Starting Right


Rev. Mark Statler
Every year about a month before Annual Conference Session, the Missouri Conference gathers pastors together who are changing churches to help them make a successful exchange of the baton in the “change-over zone.” 

The two-day seminar in Columbia tries to ensure pastors receive the information they need on practical matters, including pension, health insurance and conference moving policy. But it also conveys the importance of clergy ethics in the transition process.

This year 42 clergy who are moving participated in Right Start. Nearly all the top-level leadership in the conference, including Bishop Bob Farr and the directors, are part of the Right Start seminar. Missouri Conference lay leader Amy Thompson has a large role, offering a lot of helpful advice for the clergy people regarding making the transition. She said everyone is familiar with the rule of thumb that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. She encouraged the pastors that as new leaders in the congregation, they can be proactive at adjusting responsibilities. 

“You need to protect those people (the 20 percent) from getting over-extended,” she said. “You should continually be having conversations about being willing to step up and step out. You may need to change the culture to recognize that everyone is called to be in ministry.” 

She encourages churches to provide two or three people who are “on the outskirts” of the church for the new pastor to meet with and talk to, noting that the pastor will already be meeting with people of the Pastor Parish Relations committee and other team leaders, but may not have an opportunity to meet with people connected to the church who are not currently in a leadership position. 

She said pastors could have ICNU (I see in you) conversations to help people step up and become more active in their ministry, and the beginning of getting established is a good time to do it.

“Some people are motivated by a change in the pulpit,” Thompson said.
She referred to the 5 Cups of Coffee resources with the Missouri Conference ( as a proven tool for churches to
help members recognize their calling and get coaxed in from the outskirts to a more active role in ministry. 
Director of Leadership Excellence Mark Statler added that retirements have picked up pace in recent years, and churches need to be recruiting the next generation of clergy from within their ranks to meet the coming need. 

However, finding a niche in ministry doesn’t always mean working your way up. He said he has also known of mistakes in promotions that can lead to more burnout. 

“Sometimes we take someone good with children and put that person in charge of children’s ministry, and then she is working with adults, not children,” Statler said. 

Right Start has become much more than a two-day seminar. Clergy in Right Start participate in a coaching process in which a coach works with a small group of pastors to help with the transition of the move, providing two coaching sessions before the move and six sessions after. Additional coaching is also provided to four pastors who are moving into cross-cultural appointments. 

The Right Start process also asks Pastor Parish Relations Committees to meet for four months in a row during the time of welcoming a new pastor. 
On May 9, Kay Kotan led a webinar for the laity regarding helping them with a pastoral transition. In addition, in September there is a follow-up Right Start session to help pastors in new locations use demographic data about their locations from Mission Insight.

The transition assistance is a completely different culture from how transitions were handled a couple of decades ago. The conference moved to a model in which, instead of looking at changing pastors as a hard start-stop, it is now viewed as a hand-off, like a relay runner passing the baton.

“When I started in ministry, you were introduced to your PPRC when the appointment was being made, then you were told not to talk to anyone until you got there,” Statler said. “Any conversation with the church you were going to, or with the pastor you were replacing, was taboo.”