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Leading Institutions In Uncertain Times

By paying attention to feedback from local congregations, the Reformed Church in America has learned that “our churches don’t want denominational programs anymore,” according to RCA General Secretary Tom DeVries. Providing denominationally oriented religious goods and services is giving way to facilitating “processes that help congregations identify their needs, their local vision and call, and how they see that being lived out.” 

To respond to that changing emphasis, the RCA national headquarters is undergoing a significant internal cultural change. The 80-member staff is “increasingly challenged to grow on the job these days,” in order to “keep bearing essential fruit” during a period of significant church and societal change, according G. Jeffrey MacDonald in an article written for Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Duke Divinity School. 

Staffers are encouraged to see themselves as missionaries who are called to travel alongside individual congregations to discover what God is already doing among them in order to ask how that might be strengthened and expanded. 

“The hope is that in these processes, congregations will unlock the potential within their ranks and reverse 48 years of decline,” MacDonald writes. 

To facilitate their new focus on leading amid change and uncertainty, the RCA has redesigned its staff structure. Gone are the previous six silo-structured departments, replaced by 10 core teams. Each staff person participates on at least two teams, eliminating silo thinking and the habit of reporting to one boss. That kind of culture change and the increased ambiguity in job description that has resulted, has caused about 30 percent of the RCA staff to leave, replaced by a younger, more diverse cohort. “Comfort with ambiguity was a prerequisite” for team members, MacDonald writes. In fact, he notes, “shedding hierarchy and replacing it with a system of accountability to multiple teams and leaders is not for the faint of heart.” However, “the logic holds that people must be equipped to handle change and uncertainty if they are to thrive amid ambiguities and keep their morale high.” 

For additional perspective on the need to prepare for a future of constant change, see our feature article “Ten Essential Skills the Next Generation of Religious Leaders Will Need.

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