Thinking Together Column 1/19/2016

Lines from the job description of Highland’s Pastor include: “Guide the Church in the Discovery and Fulfillment of Its Calling and Mission. Discern, articulate, and cast the vision of where God is leading HBC. Be an effective steward of the church’s resources.”

To be faithful to these parts of the job description, I have proposed different ministry and support staff configurations over the past 19 years. They arose from a present need, from my sense of who we are and what we need to move forward, and informed by my 36 years of experience as a minister.

Sometimes proposed changes arise from new needs in the church, such as our need seven years ago for a brand new position: Young Adult Minister.

Other times, changes emerge from existing staff callings and strengths, such as in 1998 when we moved Nina from a part-time Outreach Minister to Children’s Minister, then later to Adult Education, and presently to Associate Pastor.

My 2016 proposed staff changes arose from a combination of our present need and our present staff.

  • The Young Adult Minister search came to a pausing point at the end of December. Despite truly excellent applicants, we had not found the candidate whose interest and skills matched our expectations of what Highland needs for today. As you’ll recall, some questioned whether we were wise to pair Faith Formation with Young Adults. I continue to believe this could have been a viable combination, but when I saw Carol’s interest in Faith Formation it caused me to consider another possibility.
  • We very much need someone to shepherd our diverse mission interests by being an interface between our Global, Community, and Justice groups. Each of these could grow to new heights with the right oversight and nurture. So I proposed including Mission (which includes all of these and more) with Young Adults because of our need and because all of the candidates we’ve met and all who are currently showing interest have keen interest in Mission. Young adults at Highland know (perhaps more intuitively than older adults) that Mission is our most authentic expression of church, which is why a significant part of Young Adult Ministry is Mission. So the two fit together nicely.
  • We also need pastoral attention given to leadership development within Highland to prepare the next generation of lay leaders. I am grateful that Nina has a passion for this work, but to be clear: this position wasn’t created simply to satisfy Nina’s interest. She also has an interest in gardening, and while she could make our corner lovely with plants, this isn’t a high ministerial priority. Leadership development is.
  • Nina has done great work with “Adult Education” (renamed “Faith Formation”), but she has maintained, “This is not my forte.” It is Carol’s forte. And it seems providential that Carol’s sense of no longer feeling called to youth work as her primary focus coincides with our season of reshuffling. It is wise stewardship to shift Carol to her passion. I have proposed adding the work of “Congregational Engagement” to Faith Formation because we are a church with four worship services, a disparate congregation, and many visitors and new participants. A common theme we hear is of feeling disconnected. We need a minister tasked with keeping us united and connected. Just as ten years ago I believed Carol was the right person for the youth minister job (and, not to brag, I was right!), so now I believe Carol is the right person for this role.

Pastors and churches rarely have a blank slate on which to design “the perfect staff.” As in our case, most have ministers already in place. These ministers grow and change in their skills and interests over time. Gratefully, they are each outstanding, innovative ministers whom we love.

Nor do many churches have the money needed to hire every staff position we might wish to have. An additional staff person adds additional expenses to an already-tight annual ministry budget. Highland cannot afford full-time ministers to address each area in our church life. Even if we had the money, it would not be wise stewardship. So we mix and match responsibilities with as much creativity and Spirit as we can.

I continue to be satisfied with the proposed staff restructure. It meets our needs for the foreseeable future. What Highland’s staff looks like in the next ten years is probably for the next Pastor and Personnel group to decide.

Despite my satisfaction with the proposal it is the church’s decision. I did not receive the proposal from God on the mountain; nor is it etched on stone tablets. Perhaps the congregation can tweak it to make it better. Have at it. I’m grateful for the high level of interest the proposal has generated—a sign of a healthy church! ~ Joe