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A Look Ahead at 2019

2019 is quickly approaching and is bringing with it many opportunities. In the coming year, we will continue to offer:

  • Consulting, coaching and guidance for interim ministry for congregations, clergy and judicatories.
  • The Association for Intentional Interim Ministry (AIIM) as a resource for interim ministers. (If you completed your Interim Ministry training through the Center for Congregational Health you will have received information about membership in AIIM.)
  • Training for Consulting, Coaching and Leadership development.
  • Training for Intentional Interim Ministers, through a new partnership with the Collaborative for Public Religious Leadership, School of Divinity, Wake Forest University.


In addition to the work we are already doing, we will launch a few new initiatives:

  • A Professional Network of Consultants and Coaches—if you have completed consultant training or coach training with the Center for Congregational Health, you will recieve an invitation to join our professional network.Being a part of this network will provide opportunities to connect with other coaches and consultants, to participate in webinars (at no cost) and continuing education events (reduced rate), as well as a listing in the searchable database of consultants and coaches.
  • Thriving in Ministry—We will be working with the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University to develop and offer a program to help clergy Thrive and Flourish in Ministry. The School of Divinity at WFU in partnership with the Center for Congregational Health applied for and received nearly $1 million from the Lily Foundation. Our plan is to launch a clergy cohort program in early 2020.  We hope you will follow our activity on this, join us and help us spread the word so that we can see more thriving/flourishing clergy.
  • Ask the Center for Congregational Health—in our Newsletter, which we are planning to circulate on a monthly basis, there will be a new section where you can pose a question or share a scenario for one of our consultants to respond and offer input. We will try this for the first 3 months of 2019 and evaluate to determine the feasibility of continuation.


Also, in 2019, we will see the first Doctor of Ministry students, with a focus in Intentional Interim Ministry, graduate from Interdenominational Theological Centerin Atlanta, GA.  Over the past two years, Dr. Les Robinson and Dr. Marvin Morgan have taught and provided oversight for the coursework for this program.  Congratulations to thirteen students are in position to graduate with a DMin, in IIM from ITC.


In addition to these opportunities, you will continue to find us at denominational gatherings and leading workshops to help congregations and clergy live more fully into who God is calling them to be.

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Book Review by Rev. Dr. Marvin L. Morgan

THOMPSON, GEORGE B., JR. (2001).  How to Get Along with Your Church: Creating Cultural Capital for Doing Ministry.  The Pilgrim Press, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100; 151 pages in Paper Back Edition

Prominently portrayed on the front cover of George B. Thompson, Jr.’s book, “How to Get Along with Your Church” are the bright, smiling faces of a multicultural, intergenerational group of women and men.  Perhaps the smiles are an indication that these men and women are members of local churches, where the pastors have followed George Thompson’s prescription for building “cultural capital” within the local churches, while in the process of becoming effective pastors.

Dr. Thompson begins by asking a key question to newly called (appointed) pastors, “How well do you know what you are getting into?”  He believes it would be a gross and often fatal mistake to assume that the rural or urban churches to which one has recently been called (appointed) is the same, in every way, as all other rural or urban churches with which one may be acquainted.  Churches that may appear to be similar are often very different.  The clue to discerning the key differences in churches can be found by focusing upon and learning each church’s unique “culture”.  “Congregations themselves create communities, and those communities in turn create, nurture, and transmit culture” that is unique to their own setting.  Therefore, “effective ministry” in this present age and beyond “is all about learning, by both the pastor and by the congregation.”

For development of his theory, Thompson borrows from the social sciences, especially the discipline of “cultural anthropology” that “looks at the overall life of a community, seeking to discern patterns of behavior and meaning that are shared among its members.”  When a newly called pastor applies this same learning process within a local church, the pastor positions himself/herself to build “cultural capital.”  In other words, the pastor “gains the ability to participate significantly in a [congregation] by becoming accepted [adopted by the members of that congregation] and [by] honoring [that congregations own previously established] values.”  He/she invests himself/herself in the life of that congregation with the widely held assumption “that there is a [direct causal] relationship between what [a person] ‘puts into’ something and what they ‘get out’ of it.  In other settings, we call this “paying our dues.”  A pastor’s “ability to do effective ministry depends on [his/her] acquisition of cultural capital within [the particular congregation to which he/she has been called (appointed)].”

At the risk of oversimplification, the following is a brief restatement of some of Dr. Thompson’s primary concepts.

He defines “culture” as “shared meaning and behavior.  It is something that people have in association with others…it stands for things that are important to people, things they value; and it is acted out in the things that people do.”  A part of the difficulty that new pastors face is their failure to recognize that culture exists at three distinct levels [a concept drawn from Edgar H. Shein’s Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publications, 1992), chap. 2].

The first level of culture and the one most visible and easily noticeable is the culture’s “ARTIFACTS”.  These are a community’s (church’s) “structures for living and working, objects for daily use, rituals and activities, dress, ways in which people interact,” etc.  The way these artifacts are viewed and valued may and often do vary from one community (church) to the next.  The second level of culture is a community’s (church’s) “ESPOUSED VALUES”.  These are beliefs within the community (church) about what is important, what the community (church) says it values.”  Nevertheless, a pastor must beware because espoused values, often expressed in positive terms, may mean something very different from what is expressed.  The third, level of culture is [the community’s (church’s) “SHARED BASIC ASSUMPTIONS”.  Dr. Thompson believes these to be the “most significant” level of culture because these assumptions “define the culture, they reveal what makes it tick”.  However, these shared basic assumptions, although very basic and highly determinative of a community’s (church’s) behavior are “almost subterranean.”  They tend to go unnoticed until a new pastor or any pastor violates (acts in a way that disrespects) one of them.  Then the shared basic assumption is subject to be expressed, usually with a show of “anger or frustration” by a church member who recognizes the violation.  Thompson refers to this common error made by pastors as “stepping on a land mind.”

Key layers of culture further shape each of these levels of culture.  The levels and layers of culture in turn “converge in ways that give each local community (church) its own unique blend of culture.”

Thompson proceeds to identify a carefully thought out procedure for the ways a new pastor may prepare to know a new church, become accepted (adopted) by and provide sensitive leadership within a new church, creatively handle conflict within and “say goodbye” to a church.

One of the major strengths of this book is its emphasis upon helping a newly called (appointed) pastor to more clearly understand “what he/she is getting him/her self into.”  If the data Dr. Thompson provides is true, “the highest rate of pastoral dropout occurs between the third and fifth years out of seminary”, this book is both timely and urgently needed not only by pastors and church leaders but also by new (and veteran) clergy who are engaged in the unique field of Intentional Interim Ministry. 

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to new pastors, veteran pastors (especially those in connectional churches where they are subject to occasional reappointments), church leaders and all other clergy who genuinely desire to be effective in local church ministry.


By Rev. Dr. Marvin L. Morgan

(Marvin serves as Interim Senior Pastor of the more than 800-member, St. John Evangelical United Church of Christ, Collinsville, IL; a faculty member of the Center for Congregational Health, Winston-Salem, NC and as Adjunct, D. Min. faculty, in Leading Congregations (Managing Transitions – Intentional Interim Ministry), at Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA.)

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Celebrations and Changes

The Center for Congregational Health is in its 25th year!  The Center has been working with congregations, clergy and lay leaders since November of 1992.  As we move through the remainder of this year, we celebrate 25 years of partnering with congregations and leaders to help your churches make a difference in your communities.  Thank you for 25 years of serving together, we look forward to the many ways we may continue to work together.

For 21 of those 25 years, the Rev. Dr. B. Leslie Robinson, Jr. has worked full-time with the Center as Manager of Interim Ministry Resources, with a period of time as acting director.  During that time, Les has worked with several hundred congregations, training more than 2500 interim ministers representing 27 denominations, traveling to 33 states and 2 foreign countries. We are grateful for Les’ leadership and ministry and the amazing work that he has done throughout the years.

We all knew the day would come when Les would want a bit more freedom from the 40+ hour work week and that day has come!  There is good news to go along with it—Les may be scaling back and thinking about his time a bit differently, however he will continue to work with the Center for Congregational Health providing oversight and curriculum development for the Intentional Interim Ministry Training program and for the Association of Intentional Interim Ministers.  We are delighted and honored that Les is choosing to continue the very important work for which he is very well known, and that he will continue to journey with us.

In honor of Les and the work he has done with the Center for Congregational Health, we have worked with the NC Baptist Foundation who manages the Poe Fund, to establish a line item of financial donation where the funds will be used to assist congregations who desire to use the services of the Center for Congregational Health and do not have the funds to do so, we invite and encourage you to offer a financial gift to the Poe Fund in honor of Dr. B. Leslie Robinson, Jr and the work he has accomplished in living out his calling.   When sending a donation, please designate for the “Les Robinson Fund”.  Donations may be mailed to:  the Center for Congregational Health, Medical Center Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC 27157.

Posted in: Consulting, Future, History, Interim Ministry, Leadership, Uncategorized

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Do you need a church consultant?

by Rev. Chris Gambill, Ph.D.

Fall is one of the seasons when the Center for Congregational Health staff typically sees an uptick in calls inquiring about church consulting. While it is often congregational conflict that prompts a call, there are many other situations where a church consultant can be helpful. Since using a church consultant is still a new idea for lots of congregations, here are some of the questions you might ask in determining whether or not a church consultant could be helpful to you.

Are you “stuck?”

Do you feel “stuck” as a congregation and unsure how to get moving forward? If your congregation is 40 or more years old, then it is highly likely it is experiencing a gradual decline in participation, giving, etc. There may not be any actual “problem” anyone can name, but the congregation may still feel unable to make progress. A church consultant can help the congregation identify the barriers holding it back, and the assets God has given the congregation that can help it move forward and flourish.

Puzzled by a new challenge?

Is there an issue or challenge you are facing that is out of your range of experience or skill to address? Congregations face unique challenges today. In many cases, there is no clear precedent to guide them to a workable solution. Center consultants have deep and wide-ranging skill sets that they can use to help congregations explore the “strange new world” of mission and ministry in 2016 and beyond.

Need an outside perspective?

Do you need an outside perspective of someone who has no vested interest other than the health and vitality of your congregation? It’s easy for congregation members to become so familiar with their situation that it’s hard to be objective. Is your congregational “cup” half-empty, or half-full? Should you be concerned about your future health and vitality? Or are you doing well and being faithful stewards of God’s gifts? It can be helpful to have a new set of eyes and ears to provide feedback and help you see things that you might otherwise overlook or miss altogether in your journey toward congregational health.

Have a problem that just won’t go away?

Does your congregation have a nagging or recurring problem that just doesn’t seem to ever go away? Have you tried to solve a problem previously but were unsuccessful? A church consultant can’t solve a problem for you, but they are skilled at addressing a problem with you. Center consultants excel at creating processes and safe spaces where congregations can work together to solve problems, discern God’s call, and make good decisions.

Feeling unmotivated?

Do you need motivation or accountability outside your system to help you move forward? Church consulting is not free—and it turns out that this is one of the best things about using a consultant. In the Center’s nearly 25 years of experience, we have learned that congregations willing to invest time, energy and money (not necessarily a lot of it!) into working with a consultant, are much more likely to become invested in working to see the positive outcomes of the work.

In congregations, God gives the gift of community and mutual support to undergird the work of mission and ministry. Just as surely as congregation members need each other, congregations themselves also need the love and support of others in order to flourish. Church consultants are one of the key resources God has given the modern Church to help it thrive. Don’t hesitate to contact us by phone or email if you’d like to explore how a church consultant might be helpful to your congregation.

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Appreciative Inquiry–What is it?

Definitions of Appreciative Inquiry as shared on Appreciative Inquiry Commons at  

Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discover of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to heighten positive potential. It mobilizes inquiry through crafting an “unconditional positive question’ often involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.”

Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D., “Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change.” In P. Holman & T. Devane (eds.), The Change Handbook, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., pages 245-263.

“[Appreciative Inquiry] deliberately seeks to discover people’s exceptionality – their unique gifts, strengths, and qualities. It actively searches and recognizes people for their specialties – their essential contributions and achievements. And it is based on principles of equality of voice – everyone is asked to speak about their vision of the true, the good, and the possible. Appreciative Inquiry builds momentum and success because it believes in people. It really is an invitation to a positive revolution. Its goal is to discover in all human beings the exceptional and the essential. Its goal is to create organizations that are in full voice!”

Cooperrider, D.L. et. al. (Eds) , Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry, Thin Book Publishing, 2001, page 12.

“Appreciative Inquiry is a form of organizational study that selectively seeks to highlight what are referred to as “life-giving forces” (LGF’s) of the organization’s existence. These are “ – the unique structure and processes of (an) organization that makes its very existence possible. LGF’s may be ideas, beliefs, or values around which the organizing activity takes place.”

Srivastva, S., et al. Wonder and Affirmation, (undated from Lessons of the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry, page 42.)

“AI is an exciting way to embrace organizational change. Its assumption is simple: Every organization has something that works right – things that give it life when it is most alive, effective, successful, and connected in healthy ways to its stakeholders and communities. AI begins by identifying what is positive and connecting to it in ways that heighten energy and vision for change.” “…AI recognizes that every organization is an open system that depends on its human capital to bring its vision and purpose to life.” “… The outcome of an AI initiative is a long-term positive change in the organization.” “… AI is important because it works to bring the whole organization together to build upon its positive core. AI encourages people to work together to promote a better understanding of the human system, the heartbeat of the organization.”

Cooperrider, David L; Whitney, Diana; and Stavros, Jacqueline M., Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: The First in a Series of AI Workbooks for Leaders of Change, Lakeshore Communications, 2003, Pages XVII – XIX.

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Training opportunities

The conventional approach to problem-solving in business or church is to discover the root cause of a problem and to fix it. Appreciative Inquiry takes a radically different approach: Discover the root of cause of success and improve it. Problems are acknowledged in the process, but why spend so much energy on what’s not working when you can be spending creative and innovative energy on what is working?

The Center for Congregational Health is partnering with The Clergy Leadership Institute and Larry Glover-Wetherington, Coach and Intentional Interim pastor, to offer a webinar on the Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry, and another webinar on Mutual Ministry Valuation, an alternative approach to ministry evaluation.  For more information and to register for these events, click on the following links--

For more information and to register:  Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry

For more information and to register: Mutual Ministry Valuation


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