Mid Councils Newsletter, February 23, 2015
musings from the road
The pastors in the congregations you serve have just come through one of the hardest times of the year for many pastors. In some parts of the country, worship has been cancelled (sometimes for several Sundays in a row) because of the weather. In much of the country, it can be kind of dark and cold, which causes depression or at least ennui in a lot of people. The busyness of the holiday season (when the crowds might not have matched expectations at church) has given way to people going someplace warm or otherwise choosing not to be in worship. And, they have had, in most cases, their annual meetings. Those can strike fear into even the bravest of pastors. I used to have to remind sessions and personnel committees all of the time that the floor of the annual meeting is not the place for an evaluation of the work of a pastor. If there are issues, they should have been addressed long before that meeting and in a less public way. I also used to encourage pastors to stay in the room and moderate even the changes in their terms of call. Leaving the room leaves the congregation without an experienced moderator and encourages people to do and say things that they would never do to the pastor’s face. By the time of the annual meeting, the personnel committee and budget committee should have worked through all of the issues around those terms of call.
All of that tension around an annual meeting can sometimes cause pastors to make kind of an “enemies list.” (Some of you are old enough to remember that a president once famously had one of these.) In mid council work, there is sometimes a tendency to do the same. When your presbytery votes on the amendments to the Constitution, for instance, you might have some people show up to the meeting who are never there any other time of the year. You know exactly what they will say and exactly how they will be received by the rest of the presbytery and you may just be praying that the group can stay calm and move on after the “storm.” Or it may be that the entities in your presbytery that have a reputation for upsetting things are particular congregations. Sometimes they can get a reputation as a bad place for pastors because of their past history. There was a church in the presbytery that I served that had one of those walls with pictures of all of their former pastors. Like many congregations in West Central Illinois, they have been around since the 1840s. They had three rows of about fifteen people each on their wall and they did not realize this was a problem. No one had stayed for more than about three years (until their current pastor, God bless her).
I am in what is called the “Clergy Clinic” at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center for my continuing education this year. I just finished a few days there. One of the ideas in family systems theory about which we were reminded is the idea of disease within a system. When I have taught this, I have talked about a church or a presbytery or synod having an “immune system.” Just like a room full of human beings can be exposed to the same virus and only a few of the people there will actually become sick, just so, upsetting things can happen within systems and some of them will not respond in unhealthy ways. The response of the system has more to do with its own immune system than with the pathogen itself.
For instance, when a presbytery votes on amendments, it might have a person who calls other people names in the midst of the debate, who will not stop talking when the allotted time is done, and who tries to use parliamentary procedure to derail the process. In one presbytery, that might create such havoc that the presbytery cannot take care of the other business it needed to do that day and it might shatter the fragile relationships between people to the point that they refuse to sit on committees together. In another presbytery, the exact same behavior might be handled thoughtfully but firmly by a competent moderator and clerk so that the presbytery can continue to function and even thrive. The second presbytery has a healthy immune system, usually based on a lower level of anxiety and individuals within the group who can work well together even under stress.
How would you characterize the immune system of your mid council? How well does it handle stress? What are some strategies that you might use to strengthen that immune system so that it is ready for its next test?
I would be happy to visit with your presbytery or synod. We could talk about topics of interest to your mid council (whether in an assembly meeting or with a smaller group). I can also do presentations/discussions on conflict and on stewardship ideas for a mid council. Of course, I would also welcome an invitation to preach. My schedule (and budget) allows for about one such visit per month. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.728.7228 x8360.
From time to time, leaders of presbyteries are asked to provide churches with good news about the Presbyterian Church. Oftentimes this happens in the midst of deliberations about denominational affiliation. Here is a resource that might be helpful in that or other circumstances.
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Preachers for Worship Services Include:
Laurene Chan, Director of Youth Ministries, Cameron House
San Francisco Theological Seminary
Paul Roberts, President
Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary
Jana Childers, Professor of homiletics and Speech Communication
San Francisco Theological Seminary