Recent episodes of “Along the Road,” a podcast series by Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), look at the constant of change in church life, including two “Nourish” episodes focusing on education and leadership by ruling elders and deacons and an “Encounter” episode about challenges facing transitioning congregations.
Download Along the Road episodes from the Mid Council Ministries section of pcusa.org or from podcast providers.
Nourish: Making Christ Known in the Here and Now (9 minutes)
Jenna Campbell, Director of Children and Youth Ministry at First Presbyterian Church, Stillwater, Oklahoma and the 2023 Association of Partners in Christian Education Enrich Educator of the Year, talks with host Martha Miller about “the importance of education in discipleship” and inspiring church leaders “as they seek to serve faithfully.”
Campbell says Christian formation brings forth growth by doing the will of God in the here and now. “Formation moves us out of ourselves into the world to do God’s work.”
She discusses Presbyterians’ historic enthusiasm for education, and how even reading instruction gives people the tools to gain knowledge about themselves and God. Programs such the Educate a Child Initiative by the Presbyterian Mission Agency continue that tradition.
But education — including Christian formation — never stops.
“Remember that faith formation isn’t a program, or relegated to any particular time and place. It’s about all it means to be faithful disciples of Christ in our church and families and world,” Campbell says. Everything in ministry is a form of teaching, and “teaching is not only what we are saying but what we aren’t.”
She advises ruling elders and deacons, Nourish’s core audience, to make time for personal faith foundation that is grounded in Scripture and faith, as those support everything else one does, including helping others.
Nourish: Never "Just" a Church Leader (11 minutes)
Kerry Rice, a ruling elder and Deputy Stated Clerk in OGA, talks about “the shared governance structure of the PC(USA) and the importance of all roles in Christ’s church.”
Rice recounts his own faith journey, growing up in a small Colorado congregation, being ordained a ruling elder in the Louisville area, serving as a clerk of session and moving memberships between churches. Those experiences saw him learning new roles and finding out about his capacities.
Being a ruling elder especially suits his skill set, Rice says. During his path of discernment he realized that becoming a minister of word and sacrament (teaching elder) “wasn’t for me,” even though his varied experiences have equipped him to work closely with pastors and to understand their particular importance to the church.
Rice and Miller discuss the tendency of ruling elders to describe themselves as “just ruling elders,” with Rice saying, “There is no ‘just being a deacon or ruling elder.’ Those are vital ministries in our denomination.”
Also vital to the church are Presbyterians embracing new challenges. “God continues to equip me for what is coming,” Rice says. “And then God opens opportunities for me to use what I’ve learned.”
He encourages ruling elders and deacons to serve not only at their local and mid council level, but at the General Assembly. “We need ruling elders to bring what they know and have learned to the same table where teaching elders bring what they know and have learned.”
Encounter: A Conversation on Transitional Ministry (50 minutes)
Encounter host the Rev. Manuel Silva-Esterrich talks with the Rev. Mason Todd “about transitional ministry and how it supports all types of congregations in all the stages of life.”
The conversation encourages mid councils and congregations to “expand their ministry search and explore new ways to reexamine their ministry” — something Todd is well placed to discuss as a transitional pastor himself. He is also a Church Leadership Connection consultant with OGA and member of Salem Presbytery.
The two discuss how transitional ministers work in the tradition of interim minster, with the newer title emphasizing the way they focus on transitioning a congregation from a previous era of pastoral leadership and mission into a new one.
“As a transitional pastor it’s important for me to come into a congregation and let them be church around me and then ask questions,” Todd says. “Why do you do something this way? Do you have a passion for this ministry still? Does it serve the community?”
Transitional ministers help a church focus on the things the congregation is passionate about. Having a strong sense of who a congregation is helps to coalesce and even develop a shared sense of mission — which makes it easier for pastor nominating committees to find a long-term fit.
“The whole of the church is in transition,” Todd says, a process the pandemic accelerated. “We have to live into a new way of doing things. It is not unfaithful or unhopeful to say we have to look at church differently.”
That can include revisiting the need for a full-time minster, partnering with different ministries or using church spaces to support community initiatives. The perspective and training of a transitional minister can help a congregation make faithful decisions about future mission, including outreach to young people and community groups underserved in the past.
Silva-Esterrich and Todd discuss how resource-rich Presbyterian churches often are, and how those resources can be used in new ways. Organizational changes at the congregation or mid council level, including committees on ministry and preparation for ministry, can facilitate new forms of ministry and worship. In Todd’s own presbytery, a program that gives greater flexibility to churches regarding the amount of time a transitional minister is in place makes hiring and retention easier.
In closing, Todd encourages all churches to consider working with a transitional minister regardless of the conditions under which a previous long-term pastor departed.
Earlier in the podcast he and Silva-Esterrich joke about baseball — a game that rewards a lifetime of thinking and learning about rules and even rituals. Silva-Esterrich switches sports metaphors to marathon running for his podcast benediction.
“If we find good coaches who can train us … we can get those first difficult steps out of the way and concentrate on what we need to do going forward.”