There are two very important potential resources for growth and support for professional leaders in ministry. The first exists within the congregation and is called in many cases the mutual ministry committee. This committee is often not highly visible within a congregation but is an important communication bridge as it seeks to work in a confidential manner to enhance communication between professional leaders, other staff members and the congregation. Much like a human resource department in a large corporation, this committee should develop a plan whereby on a regular basis, pastors and Associates in Ministry are contacted for interviews and support.
In our congregation, the mutual ministry committee has developed a tool that it uses for an annual, structured interview with each staff member. This process allows for measurement from one year to the next as vital areas of ministry are explored on both a professional and personal level. It is clearly understood that responses are completely confidential within the committee, and no staff member is pressured to give information about another that might be inappropriate.
Staff members are also asked about their own welfare and ways in which either the mutual ministry committee or the congregation can be more supportive. For a period of one year, each member of the mutual ministry committee relates closely to two to three staff members so that there is a feeling of mutual ministry on a very personal level.
Mutual ministry committees should not make decisions about calling, hiring, firing, compensation, or policies of staff relations. Such are the responsibilities of the personnel or executive committees of our congregations. These and the tasks of the mutual ministry committees are totally different, each important in its own way, and should be kept separate. If there are personnel issues that a professional leader feels uncomfortable about addressing with an executive or personnel committee, then it might be appropriate to ask a mutual ministry committee member to act as a go-between and bring the issue to light in a timely fashion. However, I have always found that it works best to advocate for myself in professional matters, and I prefer not to have other people speak for me, but that is a matter of personal preference.
Since the mutual ministry committee functions as a communications bridge between staff members and the congregation, it is important from the outset that the bridge be constructed in the best-possible way. The make-up of a mutual ministry committee is a critical part of its success, as the composition of this committee will usually determine how high a trust level is established between it and professional leaders. We have found in my congregation that it works well to have a list of names of candidates submitted to our staff prior to the nomination process. If a staff member is uncomfortable with any of the names, that name is omitted. Once established, it is important to post the names and telephone numbers of the mutual ministry committee members for the benefit of staff and congregational members. This committee reports directly to the congregation on an annual basis, not through other boards. Although no specific information is relayed, the general condition of staff relationships and communications between the staff and congregation are reported. In addition, if there are concerns or improvements that need to be addressed, the mutual ministry committee seeks appropriate ways to make corrections or suggest solutions.
If you do not already have a mutual ministry committee in place, consider ways to incorporate one into your structure. It will benefit you, as a professional leader in the church, and it will give added confidence to the congregation with which you are in ministry.
Continuing education is the other resource for ministerial formation about which we need to be intentional. Professionals in all other fields are required to participate in continuing education on an annual basis, and yet sometimes professional leaders in the church express resentment about the ELCA mandate for continuing education. Although it seems the path of least resistance to “go it alone” in this field, it is important to solicit the support of a group in the congregation to assist us in our planning and to be accountable for this area of professional growth. The logical group to assist us, I feel, is the mutual ministry committee. Our church body has provided us with a covenant process whereby we make our continuing education plans for a year in advance with the support of our congregation and our bishop’s office. In this way, we are showing accountability to our congregation and to our church body, as well as to ourselves. If our congregations are unable to provide us with adequate continuing education funds for the plans which we have mutually agreed upon, GEM funds are available to us through our Synod office, if we have a covenant on file.
For years, as a professional leader, I plodded along with continuing education responding to whatever brochure crossed my desk that happened to fit into my schedule. Usually the classes were of a short-term nature in the professional school of a nearby community college or they were workshops that benefited me in the area of Christian Education. Now that I am committed to the covenant process, I have become more intentional about my planning and I feel a sense of accountability to the congregation with which I plan and minister.
In the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, we have so many opportunities for continuing education along the spectrum of developing skills for ministry, preaching, teaching and spiritual and professional growth. Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago has responded to the needs of professional leaders in the church, as well as to those of laity by branching out into two communities with off-site, fully accredited seminary classes in the past three years: The Lutheran Center has classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings; Bethlehem Lutheran in St. Charles hosts a class on Thursday evenings. These classes provide unique dynamics since the enrollment includes seminarians, professional leaders and congregational laity, thus bringing perspectives to the classes that might not be found within the seminary community. These satellite classes from LSTC have provided an excellent opportunity for continuing education to Associates in Ministry and lay staff in a candidacy process.
The Emmaus Center for Continuing Education offers a variety of courses each year to provide short-term courses for all professional leaders. These courses are held in various locations throughout the state of Illinois at affordable costs. Although the courses are not academically accredited, in most cases, continuing education units (CEU) can be provided upon request. For more information one may contact the Rev. Burton Everist, director of the Emmaus Center, Augustana College, Rock Island, IL.