Attending to the Vitality of the Congregation

Part of COM Guide

By Sana Saeed

Sandstone Unitarian church with blue sky behind it.

The work of the Committee on Ministry (CoM) is shared ministry, which includes attending to the vitality of the congregation. I’m sure you have heard this term "shared ministry" before. But, what does it mean in relationship to COMs?

Gaye Webb, a lay leader from the UU Church of the Brazos Valley defines shared ministry as when the minister, lay leaders, and volunteers “work collaboratively in covenant, with mutual trust and support toward a common vision, a set of goals, and a legacy” of the congregation and community at large. Some people describe shared ministry as a dance that requires knowing your boundaries and practicing healthy communication skills. It means people are working together to support ministries of the congregation along with the minister.

Shared ministry also requires leaders to be compassionate, to allow space for mistakes to happen, and to offer grace for when they do. One example of shared ministry would be a congregation where a minister provides pastoral care and may also have a pastoral care team made up of lay leaders. This shared ministry team provides pastoral care, like visiting a member in the hospital or checking up on someone who may be missing on a Sunday morning. Both the lay leaders on this pastoral care team and the minister stay in communication, sharing updates on who may need extra support in the congregation, hence working in shared ministry.

Assessing the Ministry

Some CoMs are tasked with assessing the ministry of their congregation based on the understanding that they’re in a shared ministry with the minister. Yes, one part of a CoM’s work is to assess their minister. But, an assessment of the minister is not an assessment of the ministry. The tools that the UUA has compiled to assess a minister aren’t designed to assess ministries of a congregation.

Yet there are some tools to assess the congregation that can help you attend the vitality of your congregation, including:

  • Goals based assessment: a simple and pragmatic approach, especially for smaller congregations. In the beginning of the church year, leaders meet (often in a retreat) to think about the current challenges and set one or two SMARTIE goals for the year.
  • Doing a self-assessment exercise for committees and ministry teams and speaking about it together
  • Inviting the Board, Committee on Ministry, and Right Relationship Team as a collaborative committee to explore how you are meeting the mission of your congregation? The main point of attending to vitality in shared ministry is to think about the mission and how various aspects of your congregational life are meeting the mission that you all have agreed upon. Here are some questions for each group to think about together in conversation:
    • Board focus question: how is it with our policies and our mission?
    • The CoM focus question: how is it with our ministries and our mission?
    • The Right Relations team focus question: how is it with our covenant and mission?
  • Begin with circle conversations with CoM members with some guiding questions:
    • What is going well during this shared ministry?
    • What have been the biggest challenges during this shared ministry?
    • What have you learned during this shared ministry up to now?
    • How has conflict been handled during this shared ministry?
    • How was the ministry shared between the minister, staff, and lay people?
    • Have there been any cultural shifts in the congregation during this shared ministry? Some examples: developing virtual ministry, multigenerational programming and worship, inclusion, generosity, trust, justice focus.
    • What are your hopes for the future of your congregation’s shared ministry?

Gifts for This Task of Attending to Vitality:

  • Compassionate listeners
  • People willing to share feedback kindly and receive feedback openly
  • People who are trusted by others
  • People are who are able to reach out to various shared ministries in the congregation to invite assessment of their ministries

Key Take-Aways:

  • Assessing the minister is not the same things as assessing the ministries
  • Shared ministry is based on a covenantal relationship, allows room for mistakes to happen and creates space to restore relationship
  • Assessing shared ministry includes assessing how you’re living up to your mission
  • Attending to the vitality of the congregation in an invitation to explore hard questions and life-giving questions

About the Author

Sana Saeed

Rev. Sana Saeed is the Congregational Life Staff for the Central East Region of the UUA since July. Previously, she was an Intern Minister for UU Ministers Association (UUMA) and was the President of Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM). She’s a graduate of Harvard Divinity...

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