In my first interim, the elders asked for help with communication. They said, “Members won’t tell us what they’re thinking.”
As soon as we arrived, Gail and I started visiting families in the congregation. We asked three questions:
- What do you like about this congregation?
- What would you like to see improved?
- What can we do while we’re here to help you?
Ninety percent of families we visited said, “We need help with communication. The elders won’t tell us what’s going on.”
I picked up the idea of a Transition Monitoring Team from William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions. He makes a case for this type of group:
Leaders usually assume that all the feedback they need will come up through regular channels and be voiced at staff meeting in reply to the question, “How are things going?” Such is seldom the case…Ed Carlson, the former CEO of United Airlines, used to call it the NETMA problem — Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything” (pages 48, 49).
I set up the TMT as soon as I arrive at a new congregation with twenty people on the team. I want ten volunteers. I ask the elders to select ten people: five who like you and five who don’t.
It should be clear at the beginning — this is a transition monitoring team — not a transition management team. This group has no decision-making authority. Their work is to report what they’re hearing in the congregation.
The first meeting is to go over the purpose of the TMT and negotiate Rules of Discussion. We agree on how we’ll conduct ourselves in this role.
There is an emphasis on the rule of confidentiality — what we say here stays here. I’ve seen no better illustration of everyone understanding and participating in this guideline than the flood wall in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Around the town, the wall has several places where cars and people can pass through until the Ohio River starts rising. Then they fill gaps in the wall. Some are large enough for two cars to pass through. On the sides of large openings, are small openings the size of a door in our house. I ask, “How many gaps have to be left open for water to get into Jeffersonville flooding the town?” The answer is obvious. In reports of the TMT, sources of comments and reporters are confidential.
The group meets once a month. We do three things described in a letter I send out on Monday preceding the meeting:
Brothers and Sisters,
The next meeting of the Transition Monitoring Team will be Sunday, 5:00 p.m., January 8 in Room 101.
1. What have you heard from people and how should you respond? As you hear comments, feel free to take notes and bring them to the meeting.
a. What are they saying?
b. What are they asking?
c. What do they fear?
d. What are they losing?
e. What are their hopes?
2. What “mustard seed” did you get from reading Transitions, chapter 5?
3. How are you dealing with this transition and other transitions in your life?
We will be finished in 60 minutes or less.
As can be seen, meetings have three parts:
- Reporting. What have you heard since the last meeting? Members express what they’ve heard people say about the church and the transition. No names are attached to the source or the reporter. Members of the TMT can talk to themselves and report things they think the elders should hear. These results are recorded by a member of the team, typed, and given to the elders after each meeting.
- Sharing “mustard seeds” of what they’re learning. Each member of the team is given a copy of Transitions, by William Bridges. He explains the process of transition. There are predictable steps: an ending, a new beginning, and in the middle a neutral zone where people are confused, blaming, depressed, and wishing we could “get things back like they used to be.” When we understand this is expected, we can be less anxious than if we see all these human responses as sinful, dangerous, and indications that things are falling apart. I believe health is catching as well as disease. This group will come to understand the process. When someone is in despair saying there’s no hope, they understand and can communicate these feelings are normal. We’ll get through the wilderness of the neutral zone and enter the promised land of the new beginning if we don’t lose hope.
- Personal application. As trust grows in the group, three or four months, people begin to share how much of their church anxiety is tied to anxiety related to personal, family, and business issues. Many tell how principles they learned in the group have been helpful to them in their personal life.
I warn the elders they may be shocked at the first report or two from the TMT. In churches I’ve served, most of the shepherds weren’t aware of thoughts and feelings of many in their flock.
In one church, one of the elders was a professional counselor in private practice. Monday morning after I’d given the elders the first report from the TMT, this shepherd-counselor called+, “Jerrie, after reading the report of the Transition Monitoring Team, I’m depressed.”
My response, “You need a good counselor.”
There’s hope. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, NKJV). In the context, Jesus was talking about revealed truth from God. But the principle applies to any part of truth. When you know what people are thinking, feeling, saying, and doing, you can prepare to make an appropriate response.
What questions do you have about a Transition Monitoring Team?