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Transitions elicit five suggestions for churches

Over the next few months, our conference will celebrate at least seven ordinations and installations of new pastors. It’s normal for 10 percent of congregations to transition in a year but it’s unusual to have this many installations and ordinations in this condensed a time period.  With so many churches in transition, I am sharing five simple, but not exhaustive, suggestions.

mike denton

Mike Denton - Conference MInister offers Conference Comments

First, pastors do not come to churches fully formed.  To develop an excellent pastor, a church should give a pastor the opportunity and space to be a good pastor and leader, as well as to be a great and healthy person. To do that, a church should recognize the difference between feedback and criticism and give lots of feedback.

There is always more ministry to do. This is true for both the pastor and church as a whole, neither the church nor the pastor can to do all that could be done. As a community, it’s important to be strategic in making priorities clear or being unsatisfied with initiatives half done.  

Although it is primarily the pastor’s responsibility to make sure they take days off, work a reasonable number of hours and take vacations, sabbatical and sick leave, it is the church’s responsibility, too. Pastors covenant with churches to have this time not just as a benefit but also as part of their promise to be spiritually, physically and emotionally healthy. Every study on clergy health says this time is not just nice to have but is central to clergy and congregational health.

Second, a church and pastor can plan in advance for when the pastor, the church and both will succeed, because they will.  This is a strategic plan.  It’s easy to fall into the pattern of deciding to complete one thing and not have a plan of what to do next. On reaching a goal, momentum lingers, lapses or dissipates in trying to figure out what to do next with the momentum.  Having a five-year plan, a 10-year plan and even a 50-year plan helps a church flow from success to success instead of starting and stopping. It takes time, resources and energy, but is worth it and gives a plan for the energy that comes with success.

conference comments

Third, they can plan in advance for when the pastor the church and both will fail, because that will happen, too. Frequently, our responses to success and failure are the opposite of what they need to be. After a success, we tend to pause.  After a failure, we tend to ignore it and keep moving. I suggest lingering there. Success and failure are both gifts that have things to teach.  

When failing, a church needs to take time to figure out what went wrong, practicing the difference between taking responsibility and blaming.

A Personnel Committee and a Pastor Parish Relations Committee need to be set up before there are problems. The Personnel Committee focuses on performance, priority and remuneration questions for all staff. The Pastor Parish Relations Committee focuses on congregational interpersonal, pastoral and ethical challenges, and on spiritually supporting and encouraging the pastor’s health. The functions of these committees should and can remain separate.

Fourth, a congregation should take responsibility for its spiritual life and pray together all the time.  The pastor is a person they invite to be in a relationship with, part of their community, and to work with them to the end. The church is not paying the pastor to provide them with spiritual health. A pastor may enhance members’ spiritual life but doesn’t mediate their relationship with God. Members are to keep up that relationship through daily prayer, Bible study and service.

Often when people leave a church, they say they are not being fed. Coming to church is not going to restaurant where you order what you want. It’s coming to a potluck, where everyone’s bringing what they have to share. If there is something lacking, that might be a call for a member to create something or ask for help.

Finally, members need to make loving each other, creating community, and serving God and God’s people their goals and measures of their health.  A crisis arises in a church arises when these things are threatened, not when an individual or group does not get their way.  

Sometimes, it’s more than that. If a member feels so much pain because what he/she truly believes should be the church’s path is not the church’s direction, I encourage that person prayerfully to consider whether this is a call to go somewhere else or to start something new. It’s not losing or giving up. It’s being faithful.  

Although commitment to a community is important, a line is sometimes crossed where commitment becomes a claim of owning God’s church or an individual’s discernment of God’s will for the church. When we think that what is God’s is ours, we make God and our church idols.  

Part of the good news is that God doesn’t put us in that spot. We are freed from owning God’s Church. It’s God’s Church.  We share the care of it together. We are free from the weight of individual discernment for God’s will for a congregation. As God’s people, our task is to listen, together.  

We have resources—like a building or finances—that we can use to serve God and God’s people. We don’t have to protect them.  We are to share them well.

I hope these ideas helpful are. Please send your ideas to include in future columns to



Copyright © September/October 2015 - Pacific Northwest UCC Conference News


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