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I Re-organized things…

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Today I made two changes to this blog.

I created a separate page to log the sermons I have preached. At the top of the home page on the blog, off to the right, you should see the word “Sermons” and all you have to do is click on that to go directly to that page.

I also created a new page that I plan to use as a space to put reflections, questions, observations and other articles that arise from things I notice in the congregational life of Nobleford CRC. That too has a ‘tab’ or ‘heading’ on the home page, more toward the middle of the page. It’s name may change, but it will likely have the word “Articles” in it. You can hover your mouse over it and it will show you a list of articles that you can chose one from. Of course, right now it only shows the first one, called “Grat(ing) Expectations.” Move your mouse over the one you want to read and click, and it should show up for you.

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I’m here, behind the desk!

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Well, after a marathon of moving and driving and unloading, and then a quick run to the coast to check in on three of my five children and their significant others’ I’m here in the parsonage at Nobleford beginning to learn the ropes. Oh, while on the coast I got the great news that my married (middle) son and his wife are expecting, which means I must be old. If all goes well I’ll be a grandfather for the first time in about 7 months.

In this post, besides announcing I’m here, I have two other things to do. One is introduce my dog “Reef” and give some guidelines about how to meet him if you happen to encounter him. The other is to give a beginning outline of a plan.

First, Reef. Here he is: Image

He’s a “Blue Heeler” or Australian Cattle Dog. A very interesting and unique breed. Very smart!

Blue Heelers are bred to round up range cattle. They are a mix of Dingo and English Sheep dog, with some Dalmatian in them too. They nip the heels of the livestock (and sometimes are known to grab the tail or the flank to motivate movement) and that is why Heeler is part of the name. They are not doctors or nurses. They are a breed that makes very loyal one person companions. Unlike other breeds, Reef is not interested much in humans or human affection. I’ve had him three years and he finally knows my daughters well enough to let them cuddle him.

His name is the one he had when I took him over from some surfers on Vancouver Island.

I am a dog owner who believes that leashes are a sign of human failure. Failure to understand dogs and manage them. I am not an expert, but my experience is that loose dogs that are socialized well to dogs and who see their human as pack leader are the best and happiest way for dogs and humans to co-exist. See Caesar Milan’s National Geographic videos to see more about that.

Here are a few things I want to warn you about:

Reef is NOT used to children. I’d prefer if church kids did not approach him unless I was present. In fact, I’d like to have them help me get him used to kids. But because he will nip if he feels threatened, I don’t want any of us to risk a hurt child so I want to manage the interaction.

Reef will, if he sees you before I do and is off the leash, will bluster and bark his way right at you. IGNORE him, and he will stop. He might sniff you, but even that would be a lot of interest shown. React by screaming or running, and you reward him. Lately I’ve been practicing making him lie down when I see someone, and then he has to wait until I’ve said hello and invite him to come. Keeps me in the pack leader position, and lets him know he does not need to be my protector when it comes to that person. There, you know the main things to know about dealing with Reef.

Plans:

I will take about 2 weeks to get more or less completely set up in the house. I have a lot to unpack and organize. Just ask the guys who carried in just my books alone! In those two weeks I will only attend meetings and prepare for worship. Shortly after the two weeks are done, I hope to have a plan for visiting every household. More on that when I have it. Suggestions welcome. I want to have met everyone within about 2 months time.

After that, I hope to begin to ask people to be part of what we call the Transition (Steering) Team. They are a team of people who help me organize the events by which we will gather useful information in three main stages:

  1. Who have we been, a look at the stories of Nobleford’s past and inquiry into what has worked well for you in the past.
  2. Who are we now, and what is our context?
  3. Given that, who do we feel God is calling us to be, and what kind of pastor do we need to help us get there.

That is the simplest way to describe their work. There is much more to it, which I will share over time.

STM’s do more observing and question asking than leading. I will do some leading in the sermons I chose to use, but in the end the directional choices are to be worked out and owned by the TT, council and congregation together. So do not be bothered if I am in some meeting but am not taking a leadership role. That’s not my job.

Introducing Pastor Pete VanderBeek the person

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Follow this link to be introduced: http://wp.me/P3etrg-1j

Introduction of a Specialized Transitional Minister’s role

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Hi Nobleford!

Pastor Pete here.

I’m eager for the day I can fully begin my work among you as your Specialized Transitional Minister (STM)! However, I have to focus on finishing well where I am serving now, so I’m trying to be careful not to neglect completing my work here in Iowa as I begin to think of serving God in your midst.

It seems fitting to do two things at this point. One is to introduce myself as a person and Pastor, the other is to try to describe what the STM process is all about.

I will start with the second one, and hope to get to the first one in the next few weeks.

What an STM is and does

First off, reading what others have written about the role of the STM and about the increasing need for pastors to guide congregations out of difficult times into a renewed future will give you a good grounding before I try to describe it. To that end here are a number links to articles from the Banner and Christian Courier which are related to the work, of which the first one is maybe the most immediately helpful.:

http://www.thebanner.org/departments/2011/01/after-your-pastor-leaves

http://www.thebanner.org/departments/2012/01/a-theology-of-transition

http://www.thebanner.org/departments/2012/02/the-scarlet-number

http://christiancourier.ca/features/Fractured%20Flocks.pdf

http://www.thebanner.org/together/2011/12/evaluations-that-help-pastors-flourish

My own fledgling-but-growing understanding is that in the church today we do not know how to honestly and authentically negotiate and evaluate expectations as pastors, councils, and congregations. That topic is reflected in the last link above. Also, similar to that, although it is just a theory still for me, there is a growing awareness that a lot of problems begin in the process of searching for a Pastor.

So, an STM is a ‘normal’ pastor with special training in understanding congregational dynamics who is equipped with a set of tools that can help a congregation discover where they get stuck and run into problems. Now, that description probably creates an expectation in you that the STM acts like a doctor or a soil analyst, testing and evaluating and then prescribing a fix. STM’s in general, and certainly I as an STM, do not work that way. We try to help the leaders and congregation ‘see’ the problem and help you figure out a solution… IF you want to make a change. If you don’t, it is not my job to force anything. With that said, I do need to share that I see the STM’s job as more similar to that of a Prophet than of a politician or ‘everything is going to be fine’ counselor. Prophets have always called God’s people back to what is important, and have challenged them if they are majoring in minors on God’s scale. Politicians try to keep everyone happy, which does not serve the Kingdom well, and telling people everything is going to be OK and not pushing them a bit when they are refusing (or unable) to see a problem does no long term good either. One of my mottos in ministry has always been “Comfort the afflicted… and afflict the comfortable.”

After investigating your church’s long term history and current culture, including the recent parting of ways with your pastor, and identifying themes that maybe return again and again without being dealt with, the plan is to begin to look at who the congregation is now in it’s current context, and undertaking a process of discerning what God might be calling you to be in that context. From that discovery process, we can together begin to dream of what a good future would look like, and then begin to describe what kind of pastor would be a good servant to help accomplish that goal.

You will find that if I am doing my work well I will be a very curious person, asking many many questions and giving very few answers. Here’s an example of some I already have: “Why are married women’s maiden names listed in the church directory?” and “If someone attends your church a number of times, and wants to get to know the congregation better so asks for a directory, and their name is McCoy or Smith, what conclusions might they come to seeing the maiden names?” Notice that the question is neutral. The question is intended to get you to ‘see’ in a new way something that is ‘normal’ – and so unnoticed – to you.

You will also find that if I give more direct answers or direction, they are usually in my sermons. Again, that is if I am doing my job well. Unfortunately, I do have strong opinions on some things, and I struggle to not reveal them. Being an STM is not about inflicting my wants and ideas on a congregation.

I also give answers in stories rather than directly. Seems to me someone 2000 years ago showed how effective that is! Ask any council members what they remember me saying in response to a question in the phone interview that I remember as being asked if I would come to Nobleford to raise a stink!

The whole STM process lasts at minimum one year, but lately for most has been averaging between one-and-a-half to two years, at the end of which a Search Team should be well in place and inviting applications. That depends somewhat on how strong the need is for an STM in other locations. If need is not high, the STM can stay until a few weeks before the new pastor arrives. These days, that does not happen much.

Aside from taking up my pastoral duties, there are two things that will begin happening quite soon after I am fully arrived and ‘on the job.’ One is that I will be looking for ways to get acquainted with all congregational participants as quickly as possible. Second, I will be looking for people who can be part of what we call the Transition Team, which is a group of people who help with all the tasks and who help process the information we glean, and who make proposals to council about the way forward.

Well, that feels like only a few snapshots out of a full video, there is so much more that could be said, but this will have to suffice.

I welcome comments or questions.

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