December 17, 2009

Over the years, I have struggled with what happens during the prelude.

In a perfect order of worship, with perfect people, in a perfect church, in a perfect world, the prelude time would be quiet, marked only by the whispers of private prayer as people prepare for worship.  I have served churches in which this was the case.  Whether or not everyone was praying, I don’t know; but there was a hush during the prelude.

I have served churches that the social networking activity during the prelude was like Times Square on New Years Eve as the ball drops.  On one occasion, I could barely hear the prelude.  In my naïveté, assuming that everyone had the same biblical understanding  and demeanor about worship, I would approach the Worship Committee or Church Council for help.  To my surprise, what seemed like a pretty straight forward issue, inevitably exploded into controversy.

To compound things, the moment of the worship service called “The greeting”; “Passing the Peace”; or “Ritual of Friendship”; usually was the quick descent into controlled chaos, sometimes adding anywhere from 5-10 minutes to the service.

Let me say before I go any further, I did not ever find a perfect solution to either of these.

In one conversation, a friend turned to me and said, “The way I see it, we are just loving one another.”  I have pondered that insight for years.  Another insight was that due to the busy schedules of families, Sunday morning was really the only time they could meet, greet, and check up on one another.  It was a community builder.  You can’t argue with that.

So what have I found effective?  Based on the simple principle that you cannot seriously and effectively legislate silence during the prelude or set firm, realistic boundaries on community building.  You have to find other ways to get to where you are going.

  1. Through conversation, I tried to discover what the conversation and noisy social networking meant for the worshippers.  Some were bothered by it as they needed some peace and quiet before worship.  Others loved it.
  2. Rather than trying to control human nature and tradition, I interjected some new things in worship to help keep focused.  Working through the Worship Committee and not approaching it as a problem to be fixed, but an opportunity to help people grow in their faith, we gradually began the following.
  3. I started the worship service on time with a loud, “The Lord be with you!!”, or “Good morning!!”  Some Sundays I had to say it twice.  I didn’t make a big production about it.  After a couple of weeks, the congregation figured out what I was doing and went along.
  4. I would read a verse of scripture dealing with worship, silence before God, coming to God’s house and the like.
  5. I would invite the people to join me in prayerful silence before God, allowing the music of the prelude to enhance the meditative time.  Ushers would not seat people during this time.
  6. I would then say a prayer, call to worship, announce a hymn or some other opening, which could include the choir singing something.  What I wish I had done, and will do again if I ever have the opportunity, is to kneel in prayer immediately after my invitation.
  7. I sprinkled Bible Studies and sermons on worship throughout the year as well as newsletter articles.

The greeting time was another matter.  The closest I came to setting some boundaries was to announce it as a time to greet each other in Christ, and not to share life stories.  That didn’t fly well.  So I went with the flow.  I consistently observed people greeting visitors and one another.  I waded into the crowd myself.  At the proper, I would stand in the sent of the altar area, just waiting.  It worked.   It was a much better alternative that entering the church, sitting through the service, and leaving without acknowledging anyone’s presence.  When the issue came up in Council about the length of the service, someone would suggest cutting the greeting time. That would end the discussion for several months.

There is a tension between community building and reverencing the sacredness of God’s space and time.  I never resolved it-and maybe I never will.  Maybe it is not something to be resolved.

Please share your thoughts by commenting.




11 Principles for Successful Leaving

October 16, 2009

The phone call comes. You are being offered a new appointment. The pressure’s on. You think. You pray. You talk it over with your family. You decide to accept the new appointment. You make your announcement, and begin to wind down your ministry at your current position. One of the most important things you can do as you prepare to leave an appointment, or any job for that matter, is to set the stage for who will follow you. How you handle your leaving, as well as how you educate you congregation or co workers, will highly influence the success or failure of your successor. I have served 5 appointments in local churches over my career and have found these principles to be helpful. These principles are based on the premise that you had a choice or an opportunity to ask reconsideration. I will address principles for moving without having a choice in another blog.

1. Own the move. When you make the public announcement, be clear that you have made the choice to move. Use “I” language. If you can honestly do this, assure them that you are not mad at anyone. If there has been conflict, don’t attack anyone.
2. Keep any private discussions about your decision consistent with your announcement. Don’t talk about your choice to accept the move in your announcement, and then in private conversations, tell people you didn’t want to move and you are being railroaded.
3. Begin to pray with the congregation concerning the decision process that will assign a new pastor. Believe me, bishops, district superintendents, and other church leaders need all the prayer we can get.
4. Don’t start any new initiatives.
5. Have specific conversations with committees, teams and leaders that include the following topics:
a. God has blessed your ministry together and you are grateful to them for their partnership.
b. Change is part of God’s plan
c. Tell them not to say to the new pastor, “Pastor X always did it this way,” unless the new pastor asks how you did it.
d. The ministry is about God not about you.
e. God has more great things to do in ministry at the church
f. Assure them it’s not the end
g. Be honest about discussing adjustments. Encourage them to work to get to know the new pastor and their family.
6. This is the hardest. Assure them that you will always love them, but after the change date, you are no longer their pastor. You cannot continue to run back for things and honestly give yourself to your new appointment. Yes, there may be exceptions, but you have to be very, very cautious not to get triangulated. You may find yourself crossing an ethical line.
7. Prepare good records. Meet with your successor prior to the change. Introduce them to staff or church members you run into together. Be sure to brief them on shut ins, people with specific pastoral needs, and any other nuances.
8. If there are some tasks that you were stuck with such as changing the altar candles, you might use the transition period to help the church get someone else to do it. After all, the new pastor is going to be busy adjusting to the new appointment.
9. When the new pastor’s name is announced, begin to pray for them by name in worship and any other settings.
10. Nip any rumors about the new pastor in the bud. Gossip and murmuring are not Christian and can undermine a pastor before they arrive.
11. Try to arrange your last Sunday to be at least 2 Sundays before your successor arrives. This gives the congregation some adjustment time so that they don’t say goodbye to you on one Sunday and hello to the new pastor family on the next.

Leaving can be tough. Pastors have a responsibility to do all they can to insure as smooth a transition as possible.

Blessings, Bill

Living in Leaving Limbo

October 7, 2009

You did it. Sunday morning, you announced that you would be leaving. After a certain date, you would no longer be their pastor. After the service, hugs, tears, well wishes. It’s emotional. Monday morning, you begin to notice a change. It’s subtle at first, then it becomes more noticeable. You are entering “Leaving Limbo.” Essentially, your announcement signals a major change in relationships. For some, it may be the equivalent of the loss that comes from a death. For some, it may be sadness tempered with gladness for your new opportunity. And there even may be a soul or two, who say, “Finally.”

Over the course of my ministry, I have experienced several reactions when I have announced I was leaving. I have discovered that they are pretty normal and can be part of the ending of a healthy ministry at a church.

One is that your closest friends and partners in ministry, may begin to withdraw from you emotionally. They are detaching. They are saying goodbye. They are trying to reorder their lives while you begin to disengage from ministry with them and pack. You may even begin to detach emotionally, and even allow some anger that you have buried to surface. Someone may even be angry at you for leaving. They may have a sense of betrayal and abandonment. Don’t take it personal. Don’t act on anger or hostility.

Another experience may be that of someone who has disagreed with you beginning to express their anger or their ill feelings more openly. They have nothing to lose. After all, you are leaving. Don’t take the bait. Let it go.

A third response is like driving 70 miles an hour on the interstate in heavy traffic, and you accidentally knock the gear shift from drive to neutral. The engine revs but you slow down. The visioning and enthusiastic planning of ministry slows down. They become passive. After all, why should they invest energy in your goals when you are leaving? Plus, they figure the new pastor may have some new ideas.

A fourth response, and by no means the final one, is that you and your family may begin to feel grief, and even buyer’s remorse. You may find yourself asking questions like, “Did I do the right thing?” or “Am I really doing God’s will?” Don’t panic. It’s normal. Remember Jesus said that once you put your hand to the plow, don’t look back (Luke 9:62). Move ahead believing that God has something new and wonderful for you.