by Cathy Ammlung, Secretary of the board of Lutheran CORE
The view from the front of the chapel in the Desert Retreat Center, where the training event was held, looks out on the beauty of Arizona’s Sonoran desert.
In early April we had a training event in Arizona for the Congregations in Transition ministry initiative. We now have eight (mostly retired) Lutheran pastors who are ready to serve as coaches for congregations that are between pastors. Another option is for the coach to begin working with a congregation even before the pastor has retired or resigned to take another call. If you would like to know more about how one of these coaches could be of help to your congregation, please contact Don Brandt at email@example.com or Dennis Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fear of Pastoral Vacancies
For most of my 29 years as an ordained pastor, I have served small congregations and/or congregations that had a pastoral vacancy. Even in healthy parishes with little conflict, they consistently had two major concerns. One was the fear that there might be a protracted (and possibly unsuccessful) search for a new pastor. The second was that, rather like a tire with a slow leak, the life of the congregation was going to “go flat.” Energy, commitment, contributions, and attendance would diminish. Especially in small, isolated parishes that could not obtain a full (or significantly part-time) interim pastor, maintaining the worship life, fellowship, pastoral care, and outreach of the congregation seemed like a nearly insurmountable task for the lay leadership.
Team Your Congregation with a Coach
The Congregations in Transition initiative, developed by Pastor Don Brandt and Lutheran CORE, addresses these concerns by teaming an experienced, usually retired pastoral “coach” with such a congregation. The coach helps the laity (through a Leadership Team) to confidently and competently navigate the challenges of a pastoral vacancy, to maintain the critical tasks of ministry and mission, and to thereby pave the way for a call committee to focus on its unique tasks with less distraction and stress.
Tap into God-given Gifts
The workshop I attended as a “coach in training” was challenging, packed with useful insights and information, and very helpful. I like the way it calls for coaches to develop personal relationships with a small “Leadership Team” in order to tap into their God-given gifts for leadership, decision making, spiritual growth, and Christian care for their congregation and its members. Rather than feeling helplessly adrift, the laity are empowered to be the Church, the Body of Christ, beloved of Christ and lavishly endowed by the Holy Spirit with every good gift needed to care for one another and to weather what often seems like a “time in the wilderness.”
One Small Discipleship Step
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that congregations can sometimes feel so desperate to call a pastor, any pastor, that they rush through the call process and sometimes make a bad decision. And if the process drags out, they become so discouraged that they simply drift – and some members just leave, often permanently. An experienced coach helps them understand that they really can see – and take – one small, necessary “discipleship step” after another; and each small step can strengthen their faith, prayer life, discipleship, fellowship, stewardship, and outreach. They can discern what they need to do to care for one another, proclaim the Word of God, and reach out with Jesus’ love to their neighbor. And they can redeem that in-between, interim time, to prayerfully consider what gifts a new pastor would best have to continue their growth in faith toward God, fervent love toward one another, and loving witness and outreach to their neighbors.
I hope that many Lutheran congregations will benefit from such coaching relationships and experience interims as precious seasons of growth in faithfulness, trust, and obedience to their Savior and Good Shepherd!