Friday, June 10, 2016

First, earn the trust of the congregation

One of the most enjoyable things I've done in life is to earn a Doctor of Ministry degree. I was 61 years old when I completed the degree so I obviously did not pursue it to advance my career! The work was challenging, but I have to say I enjoyed every moment of it.

The most enjoyable aspect was working on my project and writing my thesis. The project I submitted was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness." My plan was to coach six bivocational pastors over a three month period and write on the process. Through a selection process I chose the pastors who would be coached and began the coaching relationship with each of them.

After graduation, I turned the thesis into a book which the publisher titled The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide. I've never been happy with the book title, but I am very pleased with the content because the book shares the coaching relationship I've had with ten bivocational ministers, the issues they had, and the solutions we were able to help them discover during the coaching process. Because coaching always works with the needs of the person being coached, we  were always working on the most important challenges they were facing. Many of these are challenges common to many in ministry, so the book offers possible solutions to issues you may be facing.

For example, one pastor was serving as a bivocational pastor after having spent several years in fully-funded ministry. In the 30 months he had pastored his current church it had grown from about  13 people to 30, but he felt that the lay people were still leading the church, not him. He wanted to know how long it would take before he might become the leader he wanted to be.

As we talked he shared that the previous pastor had created deep divisions in the church which nearly closed after he left. The pastor being coached understood the fear and reluctance the remaining people felt in giving the pastor too much authority, but he still wanted their trust.

This pastor had been doing a lot of right things which I encouraged him to continue doing. We then began to talk about the need for him to lead through the leaders. I asked if there were leaders in the church who seemed to have the ear of the congregation. He identified two such persons and indicated he had a good relationship with them.

I then challenged him to think of some changes he wanted to make in the church, and he named two of them. Before our first session ended he committed to talking to these two leaders about these possible changes and report back in two weeks for our next coaching session. You'll have to read the book to get the rest of the story, but it's a good one.

A good rule of thumb is that the smaller the church and the more frequent the pastoral turnover has been the longer it will take for a new pastor to earn sufficient trust to lead the church. It will typically take a minimum of three years in a smaller church to earn that trust, and it can be much longer. (It took me seven years in my church.) Like this pastor, you have to lead through the existing leaders. Some pastors seem incapable of doing that, and they seldom last long enough to ever provide leadership in the church. These pastors not only damage their ministries, they also make it harder for the next pastor to be able to lead the church.

A small church will allow you to preach and minister to them, but they will not allow you to lead until you have proven trustworthy. Work very hard to earn that trust, and one day you'll become a leader in your church and your ministry will become much more effective.

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