Fruits of introspection

I’m a pretty calm fellow, but I was nervous. A visioning task force I chaired for my congregation in Kansas City, Mo., released its 51-page, 150-recommendation report last February, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Even though 11 of us had worked for seven months and had drawn in thinking from many in the congregation (and beyond), I wondered whether our report stir up would controversy, anger, joy or tears.

We were, after all, suggesting that some things need to change, that we must rearrange some of the ways we do ministry, get rid of some things, start new things and — most dangerous of all — seek to follow where we sensed God was leading our nearly 150-year-old congregation.

It was time to be Abraham and leave Ur of the Kansas City for a future known only to God.

Most of a year later, I’m happy to say our report has stirred up good change, creative tension, excellent questions, proper cautions, some puzzlement, real excitement and much energy.

It’s been an exhilarating ride as I’ve seen people catch a vision of how an old Mainline church can proclaim and demonstrate the good news of Jesus Christ in this new, often-chaotic time when nearly all the Mainline trend arrows point down.


Our congregation hasn’t adopted everything our report recommended — nor did I expect it would. But we are making important changes in the way we offer pastoral care to our people, the way we organize our mission efforts, the way we nominate and elect officers, the way we practice what we call radical intentional hospitality.


Why did we agree to go through this intensely introspective work? It was because of the urging of our new pastor, Paul T. Rock, who, a few months after joining our staff, received his doctor of ministry degree in 21st century church leadership from Drew University.


After six years as an associate pastor at Fifth Avenue Church in New York, Paul was ready to lead a large congregation (we’re about 650) and help to position it for ministry in a new time. But our task force did not simply rubber-stamp his ideas. Rather, we worked with him and our whole congregation to understand our context and what ministry might look like in the years ahead. Still, it’s doubtful we’d have done things quite this way without Paul.


Now Paul and I are anxious to share our experience in congregational transformation with others. So we’re offering a class April 8-13 at the Ghost Ranch conference center in New Mexico. It will be part of “Spring Ministry Week,” when the ranch will continue its tradition of supporting people in ministry by offering various classes.


For details, visit.


b-tammeus.jpgNo one has all the answers for how to be a vibrant congregation today. Paul Rock and I don’t pretend to. But after our experience of helping produce our task force’s report, we at least know some of the questions.


Perhaps together in April we can imagine some answers that will work for your congregation.


BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at

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