INTERIM PASTORS ABOUT LEADING MISSION STUDIES/PLANNING PROCESS
1. Consider the goals/outcomes needed. For instance, is the purpose of this process to gather information for an eventual search for a pastor? Is the purpose transformation and revitalization? Is the purpose to help a church get “unstuck”? Is the purpose a periodic check-up to evaluate a church’s functioning? Is the purpose to give direction for the future? Is the intention to develop a mission “slogan”? (Slogans are most effective when they are: 7-9 words in length, engaging, compelling, visionary, and true!)
2. Remember that in this case the process is as important as the outcome. Providing an opportunity where members can talk about their faith, hopes, dreams, visions can be amazing experiences and lead to wonderful insights. Pay attention to how the process will be facilitated. Allow space for deep listening.
3. A process that promotes in-depth conversation is more likely to lead to consensus and ownership of the outcome by the congregation. Avoid surveys and polls – these tend to promote pet projects or issues, a collection of opinions, and individual parts pulling in separate directions.
4. Framing the questions is crucial. Spend energy choosing and crafting them well in ways that will directly or indirectly help reach outcomes identified in #1.
5. This is about mission, not institutional survival. Ground the process theologically and carefully through preaching, Bible study, well—chosen articles for food for thought, and especially prayer. It is not that God has a church which has a vision, but God with a vision who has a church. God is already ahead of us in mission – our job is to discern where God already is and is beckoning us. This kind of study/discussion needs to focus on the servant nature of the congregation. The congregation may need help from you finding the language or framework of faith for what they want to express.
6. Watch that the conversation is not just about meeting the needs of church members. God didn’t send the world to the church. God sent /sends the church out into the world.
7. Pay attention to the “ecclesiology” of the outcome. God calls the whole church into mission, not just the minister. This effort should not result in just a job description for the pastor but marching orders for the whole membership.
8. Be wary of conversation that gets stuck in fixing what the church lacks or is not “right”. God does not call the church to be or do what it is not equipped to do, nor to be like any other church. Focus on the gifts, strengths, and resources of this particular congregation in this particular place that it can offer to God in mission.
9. Do not proceed if this effort is your agenda alone. And be careful of the ways you might be influencing the conversation or results. It’s very OK to “hold up a mirror” and show them what you see reflected. But be careful not to make this church into your own image; your role is as their interim pastor.
10. Timing can play a huge role in the “success” of this effort. If grief is still raw, conflict disruptive, anxiety overwhelming, wait until matters settle down somewhat before beginning the process.