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Building blocks for a strong and healthy church

May 3, 2010 12:22 PM

By Pastor Kathleen Koran


Raising up pastors who are healthy, resourceful and remain excited about their call to ministry does not happen by accident. One critical stage of growth occurs when pastors complete their initial educational preparation, receive approval for ordination, and accept a call to a particular ministry. This first relationship between pastor and people, congregation and pastor, shapes a pattern and style for ministry that may remain with a pastor throughout her or his public ministry. Because ministry is always a mutual relationship, a partnership between pastor and people in a particular context, the vitality of this first call is one important building block for a strong and healthy church.


"Vocation of First Call Congregations," an ELCA study project which began in 2005, sought to identify the characteristics of congregations that do a good job supporting first call pastors as they start their ministry following completion of their seminary education. These congregations have come to understand their own vocation as places of nurture, hospitality and welcome, patience, clear communication and trust that can purposefully work alongside a newly ordained pastor to develop and strengthen ministry practices.


The ELCA website has posted the information from this study and the larger "Transitions to Ministry" study so that congregations, synods, candidacy committees, seminaries, and church-wide leaders might work together for best practices as we seek to effectively and faithfully respond to God’s call to serve others.


The Metropolitan New York Synod of the ELCA has many congregations that serve as first call sites. We hope to work more intentionally with these congregations as they call new pastors, helping them claim the important vocation of being a vital first call congregation.


A DVD and discussion materials for congregational use have been developed by the ELCA. Learn more about these resources here.



Best Practices Checklist for Congregations Vocations of First Call Congregations Project 2010

___ The first call congregation claims its vocation as a "teaching" and "mentoring" context for a new leader in public ministry.

___ The call process includes attention to what is unique about calling a rostered leader into a first call.

___ The call committee uses available resources in understanding a call to a first call leader.

___ The congregation is intentional in providing a healthy, safe environment for a new leader to shape her or his ministerial identity.

___ The congregation honors and welcomes the gifts of its new pastor, deaconess, associate in ministry or diaconal minister.

___ The congregation invites the new leader to join members in reflecting on its identity and mission as a community of faith.

___ The congregation is open to and makes connections with its larger community.

___ The congregation’s goals and actions reflect flexibility and openness to change.

___ The congregation addresses financial realities in positive, hopeful ways, especially during the call process.

___ A sense of possibility and hope for the future is reflected in behaviors and decision-making by the leadership.

___ Leaders are intentional in visioning and planning for mission.

___ The call committee serves as or arranges for a mutual ministry committee in the first years of a first call ministry.

___ Members are respectful of the needed boundaries between the new leader’s personal/family life and congregational leadership.

___ The congregation members and new leader enjoy each other.

___ The congregation pays special attention to hospitality, making the new leader feel welcome and cared for during the months of transition into the first call and into the broader community.



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