How firm a foundation

I currently have the privilege of serving as transition facilitator for a congregation in Memphis, Tennessee. This involves coaching a team of laypeople as they lead the church through some discussions that will be intense as well as - if we do our work with great intention and trust God's presence - fruitful and hopeful. (Transition facilitators work with congregations that have traditional interim ministers, dividing the labor between congregational self-study and the essential pastoral functions.)

This past weekend I trained this transition team. We had a big agenda for our Saturday together. Worship together, bond as a team, understand the scope of the transition process, pray our way through the large physical plant, plan for our first congregational conversation, and set the timeline for our work. (Yes, I was tired, and I'm sure the team was as well!)

I was not surprised that we quickly fell behind in our ambitious schedule. The people around the table were telling stories and enjoying one another's company. Internally, my desire to stay on task warred with my conviction that these conversations were the work, no matter what our agenda said. A key component of the day was the sharing of faith journeys. I was amazed by the depth to which team members told deeply personal stories. There were tears. There was laughter. The connections being formed and strengthened were almost visible, they were so visceral.

We were able to check off the most important to-dos in preparation for our work with the church as a whole (and still adjourn on time!). But when we reflected on the our work we had done over eight hours, there was consensus that the team-building pieces - faith stories, casual conversation during lunch, a tangent or two, affirming one another's experiences and gifts via call and response - were where God was most powerfully at work.

This team was put together through congregational ballots that were then processed by a nominating committee to ensure as much diversity in life and church experience, perspective, age, and gender as possible. It was purposefully representational of a church that - like most churches - has plenty of different thoughts on what the next chapter of ministry should look like. 

That's exactly why this "soft" or "slow" work was necessary. (To be clear, I believe attention to relationship-building is tough and makes processes more efficient in the long run.) We were able to see the image of God in one another and note what we have in common so that we can work from that starting point rather than areas of disagreement. Now the team members can model that recognition of each person's belovedness, that delight in one another, that love for their church as they lead the discussions that must be had if the congregation is to notice and respond to God's invitations in this season.

In a snapshot, this is the opportunity in the transition time between settled ministers. The interim period puts a pin in business as usual and gives space for the congregation to deepen the connections among members and between people and God, making it possible then to have a more focused, faithful impact on hearts and lives both within and beyond the church walls. Pease don’t squander this gift!

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash.