Patience And Push, Pastoral Leadership Notes From The Field, Rev. Brad Gray

Over the past year, we've been involved with Rev Brad Gray and St Andrews Parish UMC in several ways. As we have observed and participated, it's clear that a primary internal struggle for motivated clergy is to avoid pushing too hard while patiently cultivating the congregation. Rev. Gray has struggled to manage this leadership challenge, yet has managed it well. This brief description of his leadership process demonstrates again how pastoral leaders are called to cultivate forward movement. Patience and push, in the fitting combination, provide the leadership needed for the Spirit to move. Thanks to Brad Gray for allowing us to share this leadership challenge with clergy and church staff.

One of the more difficult aspects of being a pastor is learning to be patient. We live in a culture that values the immediacy of results. So when a pastor begins an appointment, the pressure is tremendous to produce something. Either he or she is to continue the positive momentum or to completely turn things around so growth will be seen. There are two different pieces of advice that new pastors receive. Some ascribe to the idea of waiting and getting to know the congregation. "Don't make any massive changes until you have been there for a year." Others believe that congregations expect change from a new pastor. "Don't disappoint them and miss your chance." So far in my two appointments, I have found the former to be the best way for me to lead. I do think there is validity in the latter and have implemented some changes when walking into a new appointment, but nothing major and definitely nothing as it relates to the vision of the church. I have found that being patient can be frustrating, but is necessary to be able to build something with those whom we are serving alongside.

In my current appointment, I experienced a vision within the first six months of what our congregation could rally around and use as a branding image to those in our community. We are physically located on a bike path that runs through our community. I thought, "we are the church on the path", understanding the double meaning of the phrase. I mentioned this to a few folks, but did not force it. I believed it needed to be their vision rather than mine. It never picked up traction that first year, so I tucked it away and promised myself not to forget it. The congregation and I continued to grow together, new people coming, old members moving on, dynamics ever changing. Four years later, and after going through our fair share of loss and death, people started asking the question, "Who are we?" While I did not give anyone a definitive answer, I dusted off that four and a half year old vision and offered it as a possibility. "That's it! I think that really sounds like us. Let's do it," was the response that was repeated over and over again. The ball began rolling on this vision of the "church on the path." It has been an interesting journey and my impatience has flared up a time or two, but looking over the last five years, I see the importance of being patient and knowing that despite what I see, God is still on the move.

Rev. Brad Gray, Pastor
St. Andrews Parish United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC