Talking in Circles

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For more than a year the elders had been spinning their wheels without any traction. Our church was changing, and a previously strong children’s ministry had disappeared. We felt called by God to do something, but we didn’t quite know what.

Participants in the children’s ministry.

Should we resurrect the old way? Find a new way? Which new way? All the options seemed good enough. Meeting after meeting, we prayed and talked about options and approaches, but we never got much closer to making a decision. We needed help.

Help eventually came through a Restorative Circle. After a church potluck, we invited the congregation to sit in our fellowship hall in two circles: one big one on the outside and one little one on the inside. The little one included our elders and an empty chair.

From there we held a kind of public elders’ meeting. A facilitator asked questions: What values do you have for children’s ministry? What are the options? What is preventing you from making a decision?

As the questions were asked, the elders spoke and the congregation, gathered around, listened. We laid out the issues as we saw them: our hopes, our concerns, and the causes of our sleepless nights.

Then, after hearing us, the congregation began coming, one by one, to fill the empty chair. Joining the conversation, they shared what turned out to be immensely helpful perspectives. Otherwise timid voices were able to speak because they were in “the chair” and it was their turn. More dominant voices were restrained because they couldn’t stay in “the chair.”

As the meeting ended, most voices were heard. Finally the elders felt that a next step was possible.

What happened here? Our church, like a lot of churches, isn’t very good at communicating. The elders felt stuck, but didn’t know how to effectively communicate that or seek help from the congregation. We wanted feedback but didn’t want to make people feel guilty.

Congregational meetings are good for some things but tend to draw out only the boldest voices. The Restorative Circle was just right. The congregation understood why little progress had been made; the elders received encouragement and helpful advice. From that day, we have taken steps, not just as elders but as a congregation, toward intentionally encouraging the faith of our children.

Quick Facts: Pastor-Church Relations

  • Advocates for healthy relationships among congregations, pastors, and staff.
  • Manages ministerial and church profiles in the search process, credentialing for non-ordained staff, and endorsement of specialized transitional ministers.
  • Provides direct consultation in times of crisis.
  • Oversees continuing education fund for pastors and church staff.
  • Distributes educational and resource materials for congregations and staff.
  • Works with and through pastoral mentors, regional pastors, and church visitors to provide support, encouragement, and counsel to congregations and staff.

Prayer Requests

  • For congregations to support their pastor’s spouse and family in ways that are meaningful and upbuilding.
  • For good fits in mentoring relationships between new and seasoned pastors so that both will be blessed as they walk together.
  • For the 17 specialized transitional ministers who are serving congregations through times of significant transition.

About the Author

Sean Baker is a student at Calvin Theological Seminary, where he coordinates community engagement opportunities through the seminary’s Making Connections Initiative.

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