Pastor As Celebrant - Chief Celebration Officer

Sometimes one has the opportunity to watch the collective intelligence of the team rise up, resulting in “aha” moments or epiphany experiences. These Lead Pastors, during the coaching group portion of our day, were wrestling with leading their congregations forward. What’s the next step needed in order to help these congregations move forward in ministry and mission? One pastor shared how her congregation discerned their vision, followed by several significant achievements. They don’t need to push ahead right now, but the pastor has a tendency to keep pushing. Another pastor described his new call (1.5 years) with this congregation as something of a deconstruction project. They are working to shed outdated practices and cultural assumptions which have held them captive for years. Rather than marching ahead, they are pulling back, laying aside the weights which cling so tightly and bind them to the past. Other pastors listening to these descriptions recognized the potential next step…celebrating the good. Both churches, though very different, are in need of appreciating their identity, gifts, and their participation in God’s kingdom. One pastor pulled a liturgical image from his tradition to help: “Celebrant.” This cohort of lead pastors from different denominations discerned the next step for these (and some other) churches is to activate the Celebrant; for the pastor to become the Chief Celebration Officer.

And yes, we are extrapolating from the typical meaning of Celebrant here. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says the official three definitions are:
1 - a person who performs or leads a religious ceremony
2 - a person who participates in a religious ceremony
3 - a person who celebrates something

We are using definition number three. One significant role of the pastor or priest, as well as lay leaders, is to lead the celebration when we make progress in partnering with God; with living out our faith.

It turns out there is good counsel for this approach. Appreciative Inquiry is a consulting approach which works to identify the strength of organizations, following this pathway forward. Positive Leadership is an emerging approach to leadership which encourages leaders to identify strength and then follow that energy. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy is a counseling approach doggedly determined to discover the strength in clients which empowers them to live through or apart from their problems so much of the time. Coaching theory is largely built on these strength-focused approaches to organizational and people development. So functioning as the Chief Celebrant in a congregation has good precedent.

One word of caution here…
Celebrating victories and the good which is happening must be genuine. Postmodern people are excellent at identifying patronizing or false praise. When celebrating is all one does, then this one loses rather than gains credibility. When leaders demonstrate they accurately understand what’s happening in the congregation, followed by the choice to selectively focus on the good, morale rises and energy grows.
So what about us? How are we doing with celebrating God’s good work in and through our congregations? After a series of accomplishments, this is a great time to step back and reflect with appreciation. We harvest the gains this way. Or, when a church is moving through the deconstruction part of church renewal, we need to remember our identities in Christ, so that we will have the energy for pushing through. These, and many other circumstances, are prime times for functioning as the Chief Celebration Officer in your congregation.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA