Coaching Case Study: “Am I the Right Person for this Ministry?”

Convergence Coach Rev. Geneva Butz

Pastor Jane was into her third year of ministry at a large mid-western congregation.

It was hard going, and she was wondering if this congregation was the right one for her.   Pastor Jane was a second-career minister having worked for the state government prior to becoming a licensed minister.  This was her first full-time call as a settled pastor.  It was not going well.  She followed a pastor who over-functioned.  As a consequence church members were not used to volunteering.  They seemed stretched, strained and tired. They did not want to become involve in the life of the church outside of worship. The period of grief following the departure of the former pastor had been rough.   There had been no interim pastor.  Pastor Jane picked up immediately after the former pastor left.

As she began her work, Pastor Jane conducted a listening campaign within the congregation.  She had interviews with more than ninety members and identified three issues that stood out during those interviews:

  • Church members needed time to continue to grieve and heal,
  • Transparent communication about the financial needs of the church was important since the church was dipping into its reserves and might have to terminate staff,
  • Evaluation of ministry and mission was necessary to determine which parts were viable and which parts needed to end.

Foremost in the pastor’s mind as we began our coaching sessions was the question:  “How can I get through this without becoming an intentional interim?”  Pastor Jane felt she did not have some of the skills needed for this ministry, especially in the areas of stewardship and leadership development.

“How do you do your best work,” was a question I asked as we got started.  I also asked Pastor Jane to list her gifts and strengths.  When she replied that in her former secular position some folks called her a “pit bull,” This is difficult work, and one must stick with it and not give up right away.  Challenges of this type need time in order to turn around.

We began coaching sessions by focusing on stewardship.  It was fall, and a stewardship campaign needed to get underway immediately.  I asked Pastor Jane to find people among the congregation who would be willing to be trained and suggested a resource for doing that training. In looking back over other times of ministerial change in the church, Pastor Jane saw that pledges had always been impacted by a change in church leadership.  By the end of the year, Pastor Jane reported that stewardship was back on track.  There had been a 15% increase in pledges!

In January, Pastor Jane began a sermon series on healing.  She realized that the emotional part of change had never been addressed.  Folks had to learn to trust her, and to trust the process of change.  She needed to give folks both long-term and short-term vision. Pastor Jane began to do spiritual formation, first with the Church Board.  And she started a Class for adults and a class on financial health.  At the same time, she realized the importance of her own self-care and prayer life.

Slowly, through small steps, Pastor Jane began to pass on bits of ministry to congregants.  A new Treasurer stepped up who was a trusted member of the church.  Funds were moved around, and compensation for staff increased because the former Treasurer had not calculated them properly.

In assessing her personal goals for coaching, Pastor Jane wanted help with staff supervision. Through her local judicatory, Pastor Jane was able to take an intensive class on staff supervision.  She learned that as head of staff, 30% of her time needed to be spent in staff supervision.  Previously the pastor-parish group had set staff goals and expectations.   She also learned that she was supervising too many people.  Pastor Jane set new goals for the pastor-parish team and worked together with staff members to re-write their job descriptions.   Then she had the Church Treasurer supervise the bookkeeper, the Office Manager supervise the custodian. and the Music Director supervise the organist.  Her supervisory duties were reduced from seven to four.

The Personnel Committee undertook the task of putting together practices and policies for treating church staff justly and fairly, especially in hiring and firing.  She had church staff fill out weekly time sheets and set their own growth goals.  She helped them see that they were important participants in the church’s ministry.  Slowly Pastor Jane saw herself more and more as an influencer—helping people change the narrative of what makes a church a church.

With staff firmly in place (after replacing some who had resigned), our coaching shifted to focus on ways to grow the church.  Plans were made for a robust Homecoming Sunday with special invitations sent to long-time members who had become inactive.  Visitors started to show up, and lay leaders were engaged in a process to develop deeper relationships with new people.

Much more can be said about Pastor Jane and her ministry.  After one year of coaching she was ready to settle in for the long term.  She had learned to initiate good processes in her congregation.  She began to see her church with new eyes and was happy with both staff and lay leaders.  They had begun to work together in healthy ways, and her ministry was rewarding to her.

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