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A Foretaste! Transforming Leadership Practices: Emphasizing Performance in Doing the Work of the Church

December 23, 2015


Posted by Inagrace Dietterich

This blog post is last of 4 presentations given by Paul M. Dietterich at the July 2015 Convocation sponsored by the Center for Parish Development. Here Paul shares insights into “practices that cause a congregation’s climate to change” that are deeply theological, practical in their implementation, and transformational in their effects.


One of the leadership practices of pastors that cause a congregation’s climate to change is how the pastor emphasizes high standards of performance in doing the work of the church. Every pastor and congregation wants to be faithful to the gospel and fruitful in ministry. But the process of defining and clarifying faithfulness and fruitfulness—that is–a church’s “work,” is a significant theological challenge.The pastor can lead the way for the congregation to think in new ways about its work.

The Work of the Church.

The work of the missional church is to discern and participate in God’s redemptive mission in a broken world, as a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s reign.

discernNote the key words in this definition.

  1. Discern. Every congregation seeking to break free from its “establishment church” captivity, including its habits of thinking and behaving, must engage in Bible study as well as theological reflection in order to discern God’s redemptive mission in its particular context.God is not calling your congregation merely to maintain itself, merely to survive, to maintain its property, or to pay its bills. God is not calling your congregation to continue to function within the framework of the “establishment church.” Each congregation today, in this “post-establishment era,” must discern anew what God’s mission is and therefore what new ways God is calling each congregation to be and do. This surely is part of the “work” of the church.
  2. Participate. A missional ecclesiology tells us that participating in God’s mission means that the congregation understands itself to be a community called and sent to be a sign, foretaste, and instrument of the reign of God. This is a broad and abstract definition and needs to be made more specific in order for congregational planning and action to occur. One way many congregations have defined what it means for them to participate in God’s mission is to clarify the results in ministry that they are seeking.The pastor, in collaboration with the key leadership team can lead the way by clarifying the results the pastor is to achieve in her or his ministry, and the results the congregation is to achieve.

Focusing on Results rather than Activities.

A results-orientation is very different than the activities-orientation that characterizes most congregations.The announcements in most churches’ Sunday bulletins describe the activities occurring in their church: choir practice, youth fellowship, small group Bible studies, council meeting, various committee meetings, breakfast for the hungry, special collection for refugees, Alcoholics Anonymous, pancake breakfast, young adult fellowship meeting, etc. All of these may be worthy activities, but the question remains: What ministry results are you seeking by engaging in these activities?

Missional congregations are challenged to identify the key areas in which they are seeking to achieve results in ministry.

Listed below are some possible key result areas and goals your church might consider.

  1. Worshipping Community: To be shaped as a community of God’s people to celebrate and witness to God’s saving and redeeming activity in all of life.

baptismIt is most important to get worship right. It is the primary public activity of every congregation, the central aspect of its life. Therefore every service of worship needs to invite people into the “real” world, the world inside God’s reign. Within the prayer and praise of worship, the congregation recognizes and confirms its primary identity as God’s people. Worship reminds us what we are called to be and do, how we as a people are to act. Worship introduces us to a new language for use with each other in this “real” world: redemption, mission, forgiveness, grace, witness, transformation, salvation. Baptism reminds us that we are adopted by God into Christ and that through our baptism we are now part of a new family. We have a new inheritance, are part of a new culture, God’s new creation, and thus have a new identity. Holy Communion reminds us that eating together forms us as God’s people set apart as a holy people to share in Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection and to participate in his mission.

  1. Disciple Community: To develop a community of disciples who are learning with one another to live as a sign, foretaste, and instrument of the reign of God.

A disciple community is a learning community. The word “disciple” comes from the Latin discere, to learn. Jesus’ disciples were his pupils, seeking to learn from him. A disciple community is one whose members submit themselves to the discipline of understanding. We follow Jesus by joining together in processes and experiences of disciplined thinking about the Christian faith. Jesus’ disciples, according to the gospels and especially in Mark’s gospel, seemed always confused by Jesus’ teachings, but they were always seeking understanding. One of the results a disciple community would seek would be people who are articulate about their calling and about their faith. In an increasingly secular culture they would be able to share key aspects of their faith with others in clear and meaningful ways.

  1. Missionary Community: To form a community that understands itself to be a missionary outpost called and sent to represent the reign of God in its own context.

For at least the past 200 years North American Christians have considered “missions” to be a program of the church. These congregations took the initiative to call people into missionary work and send them across large bodies of salt water to foreign lands and strange cultures to establish missionary outposts and convert “pagan” people to Christianity. These missionaries accomplished many good things as they moved out of their outposts, learned the language and customs of the culture, and established congregations, hospitals, orphanages, hospitals, social missionservice centers where none had existed before.

The world has changed.   We no longer need to travel to far off lands to engage in mission. Congregations today in North America find themselves to be in a secular culture where the gospel is not known or where it has been rejected. This makes the missionary encounter even more daunting than what our forefathers and mothers confronted in the past.

Today we understand mission to be the primary activity of God. God is the missionary and the church is God’s missionary program. God is calling and sending congregations today to be God’s missionary outposts in the North American mission field. Among the results a missionary community might hope to achieve would be a congregation that understands itself as a people called and sent to participate in God’s mission, that attempts to find ways to engage our secular culture with the gospel, that learns the language and customs of the secular culture around it, and that is formed as a unique people who, by their existence, challenge our culture by demonstrating a strikingly different kind of society.

  1. Witnessing Community: To form a community that is a striking demonstration of the way of life within the reign of God.

North American Christians, especially those in the mainline denominations, have long accommodated the culture. Cultural beliefs, norms, prejudices, have been adopted as a framework for thought and action. North American churches have, to their shame, give2supported slavery, war, economic oppression and political oppression. Even today there is as much racism inside churches as outside. Nationalism is rampant as evidenced by American flags in a place of honor in church sanctuaries. Most American church members do not know whether they are Christians who happen be Americans or Americans who happen to be Christians. This is evidence of the church accommodating the culture rather than demonstrating a different way to be a society.

As a witnessing community, among the results to be achieved will be members who, together, practice behaviors that demonstrate a very different set of values and life styles than the culture around them. They will be a community of justice and hope, a community that practices generosity and simplicity, a community of selfless giving, a humble community that identifies with the poor, the homeless, the oppressed, the hungry, and the sick. And it will also be a community of joy and thanksgiving as it celebrates God’s love and grace in public worship.

  1. Equipping Community: To form a community whose leaders and members are cultivating and utilizing their diverse gifts in service to the ministry of God’s people.

Having only recently become aware of the secularization of North American culture, most church members are not equipped for a significant missionary encounter with our own culture. One result a congregation will hope to achieve will be to equip its members for such a missionary encounter. All of us need training in order to know how best to represent God in the encounter God seeks to have with North American culture. Varieties of gifts and skills will need to be developed. Members will need help from their pastor in order to interpret to an unbelieving world their “non-conforming” and strikingly different behavior.

Pastoral Initiative.

togetherOne of the most powerful actions a pastor can take is to work in collaboration with the key leadership team to begin clarifying the key results the congregation should achieve and therefore the key results the pastor should achieve as he or she supports and guides the congregation. In many congregations, the pastor takes the initiative by formulating his or her key result areas and goals, and then puts these into a draft work plan along with proposed indicators to measure progress in achieving those goals.The pastor submits this document to the key leadership team as a draft to be developed together. Pastor and key leadership team then work together to build agreement on the goals the pastor is to pursue with the congregation and the indicators to form the basis for evaluating progress.

Parish ministry is a cooperative endeavor. Pastor and people do it together. Therefore the key result areas and the ministry goals must be framed as key results and goals that the congregation and pastor will achieve together. The pastor’s proposed work plan should show how the pastor will be equipping, supporting, and providing leadership to the congregation as together they pursue the goals. By taking such an initiative, the pastor will be emphasizing high performance standards for himself or herself as well as for the congregation. The pastor and key leadership team will be providing support for each other as, together, they go about leading the congregation in the pursuit of these goals.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How does your congregation currently understand of the work of the church?
  2. How is the work of the missional church defined?
  3. Why is it important to clarify the work of the church?
  4. What are the results expected from:A worshipping community?A disciple community?A missionary community?A witnessing community?An equipping community?
  5. What role does the pastor play in enabling the church to emphasize high performance standards?


Paul Dietterich, Th.D.,
Executive Director Emeritus
An ordained minister of the Iowa Conference, The United Methodist Church, Paul has served pastorates in Massachusetts and Iowa. He holds degrees from Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. (An earned doctorate in the field of planned change in church organizations.) Paul served as Executive Director of the Center from 1976 to 2005 and is a major contributor in the field of practical theology.


Inagrace Dietterich

Inagrace Dietterich

The Rev. Inagrace Dietterich, Ph.D. is the Director of Theological Research at the Center for Parish Development.

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