Leading a Culture of Strategic Planning

By June 24, 2022

During his tenure as First Church Senior Pastor, Tim initiated and recruited leadership for two major Long-Range Planning. Following Gil Rendel’s book, Holy Conversations, First Church adopted a process that involved the entire congregation. The discernment method focused on three questions: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What is God calling us to do?

In the summer of 2004, the process was laid out to the Church Council. A committee nominated in the Fall of 2005 began the work with a congregational survey and focus groups. Discernment by the steering committee, chaired by Mike and Linda Groomer, was guided by the principles of Rendel’s book. In addition to the Groomers, the members of the committee were Byron Baird, Ken Devero, Bob Herchert, William Holloway, Liz Howard, Jim Jones, Mary Catherine Parsons, Jim Riddlesperger, and Rex Shrauner.

The first congregation-wide strategic plan was finalized and adopted by the Church Council in June of 2006. From there our church moved into an every-two-years planning cycle which would repeat this process in order to identify strategic priorities for each two years. Each planning cycle identified strategic priorities for the coming two years. In 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 Tim brought church leaders together to set new strategic priorities for the coming two years.

A Succession Plan Begins to Form

In 2016, unbeknownst to most, there was another plan already underway. About eight years back, Tim expressed to Bishop Lowrey his interest in bringing on a young, energetic pastor with vision and drive to start a new First Church worshipping community aimed at reaching new people in the area. The resulting 2013 appointment was Rev. Lance Marshall, who was to start First 7th, a satellite campus aimed at the growing population off of West 7th St. One thing led to another, and our contemporary-yet-traditional worshipping and teaching service known as The Gathering emerged and flourished under Lance’s leadership.

Meanwhile Bishop Lowry was becoming known for making very successful “creative appointments” — visionary leadership decisions that gave local churches the opportunity for smoother transitions between senior pastors. These appointments, at First United Methodist Churches of Hurst, Mansfield, and Georgetown, as well as White’s Chapel United Methodist Church, seemed to be accomplishing exactly what Bishop Lowry and these Senior Pastors and Church leaders dreamed, envisioned, and hoped for together.

And then, just as Lance was finishing up at the top of his class at TCU’s Brite Divinity School, Tim and Bishop Lowry, along with our District Superintendents and Allison Alvarado, Executive Director of First Church, began meeting with Lance to work out a learning covenant that would prepare him to become Tim’s co-pastor.

When the time was right, the Staff Parish Relations Committee was involved in the conversation and unanimously approved this succession plan. “We are so blessed that Bishop Lowry and Dr. Bruster had the wisdom and creativity to initiate this plan, and we are further blessed by the tremendous gifts and talents of Rev. Marshall,” Allison said in the article announcing the plan to the congregation. “I have had the privilege of working with them and our District Superintendents along the way to ensure we are doing what is best for our church and have every confidence that this plan brings the stability of a thoughtful transition while setting us up to realize the dreams and potential for our church in the future. God has been working through all of them during this process and I speak for the entire Staff Parish Relations Committee in expressing gratitude and support for this opportunity.”

Echoing with his appreciation, Tim said this dual appointment “represents a great deal of work, prayer, and gratitude for a solid, well-thought-out, and road-tested succession plan for our church.” Expressing his deep gratitude for all who have been part of this succession visioning, he added, “Bishop Lowry’s willingness and support for creative appointments like this will do so much to alleviate the typical stress and worry that can happen with any impending transition of leadership.”

On Sunday, November 24, 2019, at a Service of Celebration of Appointment, Bishop Mike Lowry appointed Rev. Lance Marshall as Co-Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth. Under this shared leadership, Lance would continue to work toward succession, mentored by Tim, as he took on more significant roles in leadership decisions, issues large and small, and opportunities and experiences needed to develop a well-rounded, multifaceted Senior Pastor.

“I can’t express enough what a great honor and privilege it is to be appointed Co-Pastor at this wonderful church,” says Rev. Lance Marshall. “Serving this church has immeasurably blessed my family and me, and Elizabeth and I are so excited for what the future has in store. Living and serving in Fort Worth is a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see what God will continue to do in and through this community.”

Expressing his optimism and excitement about our church’s future, Tim adds, “I cannot begin to express the comfort it brings to know that there is someone already here, already preparing for the next chapter — and someone who will be fully ready to assume the leadership of this great church when the time does come for my retirement.”

Unusual Opportunity for On-the-Job Training

About a year and a half before this succession plan was public knowledge, Tim realized that not only was it time for a new strategic planning initiative, but that allowing Lance to take the lead on it would give him solid experience in leading this congregation-wide collaborative process in the future. Tim recommended to the Church Council that we engage Church Planning Consultant Susan Beaumont to assist with what we had dubbed Focus First Strategic Planning initiative.

Best known for her groundbreaking work in leadership dynamics of large congregations, Susan authored two books, Inside the Large Congregation and When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations, which she co-authored with Gil Rendle.

The work began in July 2017 at the request of the Church Council. In September of 2017, Tim and Lance appointed a coordinating committee composed of a diverse group of First Church members, including Jim Whitton, Chair, Patricia Healy, Richard Holman, Danica Knight, Samantha Morgan, and Haley Manulik, and Nancy Tully. The group also received input and collaborative work with Tim and Lance. The committee’s role was to gather, organize, the process feedback from the church community as a whole to solidify our plan for the future.

Similar to our earlier Holy Conversations process, Focus First asked the questions, “Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What is God calling us to do now?”

For the Leadership Summit, the final stage of the Focus First discernment and planning process, Church Planning Consultant Susan Beaumont returned to guide us toward successfully completing this work. More than 100 faithful and engaged church members and staff identified potential areas for strategic initiatives. The summit generated key input used by the organizing team for final discernment in developing the Strategic Initiatives.

Following the retreat, the organizing team studied the information gathered and reflected on the feedback captured through surveys, interviews, and the Leadership Summit. Aided by advisory support from Susan Beaumont, the group developed the final Core Values and Strategic Initiatives. A report was prepared for review and additional collaboration with the First Church congregation, the final report was developed and approved by Church Council.

Read the full report of the Focus First discernment process approved by the Church council.)

“The importance of good planning can’t be overstated,” Tim reflects.  “We need to be clear about where we are going, and good planning accomplishes that.  Gil Rendle’s questions continue to echo through the life of our church:  Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What is God calling us to do?  The Focus First strategic discernment process that Lance led continues to guide the direction of the church as it helps the church to focus on what is most important in the present and gives clarity of vision for the future.”


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