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Entering Wonderland

A Toolkit for Pastors New to a Church

Robert A. Harris

The first year or so of a pastor's tenure in a new congregation is precarious; many pastors stay at a new congregation for fewer than five years. This handbook helps coach both experienced and new pastors to enter a new congregation effectively. Drawing from organizational systems leadership material in religious and secular worlds, it offers nearly fifty tips and tools designed to help new pastors analyze their congregation's system and then to lead leaders within the congregation to affect positive change.

Using imagery from
Alice in Wonderland to clarify various archetypal roles within the church community, Harris provides concrete suggestions for facilitating communication and dealing with difficult behaviors within the congregation. He provides a coaching approach to ministry, in which the pastor reframes issues and asks provocative questions—a powerful strategy to maximize a new pastor’s chances for success.

Readers will find tools to help them uncover critical information about their new congregation regarding:

  • congregational norms, particularly regarding the office of pastor, conflict, and holy objects;
  • their history and sense of God's call;
  • the true leaders among the congregation;
  • mutual accountability.

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers / Alban Books
Pages: 234Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/4
978-1-56699-759-1 • Hardback • October 2014 • $42.00 • (£27.95)
978-1-56699-717-1 • Paperback • October 2014 • $21.00 • (£13.95)
978-1-56699-718-8 • eBook • October 2014 • $20.00 • (£13.95)
Robert A. Harris has been coaching pastors and other leaders since 2004. Mostly working with solo pastors and pastors of multiple staff churches, he helps them assess their church systems, strengthen leadership teams, and clarify personal and church goals.

Part I. Entering Wonderland: The First Six Months
Chapter 1. What Do You See? Take a Close Look
Chapter 2. How Can I Really Get to Know Them? You Can’t Guess
Chapter 3. How Solid Is the Foundation? Assessing the Trust Level
Chapter 4. Who’s Leading around Here? Assessing Individual Leaders

Chapter 5. Assessing the Leadership—The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Chapter 6. What Size Is Your Church? Size Matters

Part II. Your Next Six Months (More or Less)
Chapter 7. What Have You Learned About Yourself? Gremlins and Boundaries
Chapter 8. Where Are We Headed? Assessing the Congregation’s Mission and Vision
Chapter 9. How’s Business? Leadership and Management
Chapter 10. How Do I Deal with Difficult Behavior? Perspectives and Suggestions
Chapter 11. What’s Next? Reviewing Your First Year and Looking Forward

Appendix A. Tips Arranged by Chapter
Appendix B. Tools Arranged by Chapter
Appendix C. Coaching Assignments Arranged by Chapter
Appendix D. Information about Coaching
Appendix E. Word/Share/Prayer Bible Studies
Appendix F. Sample Covenant of Behavior
Appendix G. Sample Mission and Vision Statements

Harris has done a great job of creating a principle-based guidebook for newly assigned pastors. He has put together a delightful combination of humorous, and therefore memorable, stories to illustrate the potential pitfalls and breakthroughs new pastors will likely encounter. What I like best about this book is the power of his own experiences to make key points. This book also has tremendous potential to help others new to positions of significant responsibility benefit far beyond the pastorate.

Frank Ball, Advisor to the Director, Institute for Transformational Leadership, Georgetown University

After the Pastor Search Committee is ready to call the new pastor, every other parishioner then is asking, ‘Can this person be my pastor?’ Bob Harris provides here an essential resource for every new pastor to methodologically discover the undercurrents in a congregation which will make or break a new pastor’s ministry. Every pastor starting in a new ministry context will benefit from these insights.
G. Wilson Gunn, General Presbyter, National Capital Presbytery

Bob Harris has identified and mapped out a path through the early months of a pastorate that provide invaluable dialogue and insight into ministry in community. Armed with the guidance of this book, a new pastor should be able to navigate a way through the sometimes daunting and almost always rewarding task of being a Pastor.
Mike Cole, General Presbyter, Presbytery of New Covenant

Bob Harris invites and coaches readers entering new congregations to treat the 'wonderland' of ministry as a place where wondering – sometimes out loud, sometimes not – can lead to good questions and helpful answers. Bob asks lots of questions, and shares some of his own answers, but he mostly presses pastors to '… emulate Alice. She was curious – sometimes a little frightened, but she kept asking questions.' I have used his 'Eleven Curious Questions' process in interim pastorates in two very different congregations. It works. Bob is by nature an optimist, but also a realist. In the realities of ministry, including my own, he helps his readers and coaching clients experience the wonder of it.
Richard L. Sheffield, pastor

The first several months serving as the new pastor to a congregation are critical for determining whether the congregation/pastor team will work in a manner that is fruitful, healthy, and mutually sustaining. Robert Harris provides an array of helpful tips, tools, and insights to help pastors and lay leaders navigate these early months together. Drawing from organizational systems theory, personal experience, and driven by a delightful curiosity and profound passion, Entering Wonderland helps pastors and congregations thrive! Recommended.
Robert Schnase, Bishop, Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church; author, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations"

Distinguishing Features:

  • Uses a coaching approach to leadership, asking lots of powerful questions designed to help readers analyze their new congregation and develop effective actions to take

  • Aimed especially at pastors who are new to their congregations

  • Offers leadership tips and specific coaching tools which will help the pastor successfully enter this new system

  • Draws from resources about congregational leadership and also from those that focus on leadership in business or government.