Session Retreat: Identifying New Life’s Compatibility Dimensions

By Ward Shope

Dr. Neil Clark Warren, founder of, tells us there are 29 dimensions of compatibility worth looking at for a happy, lasting relationship. While I have no idea whether he is right or not, it makes sense in any relationship for us to know ourselves, to know those we know, and to know where we want to go together. That’s as true for churches and pastors as it is for couples.

While Ron’s announced retirement is still a good ways off, we are eventually looking for a relationship with a new pastor. We could decide to look for a “Ron” clone. But besides the fact that there is no such thing, Ron, as founding pastor, will always have a unique relationship with the church. Some churches, aware of a current pastor’s weaknesses, look for the opposite. That approach is also fraught with risk.

It’s wiser for us to remember who we are and where we want to go. At the Session retreat on September 6, many elders shared personal stories and observations about what makes New Life New Life. The stories congealed around a number of themes: We value transparency about our sin and vulnerability to one another. We walk with one another in difficulty. We are largely an informal church that depends on the ministry of the grassroots. Our theology moves quickly from the head to the heart and to our hands as an outworking of the gospel. We are committed to missions. We’ve worked hard at peacemaking and conflict resolution. We have been influenced strongly by Sonship, CCEF, and the ministry of Tim Keller. And there were other themes as well.

But we also have places we want to go. We want more diversity in our congregation and leadership. We don’t want to forget about our church-planting heritage. We want to be a praying church which also actively shares its faith with others. We want our children and youth to stick with their faith, especially in the years of college and beyond.

And at the center of it all must be the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. All of our freedom, our willingness to risk, our transformation, and our sense of community must be energized at its core by the gospel. We will be looking for a pastor who is driven in compatible dimensions and will encourage us to move forward.