Appointments and Congregations

I appreciate the comments about my post about Rick Warren. For those who didn’t read it there was a conversation started about how long clergy, United Methodist Clergy in particular, should stay at appointments. Allan agreed with Warren and stated that many congregations do benefit from pastors who hang around for a long period of time and that real, dramatic, and long lasting change really happens between years 4-10. I completely agree with Allan on the fact that long lasting change in a congregation cannot happen in the first two, if not three years of an appointment. This got me thinking of back to a conversation I had with a friend while at the Reynolds Program in Church Leadership.

During one of the talks there we discussed who different minsters have different gifts. Some are great with starting congregations, pounding the pavement and getting people in. Other ministers have a knack for diving into the family systems of congregations and working the politics of a church to administer change or provide a vision or excitement about the church again. We all have certain gifts in ministry that help us do our calling best.

During a side conversation, we discussed how it would be nice if we had a universal way of talking about where congregations are. One example might be George Bullard’s graph that depicts the life cycle and stages of congregational development (see picture below). What if there was a way to map where congregations were on this life cycle and then match them up with ministers who were good at that part. For example, if you have a congregation who is moving from adolescence to adulthood which means they are in need of someone with good management/accountability/systems/resources skills to be their minister. Then the cabinet looks for someone who has those skills to place there in an appointment. I think it is very rare to have a minster who can continue to move a congregation into the prime area and then back through the redevelopment stages into a period of growth once again. They are out there, Slaughter, Hamilton, and Harrish come to mind.
If there were such a way to identify the stage of the congregation it would also be easier for the minister, almost any minister, to know what to do as well. If a congregation is at the point of maturity and needs redevelopment, that can be done. If a church is moving from infancy to childhood and needs programs developed, that can be done. Would this make it easier for ministers to move into a congregation and know what steps need to be taken to grow that congregation?

This may also relieve a pastor when she knows they have taken a congregation past her skill set. It may take her 12 years to get a congregation to move from adolescence and into adulthood but then it is a way for the minister to say look this is what you all as a congregation need to continue to grow, you need someone to come in and redevelop the mission of the church and this is not something I have a calling to do.

It seems many congregation are simply on cruise control and do not know where they are. Many pastors are just floating on down the river with them enjoying ignorance, not aware of the rough waters that might lurk around the bend. With more understanding of something like a congregational life cycle, we could better see where congregations are and what clergy could do well going.

Sure this opens up the door to a whole flood of questions and issues. Do clergy really know their gifts in ministry? Do churches really want to face they reality they are in? Does this already happen during cabinet meetings? What if the pastor best suited for a church isn’t in that church’s pay grade? And so much more but it is what my brain has been munching on for a while.

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