Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

If only faith were enough…

Written by: on May 9, 2019

It is a privilege to personally know – and to have interacted with – this week’s author, Diane Zemke.  Diane writes a pragmatic text which is a helpful guide to not just the pastor, but also to lay leaders invested in congregational change.  Having been a member of the United Methodist Church my entire life, a guidebook on navigating change is a welcome addition to my library and should be added to every United Methodists collection.  Why is a guidebook on change so important in the life of a United Methodist?  The United Methodist Church organizational structure is designed around change – frequent pastor changes, sequential organizational lay leadership changes, and (until the recent no vote on “A Way Forward” which proposed inclusivity to the LGBTQ+ population) progressive social changes.  United Methodism was progressive in its efforts to advance the rights of women and African Americans to pastor.  Even though the UMC is made up of members of diverse thought (conservative, moderate, and progressive) the denomination historically navigated inclusion efforts for oppressed and marginalized people successfully.  “These two advancements made United Methodism the most inclusive denomination in America—it still is the largest denomination affirming women’s ordination. And all of Methodism, especially Methodism globally, has benefitted from these two acts of inclusion.”[1]

As the founder of Methodism, “John Wesley believed that itinerant preachers who moved from place to place were more effective than those who settled in, grew comfortable, and wore out what they had to say,”[2]  United Methodist pastors are sent/appointed by their bishop to a church for an unspecified period of time.  Sometimes this period of appointment is one short year, and sometimes it extends upwards of twenty years (a unique and rare timeframe in the UMC). Official “appointments” are typically for one year at a time, though the pastor may be moved any time based on need.  The UMC aims to match the gifts and graces of the particular pastor with the ministry needs of a particular congregation or ministry setting.

Having shed light on the context of United Methodism, would it surprise you if I told you I have a lot of life experience connected to congregational change (notice I didn’t add a descriptor/adjective for the type of life experience)?  I’m not sure if it’s my expectation that Christian congregations will interact at a higher spiritual, ethical and behavioral level than the secular population or that they are truly worse behaved?  Perhaps the answer to my question lies somewhere in the middle…and it’s important to clarify that my experiences are from the perspective of the lay leader.  I’m employed in the secular world but have always held a leadership position in my church – PPR Chair, Administrative Council Chair, lay leader, Sunday school teacher, Youth Leader, Shepherd’s Fund Director, et al.  I also want to clarify that no matter the scenario, I have always supported the pastor’s leadership, spiritual maturity, and teaching.  This is especially important in light of the United Methodist philosophy that the “church is the pastor” – the pastor reports to the congregation and most congregations take the liberty of each individual (especially those with “voice”) supervising the pastor to meet their own agenda.  Congregations are responsible for supervising and evaluating pastors and the church is responsible for discipleship both within, and outside of, the church walls.  While there have been some legitimate pastoral dispositional concerns in my twenty six years of lay leadership, the majority of change conflict comes from the congregation being challenged to think, pray, organize, and implement a “change” outside of their personal and spiritual comfort zone.  And then watch out – holy hell breaks loose (or in LGP8 Mike’s terms…spiritual warfare).  It has been a rare occasion when I have disagreed with a pastor’s teaching or challenge to make change – but what I can assess is that in each scenario there may have been a better way forward to address congregational adaptation, dissent, grief, and commitment.  Zemke herself is wise in her acknowledgement that successful (or SMART) congregational change requires a wise approach (not just leadership and vision).  Zemke provides the following parameters:  “wise leaders develop a specific discipline of listening to dissent”; “wise leaders realize the need for negotiation”; “wise leaders work to tell the truth about all of the dissent in the Bible and Christian history”; “wise leaders make room for dissidents at the idea table and decision-making table”, “and wise leaders become adept at managing conflict and decision-making.”[3]  In my heart I have always wanted to believe that personal faith and infusion of the Holy Spirit organically develops these characteristics in leaders – but sadly that is just not the case.  And then there’s the culture – which is unique to each congregation and unpredictable and ambiguous to the outsider.  Which is exactly why I will advocate that pastors and lay leaders need advanced training in leadership, conflict, cultural humility, and social theory.  Let’s face it, if faith were enough, the world would be a much better place and churches and congregations would be healthy.  Kudos to Diane Zemke who has encouraged and empowered me to stay the course for congregational change.

[1] http://hackingchristianity.net/2018/07/whats-going-on-in-the-united-methodist-church-in-1000-words.html

[2] https://www.umnews.org/en/news/why-do-united-methodist-pastors-change-churches

[3]        Diane Zemke. Being SMART about Congregational Change. (2014)

About the Author

Jean Ollis

13 responses to “If only faith were enough…”

  1. Mike says:

    Congratulations on making to Summer School!
    I am very interested to hear how the UMC fares on the LGBTQ+ changes. As a marketplace chaplain I intentionally choose to know and serve where and how I can help in these areas.
    I had an interesting contact with a customer yesterday while I was driving a route. I know, bosses day to drive I guess! Anyway, she was a prison guard and was interested in driving for us so she could get away from the same sex harassment she gets from the other women serving at the same prison facility. Harassment in the workplace comes from many sources for sure. Satan is very successful in his ploys and schemes to turn people against one another.
    Unfortunately, like Dr. Zemke reports, churches shoot their wounded and harass their own members like sharks when they see blood in the water, so to speak. I’ll answer your question, “they are worse behaved” in most situations when it comes to conflict in the ministry, mission, or church.
    Thanks for the spiritual warfare “holly hell” Batman shout out! PTL you see it, name it, and call it out for what is it. PTL for sure!
    Stand firm,
    Mike w

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Mike! The best leader is the one who is humble enough to get in that Fed Ex Truck and get the route done! Congrats to you for FINALLY reaching summer semester. Such exciting times. Sadly, you are correct about life in the church – we are our own worst enemies because we allow the Enemy to flourish. I’m such a believer in your business model and see how God is using you to impact His kingdom, one employee at a time 🙂

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean!

    Diane is such a sweet spirited and good hearted person! Glad we get to interact with her once again.

    I was thankful for your thoughts on “the church is the pastor” and am reminded of the priesthood of the believers being us all. I am weary of those who think only the professional clergy do the work, even though all have been commanded with the Great Commission.

    Keep the good work going forward for your dissertation.


    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jay,
      Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks!!! I imagine this dialogue around change is at the forefront of your job – traveling from church to church in your district and trying to help navigate the big change of closure for some – and affirming others. The Kingdom work is never easy but you have an excellent perspective. I wonder how Zemke’s change work connects with your financial research work?

  3. Kyle Chalko says:

    Great post Jean. Its interesting to hear more about the Methodist tradition. Im really naive when it comes to many of the main US denominations.

    Great perspective on congregational change

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hey Kyle! Yes, the UMC is an interesting model for sure! While at its core there are some great concepts, like all human systems, there are definitely flaws 🙂

  4. Great post Jean…why am I not surprised that we both listed out the marks of a wise leader dealing with dissent in our blogs. 🙂 Great minds think alike (or you just copied me) 😉 ! I loved her practical tips for leaders and churches and how she encouraged leaders to embrace conflict instead of fearing it. Also, that was interesting and inspiring to learn more about the United Methodists and how they are leading the way for inclusion. Makes me want to go to a UMC.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jake! I would love to know what UMC options there are in the Tri-Cities! There are so many flavors and varieties…from contemporary to conservative. I believe great minds think alike…:) it seems we highlight the same tidbit often. With you having been a part of lots of change in congregations, I’m glad you highlighted the need for women! Thanks for your support and advocacy.

  5. Jason Turbeville says:

    I am an SBC pastor but I grew up in the UMC church, in fact my mom still is a Methodist church member. I never really understood why a pastor had to leave every year or so growing up but being in the Baptist tradition now I do understand the refreshing new view a new pastor can bring. I know to many pastors who have built their own kingdom because no one could challenge their leadership and change never comes. Thanks for the insight!


  6. Great post, Jean!

    It was great to read the text whilst understanding the personality behind the writing. It must have been interesting to read Diane’s text in light of what is happening with the UMC. I’ve been keeping tabs on the coming change and following Reverend Adam Hamilton for updates. For years, the UMC was associated with Quadrant 4, and heavily influenced culture because they saw culture as God’s mission; however, after recent events, the UMC exhibited more characteristics of Quadrant 1. How has this regression changed the spiritual type of UMC?

    You mention, “…in light of the United Methodist philosophy that the “church is the pastor” – the pastor reports to the congregation and most congregations take the liberty of each individual (especially those with “voice”) supervising the pastor to meet their own agenda.” Do you find that churches that are more congregational are healthier than pastor-directed churches? Do you think that the split within the UMC will keep within the idea of congregational-focused mission?

  7. Dan Kreiss says:


    I too am a child of the UMC and still secretly consider myself part of that tradition. Please promise not to share this with the PCUSA pastors in our cohort 🙂 There is much wisdom in Wesley’s recognizing that long term pastorates can create unnecessary levels of comfort for all concerned and thus not be attuned as sharply to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I believe it also encourages a stronger lay participation in the UMC. However, one of the weaknesses of the regular changing of pastors can be that deeper issues do not get addressed because there is frequently too much energy used in managing regular transitions in leadership for there to be much left to work on other things. I believe your suggestion that seminaries and lay training begin to focus on those critical areas of leadership you highlight at the end.

    I am also curious how you think this text might be relevant for your research and organizations other than congregations that may be ministering to refugees. What insights did you gain that may be relevant to your specific area of interest?

  8. Hi Jean,

    I enjoyed your post and reflections on the UMC. Here in Canada, the mainline Methodist denomination merged in the 1920s with Congregationalists and 70% of Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada. It became the largest Protestant denomination in the country, but for several decades now has been shrinking. They are selling off buildings and putting a huge chunk of their remaining resources into funding innovation.


    It’s a fascinating journey to follow.

  9. Trisha Welstad says:

    Jean, thanks for this insightful post. I think I need to take a look at the innovative history of the UMC.

    Did you see Diane’s perspective on adaptive change and how laity and pastors need to work together? I would like to hear her say more on this as it seems to fit what you are thinking on and could be of benefit to us all.

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