Tips for Pastors and Congregations in Transition

Date Posted: 5/25/2017

It is that time again - time for boxes, packing tape, moving trucks, and parsonage workdays. The Bible has wisdom to offer for those moving appointments, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) And for those that seem to have nothing to hang on to in the midst of change - “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). In addition to the wisdom from scripture here is a tip, a trick, and a resource for you to use no matter where you are in the constellation of change.

Transition Tip: Watch for the End of the Honeymoon
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his 1965 article, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups." He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Later, he added a fifth stage, "adjourning" (which is sometimes known as “mourning").  Pastors who are moving and churches who are welcoming new clergy can take a tip from Dr. Tuckman.  The first stage in creating a team is ‘forming.’  We’ve all experienced the polite, positive atmosphere that permeates the first few months after the pastor arrives. There is an excitement in the air about what new things might be possible.  We sometimes refer to it as the ‘Honeymoon Stage.’  We may not notice it in the moment, but we all know, as with other relationships, it will eventually move into the second stage, which the author calls ‘storming.’ Storming happens as people test the boundaries. It may be a challenge to the vision or mission of the church.  It might be a challenge to the pastor’s authority. More often than not it is a conflict or simple misunderstanding between team members' natural working styles. Here is the tip: Watch for the change from forming to storming. Instead of deciding that the ‘thrill is gone,’ remind yourself that you, the church you serve, and the leadership you share is normal. And, know that experience of ‘storming’ only means you are moving towards high performance.

Transition Trick: Prepare a (Professional) Description of Your Leadership Style to Share
While you are enjoying the ‘forming’ stage, begin to build trust with your leaders by sharing about yourself and your leadership style. A great resource for clergy in knowing your style and sharing it is your Birkman Personality Report Binder. Most Texas Annual Conference clergy have a Birkman Binder through either the Refresh Renewal Program of the Center for Clergy Excellence or through the Residency Program provided through the Board of Ordained Ministry.  The report binder contains pages and pages that describe you: your interests, you at your best, the environment that you thrive in, and what it looks like when you burnout, blowup or fizzle out.    To help your new staff and leaders better understand you, consider pulling a few highlights from your Lifestyle Grid. Take the last sentence of each of the paragraphs and combine them to make a short blurb about your leadership style.  For example if I were to do that with my report binder and substitute my name, I would have a blurb that says:

Peter enjoys very people-centered activities. When Peter is working effectively, he is generally direct and commanding. To be most effective, Peter responds best to people who are objective and decisive. When other people don't deal with Peter the way his needs suggest (by being objective and decisive), he may become impatient and demanding.

Now you have a ready-made statement to use to help others understand your style.  The statement could be a helpful trick to avoiding some of the obstacles that can turn a time of ‘forming’ into a time of ‘storming.’

Resource for Those in Transition
For those interested in a resource to use in light of the above discussion about leadership transitions consider using a coach or consultant.  For those who are welcoming a new pastor, or a new associate pastor, or for pastors who are taking their first ‘pastor in charge’ appointment I would encourage you to take advantage of a structured coaching arrangement with one of the Texas Conference Birkman Team Coaches. The structured program could include a preview phone call with a coach to orient leaders to the program and to establish a timeline.  Then the welcoming key leader (Senior Pastor, Chair of PPRC, etc) and the new leader (Associate Pastor, Senior Pastor, etc.) receives a Birkman Report that compares their similarities and differences. The report highlights only the most significant differences and the strongest similarities. The report also has phrases to help each leader understand the other leader’s differences in terms that make sense. The program could include one-on-one phone coaching for both the welcoming leader and the new leader.  Some programs also include check-in phone calls for the new leader at 1, 3, and 6 months into the new appointment. These check-ins can be expanded to include coaching around an action plan, or goal setting, etc.

An Example
When Rev. Guy Williams learned of his appointment two years ago to The United Methodist Temple in Port Arthur, TX he called a member of the Texas Conference Birkman Coaching Team and asked about resources that might help speed up his orientation and joining of the team. As the Texas Conference Birkman Team Coordinator, I suggested utilizing a program of paired reports and coaching phone calls to help Rev. Williams lead the current intact staff and leadership team into the next chapter of ministry along with a team of lay staff and a full-time ordained associate pastor.  Rev. Williams said, “I was excited about having a clergy colleague as a partner in ministry, in particular one who was familiar with the congregation from having served here the previous year.”

Rev. Williams and Rev. Adam Muckleroy both had previously taken the Birkman Method Assessment. I scheduled a pre-consult with both pastors individually then shared paired reports with both of them at once.  In addition to the reports, both pastors were given some suggested actions to help build trust, and collaboration between their working styles.

When asked what it was like to receive the comparative reports Rev. Williams said, “Having the comparative reports was an exercise in humility, in a good way. Adam and I used this exercise only a month or so into our relationship, so I was able to operate with much better self-understanding and understanding of him from the very beginning. I gained insights that would have taken at least six to nine months to come by otherwise.”

Rev. Williams saw the benefit of the structured program. He says, “The most direct outcome of using the comparative reports and a structured discussion was taking into account insights into our relationship immediately in our weekly one-on-one meetings. I was able to give Adam the sort of feedback that is more effective for him. Also, I found it helpful for him to have permission to ask more clearly for what he needed from me on a project. I better understood where he was coming from because of our comparative reports and conversation.”

Rev. Williams also reflected on how previous transitions could have benefited from a similar program by saying, “I would have loved having this experience when I was an associate pastor. I worked for some wonderful senior pastors, but our ministry partnership would have been greatly enhanced with the deeper and more relevant understanding that comes through this process.”

Adam admits that this time of pastoral change brought a mixture of excitement and apprehension. “Comparing our Birkman reports gave us a good starting place to get to know each other. This gave me trust in Guy that he cares enough to work through the comparative report with me. Since I am highly detail oriented, it was helpful to learn that Guy had a natural optimism and confidence in seeing the big picture which helped me to wait on the detail questions and to enjoy and dream about the ‘what if’ questions with him.”

If you are interested in learning more about how the Birkman test can help you during a transition and beyond, or would like to arrange for your leaders to benefit from a structured program to help establish trust and collaboration among new leaders, call Dr. Peter Cammarano at 979/665-7096 or email or Nancy Slade at Center for Clergy Excellence.