This winter continues to be a tough one. Snow, severe winds, and sub-zero temperatures take their toll. Many of our churches have cancelled not just one, but several worship services in a row due to severe weather events. Last week, most services were cancelled. This not only puts stressors on the people and buildings, but can also affect practical things, like income! Severe weather can make it difficult to continue a ministry of warmth and attentiveness. A spirit of mission can freeze up, too. Here are what I hope are useful tips in keeping your ministry warm this winter.*
Ministries of Warmth
There are several ways your mid council can resource your ministries of warmth. First, if your church has experienced severe reductions in income due to the weather, please let your presbytery leader or committee on ministry know. Since most of us still place our gifts in an offering plate when physically present in worship, when we're not there, our gifts are delayed in doing good. Lower attendance and less income due to a hard winter can discourage even the most resourced church. Since this is likely not the last snow your church will experience, many congregations provide convenient alternate ways to contribute financially each week using a credit card or regular, monthly, debits you authorize from your checking account. Inclement weather need never get in the way if your church ramps up its online presence for both worship and mission. (See Ferguson Hope, Not Wanted: Churches Under the Dome for more connecting ideas.)
Second, our church buildings take a beating in severe weather. Remember to carefully examine your building, inside and out, for weather damage. Remember to ensure that your church building is a safe place of warmth. Your council's Board of Trustees may be able to help you conduct a building assessment or audit. (See my post on Building a Durable Mission for a way to think about your building.)
Third, when severe weather affects you and your church, it has the same negative effect on your community. Many of our congregations offer important services of worship and witness, and hospitality, shelter, food, and social engagement, too. If your church is unable to provide these ministries due to the weather, be sure to let the community know. Stay in touch with other community-serving organizations in your neighborhood. Find ways of covering for each other when particular programs require rescheduling or cancellation. For example, if your building is a site for food distribution and you need to close on Wednesday, find out what other community resources are available and open. When you post your cancellation sign for your particular program, direct neighbors to alternate providers near by. This way you not only build your network of services but convey love and respect to your neighbors, even when you can't do the serving as you ordinarily do. Make sure you let your community know when you expect to reopen.
The winter months are tough on families and perhaps especially, on our pastors. Winter in our part of the country is dark and gloomy. Many experience seasonal depression, too. Joyful gatherings may be featured during the holidays but can sometimes lead to unfulfilled expectations when the energy or satisfaction in ministry is at a low point. Member illness, financial stressors, employment uncertainty, all have an emotional impact. Be attentive to your pastor during this time of year, too. Be attentive to those who just can't make it out for regular worship. Pick up the the phone. Send a note or email. Stay in touch through a prayer chain, and online, or through social media, so that everyone who wants to stay connected actually stays connected in their own preferred way.
Annual meetings are a necessary part of congregational life and they can pose significant stressors to pastors and session leaders if not planned effectively. Are there financial concerns? Is it past time for an increase in your pastor's compensation? Is the pastor-congregational relationship healthy and nurturing so that most feel the church's mission is being realized? Were some big plans unrealized or did something unexpected happen in the life of your church recently? These are normal and expected kinds of concerns. Take responsibility for making sure leaders listen and lead together. Even when the congregation's cycle of ministry is in a good place, annual congregational meetings can strike fear into even the most experienced and bravest of pastors.
Remember that the floor of the annual meeting is not the place for an evaluation of the pastor's work. Weeks, if not months, ahead of an annual meeting, the ruling board or session, or a designated personnel team, would be wise to have a face to face conversation with the pastor for encouragement, review of compensation adequacy, and to explore how her/his pastor-congregation relationship can be more productive. The budget team needs to have direct and open conversations with the pastor and full session well ahead of any possible problems. If issues require attention, they should be addressed in a less public way long before an annual meeting.
Pastoral Leaders Are People, Too.
I encourage pastors to stay in the room and moderate the entire annual meeting, even the parts of the meeting concern their compensation. We have an opportunity and an obligation to promote open and honest conversation. Without an experienced moderator, meetings can get off track quickly and devolve into that inappropriate *evaluate-the-pastor* session that should be addressed in a smaller venue with the designated team ahead of time. Crises of course do happen and its not necessarily anyone's fault. If you need assistance with resolving conflict or a misunderstanding, please contact your council or presbytery leader to get the resources you need to build and sustain healthy and effective relationships. Pastors, and Imams, Rabbis, and Priests, all deserve and welcome authentic and meaningful support. Offer it generously.
Spring Forward and Think Ahead
Your worshipping community may be hunkered down, but you can still make time for a process and plan towards the future. Your ministry can spring forward and not be a victim to the past, no matter how good or bad that past may look to you right now. You council or presbytery leader could be just the person to speak with to work with your leaders as you explore God's emerging future. I have worked with congregations of every size to guide and resource their wellness and effectiveness. Here are some questions to explore:
- Tell about a time when the worship, witness, or mission of your church inspired you the most?
- Share a recent story when your community directly benefited from your church's worship, witness, or mission? How did you hear about it?
- What does your experience with God lead you to believe about your church's future? What will you do about that belief?
- Where will you invest resources over the next six months that will achieve a measurable impact in an area of ministry God has called you to pay attention to? Share your intention with a friend.
With your responses, say "No!" to anything that distracts you from your primary ministry focus. This ensures that resources are available to the things God wants you to say "Yes!" to. (What kind of church are you, a farming church or a mining church. See my post and learn how to make the better choice.)
When every existing or emerging community of faith does its part, lives, communities, and the world can be transformed and blessed. It starts with you. The hard winter journey of Lent will soon yield to a new life springing from Easter. Listen, lead, and serve ministries of warmth that your community deserves to receive. Oh, and remember to reset your clock on March 9th!
*Resonating ideas about snow from my colleague Sue Krummel's regular monthly mid councils newsletters often inspire, connect, and equip my own work. From the harsh winter to Spring, I borrow freely from her recent post. Thank you, Sue.