Shepherd of the Hill Writes a Mission Study

Shepherd of the Hill (PCUSA) is a delightful congregation located in Puyallup's South Hill neighborhood.  They have about 120 in worship on a Sunday and 187 members.  The church has a healthy distribution of ages and a long history of working well together in both ministry and mission. In October 2017, their pastor of twenty-six years retired, and the church hired a transitional pastor to help them consider their history and discern God's leading for the future. Two members of Session were also appointed to help guide this process.

For six months, beginning in January 2018, the congregation met together to tell their story, and connect with the core values that has shaped their ministry from charter to the current moment.  We solicited stories, information, and opinions from the congregation through face to face interviews, surveys (both printed and online), and discussions in small and large group contexts.  Throughout the process, the Session worked to understand and interpret the data, and each consecutive gathering or survey was crafted to further understanding and engage the congregation in discerning next steps. Finally, the Session met to distill all the information gathered into a clear statement of core values and mission priorities.  

It has been a privilege to walk with this congregation through the process, and to help the Session shape both the journey and identify God's leading for the future.   The two elders appointed by Session to help guide the transition have been wonderful partners in this work.  Following the congregational gatherings, and Session's season of discernment, I put together the mission study summary in consultation with the two elders who helped lead the work.   The Session then reviewed the document and gave feedback which was incorporated before it was given to the Commission on Ministry of our Presbytery.  

The congregation and Session is proud of the work we have done, and the study which documents our journey.   We hope it will bear fruit, not just in the search for an installed pastor, but in shaping the mission and ministry of Shepherd of the Hill for the season ahead. Read their mission study here.

Post written by Heather James, Transitional Pastor at Shepherd of the Hill

Heather has served in full time pastoral ministry for more than 20 years, and remembers God’s call to church leadership as early as her young teen years when she led a bible study for second graders.  This call took root and has grown through God’s faithfulness and leading in many different seasons of life ~ a music degree at Grinnell College, pastoral training from Fuller Theological Seminary, serving in parish ministry in both installed and transitional rolls, and spending time overseas as a missionary in Asia.  One of Heather’s deep joys in ministry is leading God’s people in worship through Biblical reflection, prayer, and music.  She speaks with the ability to balance the message of God’s love for us with our call to share that love with others.

Heather has completed year one of Transitional Ministry training through Menucha Retreat and Conference Center, and is currently pursuing her DMin in leading organizational and congregational change with Dr. Tod Bolsinger at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Heather lives with her daughter in an old farm house in Tacoma, WA.  On her days off you can find her biking, hiking, or kayaking in our beautiful northwest region.  She also loves quilting, good coffee shops, and is an avid reader.

Interim By Design is pleased to share mission studies with our community. To share your mission study contact us.

Step one: Conduct a Mission Study

Step one: Conduct a Mission Study

When a congregation is ready to begin a pastor calling process the first step is often to conduct a church mission study. Ideallymission studies help congregations have conversations about:

    Living in the Present: Enjoying the Ride

    Sermon texts Phil 4:4-9, and James 4:13-15

    Time, Talents, Treasure series at Hamblen Park PC

    “Your attention, please.” That’s what God wants: our attention. A spiritual life needs attention. Today’s texts invite us to be attentive to living in the present.

    You know who the experts are at living in the present? Kids. To them life is a joy ride. Being present to the wonder of each day can be fun. In order for the rest of us to engage fully in this topic I invite you to watch this video called Joy Ride.

    Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride. Rejoice in the LORD always – enjoy the ride. Let your gentleness be known to all – enjoy the ride. The LORD is near. Do not worry – be all in. Do not fret – be alive to God’s presence each day.

    How? Look at verse 6, “in everything by prayer and petition with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known to God. Shalom. The peace and presence of God which passes all understanding. We want that peace in our everyday lives. Do we not? So what keeps us from it?

    James chapter 4 tells us that when we compartmentalize our lives we get in trouble. To divide life into what is sacred and what is not is to ignore the truth that God cares about every aspect of lives – 24/7. Even the more mundane things like where we plan to live, how we plan to make money, and what we plan to do with it. The problem in this short passage is not planning per se, but rather leaving God out of the plans.  In order to live an integrated life in which every square inch of it is sacred – we must learn to be discerning people.

    HPPC is in a season of discernment.  Andrea told us about this last week. She is leading a team of folks who are adept at listening to all of you describe what it is like to part of this church. In these interviews people talk about what is special to them about their church – where they have seen God work in the past and what God is doing here presently. From this Appreciative Inquiry process leaders of this church will prayerfully discern about the future and together decide who your next pastor will be.

    This works best when the people of the church live lives attentive to God’s Spirit.  To live attentive integrated lives takes practice. For centuries the Christian church has taught the importance of a daily ritual of Thanksgiving. This practice is called the ”Examen” (Latin for examination). The Examen offers a way to pray the experiences of our everyday lives; the result being an integrated life. Basically this involves reflecting on our lives in prayerful attentiveness. The Examen helps us notice God at work. It helps us practice our passage from Philippians:

    Rejoice[a] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[b] Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Finally, beloved,[c] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[d] these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


    Let’s get practical:

    The Examen has 5 steps (in going this in a small group setting take time to do each step in a leisurely fashion)

    1. First, settle into a comfortable place. Your pew will do nicely. Take a deep breath and find something to focus on ~ beautiful banner, flowers, a candle flame. Take your time.
    2. Reflect on recent events – a video of images may roll through your mind. Concentrate on the subtle aspects of your experiences, not so much what happened but what emotions you felt, or insights you gained, what did you enjoy, feel energized by, find frustrating, or disappointing?
    3. Ask God now to bring to your heart an awareness of 1 or 2 experiences for which you are grateful! Savor what comes to mind. Draw life or energy from it once more. God is near. God was with then and God is with you now. Rest in that moment/memory.
    4. Ask God now to bring to your heart an awareness of 1 or 2 experiences for which you are NOT grateful. Emotions such as anger, sadness, or guilt may surface. Perhaps you felt drained of energy, unable to love or receive love. What was it that made that experience so difficult? Do not judge or be critical. God is near. God was with you then and God is with you now. Rest.
    5. Give thanks to God for what you experienced.

    It’s that simple. You might choose practice this attentive form of prayer in the morning coffee, or in the evening just before dozing off to sleep. Those of you who practice this or something similar know its value. You can do this alone or in groups; daily or episodically. Some find it helpful to do at major life junctions – like the first of day something BIG – perhaps a new job, or move, or promotion.  You might think of it akin to notches in a doorframe measuring children’s physical growth. The Examen helps us ‘notice’ our growth and spiritual development.

    Perhaps your family has a ritual for sharing daily insights around the dinner table – in my brother’s house they call this “Today’s Highs, Lows, and Betcha Didn’t You Know”. The ‘highs’ might include passing a test, sitting by a cute boy on the bus, or running their fastest mile yet. The ‘lows’ could be a friend moving away, the death of a goldfish died. You get the picture. A recent favorite ‘betcha didn’t know ‘– I have a girlfriend!  These are early steps in discernment.

    Pausing, being attentive to daily life helps us live in the present. Reminds us God is near. Over time patterns begin to emerge connecting various activities and choices helping us discern which are life giving (when we feel alive and energized) and what is life draining (burdensome, alienating from God, self, others).

    Such attentiveness helps us discover vocational insights that bring us joy and draw us into a deeper relationship with God.  Sports, camping, gardening, reading to bedtime stories to our kids or grandchildren can be rich sources of such joy. There are millions of others too.

    Being aware of what is genuinely life giving  helps us live in the present. Each of us lives in sacred time and space. May we grow in our attentiveness and celebrate that great mystery – God is near.


    Interim Ministry Note: Andrea mentioned here is the chair of the Mission Study Team.


    Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today

    Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today, a sermon series based on the book by Mark Labberton First in series: Called to be Living Stones, 1 Peter 2:1-10

    Rev. Shari Jackson Monson

    8 March 2015

    On planet Earth in 1988, young Peter Quill sits in the waiting room of a hospital, listening with headphones to "Awesome Mix tape no. 1" on his Walkman. His grandpa comes out and gets him so he can say goodbye to his mom, who is dying of cancer. At the time of her death a distraught young Peter runs outside and is abducted by a spaceship. Twenty-six years later on the planet Morag, an adult Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-lord (Chris Pratt) finds a mysterious Orb. Peter is soon joined by an assassin named Gamora (voice: Zoe Saldana), a mercenary named Rocket Raccoon (voice: Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice: Vin Diesel). The rest of the story revolves around the misadventures of these cosmic misfits. Eventually they become something of a new family. Each is quite different from the other. They squabble. They make up. They fight off the bad guys and become known as…….

    Anyone know this story?

    Answer: The Guardians of the Galaxy.

    You could say the Guardians are called to save the galaxy from extinction. Oddly, they sort of bumble along finding their way one step at a time. There is no grand scheme or map to point the way. There is one primary call – to keep the Orb out of the wrong hands and thus save the galaxy from destruction.

    So, how in the world is this messed up bunch of characters going to pull it off?

    Simple: they learn to count on each other’s unique strengths. Through thick and thin, through ambushes, trickery, and a dance-off, they ultimately survive because of costly personal sacrifices. Despite starting out selfish these broken individuals become loving interdependent friends.

    1 Peter 2:1-10 (NRSV) The Living Stone and a Chosen People

    2 Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

    Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

    “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

    To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

    “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”

    They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

    10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

    This is the Word of the LORD ~ thanks be to God.

    Let’s pray: Holy God, when we were unholy, thoroughly messed up people, you claimed us as your own. You call us precious and you invite us to be built into a spiritual house filled with priestly activity. Help us to understand what this means. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

    Such a rich passage demonstrating our interconnectedness with Christ and with one another, focus on verse 5: like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

    Peter calls Christ followers living stones. We are those living stones. And our brothers and sisters around the world are too. Our lives and our witness are ‘stones’ being fitted together. Living stones may sound odd until you think of it this way – we live as people of faith on top of the shoulders of others who came before us. In our pews this morning we can see these generations. If you’ve been around awhile you know the impact of these storied lives. (Preaching idea: in some fashion illustrate the impact of generations by families standing up, coming forward, possibly interviewing one family with 3 or 4 generations present in the congregation).

    At Hamblen we are wrapping up a project known as the Mission Study. At its heart the Mission Study asks and attempts to answer what it means for us today to be people being built into a spiritual house.

    Among our findings:

    • Our spiritual household values hospitality – the warm heart of Hamblen extends welcome inside these doors and beyond.
    • This household of faith cherishes the sense of family built over these many years.
    • Members who are struggling can count on help and comfort showing up in visits, meals, babysitting, and other tangible means
    • Hamblen-ites value living out Christian faith in hands-on service

    These are stable building blocks grounded in Biblical values.

    Also in the Church Mission Study findings are areas for growth and imagination:

    • more evening opportunities for families
    • new forms of hospitality to encourage conversation among our diverse members
    • increased programs for youth and young adults fostering greater connection with the congregation

    I dare not give away too much more as the Mission Study is in rough draft form but believe me it is exciting as pastors to see that Spirit is at work among us fashioning a vision for our future.

    Living stone upon living stone we are being built up into a spiritual house as Peter imagined it. Living stone beside living stone we are meant to care about the well-fare of each other. Honoring our past and the shoulders we stand on while delighting as we link arms with those near to us.

    A word about holy priesthood – in the Old Testament role of priests was to stand before God advocating for the needs of the people. But now we have a High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, our cornerstone. He does this on our behalf before the Father. Illustration – on the darkest dark night in Peter’s life Jesus said, you will betray me Peter. Not I Lord!  Yes, you will but I have prayed for you. It will be hard as Satan will want to sift you, but you will turn to me.  (Luke chapter 22)

    A word about being priests and a holy nation – Peter’s letter was written during a time of persecution to the ‘scattered’ churches. It must have been hard for them to feel like much of a nation or a people any longer. So Peter reminds them about the truth of being God’s people with imagery we might miss –

    In Hebrew worship the high priest wore a breast shield-like vestment adorned with 12 precious stones on which the names of the of Israel’s tribes were inscribed. That means when Jesus serves as our high priest he stands before the Father with our names inscribed across his chest. When the Father looks at us he sees us as precious. Know this, let it sink in.

    Priests pray for the people. We are holy priesthood. Therefore our prayers for people are impactful. Later on in the service Betsey/Katie will lead us in a time of prayer inviting our spoken responses. May we as priests lift up the prayers of the people with joy.

    Associated Press headline Nov 13, 2008, Moscow: Church Disappears

    Orthodox Church officials have discovered one of their church buildings has disappeared. Poof—gone! The 200-year-old building northeast of Moscow had gone unused for a decade. But recently the Orthodox Church was experiencing growth and was considering reopening the church building only to discover their building wasn't there.

    They had to get to the bottom of this. After investigating the matter, the church officials did not blame aliens from outer space for the missing structure. Rather, they said the perpetrators were villagers from a nearby town. Brick by brick over the past decade these villagers had taken and sold bricks from the building to a businessman. For each brick, the thieves received one ruble (about 4 cents).

    This two-story church facility did not go from being a building to not being a building in one bulldozing stroke. Rather, the bricks were apparently chiseled out one by one by lots of people. In the same way, some churches—built not of bricks but of "living stones," that is of Christians—are not reduced in one fatal stroke but rather by Christians one by one choosing not to be involved.

    Each living stone separated from the church is like a brick chiseled away. Conversely, each person who gets involved helps to build a holy temple made up of living bricks, where Christ is glorified. Amen.

    Stand and sing linked up with the living stones around you… Great is Thy Faithfulness #276

    Sermon Reflection Questions:

    1. Have you ever felt as though you were part of a ‘misfits’ group akin to the Guardians of the Galaxy? If so, what happened as a result of your time together? (Note: this question may will be easier to answer if you have seen the movie. Feel free to insert the plot of similar book or movie)
    2. In what way do you function like a ‘living stone’ that is precious to God? Precious to your family? Precious to others?
    3. Considering your role as a royal priest think of someone near you who could use your prayers right now. How might you commit to stand before God on their behalf?
    4. Read Psalm 118:5-10, and 21-25. Consider in what way the image of the rejected cornerstone of Psalm 118 relates to 1 Peter 2:1-10. How might the early readers of Peter’s letter relate to this ‘hymn’ or psalm of the church? Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? The Lord is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. 10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it 25 Save us; we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

    Reflection Questions for Interim Ministry:

    • Interim Ministry Task: Mission study/Appreciative inquiry - use findings in sermons. This illustrates the role of the congregation in imagining their future together and demonstrates progress being made toward the call of a new pastor.
    • Interim Ministry Task: Coming to Terms with the Past - sermon series on Philippians or another early church epistle lends itself to this important task.
    • Hint: See Pinterest Board  Interim By Design for ideas to engage congregations in celebrating their church history.