1. Congregations need help when they get into trouble. Middle judicatories need to develop a capacity to help congregations clarify what’s at the bottom of the trouble and work out a strategy for dealing with it. The middle judicatory does not need to be able to solve the problems.
2. Congregations need to be left alone. For the most part, when congregations are not actively asking for help, middle judicatories need to leave them alone. Most congregations have programs in place and energy harnessed to their tasks. Most congregations have a pretty good working relationship with their pastors. The point here is that middle judicatories need to operate strategically in terms of their primary task—strengthening the congregations within its bounds.
3. Congregations need to be jacked up when they are off base. Congregations need somebody to hold them accountable (which is different from calling the shots). The middle judicatory needs to get involved, ask questions, and if necessary put congregations on the defensive and make them think about what they are doing.
4. Congregations need pastoral care. Congregations need grief-care when facing the loss of a pastor or key lay leader, when the building burns down or is flooded—as well as needing someone to be there in the moments of celebration and the marking of milestones.
5. Congregations need pastoral care for their pastors. The pastoral care needed from middle judicatories is the kind that make people the first class professional leaders they intend to be. Middle judicatories need to be aware of the heavy stresses and try to make resources available for the clergyperson temporarily overwhelmed, seriously depressed, or ill. But they need to exercise a bias toward health, giving clergy additional challenges and resources, not sympathy.
6. Congregations need help with leadership development. The most serious gap is in the inadequate training support middle judicatories give when clergy and lay leaders are starting up a new leadership team. A lesser opportunity is available every year when new board members are selected for the congregation; every such change is an opportunity for new team building for the congregational leadership. Middle judicatory executives need to push congregations to act on these needs.
7. Congregations need technical assistance. Basic planning skills and knowledge about how institutions work are important for congregations in changing times. Congregations often also need help from outside to understand what is going on in the world in which they minister.
8. Congregations need a sense of their place in a larger mission. Too many congregations get locked into the local sense of mission with such enthusiasm that they turn their backs on needs beyond their boundaries. The middle judicatory has a special responsibility to help the congregation widen the horizon for mission.
9. Congregations need someone who listens and listens and listens. The most important thing a congregation may need is somebody outside who just listens and pays attention.
Excerpted from Loren Mead, Transforming Congregations for the Future (Alban Institute, 1994). For a further exploration of these needs and other challenges for middle judicatories, including case studies of effective leadership, see Gil Rendle, Finding the Path in the Wilderness: Middle Judicatory Case Studies and Learnings (Alban Institute, 2001).