Presented to

Dr. Glenn Daman

Western Seminary

Portland, Oregon

In Partial Fulfillment

Of the Requirements for the Course

PTS 541: Pastoral Leadership In The SmallChurch

Summer 2007


Kurt Messelt

Box #253

Table of Contents


Theological Cursings

History and The Model


The Pit


Dawn Of A New Day

Kurt Gets Cookin’

Come To Jesus Time

Minister or Equipper?



Appendix A: Scribblings

Appendix B: Intentional Interim Contract

Appendix C: Forrest Chapel NCD Scores

Appendix D: Outline for Theology of Renewal and Restoration


This paper is to be a discussion of the issues when a “big city” boy is put into a small rural pastorate. While this paper could take the form of didactic scholarly prose and meet normal expectations, it occurs to this writer that such a tack feeds directly into one of the dysfunctions of current seminary graduates: more reliance on the analytical and task orientation than relational and narrative orientation.[1] With that in mind, this paper is written narratively. This writer begs the indulgence of the reader in that, given the narrative nature of the paper, the page length requirement will be violated.

It should be recognized that the writer and the reader’s philosophy of restoration ministry may deviate in the extreme. This writer begs mercy – his understanding of church restoration is certainly not set and will likely continue to evolve. What this writer proposes to describe is how to balance the unique values and needs of the small church with the somewhat unique ministry processes required for this model of restoration ministry.

Theological Cursings

“I hate them! I hate them! I REALLY hate them!!” yelled Kurt as he went ballistic in front of his wife, Kathy. “Honest to God – may he condemn them to an eternity in hell in the presence of whatever pig-God they actually worship!” Kathy had seen her husband get riled up in the past, but never like this. Though, she thought ironically, since seminaryKurt’s rare curses had gotten more theological.

“Calm down; you really don’t mean that.” Kathy tried to deflect Kurt’s attention.

“Arrrgggh! Let them return to their own vomit; I’m tired of their pig-headedness, their unwillingness to obey Jesus, and their willful ignorance! I won’t stand for it any more!”

Kurt, in middle-age, had graduated from seminary only six months before. His passion for ministry had been to bring dying or decaying churches back to health and vitality as an “Intentional Interim”[2] pastor. His analytical and leadership experience in industry, his experience as a change-agent, his temperament, his deep love for the church, and his desire that God be glorified by the testimony of his people came to a crisis point in his 40’s and propelled him to enter seminary and dive into ministry’s “dirty job:” restoring dysfunctional churches.[3] It was a “Popeye Moment” when he finally realized that his desire to see churches become fully functioning parts of Christ’s body had become a calling into vocational ministry.[4] After graduating, his denomination – reacting to a sudden influx of sick churches[5] – took a gamble on Kurt (who was as yet untested in full-time vocational ministry) and asked him to take on a restoration assignment in a small rural church. Kurt initially reacted very negatively – his own experience was mostly with larger churches,[6] though he had taken a course in small churches in school. During the meeting when the regional executive director, John, presented the church, John looked Kurt straight on and asked, “Kurt, do you still want to help hurting churches?”

Kurt replied, “Yes – after seminary, even more so!”

John countered, “Then know this: hurting churches are more often pretty small by the time they realize they’re in trouble. If you want to help hurting churches, your ministry is to smaller congregations.”[7]

“Let me pray about this” responded Kurt. He realized the inescapable logic of John’s thinking but Kurt had a near-allergic reaction to small – especially rural – churches.[8] He and his seminary friends would often joke: “Yep, small churches are usually small for a reason!” Implied in that statement was that being small was a curse and caused by those in the church.

Kurt was born, raised, and lived his adult life in suburbia. He knew the fast-paced life of urban centers, his politics were moderate, his theology was a ‘squishy’ Reform type,[9]and he was regarded as well-read and something of an intellectual: a church in rural America was as close to ministerial Hell as Kurt could imagine. Yet. As John had described the church, Forrest Chapel, Kurt’s heart and mind responded and he began to perceive that this church was in trouble in a way that Kurtrealized God could work with. Forrest Chapel had recently been rocked by the loss of a long-time pastor to sexual sin.[10] They were hurt, confused, hopeless, and had approached the denomination for help.

So after praying much, consulting with his wife and mentors, Kurt called John to say, “If they’re serious and will have me, I’d be interested in talking to them.” After a series of interviews, contract negotiations, and other processes for calling an Intentional Interim pastor, the elders of Forrest Chapel called Kurt in as their pastor.

However, a six months down the road, the wheels were coming off the wagon. In confusion, hurt, and anger Kurt was convinced that 1) he was totally inadequate for the vocational ministry; 2) the majority of people (specifically the leadership) were spawn of the Devil and profoundly needed to renounce Satan and all his works; and 3) rural America should be allowed to die off and make room for Wal-Mart parking lots.

Things were not going well.

History andThe Model

Kurt was very confused. He brought with him some experience in being a change-agent, a model for restoring churches,[11] significant adult life experience, as well as the normal seminary training to Forrest Chapel. Things ought to be clicking along!

Kurt’s initial task was to, in his analytical way, understand small-town and rural sub-culture. Kurt knew that as a child of suburbia, he was entering a foreign land with strange customs. He had to learn the ways of the natives! He did this by doing some analysis based on cultural models that he was aware of.[12] This prepared him to tackle pastoral responsibilities in a culturally sensitive way.

At the same time, Kurt started doing the additional work of restoration ministry. Based on a Theology of Recovery,[13] the model for restoring churches went like this:[14] 1) Diagnosis – What are the real problems? 2) Surgery – What are God’s solutions? And 3) Recovery – Who are God’s leaders;[15] and What are God’s plans?[16]

Kurt had a variety of analytical diagnostic church-health tools available to him, and did some interviewing of people in the congregation, in an attempt to understand what was ailing the church. Kurt understood these diagnostic tools, understood the numbers behind them, and trusted their ability to give an accurate picture of Forrest’s condition.

But, almost from the start, these tools were resisted. It was only because of the relative ‘honeymoon period’ that Kurt was able to get even the first of the tools administered. That tool, Natural Church Development,[17] measured eight indicia of church health.[18] This was resisted, but eventually done. The elders didn’t understand why Kurt needed to give out this test. “Pastor Kurt,” said Jake (Jake was the chairman and most influential), “I just don’t understand why you’re so hot on this. We can all tell you what this church needs. You need to preach the Word and take care of us.[19] There ain’t a lot more to it than that.” No, it’s not just that simple, Kurt fumed to himself. He could tell that there was some deep troubles in the church, suspected some of that was tied to the leadership – maybe some of the very men in the room with him, but he needed those tools to help the rest of them see what he saw.

The very first lesson of being a change-agent is to create a sense of urgency.[20] The church, immediately after the loss of the former pastor, felt in a state of crisis. However, now that Kurt was on board, they no longer felt much of a crisis and it was becoming clear that they’d forgotten that Kurt was there only on a temporary basis and for a specific purpose. Kurtcame to understand that would be a far too sensitive subject to bring up directly so he attempted to merely ignore that and attempt to build an understanding of where the church needed to go. That was a huge mistake.


After the NCD results came back, the elders were completely uninterested in taking any more surveys, tools, tests, or analysis. They never looked at the results. Several ministry crises had come up and distracted everyone’s attention. Kurt had wanted to distance himself from these crises and stay focused on the strategic work of restoring the church, but was prevented by two factors.

The first was that it turned out that ministry was very demanding. Kurt, from his time in the secular workplace, understood demanding work environments. But usually when he quit for the day that was it. It was only occasionally that he’d be interrupted at home to attend to a work matter. But in ministry, not only was there a constant interruption on the phone at home with people wanting to chat about sometimes the most inane things, but people insisted that he and his family come for dinner, for dessert, to meet their bridge group, to speak at the school assembly, to come over and visit at his house, and so forth. Kurt, tending towards introversion, was on one hand delighted that people wanted to be his friend. But on the other, was exhausted by the constant relational interaction. He also knew that he’d recently been a bit sharper with folks than he should have been because his relational ‘rubber-band’ was stretched too far. He had no energy to even attend to his family, much less the strategic work of restoration.

Second, he knew that restoration ministry was demanding. There’s the task of doing that ministry as well as doing the fundamental ministry of any pastorate.[21] So Kurt believed that he needed to do all of these fundamental things. But that left no time to do the strategic work of restoration.

In fact, the only strategic thinking that had been done was a nearly random response to somebody’s observation that the kids in the community seem to be hanging around the town center a lot, and probably up to no good. Kurt suggested that maybe the church should open its doors to these kids and give them something more positive to do. But one of the elders, Bob, said “Now why’d’ya think that? Pastor, all these kids need is some parents who’ll exercise some discipline and get ‘em to work their chores until they’re tuckered out and can’t get in no trouble!” Kurt was so stunned by that response that he just left it. And that’s they way it went: the elders would meet, Kurt would make an observation or even a suggestion about the community or the church, and one of the elders would take on a patronizing tone and tell Kurt “that’s the way it is and there ain’t no different.” The rest of the elders would shake their heads in agreement and it was clear that ‘discussion’ had ceased.

In a way, Kurt was working on auto-pilot now: reacting to whatever demand was on him that day or week. Initially, Kurt had made an agreement to be mentored by John (the denominational executive) during the assignment at Forrest, but after a couple of initial appointments at the very beginning of Kurt’s time, things happened: John was in a car accident and hospitalized. Once out of the hospital, other crises came up and, honestly, John forgot about Kurt. And truly, in the thick of various ministry problems and crises Kurt also forgot about John.

So in this exhausted, out-of-focus, and disconnected state Kurt had just come out of a meeting with the Elders regarding the discipline of a wayward church member. It really should have been a minor thing, but the Elders didn’t see it Kurt’s way and Kurt had snapped. Fortunately, he didn’t snap at the meeting with the Elders, but after he got home and in a way potentially even more damaging.

The Pit

After Kurt had vent his spleen at Kathy, the phone rang. Kurt picked it up. Kathy could hear a man crying and sobbing on the other end. Kurt listened, attempted to interrupt a few times, and then began rolling his eyes in response to the caller’s muffed statements. Finally, there was a pause on the other end of the line and Kurt snapped, “Well why don’t you just go tell your boy to keep his pants zipped!” More talking on the other end and Kurt replied, “And that surprises you? The kids don’t have anything else to do in this town!” and the phone came down hard on the cradle. Kathy was aghast. Kurt said, “That was BobBasone. Turns out that Joe and Amanda have been – literally, can you believe it? – fooling around the corn crib! Honest, I’m not making this up, after he got home Bob found his boy and Amanda nearly naked and making out behind Bob’s shed. I swear that I’m going to go over there and shot that boy Joe, an’ after that I’m gonna shot Bob! I told him we needed to make a place where kids could hang out safely!” With that, Kurt stormed into the bedroom and slammed the door. Kathy noted with some relief that was in the opposite direction from where the gun was kept in the house. Their son, Theo, came out to ask what was the matter. “Oh,” said Kathy, “Daddy’s had another bad day.”


Kathy waited about an hour. She could actually hear her husband talking and quietly yelling with himself in the room. Once she thought she heard him crying a bit. After things quieted down, she knocked on the door, heard him answer, and walked in.

“First of all,” Kathy started, “You’re a good man in a bad situation.” Kurt waved his hand dismissively. “However, second, you have gone way over the line.” Kurt sighed in agreement. “I think you’ll agree that you’re going to have to make nice with Bob.” Kurt actually growled in response at the thought of Bob. “Third there, big boy, you need to get some help.” Kurt frowned at this. “No, I don’t mean a shrink. When’s the last time you and John had one of your coaching talks?”

Kurt blinked and sat up in bed. “I’m not … probably, uh, five months ago.”

Kathy replied, “That long?!”

Kurt was a bit defensive, “Well, he had that accident and stuff. And after that he was so behind at the office… well, I didn’t want to bother him with my little problems.”

“Hmmphf! I’d say that what you’re experiencing right at this moment is not ‘little problems.’” Before Kurt could protest, Kathy put her hands on her hips, took a don’t-mess-with-Mama stance, and declared, “Kurt, by noon tomorrow either you have a conversation with John, have an appointment to have a conversation with John, or you are going to show cause why you have not had a conversation with John!”

Kurt smiled at that legal terminology joke and said OK. “That’s not all,” Kathy continued, “what ever happened to you getting connected to that church-restoration guru guy? You used to keep up with him in seminary. I think you need to call him and … well … beg or plead to get some coaching from him, as well.”

Kurt objected, “Hmmm; talking with Dave like that could cost some money.”

Kathy looked at Kurt and said, “Look at my face – do you think I really care very much about that right now? Additionally,” Kurt groaned at this, “You are going to call Mark tomorrow as well. He’s the one guy who’s been able to mentor your spiritual life and I think you are seriously spiritually depleted!” At that observation, Kurt was cut to the quick.[22]

And that was it. Kathy Had Spoken.

Kurt didn’t sleep well that night. He had hundreds of thoughts running through his head and he finally got up at 1AM, walked down to his study and put his thoughts down on paper.[23] After he’d vented his frustrations, then tried to express what he thought were the problems and some initial remedial actions, he flashed on the fact that there was an employment contract involved when he first came on board. He fished that out and discovered that he’d goofed up far worse than he’d thought. There it was in the contract: several protections already built in.[24] Finally, he realized his sin because of his cursing of his own flock just hours before. How faithless he’d been!