The Center for Healthy Churches uses the garden as a metaphor for healthy churches as we “seek to bring hope, help and healing to churches and clergy in the spirit of Christ.” One of the components of this metaphor is interdependence. Just like a garden depends on the interplay of soil, water, sun and numerous other factors, a church family is nurtured and grows through a variety of interdependent roles and relationships.
At two of the churches where I served, the staff consisted of me, a pastor and a music minister. My responsibilities began with the infants and ended with the senior adults. My committee responsibilities included all committees except Deacons, Finance, Music and House & Grounds. To be honest, I was encouraged to attend most of those meetings as well. Over the years, we have learned that ministers need to model a healthy balance in life—and attending one or two committee meetings every night of the week is not healthy. But, balance is a topic for another article. Nevertheless, the reason I was encouraged to be so heavily involved is still relevant. Ministry is interdependent. If I were to serve the congregation effectively, I needed to understand all the ministries of the church to make sure we were working together and not inadvertently working against each other.
An obvious example is the church calendar. Most church leaders have had the experience of working with a team or committee that becomes super-excited about a new plan only to run into a myriad of obstacles trying to find space on the calendar that doesn’t conflict with other church plans. At first the team doesn’t see a problem because it’s two different groups, but on reflection the overlap becomes apparent and a simple idea becomes complicated. Even though this interdependence is tangled, church communities have learned it’s not healthy to ignore the connections. As a matter of fact, embracing and encouraging the tangle can be energizing and exciting! Planning a summer program that expands on the traditional children’s Vacation Bible School to include all ages, the church down the block, and the surrounding community is exciting for everyone, but it requires embracing interdependence.
This appreciation of interdependence needs to extend to times of transition in the church. Over the course of the past few decades, churches have learned to value the guidance and assistance of resource people who are often referred to as “intentional interims” in the role of pastor. But when it comes to transitions that don’t include the pastor, trained, experienced resource people are rarely utilized. When a staff resource person or staff intentional interim is brought in, it can have a notable positive effect.
For example, if the transition involves a youth ministry, an interim youth minister or resource minister who is experienced and properly trained can do much more than programming (which is very often the extent of the expectations for an interim staff minister).
The proper resource person can:
- Help youth navigate the grief process and their anxiety over whether a ministry they have grown to love will continue.
- Guide parents in the process of regaining trust and again becoming comfortable having their children participate in the ministry.
- Help adult leaders who step in and take on greater responsibility chart a course that will keep the ministry moving forward.
- Communicate with people who don’t normally pay much attention to the youth ministry to help those people grow in their understanding and appreciation of the youth and their ministry.
- Find ways to utilize this transition as an opportunity to prayerfully consider a new vision for the church’s ministries.
- Help the various ministries in the church recognize their interdependence and identify creative ways to co-minister.
- Encourage other staff ministers at the church who are taking on additional roles and dealing with their own sense of loss.
The list goes on and on. For the gardener, the more involved they become with their garden, the more interested they become in the myriad of interdependent aspects of gardening. Bugs become fascinating—some are helpful and some are destructive. The science of the soil becomes critically important. Weather forecasts are positively riveting. It’s the same way with staff transitions. Once we begin to look into how handling the transition with intention can positively affect the entire church, we appreciate the possibility of utilizing resource people that affirm a church’s interdependence and help the entire congregation transform a possibly traumatic transition into an opportunity to grow stronger and healthier.