Getting Off to a Good Start

The sending of pastors is a demanding, prayer-filled process. Along with our innovative use of NCD scores, the Strengths Inventory, the Dashboard numbers, and the Triad Interviews (discussed here over the last three weeks), one of the Cabinet’s most striking innovations is our First Ninety Days process that Dale Cohen has designed for us.

After a rigorous appointive process that has made North Alabama a leader in appointive innovations, pastors and PPRC chairpersons are notified and a date is set for an announcement to be made on a Sunday.

All pastors who are moving attend a First 90 Days Training Event to help them prepare for the transition and to learn how to develop a plan for succeeding in their new appointment. Lay Leaders in churches that are receiving pastors are also invited to attend an event called “Getting Off to a Good Start: The First 90 Days for Local Church Leaders.” This training is designed to facilitate dialogue and partnership between the new pastor and their church. The outcome for pastors is having a written plan in place that their share with their DS who reviews it and then monitors the implementation of the 90 Day plan. Part of this plan is shared with the leadership in the local church through a series of conversations held over the initial 90 day period.

We have never had a pastor or church who faithfully followed the First 90 Day Plan to have any difficulty in the first year that necessitated a move in the first year. Every pastor having a definite, public plan for the first days in ministry has been one of our most effective ways to help pastors succeed in a new congregation.

This past year every full time pastor who moved received a letter from me and the DS citing specific expectations for results of ministry in the first year: specific, measurable expectations such as “a 10 percent increase in Sunday attendance,” or “a two percent increase in baptisms of those under 21,” or “a five percent growth in children’s ministry,” etc. Our pastors are responding so well to this increase in expectation and accountability. These letters, signed by me, the receiving DS, and key lay leadership as well as the pastor, are giving congregational leadership the tools they need to lead their congregations to growth.

Moving can be a stressful time for pastors and for congregations, too. The conference insurance program offers assistance for pastors and pastors’ families through United Methodist Pastoral Care and Counseling and when facing a move, many people have found this to be a useful benefit.

Every time your church experiences a pastoral transition, God gives you another chance to demonstrate once again your faithfulness to the Kingdom of God as you dream of the possibilities that lie ahead and move forward with faith, believing that your best days are yet to come. This is one of the great gifts of United Methodism’s practice of sent ministry.

Will Willimon

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