Handling the “Who” of Committees on Ministry

A group of congregants singing in a church

Once there is a framework for the charge of a Committee on Shared Ministry, the question turns to who is best equipped to provide the people power that makes a CoSM successful. An effective CoSM is a highly collaborative group, bringing collective wisdom and life experience to the task of evaluating the salient aspects of a situation or a narrative and offering constructive feedback with the goal of helping the community balance mission, covenantal relationship and the competing priorities inherent in congregational life.

As a congregation’s capacity to develop leaders grows, a separate committee may be possible, even necessary; one that brings different skills and perspectives to the conversations that a CoSM is typically met with. In smaller congregations, the CoM may be an offshoot of the board with the same leaders serving a dual function or it may be an ad hoc group formed to respond to a specific situation. In the absence of a leadership “body” that is directly responsible, the work may sometimes be taken up by the minister or staff. Clarity on the role and authority of the CoSM is an essential first step so that faithful discernment of who might make an effective CoSM team member can happen.

Strategies for Recruiting Team Members

In many congregations, finding just the right volunteer for a particular position is a vestige of our golden past and we more often find ourselves scrambling to fill even the smallest position. Thinking of the CoSM as a team who together bring a combination of gifts and skills to the table may provide the necessary flexibility to meet the moment, and, like any successful leader in a congregational role, there are a few key skills that a successful CoSM would benefit from:

  • a thoughtful and largely positive relationship to the concepts of shared ministry and covenant.
  • an ability to work well with others creatively and flexibly on issues or questions that are often messy and complicated.
  • a basic understanding of concepts such as triangulation and conflict transformation along with a willingness to engage conflict directly.
  • a capacity for listening compassionately without voicing judgment.
  • composure when faced with conversations and decisions that may be difficult and can involve long time members and friends.

Finding the right combination of volunteers will depend upon the capacity of your congregation and whether you are asking those already serving in leadership positions to add CoSM to their portfolio or creating a new team through an established Nominating Committee or Leadership Development Committee process. A thoughtful and invitational approach that feels more like a conversation than an interview is recommended, possibly with a shared meal or cup of tea. An invitation to personal sharing is a great way to bring focus to gifts and strengths.

Strategies for Smaller Congregations

In a smaller congregation where the CoSM is more likely to be drawn from existing board members, establishing a practice of sharing one question at a time during a board meeting can help the group learn more about one another’s gifts and strengths so that they can be ready to form an ad hoc team that is responsive to a particular need.

Questions to ask might include:

  • Tell me about a time you experienced conflict in the congregation. How did you feel? How did it end?
  • What does shared ministry mean to you, what does it look like here?
  • What is the best team you have been a part of here? What made it exceptional?
  • Tell me about a time you felt deeply listened to. How did you feel?
  • What is the greatest gift you feel you bring to a collaborative team?
  • When faced with a difficult conversation or decision, what are some self-care practices that help you maintain a sense of balance?

About the Author

Patricia Infante

Patricia Hall Infante is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist who grew up in a large New York City congregation. Her first career as a contract negotiator was put on hold while she took the job of full-time mother to two wonderful boys (an investment that continues to pay dividends)....

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