A major focus of the presbytery’s transition work is to think through what effective congregations and pastoral leadership will look like in the future and what the presbytery can do to encourage and help churches move in that direction.

Originally, the team was focused primarily on congregational renewal, but we found that the topic was so intertwined with pastoral leadership, which was the focus of another team, that the Council decided to merge both areas together.

The newly merged team has plenty to do prior to its May deadline, but we wanted to update you on some of our foci.

To begin, we have been using the metaphors put forth by the Visioning Team at the November Presbytery meeting when they used the terms “Midwifery” and “Hospice Care” to describe the needs of our member congregations. To these categories we’ve added one of our own: “Encouraging Vibrancy.”

On one end of the spectrum we have churches in need of Midwifery.  These are congregations which are reasonably healthy and innovative, and are ready to give birth to new ministries.  Often these may be existing congregations, but others may be seeding New Worshipping Communities or other possibilities.

Churches that are on the other end of the vitality spectrum are in need of Hospice Care. These are congregations that have experienced prolong decline and are struggling to keep their doors open.  Hospice Care is not to suggest we have given up on them, but to realize that they are asking different questions about their life and ministry than they once did.

In the middle of the spectrum are churches that need to be encouraged toward Vibrancy.  These are congregations that tend to define health as seeking comfort or contentment.  The church, the body of Christ, is a living organism, which means it is either in the process of growing or declining.  Muscles that are not being used will soon atrophy.  The same applies to a local congregation.

Whereas the trifold understanding of our churches is not a new idea, our categories and ways of thinking about what they need is.  For instance, a church in need of midwifery will be supported with grants and cooperative expertise.  A church in a hospice situation will not be posed with the issue of “grow or die,” but will engage discussions about legacies and resurrection possibilities.  A church needing to rediscover what it means to be a vibrant community will not simply fly under the radar, but will be engaged with congregational coaching, encouraged to network with other congregations in mission, frankly, anything that will move them into the midwifery category.

Regarding the Pastoral Leadership – in general, pastors serving our congregations in the future need to have two basic skill sets:

First, given the diverse needs of our congregations, needs that no one person can handle all alone, pastors today need to be people who are open to training, learning and working in teams.

Second, given the stresses faced by our congregations today, pastors need to have some background and training to effectively engage system analysis.  A system analysis approach to congregational life will help the pastor self-differentiate themselves from the tensions that will undoubtedly arise and assist them with dealing with the challenges before them.

Aside from these skill sets our team recognizes that Albany Presbytery is both geographically and demographically diverse.  In other words, no one type of pastor can effectively minister in the rural, suburban, and urban settings where our churches dwell.

In the past, the thinking was that the small rural church was a good place for a young pastor to begin his or her ministry.  Unfortunately, rural congregations find themselves in greater financial stress now more than ever.  A younger pastor might not know where to find the funds to do what is needed, or will be more likely to get caught up in the scarcity thinking.  The rural pastor also needs to plan inter-generationally and be willing to engage with local agencies for the common good.

Urban churches might be a better fit for younger clergy who can reach out to millennials.  Also, these pastors need to be especially savvy with their use of social media as this is the primary communication platform for this generation.  Also, urban pastors need to be comfortable speaking with diverse cultures and races as our urban centers are becoming more diverse with each passing year.

Lastly, all pastors in Albany presbytery will need to:

  • Be ecumenical and collegial to work with neighboring churches and pastors.  Better to be proactive about this as opposed to when it is too late.
  • Have the ability to build partnerships with local entities
  • Have the ability to integrate faith and life without presuming a shared base of knowledge concerning ritual, hymns, worship style, polity, stewardship (all areas of church life)
  • Be unafraid or willing to learn and use social media/technology
  • Have the ability to model and draw out spirituality in the “spiritually shy”
  • Recognize the Post-Christendom culture where any form of Christianity is counter-culture.


About Rev. Dr. Tim Coombs

Tim Coombs serves as co-pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia, NY with his wife, Rev. Kathleen Gorman-Coombs and leads a New Worshiping Community, Parallels (https://www.facebook.com/ParallelsNWC). He also worked on staff at Albany Presbytery for over a decade. Besides his work for the church, Tim is a storyteller, biker, guitar player, and intern to his cat, Sharpie. You can reach Tim at: pastortim@scotiatrinity.org

The purpose of the Albany Presbytery Blog is to share information, tell stories, and promote the mission and ministry of the presbytery, synod and beyond. While the breadth of this medium is intentionally broad, it is not a platform for opinion pieces related to business coming before the presbytery unless designed as part of an initiative to provide a diversity of viewpoints at the direction of the presbytery. Exceptions to this policy may be brought to the presbytery officers who will determine appropriateness of submissions.