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Where we are in the STM process

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It seems fitting to give you a sense of how far along we are, inasmuch as I can get a sense of it myself. The tricky part of laying out a planned process is that sometimes things happen that call for a complete change of direction. So, remember that as you read this outline of steps.

To background a bit, remember that Classis Alberta South required you as a congregation to undergo a ‘guided reflection’ process to their satisfaction before you could get permission to call another pastor. This is standard practice in most Classes after a parting of ways between a Pastor and Congregation such as you have had.

Much as some want to deny anything was ‘wrong’ the reality is that a major disruption has occurred and history has shown that unless pastors and congregations spend some time in assisted reflection on what transpired, nothing is learned, the Kingdom is not served, and problem relationships tend to recur.

I am the Specialized Transitional Minister contracted to lead you in that reflection.

1. My first step was to get to know the congregation and its members as well as I could in a short time. That part has just been completed.

2. The second step is to form the Transition Team (TT) — a group of people who will help me in sorting out the truth or fiction from what I think I have learned about you and what happened with your last pastor, and who will communicate with you as a council and congregation about these things. They will also likely seek information from you at some point in step 4, and then will be the people who will attempt to discern future directions. This step is almost completed.

3. Once the Team is formed, we usually look extensively at the history of the congregation, but my gut says that would in fact not be helpful or necessary because your history is pretty fresh on people’s minds from the celebration of 100 years. So instead we move to the next step, where I share with the Transition Team everything I think I have seen and have concluded in my interaction with the congregation, and ask them to verify or prove mistaken my perceptions. So we will go through my extensive list of observations, and the ones a consensus of the TT agrees are valid will go into a report.

4. Next, it is likely the TT will seek information from the congregation on ‘best experiences and practices’ from the past. This might be done in an ‘interview night’ where you come in and are asked a set of questions like: “When, in your experience, do you think God’s Holy Spirit was most active in Nobleford Christian Reformed Church (NCRC)? What was happening that showed it?” or “Of all the pastors you have known, what about them most helped you grow spiritually? The answers will all be pulled together into a profile report of what NCRC likes to see happen.

5. This may be the hardest part, or it may be self-evident after steps 3 & 4, but it will be the task of the TT — with the agreement of Council — to identify who God is calling the Nobleford CRC to be right now and going forward, and how that might be accomplished. It will likely be referred to as our “Congregational Calling” and should be something almost everyone can agree to.

To be fair, I need to say that this is a point at which some people might say “I can’t subscribe to that” and may begin to talk about not being part of the future of NCRC. That may be hard. But having too many contradictory ideas of the the church’s calling operating in one congregation also will prevent movement in any direction at all, and will only continue conflict at a level that is not helpful. More on all that in another blog someday…

6. Once the “Congregational Calling” has been processed and agreed to by council (the TT is a committee under Council’s authority), the next question they will address is “What kind of a pastor do we need to accomplish what God is calling us to be?”

For instance, if the Congregational Calling becomes “We are a place to raise only our own children and grandchildren in a safe environment where they learn the foundations and traditions of the Reformed faith” you will need a differently educated and experienced pastor than if it becomes “We are a church with a mandate to reach out to all those in Nobelford who do not yet know God’s love in Jesus Christ and to help them become Reformational disciples of Jesus.” I’m hoping that the different needs are self-evident. This information will be turned into the ‘calling profile’ of what kind of pastor NCRC likely needs next.

7. At that point we can begin to form a Pastor Search Team, providing Classis has been asked for and has given the go-ahead to extend a call. I will then train the search team using new materials Pastor-Church Relations has just published. At that point I usually begin to look for where my next contract will be, but I promise that my intent is to not leave until the Search Team is adequately prepared and equipped.

So, as you can see, we are on major step 2 of a process that has 7 steps. My contract is for one year, renewable in 6 month or one year increments. I cannot see accomplishing all this in less than 2 years in total.

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Correction Roads

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A new-to-me-term you use here caught my interest. I share what I learned and how I see it is related to my work among you: http://wp.me/P3etrg-4X

For a printable pdf edition of this post, click on this link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/kuwus2wpzffe34x/Correction%20Lines%20and%20Correction%20Times.pdf

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.

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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