Rev. Dr. Carson O. Mouser, author of The Promise of Narrative Change: Living the Why to Thrive, is not new to the writing business. Before becoming Pastor of Summerville Presbyterian Church (http://www.summervillechurch.org/index_L87B.html), and serving in various ministry roles, he wrote for a small weekly community publication while in high school. After serving in the military where he utilized his newspaper experiences as base reporter, editor, and speech writer, he obtained his undergraduate degree in journalism.
“Unfortunately, the market for newspaper reporters and writers shrank considerably,” he said. “Over time, I found I was unable to get work.”
He turned to the insurance industry, but found it less satisfying.
“I felt like I wasn’t able to serve people well enough. I was hearing more and more about the story of peoples’ lives, just listening and not being able to do much more than listen.”
After he answered God’s call to ministry, he served as interim pastor for a number of years, “intentionally and not intentionally.” Been there done that experiences as interim pastor, and past business experiences, led him to delve into change theory within organizations. This resulted in a passion to help congregations and organizations effectively work their way through the process.
“Through the study I was doing and reading everything that had been written about organization change and transformation, I recognized that two things were missing,” he said. “People never talk about their story, their narrative, nor do they place it in the context of Biblical narrative.”
“No one talks about transition, and transition is really the emotional aspect of change. That is really about grief. Something is dying. Something has come to an end. Something changes and that is like death in the sense that there is a loss there. And it calls for a grief response.”
However, none of the change literature he studied talked about that.
He wondered how organizational change be done successfully. “Quite frankly, I watched many fail.”
He wrote his book, The Promise of Narrative Change: Living the Why to Thrive, published by Parson’s Porch Books in Cleveland, Tennessee, because of this desire to help congregations undergoing change.
His book examines change (what is altered) and transition (the emotional response to that alteration), and weaves together the importance of personal (congregational) narrative, the Biblical narrative that reflects the congregation’s narrative, grieving, and discovering each congregation’s unique why. For example, why does Somerville Presbyterian Church exist? How does it serve the community, as Christ wants it to?
Hence the strange title, that initially makes one wonder, “Shouldn’t it read “Living the Way to Thrive,” not “Living the Why to Thrive?” And there – in lies Mouser’s premise.
Only by telling about its beginnings and its unique story, its narrative, can a congregation understand why it exists and where it wants to go. He believes by combining a congregation’s narrative with the Biblical narrative to which it feels a connection, a congregation can begin to understand the change it is going through.
He cautions that this process is painfully slow in our McDonald’s drive-through culture. Calling the right pastor can take two years. Rush through it, he warns, and a congregation will be putting out another call in a few years.
After a congregation focuses on its own narrative, as opposed to employing “strategic planning,” it is able to answer questions such as, “What kind of pastor do we need to help guide us into the future that we feel God has called us to?” Identifying the skills, knowledge, and personality type a congregation needs in a pastor, based on its why, is critical in the call process.
Once called, Mouser estimates it takes four years for the new pastor to settle into his/her role, and it is six to seven years later when the congregation can evaluate how it is doing with all its changes.
In a way, congregations are like families, and like families, will do whatever is necessary to maintain equilibrium, to remain in their comfort zone. Change rocks the boat, and when an interim pastor comes on board, it can be difficult sailing.
The Good News asked Pastor Mouser what keeps an interim pastor awake at night.
“Being mindful that we are there for a short time and are really those who prepare the ground for where the seeds will be sown,” he said. “We will never taste the harvest of what is planted, but (must be) faithful to the calling to do the slow preparation. For me, it’s being mindful of that. I’m not there to turn the church upside down. They’re already upside down anyway. Depending on how long the pastor was there, how the relationship ended, and where the congregation is in their grief, I help them through that, to be their resource person. I’m not there to tell them what to do. It’s much better if I ask a lot of questions…I want them to find their answers.”
Identifying a congregation’s why will lead to its identity statement that begins with “We are…” It will help congregations determine if what they have been doing is still effective; if people are being fed by their choices. If not, why keep doing it? Mouser credits much of his insights about looking at why from author Simon Sinek, and said congregations should ban the phrase “because we’ve always done it that way.”
Mouser consults with congregations undergoing change, and brings along his book, which is also available on Amazon, or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Citing the Book of Jeremiah, Mouser said congregations should bless the places where they dwell, and can do so by living out their why.
He is reassuring. “Bless the place where you dwell. I think things will fall into place and take care of themselves…I think the ministry will play out,” Mouser says.