A time to build

For the last several years the church I pastor, Central Baptist Church of Riverton-Palmyra 1, has been in a bit of a holding pattern. We became increasingly aware that our organizational structure was not only non-functional, it was actually serving to take energy from the congregation. Central was a organizational vampire which folks both loved and despised. To be certain, it was made up of good folks, and the system hadn’t always been toxic, but we were working in a paradigm which no longer fit who we’d become. We had to change.

So, for two and a half years a Transition Team worked to move us into a new path. We polled the congregation to see where people’s passions were. We tried to focus Central’s energy into as few a number of areas as possible. We discussed, chatted, disagreed, and had some genuine moments of epiphany. A lot of it was done via Google Docs, so when the Transition Team met face to face the personal reflections had been done before we got together 2. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a pastor.

Through the process I learned more about my own gifts. I’m actually pretty good analyzing an organizational situation and setting a mark for which to aim as a result of that analysis. What I’m poor at is devising a plan to move toward that point. This is probably a by-product of my own psyche, which begins looking for the next challenge after the mark is set, but it was in danger of derailing a process I’d initiated. It’s a good thing I have friends.

When the transition process began to get slogged down, one of the team members stepped forward and guided the last leg of the journey. I still had input into how the journey played out, but I wasn’t “running the show.” This team member did a stellar job, helping us to finalize the language of our new structure 3 and leading the charge to update our bylaws 4 to reflect our new language and personality. In late Fall we introduced the finalized structure and bylaws to the congregation, and this past January we voted them in. Only two additions were made to the new document – a typo was corrected and one phrase was added. There was no fighting, there were no enemies, there was actually joy 5. We’d completed a journey, and were ready to get moving.

Thus far it’s been working out fairly well. We’ve been functioning provisionally under this structure for a while now as we finalized things so we’ve stretched the growing pains out over time, and that has really helped. We’re discovering that some circles, such as property, will function more like boards simply out necessity – but even these are seeing an increase in the number of people participating in their conversations. We’re also seeing that the circles are becoming fluid, as they are meant to be. “Community” events are being managed by different sets of people and, while there is some overlap, these different voices create their own patterns of harmony – they work out their events in different ways. Worship has benefitted from a wider set of contributions, leading to some interesting movements being brought into worship – especially around Holy Week.

We are still discovering what we’re going to become, but there is an energy growing in the congregation which I am genuinely excited to see grow. I’m watching people envision what is possible, instead of bemoaning what we can’t do. Some endeavors we set out to may not fly, some circles may “pop,” and we’ll have to reinvent ourselves all over again in five years. Right now, however, we’re under way into new horizons. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.


  1. Yes, the name is boring and conjures up images of people who glare at you for bringing coffee into the wrong room (the one with the “new” carpet, installed in 1968). Some folks toyed with changing the name – but it wasn’t a hill worth climbing. Besides, now we can say we’re keeping the boring old name ironically. So there. 
  2. If you’re holding a meeting to distribute new information, you are doing it wrong. We live in an era of massive communication, use it. 
  3. We now have “circles,” the committees have been left behind. 
  4. I love seeing people giggle at their own audacity by being the first to get in a “second.” 
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