A new webinar series aims to provide ministers with tools to nurture resilience in the face of congregational challenges such as political toxicity, declining attendance and financial pressures, said Matt Cook, assistant director of the Center for Healthy Churches.
“The purpose is to introduce this concept of sustaining joy no matter what,” Cook said about “The Changing Church,” a six-week series held at 11 a.m. Eastern on Thursdays through June 10. “Each week focuses on a different joy stealer.”
In the context of the series, joy is the quality that enables ministers to sustain inspiration and perspective despite whatever challenges are being faced. “Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an enduring sense of energy, a sense of the desire to continue forward in our callings and not just gritting our teeth and enduring it.”
The weekly topics were identified in a survey conducted recently by the center in response to widespread anecdotal feedback from ministers despairing from a wide range of threats to congregational cohesiveness and personal well-being. Respondents were asked to rank those difficulties from a list of 15 choices.
“Politics was far and away No. 1 — 58% of respondents put politics in their top five,” Cook said.
Church conflict came in second at 46%, followed by declining attendance at 45%, lack of creative energy congregation-wide at 42%, and church financial pressures at 40%.
Other categories included staff conflicts and departures, and having to endure exhausting decision-making processes. On a personal level, respondents also identified rocky family relationships, financial pressures, low creative energy, and lack of work-life balance.
“The pandemic didn’t create these issues, but it exacerbated these issues.”
Cook acknowledged that these “joy killers” are nothing new in pastoral life, but he believes they have been greatly elevated by the coronavirus outbreak. “The pandemic didn’t create these issues, but it exacerbated these issues. It was an intensifier of political conflict and an intensifier of a lack of creative energy in the congregation. Trying to get your congregation to do one more Zoom meeting has become extremely difficult for some.”
The center is seeing results of these pressures in the coaching and consulting work it does with clergy, he said. “We are busier right now in transition work than we ever have been in our history, and at least part of that is emerging out of this sense of these joy stealers that already were great before the pandemic.”
In addition to offering approaches for solving or addressing these challenges, webinar panelists also will share methods for keeping in a positive mental framework even when problems persist, Cook said. “They will present ways to keep those issues from robbing you, individually, of joy.”
The guidance provided by panelists is based on experience. In an upcoming session on political toxicity, Preston Clegg, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., and Travis Collins, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., will talk about how they handle the political pressures in their contexts and how they try to remain personally and pastorally resilient in doing so.
“We are aiming for congregational best practices that are helpful regardless of where your congregation lands denominationally.”
“They are coming from two very different contexts and ways of engaging around political issues, but both will share how they keep it from being a joy killer,” Cook said. “That’s what all the webinars will do — tap into strategies for keeping your joy.”
Over the course of the series, the breadth of that experience will mirror the variety of experts who have been selected to lead the sessions. They range from conservative evangelicals to progressive Christians and represent a number of Christian traditions, Cook said.
That wide perspective also is represented in the organizations that have partnered with the center for the series, including Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, The Church Network, The Presbyterian Foundation and Baptist News Global, among others. The webinars are free but registration is required.
“We are aiming for congregational best practices that are helpful regardless of where your congregation lands denominationally,” he said. “We are not going to solve huge church problems in a 45-minute webinar, but we can get smart experts who are good communicators and let them bring their insights to bear.”
What will become of Sunday school? | Opinion by Mark Wingfield
Church leaders, please don’t waste your transition crisis | Opinion by Bill Wilson
Your church after COVID: Restart, refresh or relaunch? | Opinion by Bill Wilson