By: Christa Meland
Rev. Shawn Moore is creating an educational nonprofit that will connect the City of Minneapolis to the church. Rev. Jenene Earl implemented a mid-week dinner church service to connect with families involved in her church’s preschool and help them grow in faith. Rev. Tony Fink is involving his congregation in developing a strategic plan that will prepare it to relaunch post-pandemic.
These are just a few of the applied projects that church leaders have recently undertaken as part of the Nonprofit Church Leadership Program (NPCL) through Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota. The year-long graduate certificate program focuses on stewardship of financial resources, human resources, vision, strategy, community, and communications. Each student is paired with a coach that provides mentorship.
The NPCL is a partnership between the Dakotas-Minnesota Area and Dakota Wesleyan, with funding assistance from the Lilly Endowment. More than 50 congregations have benefited from their clergy participating in the program and gaining new skills—and applications are now open for the next cohort that begins in July.
“Many of the subjects we cover in our classes and workshops are the sticky areas in ministry where I’ve often felt frustrated or uncertain, such as fundraising and human resources,” said Lara Ziegler, director of Storm Mountain Center, a camp in Rapid City, South Dakota. “Tackling these topics and learning from ministry leaders and pastors who have spent many years navigating the challenges and joys of Christian leadership and share their wisdom freely has been so valuable.”
Ziegler is part of the current NPCL cohort whose first gathering was in July 2020, at a time when pandemic adaptations were shifting from short-term to long-term and many leaders were already exhausted. At the first (virtual) gathering, church consultant and author Susan Beaumont led a session on leading in a liminal season that provided a timely roadmap of personal leadership in uncertain times.
“Early in the pandemic, I was working hard to have all the answers, trying to provide security for our staff and guests through knowledge and control,” said Ziegler, who did an applied project that involved re-developing the camp’s seasonal staff. “Through the session with Susan Beaumont and other lectures and resources on leadership, I have shifted focus to empowering our staff to address these unique challenges and working together to steward Storm Mountain through a very challenging time.”
Ziegler is among many participants who have said the NCPL program helped them navigate the pandemic.
“The stress from starting a new appointment during the pandemic was lessened for both myself and congregational leadership in that I brought the tools necessary to keep the organizational component of the local church functional and forward-thinking,” said Rev. Laura Nordstrom, who serves Stewartville UMC. “Although I have only been in my present appointment for nine months, I have already utilized aspects of what I learned in each of the four courses.”
Nordstrom—who graduated from the program last summer—said when the pandemic hit mid-way through work on her second applied project, she worked with her coach to change the objective of her project from creating policy manuals for staff and committees to creating online worship.
Rev. Tony Fink, who serves Pine Island UMC, said one of the concepts that participants learned about is being a strategic organization—one that does not find fault with others or blame circumstances when the situation around them changes—and that has helped him navigate the past year.
“We are using this time of pandemic as an opportunity to focus on who are as a congregation and what is most important,” said Fink, who is in the current cohort. “This way, once we return to more normal times, we will be able to present ourselves to our surrounding community in a fresh and new way and fulfill our mission as a United Methodist church and our congregation’s vision of who we are to our community.”
Rev. Lori Broschat, who serves Devils Lake UMC in North Dakota, said the most valuable parts of the program for her were the coaching and the learning sessions on church stewardship and financing. But she also found immense value in a module on live streaming and other uses of media—and it helped her pivot during COVID-19.
“When the shutdown happened, I had not yet made the leap to livestream so I had to do it by myself, in my house at first, then in the sanctuary all alone,” she said. “Today we have about as many people watching online as we do sitting in the pews…There is a freedom when you feel you are reaching out into society and preaching beyond the people in front of you.”
Diane Owen, director of the Dakotas-Minnesota Lilly Grant Initiative that made the NCPL program possible, said every pastoral leader would benefit, regardless of church size or experience in ministry.
“Each course provides guidance on how to adapt to the unusual challenges created by a pandemic,” she said. “The need to steward resources differently and more effectively, create effective teams and governance structures, lead with vision and develop strategy, and adjust methods of communication and outreach are all addressed through the NPCL. Now is the absolutely best time to improve competencies in these areas.”
Owen notes that the Dakotas-Minnesota Area covers 80 percent of the $7,000 program tuition, and those who wish to obtain their MBA from Dakota Wesleyan are two-thirds of the way there by the time they complete the NPCL. Apply now.
Says Nordstrom: “I came away better equipped to lead a congregation as an organizational system in the uncharted waters of a changing denomination within the larger changing world. I came away with a renewed hope for the missional church as a vital, resilient, Christ-focused presence in the world.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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