discussion of the gifts, skills and experiences needed in a new pastor.

Social media platforms like Facebook can be an effective means of online communication. Relationships and boundaries should be established before serious discussions begin. It is important for the congregation to encourage friendly engagement, learn about one another’s lives, and when meeting in person, reference status updates and photos seen online. It is a good idea to create a church covenant of guiding suggestions for online interaction (see example).

Sometimes for efficiency, a church uses non-conversational methods for data gathering, i.e. surveys. Using a survey alone to gather data can be a mistake, because surveys do not address the emotional concerns and deeper issues raised during times of change. There is no substitute for a good conversation.

Planned dialog

Churches can use a structured process to ensure good face-to-face conversation about sensitive issues. This can be as simple as a community gathering with a volunteer moderator and a few ground rules. Or it can be a structured dialog led by an outside moderator such as one from the Center for Congregational Health. Both are appropriate, depending upon the anxiety level surrounding the topic and the skill level of lay leaders.

These days congregations rarely have conversations about the life of the church. Most time spent together is in worship, working or learning. Even fellowship events are usually unstructured and don’t facilitate healthy communication. Most leaders only hear from the most upset “squeaky wheels,” who may not accurately represent the majority of the congregation. Consequently, every faith community can benefit from regular opportunities for conversation without decision-making. I recommend quarterly gatherings for discussing “our common life together as God’s people in this place.” This type of relaxed forum allows leaders to take the pulse of the congregation and address needs before they become problems. And when the gatherings conclude, leaders can share the thoughts with the community at-large by posting on the church website, Facebook page or blog (see example).

Good communication is the key to all transition, and it is a key to a healthy congregation. When a congregation has already established intentional, consistent and multi-modal methods of communication, transitions go much smoother and can become opportunities for positive growth.

See examples how a congregation can actively use these communication tools.

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

Natalie Aho is communications consultant for the Center for Congregational Health.  Follow her Interactive Communication for Clergy blog at icm4clergy.wordpress.com for tips.

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

A few questions for thought:

1. How has your church used communication to help with a transition?

2. What was one of your communication plans?

3. How do you communicate “from and among” your congregation?

4. When did your congregation last discuss the life of your church?

Comment here or respond on our Facebook page.

Resources for Communication

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

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

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


Four Essential Practices for Missional Congregations

Being missional requires more than just passion. Research has identified four practices that either support or undermine a church’s efforts at missional ministry. Join us for this dialogue at the CBF General Assembly in Tampa, FL.

Friday, June 24, Convention Center in Tampa, FL
2-3 pm or 3:30-4:30 pm

If you can’t make the workshop, follow us on twitter (www.twitter.com/cntr4conghealth) for tweets from attendees.

 

Questions for Discussion

1. What “practices” best define or describe your congregation?

2. What are some healthy practices your congregation does well?

3. In what area of congregation does your congregation struggle the most?

4. What one thing does your congregation do well?

5. If you could change one thing about your congregation, what would you change?

6. Can you identify helpful and unhelpful patterns of behavior in your congregation?


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

For Baptists Today
04/01/11

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 (www.healthychurch.org) 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 www.healthychurch.org. If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


A Healthy Handoff: Interview with Dr. Mike Glenn

For Baptists Today

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

March 28, 2011

Interview with Dr. Mike Glenn, Pastor Brentwood Baptist Church of Brentwood, TN.

Q 1: When the former pastor’s name is brought up, what do you say?

A: That’s easy for me. I always affirm what he did well…your dad was father to this entire church, by affirming him, I affirm the church. What I have learned is that the seed for all that we have done since I became pastor was in our past. Those early stories of the church contain what is to come. What we have done is the next step of what was started by my predecessor. Every time we have a celebration, we talk about how this new day grows out of our past. It lessens our anxiety about the change curve and connects us to my predecessor and his success. By affirming the past, we help create our future.

Q2. Boundaries/Relationship?

A: Your dad set hard and fast boundaries, and was very helpful when people tried to get him to cross them. He would only take part in a funeral if I invited him, and I did that often. For five years after he left Brentwood, he did interims, preached many places, and attended another church that was just getting started in the southern part of our county. Your mother worked in a mission setting in Nashville for the first few years after they left, and then was part of the church plant also.  They gave me and my family space to become the new pastor.

Eventually, we called them both to come back on our staff as Co-ministers of missions. That gave them a way to reconnect with the church and they did that in an effective and affirming way. 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. He once wrote me a letter that means as much to me as anything I have received during my ministry here. In it, he told me that God had answered his prayer for the future of this church by bringing me here as pastor.

He was the founding pastor of this church, and I am only the second pastor. 2 pastors in 41 years is very unusual today. A big part of our success can be traced to the way all of us managed that transition. When he came back after being gone 5 years, he was a beloved figure and the congregation began to really enjoy our friendly relationship. They took pride in the face that they could love both of us. Something in the chemistry of the church changed when they saw us laughing and loving each other. It was like an injection of good health. People loved the fact that we were good friends. We’ve had people tell me that they joined our church because that wanted to be part of a church with a heart big enough to love both pastors.

Over the years, Bill became a counselor, prayer partner, and encourager for me. We were so close that, when he was hospitalized, the doctor would come into the waiting room and ask for the Wilson family, and I would stand up with the rest of you!

Q4: how did you get comfortable with hearing praise for your predecessor?

A: As a pastor, there are certain life events/moments when you are present for a family that bond you together forever. Death, birth, tragedy, baptism, marriage, etc. I knew that Bill had those bonds and I had to learn to acknowledge that he would forever be uniquely linked to certain people. In the same way, I am now linked with many people through similar circumstances. The appreciation for him does not lessen my role in any way. There is also the modeling of behavior for others that I hope my successor will exhibit toward me. That is a healthy pattern we have tried hard to establish.

I also learned to appeal to that devotion when it was appropriate. One time, in the midst of a church-wide crisis, 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 go to Bill Wilson 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.

Part of what you learn as a pastor who succeeds another pastor, especially a founding pastor, is that your gift sets are very different. We were both called to the same church, but at different seasons. Appreciating what your predecessor did does not diminish what you can and will do. One time your dad came to me and said “I could never have done this”, meaning all the things that had taken place since his departure. My response to him was “we could never have done this if you had not done what you did”.

We have to model for our people what we teach and preach: there are different gifts and talents that are used in unique ways in unique moments. Our bottom line has always been: we love this church, it is always about what is best for the church, not what is best for us as individuals. The fact that we both believed that made a huge difference.

Q5: tips to incoming pastors?

A:

-Take your time. The transition will be slow in the best of times. Patience will pay off. Rush it and you’ll be sorry.

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

-Remember that what was done prior to your coming allows you to live into the future God has brought you there to help create. Never separate the past from the future.

-Honor your elders. Simple, true and right.

Read the full story of A Healthy Handoff.


A Health Handoff: Interview with Ken Morris

For Baptists Today

March 22, 2011

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

 

 

Interview with Ken Morris, Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, West Jefferson, NC

1.  In what ways did you prepare your congregation to love another pastor?

 

I worked so many years as an associate pastor that it helped me to know how to work with another pastor. I had witnessed a situation where the pastor was not supported by the former pastor. I decided to be gone from the church a lot during the two-year interim period. I took off on weekends. I was ready to retire and do things with my family. I wanted to come to church to play hand bells or sing in the choir, not much else. If I was needed to preach during the interim, I told the congregation to be supportive of the next pastor.

I offered to the search committee that I would take a year off before returning to worship here. They said to keep coming, because they were sure they would hire someone I would get along with.

2.  Did you put boundaries in place for yourself after retirement regarding things such as funerals, weddings and hospital visits?

I had boundaries and I told the congregation about them. I said, “I want to retire and I want to support the new pastor.” Once Michael came, if someone asked me to do a funeral, I would tell them to go through Michael. Then Michael could ask me to do it. If someone was in the hospital, I might drop by, but not as a pastor. I would say, “Michael will take good care of you.” Sometimes Michael would ask me to make a visit with him.

I served as an interim for two churches outside the county during that transition time. I have refused to teach Sunday school and I do not serve on committees.

3.  How did you avoid triangulation? I.e. – congregation members coming to you about a problem at the church or with Michael

We have had no triangulation issues, because I tell everyone how fortunate I am to have Michael as a pastor. Michael invites me to sit in on staff meetings, and I have done that one or two times. I said to Michael, “I need you to pastor me as I grow old,” and he has been my pastor.

4.  How did you leave the church behind?

At age 66, I was ready to go and they knew it. As I said goodbye, the church made a big deal of my leaving. And I made it clear that I was leaving.

5.  How did you settle into a new role once you were not a paid minister?

Doing two paid interims helped. My wife, Judy, and I enjoyed those. For one church, I just preached and led Sunday and Wednesday worship. In the church in Virginia, we stayed weekends. That feeling that I belonged to another church helped me feel that not all my roots were at First Baptist. Filling in elsewhere and being gone is very important.

6. What tips would you pass along to a retiring minister?

I would stress the importance of finding new interests and a new identity. I would say not to be totally wrapped up in being a minister. I would tell them to keep a sense of humor.

7. What is the key to a successful transition?

Michael invited me into his world. He was not protective. The church had already made me pastor emeritus. I had not elevated the pastor’s role, and I wanted others to be able to fill in for me. I told Michael that I would not interfere and even asked him to work me out of the job.

Read the full article A Health Handoff.


A Healthy Handoff: Interview with Michael Lea

For Baptists Today

March 22, 2011

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

Interview with Michael Lea, Pastor, First Baptist Church, West Jefferson, NC

1.     When the former pastor’s name is brought up, what do you say?

  • “Ken Morris, he’s great isn’t he.  I love Ken.  He has been a great mentor, friend, and support to me. I can’t imagine ministry and life here without him.”

 

2.     How have you helped your predecessor and the congregation set healthy boundaries around their relationships?

  • First and foremost, Ken laid the groundwork by providing a model for healthy boundaries.  Some healthy boundaries were already in place when I got here. Secondly, in the interview process, I quizzed the Pastor Search Committee on Ken and how they imagined the transition working out, and even how they imagined life after the transition.  I also met with Ken before I accepted the call here, both on the phone and then in person. After our phone conversation and then that first meeting in person, I knew things were going to be ok.  Since then, Ken and I have worked together openly about each of our roles and tried to set an example as a team as to the boundaries that we feel are healthy for everyone. The key I think is trust and open communication.  I trust Ken and he trusts me.  That trust also extends to the congregation.  People see that trust and I think that helps.

 

3.     How are you able to share pastoring duties? Have you invited him into your ministry?

  • I believe we have shared them quite well. We have officiated quite a number of funerals together.  Many of the people and families in our congregation have been members of this church long enough that they have a rich history with Ken, so they want Ken to be involved in events like funerals and weddings.  At the same time, the church has been open to my leadership from the very beginning.  Ken has provided a great deal of leadership here by saying to people “Michael is our Pastor now; let’s ask him or look to him for leadership in this time.”
  • From day one, I invited Ken in, but the invitation works both ways. Ken invited me in and helped me, especially in that first year.  I asked him to go visit people with me quite often in those first several months.  I also don’t like the phrase “my/your ministry.” It’s not my ministry.  Its Christ’s ministry, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it’s the church’s ministry.  As Paul says in Phillipians 1:3,5 “I thank my God every time I remember you…because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now”.  I believe as long as we approach ministry in this way, maintaining and embodying the philosophy that we have this ministry together, that we are called to a sharing in the gospel ministry of God, then I think the invitation is always there for us to do what we feel God is leading us to do instead of becoming possessive and territorial about the landscape of ministry.  Ken and I as well as the church share that philosophy; and I believe that has made all the difference in a healthy sharing in pastoral duties.    

 

4.     What have you learned from your predecessor about leaving well?

  • Grace and humility in leaving.  Ken has shown a great deal of both in his transition from Pastor to Pastor Emeritus. 
  • Show support and confidence in the church and in the new pastor and/or pastoral staff in moving forward.
  • The life of the Pastor is never really over, until life itself is over.  At the same time, I have learned from him how to live into a new role well.

 

5.     What tips would you pass along to an incoming minister?

  • Be open.
  • Don’t be territorial, i.e. know that it is Christ’s ministry through the church and not “your/my ministry”.
  • Be respectful of and sensitive to the history and culture of the church.  In other words, know what you are walking into.
  • Leave your ego at the door.

 

6.     What is the key to a successful transition?

  • Respect for and genuine interest in the story/stories into which we are entering.  Respect for the ones who have come before you, no matter what kind of job they did.  In my case, Ken has provided great leadership and helped provide a healthy church for me to help lead.
  • Working hard at the relationships and dynamics of the situation in which you are placed.  Ultimately, if everyone works together, then you have a chance at being successful. If one person or group of people in the transition decides not to work together, then I imagine you are going to have problems.  Its hard work and you have to be consistent in this work.  
  • Building trust with former pastor, new pastor, and congregation.
  • Openness to people’s requests and respect for their history with the former pastor as well as recognition of the new relationship being built with the new or current pastor.
  • Time and patience.

Read the full article A Healthy Handoff.