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Parish Ministry Part 2, Diagnosing the Problem

Series: Elder Training

by D. Marion Clark May 15, 2008

Lesson 4                     Parish Ministry, Part 2

Last week we looked at the parish ministry structure. We reviewed its history and purpose. That purpose is two-fold: to provide pastoral care and to enhance community.

As I noted from the Spiritual Health Survey, the system has only partially fulfilled its goals. Sixteen years later, providing the kind of pastoral care in which all our members feel they are being shepherded is still lacking. Tonight we will explore what hindered its success.

To do that, let me go back over key features at the time of the parish system conception.

Elders especially gifted for this kind of ministry would be selected and thus do a more effective job. It was originally proposed that the PEs would not have to attend Session meetings nor hold other duties, thus freeing them up to focus on shepherding care.

We did appoint elders whom we thought would be gifted for the work.

The Parish Elders, however, continued to attend Session meetings.

– Though they were not appointed to lead other administrative type duties, yet they fully participated in the work of the Session…

And though the Parish Elders did bring with them gifts for shepherding, we did not provide training, either in preparation or for ongoing support…

Help needed in how to shepherd…

            – how to organize parish ministry

Needed better administrative support…

The parish elders would build a team (the Parish Council) by which to minister in the parish. They would still have the Session elders helping, but more, they would tap the services of elders not serving on the board. The so-called “inactive” elders could continue to shepherd their people within their parishes. The deacons and deaconesses of the parish would also serve on this team, including those “inactive.”

The inactives did not become active…

            – critical problem because of the size of the parishes


Three goals for the parishes:

1) All parish members would be contacted regularly – preferably every 2 months

no parish could keep it up…

result: lose track of members

            no know everyone in parish

            members felt not cared for

2) The parish would insure good assimilation into small groups and membership

able to assimilate those who are proactive in joining small groups and getting involved

            – not effective in developing widespread participation

            – 35 small groups, 375 participants

3) The parish councils would meet monthly

is happening but

            – challenge is getting effective teams

            – like the two boards, the councils experienced people going off and coming on

            – many elders on the Session not thinking they need to attend

            – constant turnover of parish elders, impacting continuity

Let’s review the kinks in the system:

1. PEs overly stretched

2. PEs and all elders not receiving necessary training and support

3. Failure to activate the inactive officers

4. Inability to keep up regular contact with all church members

5. Inability to develop a widespread network of small groups

6. Struggle to develop strong, consistent parish council teams is one thing to diagnose problems; it is another to solve those problems

 necessary elements:

            1. Training

            2. Activating all elders

            3. Development of the TCA network

            4. Putting the database into parish hands

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