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A need I see frequently as I follow my calling in the work of a Specialized Transitional Minister involves a lack of tools for a particular kind of values inventory and assessment. This is not just a listing of self-declared values, but something that can assess values from actions. Self declared values are often more noble than the lived values in my experience, both personally, pastorally, and congregationally.

I first realized this was a challenge for churches when I began to see the large role expectations played in the relationship between pastors and churches, particularly when stated expectations were not met, but even more so when unstated expectations were not. I discovered that the most vexing situations were about expectations which had never been identified stated or documented, first of all, and that those expectations were rooted in values parishioners or pastors held to that were so ‘normal’ to them that they were invisible to them. Those expectations became the bigger issues in strife between the two parties.

I began to wonder, and still wonder, if there is a way of flushing out those unstated values earlier and then making them part of the record and the call conversation. Some identified actual values may need action to correct or realign them with scripture as well. The greatest difficulty is, first of all, behaviours driven by these values need to be observed and examined, and second, that the naming of what is behind the behaviour is a subjective interpretive task fraught with emotional risk to the subject who took the action. The emotional/psychological risk is in the recognition that often these are values that, for whatever reason, we feel or know at some level we should not have. They are not Politically Correct or not Culturally Correct or not Biblically or Theologically Correct in some way.

Here are two examples.

A pastor arrives at a church on a Sunday evening to help set up for the Alpha outreach program they are running. This church is shared with an ethnic congregation who have the use of the church on Sunday afternoons for several hours. Some congregation members are waiting at the locked door when he arrives (already there are values expressed in only the pastor having the keys) and when he opens the doors a distinct strong odor of foreign-to-them ethnic food wafts out to them. Immediately a congregation member blurts “They are not supposed to cook in here! It’s in the contract. Someone should send someone to talk to them to stop the cooking!” And we proceed in with our crock pots and EuroAmerican foods to prepare to do outreach. Outreach is a stated value of the congregation. And action towards it is being taken. But a whole different set of values was stated by the key member. That moment jolted me into new awareness.

This next one is one I have heard but not experienced directly. So this may be partially fiction. A dying church calls a pastor to help them do outreach in the community. The pastor begins to make connections in the neighbourhood, and in those relationships starts to invite folks to join the congregation for worship on Sundays. During Sunday services, once everyone known has arrived, the doors to the church are locked.

So there are two examples of stated values and actions being out of alignment, of them lacking integration. In a group setting, it would be interesting to have a group try to unpack the values that are revealed in the holding of keys, the blurted statement quoted above, and the locking of the doors. Then to have the group imagine what it might be like to be a person from the community who, maybe after years away from the church paces just around the corner from the church where she knows a service she’s been invited to join is about to begin, and finally, as she hears singing, decides to go in… but encounters the values expressed in the locked doors. All the while, the group doing the interpretation should be reminded to be kind, because they do similar things in their churches, they just don’t see them.

I have known of a number of situations like the second one, where eventually conflict develops with the pastor, often because the regular members feel ‘neglected’ in some way at the expense of attention being paid to non-members. Its a clash of values.

There are values assessment tools available. Plenty of them. But they tend to range around self identified key words that express a value. In my opinion, they let us delude ourselves. I presume others have had the experience of creating such a list personally, and then maybe asking others who know you well to pick from the same master list values they believe you show in your actions. And you find out people’s experience of you is different than the values you think you are living. Sometimes that can be pleasant, sometimes it challenges us. Those value lists, when created by churches, are then turned into mission and vision statements without actual action assessments to see what the concrete lived values are in the congregation.

So, I’m looking for something new. It is the start of an idea, a recognition, at least in theory, of a need for a tool that would be especially handy for STMs and coaches and any congregation wanting to do some assessment. But at this point all I can imagine is the face-to-face process of an STM observing behaviours and asking themselves but also the people exhibiting the actions “Why do you do this? What is behind it?” in order to expose the lived values.

I’d love to get feedback on this idea, and input as to ways of assessing this. And other examples that might clarify it even more.


To those who run the network. I would have liked to have this posted under the topic of "Transitional Ministry" or, fitting what we call it in the CRC, "Specialized Transitional Ministry." If that can be done then my intent will have been fully achieved.


The book "Studying Congregations:A New Handbook" by Nancy Ammerman may be helpful to you, especially the chapter by Robert Schreiter that speaks about surfacing the "implicit theology" of a congregation. My first thought is that this is the kind of question that lends itself to a qualitative method, not a quantitative "check this box" type. "Ethnography as a Pastoral Practice" by Mary Clark Moschella may also be helpful.

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