hospitality

The challenges of a pastoral change - a PK parent's perspective

Last week I talked about the challenges of moving as a clergy spouse. This week I want to address an issue of even greater concern to me personally: moving a preacher’s kid.

When our family relocated to our current city for my husband's pastoral appointment, our son was two. He didn’t really understand what was happening. He was also a bit delayed in stringing together words, so he couldn’t ask us questions or verbally share many of his feelings. We tried to make him feel safe, and we explained as simply and as well as we knew how. Still, his anxiety ramped up as he saw boxes accumulating in our old house, causing behavior changes and stress-induced illness. And when we moved into our current house, which was a great situation in many ways, he spent the first day wandering around the house in tears. What was this place? Why were we here? Would we leave him here alone? Where was all of his stuff? It broke my mama heart.

He’s an adaptable kid, though, and it didn’t take long for him to love his new surroundings. So much so that my husband and I dreaded telling him that now, four years later, it is time to move again. We knew we would be moving months before we could tell our son. For one thing, we were bound by confidentiality. For another, we weren’t sure yet where we were going. Once we found out, we sat him down and gave him the news. “You mean I’ll have to leave my school? My NanNan and Papa? My church?” That last one really stung. When a clergy parent moves, the whole family loses its faith community and the anchor of its social connections.  (That is, if the family has been coming to church with the clergy parent. Some do not, and churches should not assume that the family will attend.) It’s hard to explain to a child that mom or dad’s job is the link to a particular congregation and that changing jobs means severing that link.

As you can hear, the grief is potent in a PK. Here our son made his first real friends. He claimed his church and his school, and they claimed him in return. He will move away from one set of grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and three cousins who are like his siblings. He will leave behind his own activities, like the martial arts academy where he has learned so many life skills and the music school that promoted his verbal development. In all of this sadness his dad and I are trying to balance honoring his feelings and helping him get excited about a new adventure.

One of my son’s biggest worries relates to parsonage/manse/rectory life. Not everything in our house belongs to us - some furnishings belong to the church. He is trying to get straight what will be going with us and wondering if some of his toys and stuffed animals were never really his. And what if we leave something behind? And where will I sleep in my new house? Will I have a bed since this bed stays here? These are all hard concepts for a 6-year-old, especially as the boxes tower over us and the anxiety mounts and the truck’s arrival date grows ever closer.

When we get to our new town, our routines (specifically our Sunday morning ones) will change. He and I won’t go to Panera Bread for breakfast before Sunday School at 10:00 and worship at 11:00, because there is no Panera Bread. We don’t know which worship service we’ll attend, traditional at 9:00 or contemporary at 11:00.  Our son’s Sunday School teachers will have to learn that he is always in costume, whether as a penguin or Batman or a book character named Galaxy Zack. And he’s a method actor, so expect the voice and persona to go with the character. He’s not going to be a sharply-dressed, perfectly still and reverent preacher's kid.

You know from reading to this point that though the circumstances are causing some of my son’s anxiety, some of my own is probably adding on. It’s kind of a cycle. I’m working on it, I promise! But it is important for clergy to be aware of what their children might experience with a move - knowing adversity can be character-building - and for churches receiving new pastors with children to understand what the minister will be coping with on the home front. Make an effort to get to know clergy children, to make them feel valued in their own right. Soon they will be at home in your congregation, and your new pastor can focus more fully on ministry alongside you.

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash.

The challenges of a pastoral change - a clergy spouse's perspective

My husband and I are both clergy. I was ordained first, in a tradition that allows ministers to decide what positions to seek and where to search. Matt, on the other hand, still had a couple of years to go as a provisional minister in the United Methodist Church, in which clergy are appointed to congregations by the bishop. In other words, I was mobile, and he was not. So it made sense that I would move to where he was pastoring when we got married fifteen years ago.

As it has worked out, I have been the trailing spouse ever since. Though frustrating at first, those circumstances eventually played a part in my decisions to pursue interim ministry, consultant, and coach training as well as opportunities to serve beyond my denomination. I love what I do, and because of my education and network, I can do it anywhere.

It’s helpful to remember that, because it’s moving time again. Next week we’ll migrate our household two hours up the road so that Matt can take a new appointment. For the moving minister, this change is predictably bittersweet. It’s hard to leave a congregation you’ve pastored for several years, but the anticipation of new challenges is (mostly) exciting. There’s a tangible reality this clergyperson is reaching toward. For the spouse of a minister, this new thing is much more nebulous. There’s no pre-set title, role, or responsibilities waiting - there shouldn’t be, at least! - and contact with the new church and community is minimal before the actual move. The feelings of a moving clergy spouse, then, can vary widely, and I think it's important for churches receiving new pastors to know that.

Specifically, there can be more grief than excitement because what we as spouses are leaving is much more definable that what the future holds. From my perspective, there has been good in our current church, even as there has been difficulty. I have cultivated networks in the surrounding community that I will deeply miss, and I have doubts that there will be similar counterparts in my new town. And I lament the unmet hopes and plans for our time in this city. (For example, I have had to put some developments in my coaching practice on hold to free up time to pack and to be able to put a more long-term address on legal paperwork.)

Also, developing a sense of home is difficult as a clergy spouse, particularly the spouse of an officially itinerant minister. The unknowns around how long we will be living in this place affect how much I invest in the church and community. I wonder whether it’s worth hanging pictures and art on the wall. I hesitate to make friends, knowing we will not be here forever. The anticipatory grief begins almost as soon as a bond is established. I note all these patterns in myself, even as I wonder how to adapt them to be more healthy and settled.

And then there’s the issue of expectations. I am not, will never be, don’t want to be the stereotypical clergy spouse. For example, don’t assume I’ll be at church whenever the doors are open. I also probably won’t teach Sunday School, even though I love kids and have been both a children’s and a youth minister, because I’m on the road some Sundays. This can be hard for a receiving congregation to understand. It’s not rejection. It’s just that I have my own call to ministry, and I’m very introverted to boot. And, of course, these expectations say nothing about my parenting. My kid is always in character. He’s painfully (for me) outgoing. He's very inquisitive. While I want him to be respectful, I will not change who he is so that he can be a smartly-dressed, seen-but-not-heard preacher’s kid. (More on that next week.)

Clergy spouses, I pray with and for you when you go through a pastoral change. Churches, I encourage you to do the same and to ask your pastoral families what they - and I mean all the family members - need. When the clergy family feels seen, heard, and valued, it makes it much more likely that your pastor will be able to focus on the work at hand. It also breeds the kind of connection that makes the minister and family want to stay in your congregation for a long time.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash.

Networking that doesn't feel icky

{Note: this post originally appeared at laurastephensreed.com. It is offered here to let search teams know what hard-working candidates and potential great fits might be doing as they move toward engagement with your processes. This means of networking is in contrast to the self-interested version that is always focused on getting ahead - whatever that looks like and wherever that lands the networker - rather than on sincere engagement and mutual discovery.]

The last semester of seminary was an anxious time for me. Every day I felt more unemployable as my classmates were appointed or called to their post-graduation churches. Meanwhile, I went on interview after interview, breaking the top two or three several times before hearing the “no” that every minister in a search process dreads.

A big factor in my failed searches was that I didn’t know a lot of people. I was a name on a page, with too little experience to make search teams want to find out more about me. One reason for my small network was that I simply had not met a lot of people. I had only recently found my way to the progressive Baptist world, which was where I wanted to serve, yet as a Candler student most of my friends and professors were United Methodist. But there was also the side of me that rejected networking as I understood it: schmoozing and getting ahead based on the connections I had, not the work I had done or the skills I possessed.

In time I realized that “networking” is one of those words that needs to be re-claimed, like evangelism. Good, healthy networking is not about ladder-climbing. It’s about showing interest in other people and their work. It’s about learning from and sharing wisdom with others. It’s about, in short, understanding our interdependence and strengthening relationships such that both parties can more fully inhabit their personhood and their call.

Putting on a Murphy Brown suit and making it rain business cards won’t accomplish those ends. But in his WorkLife podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently offered up ways to network that do build genuine bonds:

Build your skills. As you learn, you not only increase your range and expertise, you meet people in the areas where those skills are needed, some of whom are regularly contacted by organizations looking for those talents. So in the world of ministry, seek out parachurch trainings about how to be a head of staff or mediate conflict or navigate the interim time between settled pastors. Attend continuing education events offered by seminaries. Get coached. Go to denominational gatherings that offer practical workshops.

Give help. Want to learn how to do something new and show your willingness to be a team player? Offer to pitch in. Take on a project at the middle judicatory level. Mentor a new minister. Offer your expertise in a consultant-type role. Lead a retreat. Tread with intentionality, though, making sure you aren’t just accumulating tasks that no one else wants or that others expect women to do.

Ask for advice. Not everyone loves to be asked for help. That can, at times, feel like a burden. But who doesn’t like to be asked for their wisdom? Contact someone who is doing something you’d like to do and ask a few brief questions about how that person got there. If you want to serve a big-steeple church, reach out to a large-church pastor you admire. The same goes if you’re feeling called to be a CPE supervisor, judicatory or denominational leader, or any other role. The veteran will feel recognized for work well done, and you will gain knowledge and plant your name in that person’s memory.

The key in all of these types of network is to be sincere in your interactions. Truly be interested, and you will likely be amazed at the doors that will open for you.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash.

Post-interview thank yous

Recently I had a conversation with a minister who is searching for a new call. The minister inquired whether it is appropriate to send a thank you note after an onsite interview, particularly one for which the search team has gone all out in terms of hospitality. “Of course!” I replied. Not only are thank you notes courteous gestures in general, sending one as a candidate provides yet another ping to keep your name fresh in the search team’s mind. And if the search team has obviously worked hard to tend well to all those little moments that add up to a multi-day interview, you can assume that noticing that hospitality will be much appreciated.

There was something behind this minister’s question, though. As it turned out, this minister had been discouraged from sending thank you notes by people who had previously served on search teams. To those folks, thank you notes looked like a candidate was “trying too hard” or was “too eager” to leave their current situation. Past search team members said that in their work, they were looking for pastors who were happy where they were.

Ok, a couple of things.

For pastors in searches (and I want search teams to overhear this): if manners mean you’re trying too hard, you’re probably looking at a church you don’t want to serve. Something is going on in a congregation where the default assumption about politeness is that it is a tool for manipulation.

For search teams (and I want clergy to overhear this): bracketing my feelings about poaching clergy for the moment - spoiler alert: those feelings aren’t rainbows and unicorns - just because a minister is ready to move on doesn’t mean that pastor isn’t very capable. Sometimes clergy outgrow their circumstances. Sometimes the fit isn’t good for whatever reason. Sometimes there’s that one toxic member who makes the minister’s life hell, and the pastor is just ready for a fresh start. Additionally, you want a clergyperson who acknowledges effort. Churches are full of volunteers who can get easily discouraged if their ministry efforts go unrecognized, which is a recipe for apathy and inward focus.

In sum, I encourage search teams and candidates to lean in hard to hospitality. Worry less about decoding on another’s intentions and more about building relationships.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Safety in hard conversations

Hard conversations are everywhere – or at least are needed everywhere – these days. Politics, faith, and the practicalities of everyday life are converging in ways that necessitate honest and vulnerable dialogue if we are to grow as disciples and tend to the well-being of our congregations, our neighbors, and ourselves. Before we can have helpful hard conversations, however, we must establish some degree of safety for people to share their deepest worries and highest hopes. Trust is the bedrock of this safety, and I’ve written elsewhere about what trust is and how to build it.

In this post, though, I’d like to focus on signs that trust-building isn’t complete. (In a sense it is never finished, because the work of mutual respect is ongoing.) If one or more parties is engaging in either silence or violence, that means said party does not feel safe enough to be fully seen, and more trust-building exercises are required to create the conditions for real dialogue.

As defined in the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, silence is a fear reaction that can manifest as sugar-coating one’s feelings, avoiding the real issue, or walking away altogether. Violence is also a fear response, and it consists of such tactics as defensiveness, blaming others, and using power over another in manipulative ways.

All of these approaches to difficult topics are common in congregational life, and they can pop up in search team interactions. I wonder how our perspectives and the conversation might change, though, if we were able to keep in mind that silence and violence are the result of feeling afraid. With a more generous read, how might our willingness to engage and our approach itself evolve? What might we be willing and able to do with that generosity to continue upping the trust factor?

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash.

Combatting bias

In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell examines the snap decisions we make without even realizing the reasons behind them, leading to instinctive movements and unconscious bias. We can develop the ability to make good choices, but it takes learning to “thin-slice,” or hone in quickly on the most critical information in the face of so many details.

What does this mean for a pastoral search? Like it or not, search team members form opinions of candidates at first impression. This allows candidates who are very charismatic or who fit the mental picture of a pastor to muscle other (potentially better-fit) candidates out of the search team’s focus.

Search teams, then, must do their homework. First, they must take the time to build trust with one another so that if one team member has a great inclination or aversion to a particular candidate, others feel free to share dissenting opinions. Second, search team members must be very clear on the congregation’s criteria for a great-fit minister. Those bullet points can test first impressions to make sure they align with needed competencies. Third, taking individual notes after each interview and then comparing only after that round of conversations is complete can prevent the collective thoughts about one candidate from affecting the team’s attitude or hospitality toward another candidate. And finally, asking one another, “What excites us about each candidate? What challenges us?” gives search team members the chance to think about specific reasons for reactions to candidates.

Because we are human, we can leap to conclusions. Taking the above steps creates more space for the Holy Spirit to move in the search process, making it more possible for searches to move forward based on God’s nudging instead of personal preference.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash.

Eight Cs for growing trust

The most important ingredient in any process isn’t expertise or charismatic personalities or financial resources. It’s relationships. When the bonds are strong among the people involved, there can be productive disagreement, a full exploration of possibilities, deep investment in the work, and mutual support and accountability, all leading to forward progress.

The foundation of relationships is trust. Not simply predictability - I know your passions and hot buttons and how you’ll react to each being tapped - but shared vulnerability and risk-taking. Many pastor search teams start with some sense of predictability by virtue of the members attending church together for a long time. But most (if not all teams) will need to dig in before the search begins to develop the second-level trust that will allow for the most thorough and faithful search process.

What does it look like to grow that deep trust? Here are eight Cs - from lowest to highest risk - to guide that essential work:

Clarity is getting straight within ourselves about our thoughts and commitments, then being honest with others about them.

Communication is putting our clarified knowledge and understanding out there, and in turn listening to others with open hearts and minds.

Curiosity is admitting we don’t have the whole picture and wondering about what we don’t know.

Compassion is showing care to and connecting at a heart level with others, believing the best about them as we do so.

Companionship is being present and authentic while still maintaining the boundaries that allow us to be clear and compassionate.

Consistency is showing up the same way every time and admitting when circumstances have thrown us off balance.

Conflict is being willing to disagree and to have our ideas improved upon.

Control release is relinquishing attachment to the outcome, trusting that the process will end up as it should so long as we bring our whole selves to it.

In pastor searches, these Cs and the resulting trust can strengthen relationships not just within the search team but between the search team and congregation and between the search team and candidates. The effects of deepened connections, in turn, extend beyond the search itself, cultivating beloved community with the Source of love at its center.

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash.



Setting your pastor up to succeed

Your church has invested a lot of time, effort, and probably money in a ministerial search, and you no doubt want to enjoy a long, fruitful season with your new leader. The interactions the search team and congregation have with the incoming minister throughout the covenanting and start-up processes will directly impact that person’s level of engagement and length of tenure. Consider how you can offer the following:

Motivation. Ministers who feel heard and cared for (emotionally and financially) will be eager to come to work each day and give their best. This will translate into better sermons and Bible studies and more enthusiastic pastoral care.

Encouragement. Ministers who hear not just constructive criticism but also affirmation will see the pastor-parish match as a good one. They will be much less likely to jump ship for other ministry opportunities.

Flexibility. Ministers whose reasonable personal needs and family responsibilities are honored by the congregation will be more fully present when they are at the church. They will be less distracted by the tug of other roles.

Alignment. Ministers who understand (and have agreed to) what the congregation expects will know better how to concentrate their efforts. This prioritization will result in deeper engagement and broader creativity and will make it easier for the clergyperson to empower others in their discipleship.

Small gestures of hospitality around these four areas can make ministers feel focused, energized, and invested for the long term. Constantly be on the lookout for ways to build the clergy-congregation bond.

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash.

Background checks: not the candidate's burden

Before your church extends a call to a candidate, you must run a thorough background check on that minister. This step will help your search team ask necessary questions, give your congregation peace of mind, reduce your church's exposure in case of litigation, and - most importantly - protect vulnerable people in your congregation. (For more information on what this search should include, click here.)

That said, payment for the background check should not be the candidate's burden. A check that includes all the information your search team needs is expensive. As a point of reference, the price tag for the service used by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is $150 per person. If your candidate is a new seminary graduate or between calls, $150 could make a deep dent in cash available for groceries or rent. Practicality and hospitality suggest that search teams build the cost of background checks into the search budget.

There are denominations that require candidates to submit to a background check before their ministerial profiles can enter circulation. In that case, make sure your search team plans to reimburse that expense upon extending a call. A note to leaders in these denominations: please consider shifting this cost to calling congregations or making scholarships available for those ministers who cannot afford background checks. There are excellent candidates who can't even get their information to searching churches because of this insurmountable, initial hurdle.

Photo by Mathieu Turle on Unsplash.

 

 

 

 

Common approaches to soliciting candidates

In some denominations, most or all resumes or profiles come through a national or regional office. For congregations that receive this candidate information directly, however, there are several schools of thought about which applicants to consider:

Everyone. The search team will look at all resumes, whether they were sent directly by the candidate or by someone else on the candidate’s behalf.

Pro: you might find stellar candidates who weren’t on any influencer’s radar.

Con: you might have a tall stack to sort through, with resumes that need a closer read than those who were referred.

Consider: what difference does it make to your search team - if any - when a minister self-refers?  

Only candidates who are not looking. Some congregations don't like to advertise at all. Instead, they look for ministers who are doing good work where they happily serving.

Pro: this minister is likely competent, already being at a church.

Con: there are many great candidates out there who are looking for reasons other than because they are un-callable. (Maybe their positions were downsized, or they were victims of sexual harassment, or they have just not yet found the right fit.)

Consider: would you would want another congregation to lure your (content) minister away?

Only candidates who are referred by trusted sources. It's becoming a more common practice to solicit names from seminary faculty, consultants, and ministers who are friends of the congregation.

Pros: these candidates have built-in references and are well-networked.

Cons: you might get roughly the same list from every source, who in turn might be giving that list to other churches.

Consider: what questions you might ask your sources to uncover less obvious – and therefore a better range of – candidates?

Whatever approach your search team chooses for gathering candidate profiles, consider ministers who would stretch your congregation and remember to be hospitable in all your interactions. Communicate with everyone whose resume or profile you receive, and affirm candidates’ gifts even as you tell them you will not be continuing conversations.

Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash.

What to put on your church website

When candidates find out your position is open, their first action will be to visit your church’s website. For a candidate to begin imagining a future with your congregation, it is essential to have a web presence that is informative and aesthetically-pleasing. Here are some important details to include:

High-resolution photos of church members in action. Use pictures of actual congregants (after asking parents to sign photo releases for the use of their children’s likenesses), and make sure at least some of the photos show people doing something other than sitting in a circle or around a table. 

Statements of identity and direction. Tell what your church values and what goals it is working toward.

Key ministries. How does your congregation connect with the community through giving money and providing hands-on help? What programs exist for the people who come through your doors?

Visitor information. Make it easy for candidates to understand more about your context with a map. Tell them about the culture of your church by sharing expectations about dress, accessibility details, and information for parents. Include a few carefully-chosen photos of the physical plant, such as a view of the church from the road.

Affiliations. A congregation’s denominational and community partners reveal much about its priorities.

Position announcement and related information. Putting your position description, church profile, and community snapshot on your webpage is an inexpensive way to share a lot of information with a wide swath of potential candidates. 

Your church’s website does not have to be expensive or overly-designed. It does need to be regularly updated, easy to navigate, and revelatory. The effort is worth it, not just for your pastor search but also for potential visitors to your congregation.

What would you add to this list?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash.

Welcoming a guest preacher

When your congregation is between pastors, there will be times lay leaders will need to arrange for pulpit supply. Here are some tips for extending hospitality to your guest preacher:

Pay generously, or at least fairly. High-quality sermons generally take at least ten hours to research and write. Do the math and make sure you are compensating a professional with an advanced degree accordingly. Multiply the pay if there's more than one worship service. And if your preacher is coming from out of town, reimburse mileage and cover a hotel room.

Think through what it is reasonable to request a guest to do. Worship logistics vary greatly from one church to another, and there’s a lot that isn’t written on the order of worship. Plus, it's odd for a guest to give the welcome (“Welcome to this church. I’m here for the first time too!”) and greet people coming forward to make commitments at the end of the service. (“I’m happy to invite you into this faith community that I don’t belong to.”) Minimize the potential for confusion and awkwardness by asking the preacher to do only what laypeople or staff cannot. 

Ask if the minister would like to take on particular piece of the order or worship. For example, I like to read the primary scripture text myself, because I use inflection and pacing that set the stage for the sermon.

Make sure the preacher has a point of contact who will be onsite. Give a name and a cell phone number in case your guest gets lost or has car trouble. Let the minister know where to park and at which entrance the point of contact will be waiting.

Physically walk the visiting minister through the order of worship. Related to point #2 above, help the preacher know where and when to sit and walk and stand. Rehearse the communion liturgy, if applicable.

Don’t make the preacher chase down the check. Give payment before worship. That way the minister isn’t worried that getting paid depends on making hearers happy, and the minister doesn’t have to ask to be paid.

Thank your pulpit supply. Many guest preachers do so on top of many other work and personal responsibilities. Appreciate them for taking 10+ hours to prepare a sermon, 1-1.5 hours to be in worship (more so if there’s a second service), and however long to drive to your church.

Aside from the gifts that hospitality offers to your guest preacher, treating your pulpit supply well will let potential candidates for your ministry position know that they should check out your church. (Clergy talk to one another!)

Ministers, what would you add to this list?

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash.

Supporting the pastor-parent, part one

Note: This post originally appeared on laurastephensreed.com. I am sharing it here so that search  teams will know what it looks like to have a parent of a young child as a minister. I hope that this peek behind the curtain will allay fears that search teams might have about calling a pastor-parent and will encourage churches to build in more support for these leaders.

I was in congregational ministry for over ten years before my child came into the world. During that decade it was sometimes necessary for my husband (a pastor in another denomination) and me to negotiate conflicts between our calendars, but we were both free for the most part to work odd hours, commit to all the ministry-related trips we wanted, and sleep off church-induced stress and exhaustion.

That freedom came to a full stop when our son was born five years ago. Suddenly I had to become much more thoughtful about my time and energy usage. While my call to ministry was (and is) as strong as ever, I now had a calling to parenthood as well, and my baby’s dependence meant that I had to figure out how to operate pastorally in a new way.

I was between church positions during my pregnancy, but I was ready to begin looking again soon after my son was born. I was extended a call in a congregation that was a great theological fit when he was two or three months old. After much hand-wringing, I turned it down because there were big red flags about the position’s flexibility. Not long thereafter I accepted an offer to a congregation that went out of its way to work with me on my office hours, provide me with reduced-price daycare, and set up Sunday evening childcare. This church got the best I had to offer as an experienced minister/new parent because of this extra effort.

While it is true that caring for wee ones consumes a lot of time and focus, parents can be great pastors. And congregations can promote excellence in ministry (and in parenting) by understanding the following:

Some (many? most?) pastor-parents see ministry and child-rearing as dual callings. They are committed to doing both well. A church can make living toward both purposes much easier…or much harder.

Pastor-parents are better able to focus on ministry if they aren’t always worried about their child(ren) or about how congregants view their parenting. The childcare arrangement that works best for the pastor’s family – whatever it looks like – is usually best for the congregation, even if it’s not what the church members would have chosen for themselves or for their minister.

Every minister will have a different pastor-parent style. Some will want or need to bring their child(ren) on pastoral care visits or to evening meetings. Others might choose to build in more separation between pastoring and parenting.

Pastor-parents typically welcome the congregation’s help and parenting wisdom. We can’t do it all, and we don’t know it all! Criticism of the minister’s child-rearing style and especially of the child(ren) is never welcome, however, and can harm the pastor-parishioner relationship.

The church is not just a pastor-parent’s workplace, it is also the PK’s (preacher kid) faith community. Just like with any other family in the pews, pastor-parents will invest more in the church if the church invests in their children.

Congregational ministry is one of the only callings in which the leader is evaluated primarily on a weekly take-your-child-to-work day. Bear that in mind when a minister’s kid has a meltdown on the front row during the sermon, and respond with compassion both to the child and to the concerned/embarrassed pastor-parent.

Next week I will offer a part two to this post, noting some ways your church can support the pastor-parent, thereby deepening the pastor-parish relationship and giving the minister opportunity to lead with a full heart.

Being church

In the secular world an employee is hired to perform a task, to fill a need. The process for hiring this employee is somewhat utilitarian and transactional.

In the church world a pastor is also called to carry out a particular position description. But beyond bullet points on a job announcement, clergy and congregation are brought together to belong to one another. Unlike in secular work, a minister cannot live fully into the role without developing deep bonds with parishioners, without journeying toward the heart of God with them, without working alongside them to be the hands and feet of God beyond the perimeters of the property. And sometimes the pastor has a family who joins in this belonging as well.

This is why the search for a clergyperson must be approached differently than the search for an accountant, a machine operator, a boat captain, or a cartoonist. A ministerial search is a chance for the search team and congregation to embody all of what we know to be true about Christ and that we hope to become ourselves. To grow in faith and understanding. To offer hospitality. To listen to voices others might dismiss. To work hard yet playfully with our ultimate purpose firmly in mind. To trust and be trustworthy. To face challenges head on. To pray fervently and often. In all of these efforts, we expand our capacity for belonging to one another and to God and make it possible for the new pastor to become one of us.

In short, the search is a chance for the church to be the church. I urge you to seize this opportunity!

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash.

The why behind all the paperwork at the end of a search

You might be wondering why Searching for the Called emphasizes trust-building with candidates (and other affected parties) throughout the process, then pushes for extensive discussion and clarity around the nuts and bolts of the agreement in the covenanting phase. If congregation and clergy trust each other, shouldn’t that be enough? Why do we need to name and put expectations of one another and the terms of call in writing?

Leadership changes. The chair of your search team or governing board might know all the details that went into covenanting and compensation conversations, but what happens when that person is no longer in that position, leaves the church, or dies?

Memory fails us. We often give our recall ability more credit than it deserves. It’s easy to forget or mis-remember, and often the people in the room will later recount the same conversation in divergent ways.

Documents provide touchstones. How is the pastor-parish relationship going? You can compare its current state to the promises you put on paper, then course-correct as needed.

Assumptions breed problems. Unvoiced ideas lead to clashes in expectations, which can quickly escalate.

Transparency breeds even greater trust. Nothing undergirds a healthy relationship more effectively than meticulousness and forthrightness.

Get the details in writing. Your church will save itself a lot of conflict and heartache – which distract from the work of ministry - down the road.

Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash.

Profiles in hospitality: First Presbyterian Church, Fernandina Beach, Florida

The Rev. Julie Jensen began in February as Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Fernandina Beach, Florida. I got to see Julie’s search for a new call through a few different windows, and it seemed clear that something special was unfolding when she began communicating with FPC. I asked her to share how FPC’s hospitality impacted her acceptance of the position and the start-up of her ministry in Florida.

When did you discern that FPC was a great fit for you?

Julie said that her inclination grew throughout her interactions with the search team. As someone who is experienced at reading congregational profiles and position descriptions, she could tell that the search team had taken care to show their heart and their story in these documents. When her initial Skype interview was rescheduled due to a hurricane threat in Florida, Julie noted that she had family in the path of the storm as well. When the Skype call took place, one of the search team’s first questions was about her family’s safety, and the team members noted that they had been praying for Julie’s loved ones. In the various rounds of interviews, the search team asked thoughtful questions that provoked candid conversation. For Julie’s on-site interview, the search team was flexible with her about timing, the scheduling of events during the visit, and her transportation and lodging options, all the while being clear about the ways they would cover her expenses. There was a basket of goodies in her hotel room, along with a handwritten note of welcome. Her one-on-one time with the Senior Pastor/Head of Staff was spent in conversation, prayer, and the building of a truly collegial relationship. As Julie sat in the airport after her on-site visit, she reflected on all her experiences with the search team to that point. Realizing that she would like to serve this church and these people even if they were far from a beautiful beach setting, she knew she had found a new home. Her discernment was confirmed when the congregation put her on speakerphone following their vote to extend a call, and the people in the pews burst into thunderous applause.

After the congregational vote, how did church folks begin welcoming you?

Julie began immediately receiving friend requests on social media, and her new church members were understanding about her decision not to accept them until her new position was public. The search team contacted her weekly to see how she was holding up during the impending transition. The church was generous with moving expenses and helped her secure housing. The staff cleared out the Associate Pastor office, and upon her arrival Julie was given a budget to decorate it as she liked. Two church members helped her with the project, which was a fun way to get to know them better. Julie's name was already on the permanent sign for her first day, and someone brought her flowers. The church threw her a “welcome wagon” at which church members were asked to bring their recommendations for local services and an item that represented what they loved about their community. Three months in, people are still taking Julie up on her offer to meet one-on-one or in small groups so that she can build relationships with her parishioners. She also notes that her Senior Pastor/Head of Staff cleared considerable time on his calendar during her first two weeks to help her enter well. One of the first things they did together was pray in the sanctuary for their ministry. He made himself available, as did the rest of the staff, to help ease the transition and answer questions Julie had. 

What difference has the hospitality of the search team and congregation made in your mindset and ability to do ministry?

Julie says she started her position wanting to work hard for these people who had already accepted her not just as one of their pastors, but also as a human being. Through the way she has been welcomed since the beginning of this search, Julie felt the desire on all sides to build good, healthy working relationships with members and staff.  These relationships have provided a foundation of people she can reach out to when she needs questions answered or systems explained. She still hears the thunderous applause in her head when she has a hard ministry day and knows that her church is still cheering for her, which allows her to focus on the tasks at hand. The warm welcome of the congregation, staff, and others in the community has allowed her to find her way in a new place with confidence.   

Hospitality doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money, just some attention to detail. But it makes all the difference in a church and a minister’s excitement for learning to love and live well together.

Ten commandments for welcoming your new pastor, part 2

Here are my translations of the sixth through tenth commandments into practices for congregations to covenant around when welcoming their new ministers. (You can find the first five here.)

6. Thou shalt encourage, encourage, encourage. Share your hopes with your new minister. Express your excitement that your minister is part of your community. When things go well, give your minister genuine and specific affirmation. That feedback provides replenishment, motivation, and focus.

7. Thou shalt address concerns directly and promptly. Don’t allow problems to fester, and don’t relay your beefs through a third party. Instead, give constructive and timely comments so that the issue can be nipped in the bud. Though it is hard to tell people things it might hurt them to hear, your minister will appreciate your courage, forthrightness, and investment in the relationship and in the church and will know that you can be counted on to give honest feedback.

8. Thou shalt pay your minister fairly. Appropriate cash salary and benefits and annual cost of living pay increases will allow your minister to focus on ministry alongside you instead of on scraping together enough money for groceries.

9. Thou shalt refrain from making assumptions, and thou shalt stop rumors in their tracks. It’s easy to make mental leaps about someone you’re just getting to know, then spread them around as facts. Instead, be curious. Ask. Use your wondering to build the relationship.

10. Thou shalt manage your expectations. Remember that this is a new city, faith community, and role for your minister, and there will be a period of adjustment. Be helpful and welcoming without monopolizing the minister’s time and attention.

Chisel these guidelines into a couple of stone slabs and keep them constantly before you, and you will have laid the groundwork for years of growing in God and serving your neighbors together.

Creative Commons image "Ten Commandments Tablets" by George Bannister are licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

Ten commandments for welcoming your new pastor, part 1

Moses’ trek to the top of Mount Sinai and his receipt of the ten commandments came up in the lectionary lately. Call it coincidence or divine timing, but I happened to be preaching that Sunday at a congregation that was two weeks away from calling a new senior pastor … and I had been invited to speak directly to ways the church could welcome her new leader. I took the Sinai commandments and translated them into practices to covenant around as this minister and this congregation began their journey together. Here are the first five:

  1. Thou shalt keep God first. Relationships built on shared faith lead to fruitful mutual ministry, and that is the goal of the clergy-congregation bond. Invite God into all your plans for welcoming and interacting with your new minister, and your belonging to one another will get off to a fast start.
  2. Thou shalt open yourselves to your new minister’s ideas and gifts. Your congregation no doubt has tried and true ways of being church together. You likely also have some traditions and practices that need either to be memorialized or revitalized. Your new minister will bring experiences, gifts, and fresh eyes to your church. Allow your minister to exercise them in ways that strengthen your witness, even if that means smashing a few idols in the process.
  3. Thou shalt be mindful of how you use God’s name. Names – and the ways we use them – have power. Use God’s in heartfelt prayers for your new minister and your journey together. Try out using relevant adjectives for God in your devotional time: welcoming God, life-giving God, loving God, surprising God.
  4. Thou shalt rest and urge your pastor to do the same. You are near the end of a long interim period, which tends to deplete a congregation’s energy. Take your hard-earned sabbath so that you will be rejuvenated for the mission God has for this church. And remember that your new minister, though no doubt excited to be with you, will likely be tired from all the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual efforts that moving requires.
  5. Thou shalt tend to your relationships with your new minister, minister’s family (if applicable), your current staff, and one another. Pay attention to people who are struggling with the transition. Be vulnerable with each other – this will build deep trust that you will rely on in the years to come.

Stay tuned for the other five commandments, coming next week.

Creative Commons image "10 Commandments" by John Taylor is licensed under CC BY 2.0.