Size of a Mutual Ministry group ~ The ELCA’s Model Constitution for Congregations seems to suggest a Mutual Ministry Committee of 9 members (three of whom need to be selected each year). I served a congregation with an average worship attendance of 400+, and I found this was too large of a committee. Every year, three people needed to be selected to serve. We trimmed our Mutual Ministry team to six (6) members who had three-year terms, and two of whom needed to be selected every year. This worked better. If I were serving a smaller congregation, I might have suggested an even smaller number of members. It wasn’t the quantity of members, but the quality of members that came to matter to me.
Qualities in Mutual Ministry group members ~ I came to look for the following, and to share the following as expectations with those whom we approached for service:
- Members who would be honest with me and about me. I wanted healthy persons who would speak the truth to and about me, and would speak it in love for me and the congregation. I did not want my “fans,” “pastor-pleasers,” or “pastor-eaters”! I wanted healthy and helpful critique.
- Members who did not “have an ax to grind.” I looked for persons who were open to listening to fellow congregational members’ concerns, and who could help those members process those concerns, rather than filter such concerns through their own “issues.”
- Members who could keep the group’s conversation confidential, and especially from spouses. Sometimes I needed the group to help me process a challenging relationship before I had reached a clear decision on how to proceed. Premature “leaks” would have hurt me and the congregation.
- Members who knew how to avoid triangulation. This was a biggie! I looked for persons who could know that their bringing a concern/complaint to my attention was not a substitute for the concerned/complainant talking with me directly. I hoped Mutual Ministry members would encourage a complainant’s early contact with me.
- Members who were known and generally trusted by larger segments of the congregation. I looked for persons whom others knew through congregational life, and who were respected for their healthy presence and availability in the Body of Christ.
Mutual Ministry group representation ~ As a pastor, I wanted to be hearing as much of the congregation as possible. So I wanted our Mutual Ministry Team to be broadly representative of the congregation I served. We tried to maintain good gender balance in the team’s membership, and a good balance between newer and long-term members. Given the nature of our congregation, we wanted the representation of retired persons, single young adults, families with youth, and families with young children. As you can imagine, some team members represented more than one category, and in some years we had a broader representation than in others. I believe the congregational president and pastor will know what categories would work best in achieving a good representation of their particular congregation. My point is that a Mutual Ministry group should represent more than just one or two groups within the congregation. But for what it’s worth, I chose not to have a member of the youth group on our Mutual Ministry Team. I had nothing against the youth; I just did not want a teenager to find him- or herself suddenly dealing with issues for which they were not developmentally ready.
Mutual Ministry group meetings ~ Three meetings with me were scheduled for the year; and we put those meetings on our calendars by February (most of the time). If we had little or nothing to discuss at a meeting, we rejoiced and went home early! But having three check-in points during the year proved very helpful for us/me, and was far better than waiting for the leader or me to call a meeting. BUT we also operated with the understanding that any member or I could call a special meeting if the need – or an issue – arose.
Mutual Ministry meeting content ~ As I reflect on my experience, I recommend the following:
- Group Ministry devotions
- The reading of an appropriate or seasonal Scriptural passage.
- Personal sharing around one aspect of the reading. (Please don’t make this too deep! The point is to build community, and not to theologically intimidate.)
- Summation by the reader, and then prayer for mutual ministry in the room this evening.
- Checking in (Give each member the opportunity, if not outright expectation, to respond.)
- What have the past few months of congregational life and the pastor’s ministry been like for you and yours?
- What needs to be affirmed?
- What could be improved?
- What comments or feedback have you received?
- What do we need to process for the good of our pastor and our congregation?
- Occasional check-up (at least once or twice a year)
- Pastor, what are things like for your family?
- Pastor, what are you exploring in your continuing education?
- Pastor, what are your relationships with colleagues and other rostered leaders like?
- Discussion of any issues
- What do we need to be hearing? (Identification of the true issues)
- What could build up the pastor and the congregation’s members, rather than put either down?
- Where is change honestly needed?
- How can we build up the Body of Christ in this place? (Assignment of specific tasks to group members)
- What is our plan to be accountable to each other and to the Body of Christ in this place and synod?
- “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.”
- Is each of us OK with the meeting?
- Prayer for the pastor and the congregation, their relationship with one another, and their mutual ministry in the Mission that Christ has given us in this community.
Mutual Ministry Blessings for me ~
- Real affirmation that was honest and not just polite (or false!)
- Helpful feedback and critique that greatly improved my ministry.
- Solid support during times of stress or change.
- Good and Spirit-filled brainstorming.
- Taking Christ more seriously…and ourselves less seriously.
- Joy in working, serving, and living together in Christ.
If, after reading the above, you think that I could be a helpful resource for your congregation’s Mutual Ministry group, please feel free to contact me.
Pr. Chris Price
Assistant to the VA Synod Bishop