First Reformed Church of Zeeland
By Julie Chen
The Transition Team began meeting at the end of August to help First Church go through the significant transition of Pastor Scott’s retirement. Dan Ackerman, the Zeeland Classis Pastor, has helped numerous churches in the area through times of transition very similar to ours, and we are grateful for his leadership on this team. The Transition Team includes Dan Ackerman, Marcia Walters, Mary Kingshott, Julie Chen, Mark Snyder, Jill Dannenberg, and Ron Zagers.
Pastor Scott has walked through significant moments of pain, celebration, and growth with all of us in his 32 years here, and moving on to a new chapter will be one that is filled with emotion. Imagine all of the babies that he has baptized, couples he has married, and funerals he has performed in those 32 years! Dan explained to our group that in transitions like this one there are three stages, and these stages are giving us an outline for how we will move through the transition as a church family.
Stage 1: Letting Go
Now that the timeline for Pastor Scott’s retirement has been set and we can see the date of his last sermon (December 31) approaching, we are starting the process of letting go. During this time we will acknowledge and celebrate the legacy that Pastor Scott and Cyndy have left with our church family. The Transition Team has been working on fun and creative ways to remember Pastor Scott’s ministry here and to honor Pastor Scott and Cyndy. Here are a couple of things that our group has planned:
Stage 2: The Neutral Zone
After Pastor Scott’s last sermon, he will still be around and giving leadership to some teams and groups for a couple of months before his official retirement in March. This will be a perfect time to get a cup of coffee with Pastor Scott and for all of us to complete the process of ‘letting go’.
A unique part of this Neutral Zone is that there will be a period that we do not have a teaching pastor. This is not because the search team is stalling or because we are dawdling to call a new pastor; we need an intentional buffer in our transition process. If we would call a new pastor to start immediately after Pastor Scott’s last sermon, we would inevitably make unfair and unhealthy comparisons. The search team will work diligently to find a new teaching pastor who is called, gifted, and qualified, but this person will not be Pastor Scott. In the months following Pastor Scott’s last sermon, we will be hearing messages from a variety of pastors from the RCA. We can look forward to a great lineup of pastors and a time of learning to appreciate a wide variety of pastors and preaching styles.
Stage 3: New Beginning
After we have taken some time as a church family to remember Pastor Scott’s legacy, to grieve, and to spend some time in the neutral zone, we are ready to move on. Let’s commit now to covering the search team in prayer, and to also be in prayer for the pastor that will eventually be called to First Church. Moving on can be scary, but it can also be exciting and filled with hope. I am excited about what is next for First Church! Let’s work together as a church family to discern the Lord’s will and use this time of change and transition to imagine how God will continue to use First Church to further the Kingdom.
Greetings from the Study Team! It has been a busy month since our last update. Over the last several weeks, the study team has convened in meetings led by our Regional Synod Consultant and team members have also done a number of church visits.
One of the assignments given to the Study Team was to visit other churches that are thriving. The goal of this task was two-pronged. One was to gain insight into staffing solutions. Another was to gather innovative ideas that have contributed to making their ministries especially effective. The members of our team, in groups, have been visiting several recommended local churches on various Sundays. These visits provided insight into how each church does ministry, demonstrated how various congregations are trained to carry out their mission, and also provided opportunity to see staffing make-up in action. While we missed our own church family while away, these visits offered fresh perspectives for outreach and unique staffing models.
A striking element that our team noticed at the churches we visited was that these congregations have been trained, in their own unique setting, to make visitors feel exceptionally welcome. Whether a church was staffed and run like ours or not, our team members observed a unique tone of hospitality. For example, at one church, members were given a 3 minute clock on the screen during which time they greeted each other and welcomed new faces. It was much more than a brief handshake; it felt like the body of Christ embracing one another. What a great idea for members and newcomers alike to connect!
We had the opportunity to sit down after services with the pastor of one of these churches that has some amazing things going on in their midst. In this church, nearly 40% of their congregation is made up of children, so a huge emphasis is on Sunday morning children’s programming. The number of kids wasn’t the most amazing thing, however. This church of about 400 people has a rotating group of 170 volunteers who work in the children’s ministry. If you do the math, that means roughly 80% of their adult congregation members are involved in some way in Children’s programming!
Another unique aspect of this specific church is that their mission (and I paraphrase) is to “be” the church in the community outside the church walls, to “do” less in-church programming. When their pastor shared some of the specific things this church up to was, my thought was: Why aren't all churches doing outreach like this? THIS is the stuff that Jesus would do on Earth in 2017, the 'woman at the well' moments. Here are a couple of examples:
Besides our church visits, the team continues to work diligently at our task of preparing two alternate staffing models for the administrative consistory to consider. The deacons on our study team, who have been poring over the 2017 budget and preparing for the 2018 budget year, are able to supply the team with a picture of our available resources, which our church works to steward wisely.
A good deal of discussion has gone into whether certain programs should be reconsidered in favor of focusing more energy and resources on other aspects of ministry. We have also considered how current staff roles might be re-imagined to meet the needs of our congregations. For example, the expectations for a youth or children’s director’s may be shifted from doing all the work personally to recruiting and training parent volunteers to share to work, or the expectation of a youth pastor may be shifted toward ministering to both the youth, as well as their parents.
From our church studies, we have seen some churches with staffing models similar to what our own has been in the past. We have also been to churches that staff innovatively. For example, at one church, the preaching pastor is the only full time employee for their 350-400 member congregation. The music director is an accountant by trade and works for the church about 10 hours per week. The two Children’s Directors share a position. While very different from our own current reality, this gave us at least an idea of the possibilities available due to both ingenuity and volunteerism.
Our team, as a reminder, is not a decision-making body. The task given to us by our consistory is to gather information and create several possible staffing solution models that can then be used by consistory for decision and then by our search team.
Please continue to uplift pray the Study Team in prayer. The upcoming meeting on September 27, is especially pivotal as we plan finalize staffing models to hand off to the administrative consistory and as we revisit our church’s vision. As we have witnessed during our church visits, a God-breathed vision has the power to transform a church and a community. Won’t you pray to our Mighty God with us, as the song says, “Show us, Show us your power!” We long to see the power of God at work in the lives of each member of First Church and in the Zeeland community.
An Energizing Story
Last night our consultant shared a story that demonstrates the passion of a church that embraced a new vision for their ministry. An RCA church in mid-Michigan adopted a vision of reaching out to young, unwed mothers. A group of 30 women from the church volunteered to watch the children of these moms so that they could go to camp for a week! What an exciting way to reach out to a group of people that might not otherwise feel welcomed by the church.
And this was a big part of our discussion; dreaming about what our “big vision” for FRCZ could be. Our consistory has spent the last year developing a vision for 2022. The question is how do we use this to develop our unique niche of ministry?
FRCZ Kingdom Concept: To leverage people and resources to reach people who are far from God, both in our community and around the world.
A “Kingdom Concept” is the overlap of the three areas we have been working on for the last month: the local predicament, the collective potential, and the apostolic esprit of our church. With the assistance of our consultant, we have developed a Kingdom Concept for our church that will help us cast a vision and take steps toward our mission. This then led to looking at the strategic long- and short-term vision for our church and to dream and discuss our 10-year vision.
The Strategic Process
Doug took a portion of the time to explain our next steps, which included looking at our 7-10 year vision all the way down to the strategic steps for the next 90 days. The organizational chart delineated this strategic vision and the steps we will take to get there. The vision developed this past year by the consistory will be used to synthesize this implementation process. Our team is currently working on our overall vision. The goal is a vision that ignites the passion and uses the strengths of the members of our church towards the mission to which our King has called us. This vision will then inform our staffing needs and will lead us from our 10-year long-term plans all the way down to our 90-day strategic steps.
Dreaming of 2024
We were asked to look at our future and dream of what our church could look like in 7-10 years. Here were some of the thoughts and dreams our study team discussed last night:
This is what we are dreaming of: finding FRCZ’s niche, one that ignites the passion of our members while also meeting a need in our community that’s glorifying to God. Please join us in prayer as we discern the exciting plans our Lord has for First Reformed Church and each one of us for the future!
On Sunday, July 30, the study team met for an intensive four-and-a-half hour session. The in-depth discussion revolved around three major categories of questions delineated below, that our team has spent the last month working through individually. Through a process of individual discernment, partner dialogue, and whole group discussion yesterday, the following ideas came to the forefront to inform our situation and future staffing needs.
Category 1: Local Predicament
This category can be described as an ‘Intimate grasp on the soil.’ The goal of this set of questions is to discover the distinct features of the Zeeland community that can inform how we connect with those in our area. The aspects of our local predicament that were most prominent after a time of discussion and discernment were:
Category 2: Collective Potential
The collective potential category focuses on what we as a congregation do well, where our collective strength lies. The major ideas that arose from this discussion were:
Category 3: Apostolic Esprit
The Apostolic Esprit is described as more than a passion, it’s the hot place in a man’s or church’s conscience and action. The ‘hot-spots’ that the group determined were passions within our church body that energize our faith were:
Next Meeting: Wednesday August 2
As our team works to meet the timeframe goal set by the Administrative Consistory, we have elected to meet again this Wednesday evening, August 3. The purpose of this meeting will be to use the ideas from the above three categories and, under the directions of our consultant, discover the overlap between them to determine our church’s “Kingdom Concept.” This will then help inform us as to the type of leadership structure that would be most beneficial to our unique church community towards our vision.
Over the next few weeks, the Study Team plans to visit selected thriving local churches and meet with members of their leadership. Our consultant is in the process of setting up these meetings. Please be in prayer that these visits are productive and that helpful data and insightful ideas are collected towards our staffing goals. Additionally, please pray for the logistics of these meetings, as summertime proves a challenging time for schedules.
FRCZ Study Team Update
Imagine the following scene: Dark storm clouds roll in, blotting out the bluebird sky and hiding the warm summer rays of the sun. A crack of thunder is followed by torrent of rain pelting the ground. To a couple setting out on a summer picnic, this turn of events is disappointing or even upsetting. However, now, consider the farmer who has been waiting weeks for the heavens to pour forth the needed nourishment for parched crops. To this farmer, those storm clouds bring hope. Perspective makes all the difference.
As a congregation, we are in a time where the forecast for the future seems uncertain, and possibly threatening. The perspective from which we choose to view our current circumstance will greatly influence our outlook. As our Study Team works to discern the best possible staffing options for the future of our church, would you join us in an attitude of hope for what the Lord Almighty has planned for our church and in prayer as together we discern His will?
The Study Team has been charged with the responsibility to look at staffing needs alongside our church’s mission and vision statement and to make recommendations to the administrative consistory regarding staffing for the future. In this space, I hope to provide narrative of the discussion, the ideas presented and the plans of the Study Team. For those who are curious or anxious about progress towards our staffing changes, my goal is to communicate some highlights of what our team is working on. This is not an exhaustive explanation of everything discussed. At this point, none of the material being shared has been ‘decided upon.’ We just felt it important to allow the congregation a peek into the discussions taking place at our Study Team meetings so you can not only be informed, but also add your voice, your perspectives and ideas by connecting with members of our team and sharing your thoughts.
FRCZ Vision 2022:
The FRCZ Leadership, over the past year, developed a vision for our church’s future and this is the guide we as a study team are using as we envision what our staffing needs will be for the future. The Vision 2022 states:
We see FRCZ as an attractively vibrant, diverse and growing people that are generous with Jesus. This generosity begins in our own lives, and extends into our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, communities and the world. Furthermore,
June 28 Meeting Highlights
At our meeting at the end of June, here are some of the highlights of what we covered:
Our Regional Synod Consultant, Doug McClintic, proposed that our team has two alternatives. We can either look at our staffing needs, crunch some numbers and say, “New people, same plan as last year.” Or, we can look the Vision for 2022 that our Consistory worked all year to develop and step into some uncharted waters by discerning creative new ways our church can live into our mission and vision. Doug provided is with a set questions to help us discern the unique aspects of our church and our community to help us determine our unique pathway for First Church to serve the Lord in our specific location.
Below is a sampling of these questions that the team is considering and discussing:
July 16 Meeting Highlights
Church Visits: During this meeting, along with beginning to discuss the questionnaire, we narrowed down a list of churches to visit and study. The selected churches have demonstrated a new vision or ministry and have seen growth in some way. At Doug’s recommendation, we will visit the selected churches as a group, so that we have many sets of eyes to see various aspects of each church.
Staffing Transitions: Another insight that the consultant shared was related to staff changeover. In his experience helping churches navigate change and take on new leadership, he suggested that the best option for a smooth transition is for the current leadership to finish and for an interim pastor take that place for an amount of time. This allows the congregation a time of ‘grieving’, but also for the new leadership to start fresh. He also intimated that the process of finding a new teaching pastor may take 18 months. While this is not what our church initially hoped for, this information and recommendation seemed important to share, and we can trust God’s grace and timing.
Study Team Retreat: This Sunday, July 30, after the service, our team will be spending most of the afternoon together. We hope to use this time to work towards the mandates our consistory has given us to complete. Following our meeting, please revisit the blog for an update of what we discussed and worked on.