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September 2021 Newsletter

Moses Project Evaluation Report for Year 2 and Year 3 Projections

Director, Dr. Trisha Wheelock

Reflection is an important part of program evaluation and a way for us to make changes, adjust curriculum, and maintain focus. Feedback from our Moses pastors helps us stay relevant, reinforces the program's direction, and keeps us informed of the good work we're doing and the places we can make adjustments. Two independent evaluators conduct initial interviews at the start of a new cohort and final interviews at the year's conclusion. Their year end report and new year projection summary offer us valuable insight to the strong work of the Moses Project, the ways our pastors are growing, implementing new ideas, and the key areas where pastors struggle, and we can provide care. The following summary highlights essential takeaways: 

Year 2 report highlights:

In May, the 2020-2021 cohort met with Grand View faculty and staff for a concluding interview. The following are strategic highlights the researchers noted about the 2020 Cohort:

  • Of the 20 pastors, 9 were raised in urban/suburban areas and 11 in rural areas

  • 2 couples were serving together in a call and were part of the cohort

  • 6 pastors said ministry was not their first career

  • 4 pastors said they were Pastor’s kids

 

Strengths:

Pastors identified relationship with congregants as a key strength. One pastor remarked, “So much of ministry happens in and through relationships.” Pastors cited listening, building trust, community relationships, participation in ecumenical events, and congregants feeling their pastor is invested in them as strengths. Another pastor said, “the first thing that I do is I love these people. And then everything else comes after that.” Pastors also noted personal skills and attitudes that assist them along with familiarity and appreciation for rural life, and specific ministerial skills such as worship planning, sermon writing, and engaging with children.

Challenges:

Isolation was the most mentioned struggle along with lack of privacy and difficulty establishing personal relationships. One pastor said, “no matter how hard you try, you’re viewed as ‘Pastor’ and you don’t get invited to things that maybe you’d like…you’re the last person somebody is going to call and say let’s go golf.” Challenges with people in the congregation was also frequently mentioned. Whether it’s getting feedback, members who are resistant to change or are apathetic, lack of engagement, or the church’s structure, or not taking time for self-care, pastors faced difficulties.

Impact of Covid 19 Pandemic:

It’s not surprising that 2020 had a significant impact on pastors, and their experiences ranged the gamut. Both the pandemic and the election provided opportunities for congregations to disagree, participate in disinformation, and sometimes make hurtful comments. One pastor remembered a particularly contentious time with the congregation when, “there was a few days in the middle of this where I didn’t even want to leave my house to go for a walk. Because I couldn’t face people. I was just so broken down. And that’s a tough place to get into.” Another pastor described congregation members standing around talking about conspiracy theories about the pandemic and how after November 2020 “it will all just magically disappear.” 

Yet, the move to online worship also forced congregations to embrace change and consider new ways of doing church. One pastor told their congregation, “Let’s take a year to get rid of all of our expectations, focus on keeping ourselves healthy and sane and safe.” Another called the pandemic a lifesaver because, “I think that my call may have been cut short without that global permission to step back and reprioritize.”

A few pastors found satisfaction being able to use previous electronic media experience as their congregations pivoted to online services, but most pastors felt the pandemic caused conflict and stress. One pastor explained, “I wasn’t sure if they were going to fire me because they didn’t want to put any guidelines in place for going back to in person.”

The pastors expressed gratitude for the Moses Project and their relationship with their mentor and mini-cohort. The camaraderie felt “less like I’m on an island” and they could “talk to somebody who gets it.” Another pastor summarized their experience this way, “There’s just good validation, good perspective from the colleagues that we met throughout the Moses Project and the guest speakers.”

 

New Strengths and Ideas

After participating in the Moses Project, pastors felt they possessed new resources, new connections with colleagues, and new opportunities to think deeply.

 

They learned how to communicate better with their congregants, to step back from problem solving and not rush to solutions, to empower other congregants to be involved.

 

Regarding rural ministry, pastors said they learned about the stress farmers face, how to better communicate within the agricultural context, and about vision for ministry.

 

Pastors called the Moses Project “life-giving” and “invaluable” and a “superior experience.”

 

Year 3 Projections: the 2021 Cohort

Two Grand View faculty and staff interviewed pastors during the Kick Off event in August. Several points emerged from these interviews, and we share these with you in a spirit of collaboration and care for our pastors.

  • Pastors are struggling to balance competing realities in their current calls where the congregation and community are collectively decaying (or dying), but the congregation would like the church to grow. This presents a moral dilemma of allocating additional resources (which the congregation doesn’t really have) to help the church grow (not really possible in a dying community) or assisting the church in closing gracefully.

  • Pastors are struggling with the wide range of responses to the pandemic. Congregations have strongly divided political perspectives and the impact it has on adherence to masking and social distance guidelines. Included in this struggle is a variety of response and support from synods about making decisions and how to respond to the pandemic.