Monday, October 25, 2010

Birmingham-Southern as a Church College

I’ve had a relationship with Birmingham-Southern College long before coming to North Alabama. My friend Neal Berte had invited me to speak at the college. I am the grateful recipient of an honorary degree and, until this semester enjoyed teaching classes at the College.

Having been on the campuses of dozens of church related colleges, I can say without fear of contradiction, that BSC enjoys one of the most positive relationships with the church of any college in our connection. Our church not only gave birth to BSC but, in Neal Berte's presidency helped save this college. BSC currently receives about $300,000 from the North Alabama Conference per year, our largest size, local benevolence.

When our previous president was installed, I said at his Inauguration, “We entrust to your care a college that we have birthed, a college that we have loved, a college that we have saved, and a college that we have sacrificially sustained.”

The current, unprecedented crisis at BSC is the results of: the CFO’s pattern of financial mis-statements to Administration and Board, financial aid to students at an unsustainable discount rate, expensive and inadequately funded building projects. These mistakes have caused a huge amount of pain and anxiety about the future.

I also believe that we are in this crisis because the college, for a moment, lost sight of its identity as a church college.

I want you to know that we trustees are determined to preserve and even strengthen our beloved college. BSC is blessed with a self-sacrificial faculty of great academic ability, some of the very best students in our region, a beautiful campus, and a church that loves its college.

Some of the very best students, in a college with academically able students, come to the college from United Methodist Churches. Laura Sisson, our Director of Church Relations, provides support for these students. Some of our most able pastors are products of BSC. The majority of our Board, including our chair are Methodists. My message to North Alabama Methodists is:

  1. Our college is going to weather this crisis and prevail. We are making changes in the way the college is governed and we are seeking a new President who can lead us forward.
  2. Send us your well qualified UM Students. Birmingham-Southern is a quality, church-related environment for undergraduate education. The education offered here is superb.
  3. United Methodist Alumni need to speak up for and to generously give to the college now. If your congregations are not currently paying its full higher education apportionment, we desperately need that paid in full this year and the next.
God has graciously given us a great treasure in Birmingham-Southern College. I’m determined that this crisis will be an opportunity to recover and to strengthen our church’s ties with the college. We need BSC and BSC needs us.

I’m in a rare and privileged position: I get to go to work on the campus of one of the most beautiful and academically rigorous small colleges in America – BSC – a church-related college.

William H. Willimon

One of BSC’s greatest alumni is Bishop Robert Morgan. For more than a decade he has taught popular courses at BSC and thereby sent us some of our most talented new pastors. This month Bishop Morgan will be honored by Candler School of Theology with its Distinguished Alumnus Award. Congratulations to Bishop Morgan and to BSC on this honor.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pastoral Transitions: Consultations and Triads

We have made major improvements in the way we appoint pastors in our Conference. For the next few weeks I’ll be highlighting some of these changes.

Nearly all clergy moves in our Conference begin with a request from the pastor or from the congregation. Generally, a DS is made aware through a pastor or a chairperson of the Pastor-Parish or Staff-Parish Relations Committee that there is a need for a pastoral transition. For moves made in June, this contact is generally initiated in January or February of the year.

Sometimes pastors initiate a move because they feel they have accomplished their main goals. At other times they request a move because they feel like they have reached an impasse in the congregation. Just because a pastor or SPRC requests a move does not mean that a move is automatic. Sometimes the DS may urge the pastor and congregation to work through their impasse, to dig in and seek transformation of the congregation.

A pastoral transition is requested only through its PPRC which represents the congregation to the DS. Congregations may initiate a move when they have determined that the current pastoral leadership is unable to contribute more value to the congregation in mission and ministry. This could be the result of the changing needs in the congregation and in the community and the gifts and abilities of the current pastor not lining up with the needs. Your DS has been trained carefully to evaluate what is in the best interest of both the congregation and the pastor and represent to the Cabinet their understanding of what should be done.

If a DS determines that a move is in order, either through the DS’s own assessment of the situation, the request of a pastor, or the request of a PPRC, the DS notifies the remainder of the Cabinet that a pastoral transition is anticipated for your congregation. After a series of steps are taken, a master list of all the potential moves is compiled and presented to the Cabinet for consideration.

It is the responsibility of a pastor who requests a move to relay this information to the PPRC. It is most helpful if the pastor shares honestly and openly with the PPRC so that the PPRC understands that the move is being initiated by the pastor. It is the responsibility of the PPRC that requests a pastoral move to relay this information to the pastor. Again, it is most helpful if the PPRC shares honestly and opening with the pastor about the reasons for requesting a change. It is the responsibility of the DS to consult with the PPRC of a congregation and with the pastor if the DS is initiating the move and to inform them of the reasons why the DS feels this is necessary.

The process of discussing the possibility of a pastoral transition is known as “consultation” and is directed by ¶430-¶435 in the Discipline. Even with consultation that the PPRC’s role is advisory to the Bishop and Cabinet. In the North Alabama Conference once it has been determined that a pastor may be up for a move, the first step is for the pastor to prepare a DVD of a sermon preached in an actual worship service to be presented to their DS and to the Bishop. The Bishop and DS respond to the pastor in writing about the sermon. Then the pastor meets with a Triad Interview Team consisting of three members of the Cabinet in late January or February. This is one of our most effective North Alabama contributions to the appointive process. Generally, the pastor has been asked to respond in writing to a brief series of questions about his/her ministry and his/her congregation and the reasons why a move is being considered. The responses are distributed to the Triad Interview Team members prior to the consultation so that they can prepare further questions for clarification and insight to ask at the interview. A pastor’s spouse is welcome to participate in the Triad consultation.

These Triad consultations have dramatically changed our appointive process. Each pastor has at least four members of the Cabinet who have spent the time to understand the dynamics related to the anticipated move—both to provide the best opportunity for the pastor to utilize his/her strengths in a new appointment, but also to understand the needs of the pastor’s current congregation to assist in finding the right pastor to follow in their appointment.

Will Willimon

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Making Appointments Work

For the next few weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the new ways our Cabinet is working to improve our process of sending pastors.

One of our watchwords on the Cabinet is that “The Cabinet doesn’t make appointments; we make appointments work.” It is our duty to garnet as much information as we can about churches and their God-given mission and the gifts that God has given our pastors to lead that mission.

Once we have a list of the congregations that ought to have a pastoral change, and once the Triad consultations have taken place (see last week’s email), I encourage the DS’s to begin to talk and to begin to try to piece together the complex network of inter-related parts known as pastoral appointments. Of course, through the Triad consultations, a host of factors have been introduced that include the specific mission of our churches, special needs of a pastor’s family, unique congregational situations requiring a specific type of leadership and skills, varied levels of pastoral leadership available for appointment, the balance between appointments coming open due to the number of anticipated retirements and the number of people who will be approved for ministry and in need of an appointment, and other factors.

This means that when the Cabinet meets for the First Round of Appointments, there has already been much discussion between DS’s. The overarching goal of making pastoral assignments is to make a series of appointments that maximizes the leadership capability of the pastors who are up for a move while providing the best possible missional leadership for those congregations who will be receiving a new pastor. It’s a tough task, partly because we are required by our Discipline to appoint every Elder in good standing. Alas, a number of our congregations have shrunk below the level of being able to provide an Elder’s salary and benefits, so the task can be daunting. We try to keep clear that our chief task is to get every congregation the best pastoral leadership we can.

The total minimum financial obligation for having a full-time pastoral position filled by an Elder/Deacon or a Probationary Elder/Deacon is $70,000 including salary and benefits. Lovett Weems of Wesley Theological Seminary has shown us that a church must average 125 adults in worship to sustain the ability to fund a full-time pastor’s salary, an adequate program for growth, an appropriate mission program, maintaining its facility, and to participate fully in connectional giving. We are sure that more churches will move from full-time to part-time. We anticipate many more of our churches to be placed on multiple congregation circuits in order to meet the challenges of funding trained, ordained clergy.

For our deliberations, we prepare a one-page information sheet on each pastor who is moving. The sheet includes: Pastor’s name, clergy status, marital status, Strengths-Finder top five strengths, NCD scores for the church the pastor has served, seven year summary of that church’s benchmarks during the pastor’s tenure, photo of the pastor, appointment history, and the name and number of the PPRC chairperson. We also take into consideration a pastor’s record of leadership in shared missional giving. We know which pastors have gifts for leading churches in that uniquely Wesleyan concept of shared ministry and it is our duty to act on this knowledge.

We are pleased that our careful evaluation, our desire to gather as much insight and information about churches and pastor, has led us to a high rate of success in pastors being well received by our congregations and pastors having long and productive pastorates. With God’s help, that is our overall goal in the Wesleyan practice of sending pastors.

Will Willimon

On October 13, from 10:00 a.m - 2:00 p.m. at the United Methodist Center we are having a great conference on Urban Ministry and ministry with the marginalized in urban settings, led by my friend, Gary Mason from Belfast, Northern Ireland. When I visited with Gary a few years ago, I was so impressed by the connections between what he is doing in Belfast and what we are attempting in Birmingham and elsewhere. Please join us by registering with Matt Lacey on our website