By Theresa Clark
Ever hear the phrase, “It’s hard to find good help these days”? Well, for churches that are struggling with organizational issues or through difficult transitional periods, good help is available.
Charles Ashman coordinates the FGBC-sponsored Paraclete Ministry which provides encouragement and counsel to struggling and hurting churches. Ashman works out of a wealth of pastoral experience, having pastored churches in Rittman, Ohio; Phoenix, Arizona; and, until his retirement, the Winona Lake, Indiana, Grace Brethren Church.
The term “paraclete” is a compound Greek word that literally means “called alongside.” It is the same word used in the New Testament in reference to the Holy Spirit and His role as a helper in an individual’s life.
Paraclete was formed in response to Pastor Don Rough’s moderator’s address to the FGBC national conference in 1998. Originally formed to offer conflict resolution for pastors and churches, it also provides a valuable tool for potential pastors to gain an outside viewpoint of the church under consideration.
“Basically, our ministry is focused on the needs of a church, and/or a pastor, in times of strife, conflict, or transition,” says Ashman.
The ministry is request-based. When a request is received, a Paraclete evaluator reviews the church situation and then travels to the church to meet with members, church boards (elders, deacons), and other sub-committees in order to discern the church’s current circumstances and situation.
To Ashman, having an outsider’s perspective of the church is key. Otherwise, personal bias can get in the way and eliminate any real opportunity to achieve a completely honest and objective evaluation.
“We highly recommend a self-evaluation,” explains Ashman. “For that to happen objectively and thoroughly, they need an outside evaluator. I could never do what I do if I were the pastor. Nobody on the inside can be totally objective. Everyone has a personal agenda when he is involved.”
The evaluator typically stays for two to three days and interviews as many people in the church as he possibly can to find out what they think and feel about the church’s current situation.
He will also typically administer a comprehensive survey to the entire church in order to ascertain its views concerning the church and its various departments and ministries. This survey is completely anonymous, and only the evaluator sees the responses. Confidentiality is imperative.
After all the information has been compiled, the evaluator gives both an oral and written report to the church and provides scenarios for action based on that information. However, the final decision regarding what should be done always rests with the local church, not with the evaluator.
The Paraclete Ministry has helped more than 30 churches, including some which are not Grace Brethren. When asked about success stories, Ashman shares about one church that was experiencing serious leadership problems. After going through the process of evaluation and listening to the recommendations that were presented, the church completely overhauled its constitution, replaced its leadership board, and, as a result, became a stronger church for the Lord.
Another church reported, “Reviewing the history and culture of our church, coupled with insight toward current and future needs, allowed Pastor Ashman to pinpoint precisely what would happen if we did nothing versus what would happen if we chose to change. The road to change was clearly illuminated concerning the obstacles and benefits. We rewrote the constitution and bylaws, equipping our church to move forward with clarity and purpose. We also were able to move ahead in faith, unity, and certainty as God led us to a new pastor.”
Not All Successes
Of course, not every story ends in such success. Sometimes the church rejects the evaluator’s advice, and at other times, the recommendation to a church is, in fact, to close. Nevertheless, for struggling churches, the Paraclete Ministry does help provide much-needed support and guidance during times of confusion, uncertainty, and transition.
Tom Avey, Fellowship Coordinator, feels the Paraclete Ministry is a valuable asset to the Fellowship. He says, “Paraclete is a great tool for leaders of any church to help them see what is happening during transition. Charles Ashman brings decades of ministry experience and an ability to think freshly about change to any leadership team that wants to make a difference.”
In addition to Ashman, two other Paraclete Ministers have been through a training and certification program to do similar work in the FGBC: Pastor Charles Thornton from the Soldotna, Alaska, church, and Paul Mutchler, who is now pastoring the Lanham, Maryland, Grace Brethren Church.
To find out more about this ministry or to request help for your own church, contact Charles Ashman by phone at (574) 372-6338, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Theresa Clark, a Grace College journalism major from Delaware, Ohio, was editorial intern with FGBC World during the fall, 2005 semester.