Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Opportunities

Denominationalism reached its peak in the United States in the 1960s. I use the term for the horizontally integrated organizations that emerged in the early 20th century to “do the work of the churches.” Although some decry denominationalism as a bad thing, an objective observer could easily come up with a list of the advantages of this coordinated approach. Churches were able to identify with something greater than themselves. Curriculum was written, ministers were educated, missionaries were sent out, lay persons were trained, and people came to know the Lord. Denominations—Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians—were movers and shakers especially on the American scene.

That was then; this is now. Denominationalism is not what it used to be. George Bullard is in the process of developing a typology of denominations that should be helpful for framing future ministries alongside churches. At the same time, there are a number of ministries—some of which have been around for awhile and more being birthed daily—that want to partner with individual congregations and judicatories at every level to provide specific services and/or opportunities. These ministries are finding a niche for a number of reasons.

1. Some provide services once offered by denominations, but no longer available. One example of this is clergy development and career counseling.

2. These ministries are willing to customize their services to meet the needs of a particular church or judicatory. They reject the “one size fits all” approach and take into account the resources, context and calling of a specific church or group.

3. Their agenda is usually clearly stated. They provide a service for a fee. The services provided are specific, time-framed, and realistic. The costs of providing these services are also clearly delineated.

4. They often are ecumenical in nature.

5. They are “cutting edge” and agile. They are continually finding ways to improve the services they offer and adapt to new opportunities. They are entrepreneurial in nature.

6. Most are motivated by a desire to make a contribution to the kingdom of God.

This approach is not entirely new. It is similar to the model used by early missionary organizations, Bible societies, and youth/campus ministries. These groups perceived needs that the churches were not meeting and invited the churches to become part of these new enterprises.

As many of you know, one of the tracks I will be pursuing after January 1 is an affiliation with Pinnacle Leadership Associates, a group that provides coaching, training and consulting services for individuals, churches, and organizations. I believe it is one of these emerging organizations with a mission to assist churches and clergy with services that they might not find elsewhere. Being part of this next stage of “building up the Body of Christ” is a new challenge for me and a wonderful opportunity to continue to learn, grow, and serve.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Keeping Busy

I think I surprised a friend over the weekend when I told her that I would be looking for another job after December 31 when I step aside as coordinator of Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She pulled me aside later and said, “Were you serious?” I assured her that I already had a couple of things in mind to do after the first of the year, but this was always my intent (even before the economy took a nosedive).

Cecil Sherman noted in By My Own Reckoning, “Never retire FROM something; retire TO something.” When I notified the Coordinating Council early in the year that I would be leaving TCBF, I avoided using the word “retire.” I already did that once when I left the Tennessee Baptist Convention. I am not leaving TCBF because I have reached a certain age but because it is time for me to do something else and for the organization to seek new leadership. When someone has been part of an organization (especially a small “start-up”) for as long as I have, the entity tends to take on not only the leader’s strengths, but his or her weaknesses as well. After ten years, I think someone else can provide a new perspective and, perhaps, a new direction for TCBF.

Dr. Molly Marshall and Dr. Paul Stevens have graciously offered me a contract to continue my work as director of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary site in Murfreesboro and agreed to allow me to teach from time to time. I have enjoyed the diversity of the students in the classes, the stimulating discussion, and the opportunity to encourage ministers-in-training. I hope I can contribute to the stability and growth of this important work.

I will also be working with my friend Mark Tidsworth as one of the associates with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. My primary interests with Pinnacle are clergy coaching, staff development, and making Pinnacle a success. In the next couple of months, I will be developing a one-day workshop on “Developing Effective Staff Teams.” This is an important topic and it is one of those things that they don’t teach you in seminary! I will provide information about this workshop in this blog after the first of the year.

And don’t forget that I have some grandparenting to do as well. We are expecting another grandson in February, so Rita and I will be investing some quality time in that endeavor as well as spending time with our other grandchildren.

So, you can see, I have several “jobs” ahead. It should be fun.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Woman Pastor?

“Why would anyone want a woman as a pastor?” A female friend asked me this recently when she heard about the action of the Georgia Baptist Convention to withdraw fellowship from First Baptist Church, Decatur. The church’s pastor is Julie Pennington-Russell.

The question points to one of the major barriers to a church calling a woman as pastor. My friend, like so many of us, has never seen a woman as the lead pastor in a local congregation. The concept is foreign to us because we have never seen it in action! We see similar stereotyping if we think about all nurses as being women or all physicians as being men. There are enough examples today of men nurses and women physicians that we have to rethink such assumptions.

Given that sixty percent of our church members are women, shouldn’t we expect that—from time to time--a woman might receive the call to pastor?

How can we address this? One way is to seek opportunities to have women preachers in our pulpits. Even if she is not in the pastoral role, just seeing and hearing a woman preach models a different role for women. On a couple of occasions recently, I have been asked to supply on a Sunday morning, and have declined but asked if the church might welcome a woman in that role. Both agreed to the suggestion. In our state and national meetings, we can—and do—take the opportunity to feature women as preachers.

In assisting churches with pastoral placement, I always ask if they would accept the resume of a woman candidate. Three out of four times the response is, “Well, I wish we could consider a woman, but our congregation is just not there yet.” In the other cases, I thank God for the openness of the congregation to consider a woman candidate. The odds seem to be improving as time goes by.

These are small steps, but we have to continue to push forward if we expect a more open attitude about women as pastors. We have already lost too many talented women pastors to other denominations and to institutional ministry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


“Mentoring” has been around for years, but we seem to be more intentional about the practice today and more aware of how useful it can be in helping a person develop skills and practices for a particular vocation. Basically, mentoring is a developmental relationship between a more experienced person and a less experienced person, usually referred to as a protégé or apprentice. The mentor does not do the work for the mentee but provides a model (not “the” model) for doing the work and provides feedback for the person being mentored.

On Monday, I attended a panel presentation by five women ministers. One of the questions asked was, “What would you do differently in preparation for ministry?” I think particularly every one said something to this effect: “I would have sought out an experienced minister and developed an intentional mentoring relationship.” Such a relationship is especially helpful for women who are seeking to thrive in any environment. This may well identify issues to be addressed and make it easier to walk through some doors of opportunity. A mentoring relationship, either with a male or a female who “knows the ropes” can make a difference in one’s skill development, self-assessment, competence, and confidence.

This is true for men going into ministry as well. Too often there is some disconnect between the academic preparation of a minister and his or her personal and professional development. It is always helpful to have someone who has walked the path before to provide some helpful hints as well as feedback.

Not every experienced minister has the skills to be a mentor. A mentor must be willing to be transparent, direct, encouraging, and perceptive. Most of all the mentor must be willing to take the time required to do this effectively.

Do you have a mentor? Are you mentoring someone else? Think about the possibilities

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We All Win

Bob Ferguson—Robert U. Ferguson—was my pastor when I was a teenager. He was a good preacher, looked handsome in a suit, and was a strong pastoral influence for me and my family. He actually pastored the church on two different occasions and was back at the church when I was ordained to the ministry in 1970.

I have a lot of good memories of Bob Ferguson. One is of him sitting in a group of youth as he showed us how to use Bible commentaries and other material to better understand the Book of Genesis. Another was a time when he spotted me—a hapless teenager—standing at the side of the road trying to change a flat tire. He stopped, took off this suit coat, and got down on his knees to help me change the tire.

Brother Bob had another life as well. He was a pioneer among Southern Baptists in seeking peace and good will across racial barriers. This led to appointment as director of interracial relations for a state Baptist convention. I did not realize at the time how challenging and hazardous that assignment was. He was one of many people who worked, often behind the scenes, to help Baptists to see that we are all God’s people.

My former pastor passed away several years ago. His son, Bob, is pastor of a church in North Carolina. As I watched the election returns last night, I received this message from Bob: “Whether Barack wins or losses, we all win . . . and my Dad is somewhere smiling.”