Last month I talked with you about the challenges of today’s pastor, who has many different demands on her/his time and many more challenges in the life of the church and community than pastors had even 10-20 years ago. Because of the number of requests and the variety of challenges, pastors are required to focus their time on fewer things, particularly if a congregation is having a hard time reaching new people, growing worship and other ministries, and facing financial challenges. I invited all pastors to focus their time on three areas:
1. Focus on developing congregational leadership and the things that help a congregation’s health and vitality flourish – 40% of a pastor’s time
2. Lead and engage in the ministries of the congregation – 40% of a pastor’s time and include things like visiting, teaching, worship preparation, preaching, attending functions of the congregation and in the community that further the mission of the church.
3. Congregational administration – 20% of a pastor’s time. These are the ministries that undergird the operations of the congregation.
You can read this March article here which also has a helpful chart listing ministries and activities related to the three focus areas.
Today I want to talk with you about the role of two groups that support and further develop both the congregation’s and pastor’s ministry. They are the church council and the staff parish relations committee.
These two groups are key to keeping the congregation focused on vitality. They tend to focus most of their time on ministries of the congregation, and congregational administration. In fact, I believe that most of our church councils and SPRCs do not even touch on developing congregational leaders and congregational vitality. The church council and SPRC should focus 75% of its time on developing leaders and vitality, 20% on administration and 5% on ministries. Why? Because leadership development and congregational vitality are directly related to the mission of the church: to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform lives, the congregation, the community and the world.
Here is what a transformational church council agenda might look like.
120 minute meeting 4-6 times a year
• 45-60 minutes – discuss an article or video about church vitality, health, or growth. You can Google for a variety of articles that can be great conversation starters. Questions to consider as you discuss them are – What in this article are we already? Where are we seeing progress based on the article? How can we do more of this? What is one thing we can improve? What will each of us as church leaders go out and do based on this article – each person says one thing she/he will do. Key to this conversation is that all participate and no one dominates. The pastor’s key role in this conversation is to ask questions that help the group go deeper on the above questions and not to provide answers or solutions. The pastor or no other individual should speak more than eight minutes during the entire conversation.
• 20 minutes – Five quick updates on worship, new disciples, small groups, mission engagement in the community and giving. Each update tells what’s been accomplished since the last time you met, where you see growth and progress and one to two things that will be done between now and the next meeting that will further the mission and accomplish goals.
• 15 minutes – Three quick updates on personnel/leadership, trustees and finance. These reports should each be five to seven minute updates on what has been accomplished, what’s next and challenges and how they are being addressed. Printed reports are best and should be sent to members one week before the meeting with the expectation that they have been read.
• 5-8 minutes – Pastor tells one or two stories that amplify progress or challenges. A story about a particular person’s progress is especially inspiring. The pastor does not talk about activities or what she or he will do, but about how the congregation is connecting with the community or making a difference in someone’s life.
• 20 minutes – After the 5 and 3 updates and pastor’s update, the chair asks, what did you hear tonight that makes you feel good about our progress, what question do you have and do you have any feedback? Hold these questions to this point in the agenda so people have all of the information before discussion. This way you focus on major aspects of the ministry rather than getting into the weeds. Structuring it in this way helps people put the attention on mission and connecting with the community, not the details. Trust the people to the details.
The above agenda is a leadership conversation and focuses the meeting on the areas that actually can make a difference in the vitality of the congregation.
The s SPRC is often challenged by what is the right agenda for the meeting and how often to meet. Generally, SPRC’s meet too often or not enough. A healthy rhythm is four times a year. A helpful role of the SPRC is to be a thinking partner with the pastor. There are SPRC’s that spend too much time micro-managing a pastor’s time and never have healthy conversations that leads to better ministry and results. Here is a good agenda for SPRC’s:
30-45 minutes – The committee engages the pastor in the following:
• Tell us three things that went well for you in the last quarter and why did each go well?
• What progress have you made on your goals during the past quarter and what have you learned about yourself and the congregation? Based on these learnings, what will you do in the next quarter?
• What are appropriate expectations of the congregation you are meeting?
• Which appropriate expectations do you feel you are not meeting and what plans do you have to meet them? What are spoken or unspoken expectations and what clarity and support do you need from us about these expectations?
• What is one or two new relationships you have developed in the last quarter that is strengthening your leadership and/or the congregation?
• How are your personal leadership plans coming along?
• What support do you need from us?
10 minutes – the entire committee discusses one thing they heard from the pastor to deepen clarity about the pastor’s progress and challenges.
10 minutes – the pastor shares any support she/he needs and the committee makes a commitment or indicates why they cannot make a commitment for the pastor’s request.
5 minutes – 3-4 committee members each share one thing they appreciated about the pastor’s leadership in the last quarter.
This too is a leadership conversation that creates clarity, focuses on the important areas of ministry, and provides direction and feedback that helps the pastor and congregation.
How pastors and church leaders focus their time can make significant impact with the congregation. Each of these agendas/conversations assumes the congregation is focused on the mission and congregational vitality, both the congregation and pastor have goals, the congregation is focused outward, and everyone is working toward serving Christ. If this isn’t where the congregation is presently, it will move the congregation in that direction.
Thank you for being a leader in the church. You and your ministry are important to the Gospel’s witness in the world.
Keep the faith!
Bishop John Schol
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey