Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Transitions and Process

As I've opened up to my congregation about the need for them to 1) seek new pastoral leadership, and 2) my willingness to have them seek another pastor while I work with them to help ease the transition, I anticipated that such a process wouldn't necessarily fly well.

Non-standard approaches don't tend to set well within the structures of the Presbyterian church.  They can, but getting to the point at which the broader church is willing to accept them takes some significant effort.  You have to be willing to engage in all manner of assessments and reviews and evaluations, all of which take time.  We're willing to take risks, sure.  But leaps of faith for Presbyterians tend to happen after we've carefully plotted out our trajectory, then replotted it, then done a meta-analysis of the cross-cultural literature on leaps of faith, and engaged the services of a certified leaping consultant.  This is, of course, the decent and orderly way to proceed, assuming you have all the time in the world.

Having been through that at the front end of this ministry, I'm now encountering it as I try to bring my time here to a close.  Though I'd hoped to be able to transition from my current designated status (meaning I'm here on a time-limited contract) to interim status (also time limited, but with my primary function being to help prepare the congregation for a new pastor), it looks like there is little chance of that occurring.

Both my request for a transition of status and my congregation's request to start the process of calling a new pastor were gently denied by Presbytery this last week.

I understand the intent behind this, and it's not malicious.  Heck, it's not even unwise.  This church faces some really significant hurdles, and has a pretty defined point (four years away now) when it's going to run right into a financial brick wall.  Blam.  Game over.  For Trinity, growth isn't just this thing we feel compelled to do 'cause our culture fetishizes it.  It must happen.  And lately, it isn't.  That's why I need to step aside.  Having taken a hard look at our situation, I know where Presbytery is coming from.  Some time to reflect on why things are stalled out would be very useful.

But so much of revitalization lies in energy, enthusiasm, and a sense of Christ's purpose.  I watched some of the new young leaders of the church...well...just sort of this weekend's realization that while things are urgent, nothing is going to happen in the near term future.

They may be young, but after a very constructive series of visioning retreats and open discussions, they're not ignorant of how urgent things are.  Even though I'd alerted them to the possibility that Presbytery might seek more reflective time, they're feeling disempowered and discouraged.   Having worked for five years to empower and encourage, it's hard hearing a new session member in his late 20s shrug his shoulders and say that he can see he "doesn't have much say and that Presbytery is in control of his fate."  Or another new session member lament that he's never experienced an organization that moved so slowly.  I'm sure it feels a bit like stonewalling.

That's not the intent, of course, as I will endeavor to remind folks.  Presbytery is just trying to do its job.  This process could be really useful, if it's embraced as an opportunity to grow in understanding and strengthen the church.