A Pastoral Note to Members of First Pres FTL on the Proposed Restructuring of Pastoral Leadership

October 17, 2022

Dear members and friends,

I want to share with you some exciting news about the pastoral leadership of FPC! When I became your pastor five years ago, a part of my call to our church was to mentor Nic Merchant as he grew into his role as Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation. The hope was that maybe one day, just maybe, he would be able to return and pastor First Presbyterian Church himself. I took my charge seriously.

Over the last several years, I have attempted to dismantle an old hierarchical system of leadership and replace it with a team-based collaborative model of leadership. Dr. Masten, Rev. Merchant, and I have been operating out of this model for over three years. On paper, I am the Pastor/Head of Staff; in reality, I’m a coach encouraging all the players to move cohesively in the same direction. Pastorally, we three have been collaboratively leading FPC and you may not have even noticed it. If you haven’t been aware that is how the church is being pastorally led, good! It means it’s working! 

When Kelly died early this year, it was a trigger for me to begin thinking about, “What happens if something happens to me?  What happens with the church? Will FPC lose the progress the congregation has made the last five years?” It was apparent as a leader, I needed to plan for my succession for when God calls me away.

Purposefully working with the Chair of the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and with General Presbytery, Dr. Daris Bultena, I began working on a model that would, in my opinion, be best for our church for the time I leave. And please hear me loud and clear: I am not hearing God calling me to leave our church! Leaders lead and that is all I am attempting to do.

The Session has approved a proposal to adapt our current leadership model from Pastor/Head of Staff to a Co-Pastor and an Associate Pastor model whereby Nic Merchant and I become Co-Pastors (co-equal) and Dr. Masten continues as the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care.

I am posting on our church website and on my personal website, patrickhwrisley.com, the same document presented to our Session and the COM so you can learn exactly what they learned. It addresses The Why, The Rationale, identify the pros and cons of the proposal, an outline of the process, and a few sundry notes on the process. 

Your pastors will be leading a Q&A during Wednesday Night Live Dinner this week, at the Cottage at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 26th and are available to discuss this with any of you who have questions.

Building the Kingdom together,

Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor and Teaching Elder

The Proposal for Adapting FPC’s Current Pastoral Model

  1. Introduce a motion for consideration regarding the pastoral structure of First Presbyterian Church. To present the rationale for this motion.
  2. To begin discussing this motion, Moderator Wrisley hands off the moderatorial duties of the Session to Dr. Daris Bultena, Stated Clerk for the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, in order that Pastor Wrisley may speak to the motion.
  3. Pastors Masten, Merchant, and Wrisley are excused to permit free discussion among the Session members regarding the motion.

MOTION:  The members of the Session of First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale recommend to the congregation that we call Nicholas B. Merchant and Patrick H. Wrisley as Co-Pastors whose terms as Co-Pastors commence on ­­­January 1, 2023. The Session’s vote to act upon this motion shall occur at the next regularly scheduled Session meeting on August 25, 2022.

The Why

The purpose of changing the pastoral model for it to provide First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale an operative and smooth transition plan.

It is no secret that Dr. Wrisley has experienced a tumultuous year with caring for Kelly and walking with her through her death. Although he has no immediate plans to move on as he feels there is still some work he needs to complete, he is fully aware within the next few years he will be transitioning to a different call and location.

As he approaches his sixth year at FPC, Dr. Wrisley has witnessed congregational transformation from a community with multiple silos becoming unified, purposeful teams that are speaking off the same script. Disunity has given way to working together towards a common goal. Rancor among the staff is non-existent and the once damaged relationship with the Presbytery of Tropical Florida is healed; the church and the presbytery are now enthusiastic partners in ministry.  The last thing Dr. Wrisley wants to see is all this good constructive work jeopardized due to a typical, long, and drawn-out search process for a new Head of Staff/Pastor. The co-pastor model provides the seamless transition for pastoral leadership moving forward.

The Rationale


The Pastor Nominating Committee that called Dr. Wrisley to become Pastor/HOS of First Presbyterian Church expressed its desire that during Wrisley’s tenure that he would mentor Nic Merchant and help him grow as a leader, pastor, and preacher for the church’s benefit. Running concurrently with the Pastor Nominating Committee was the church’s Associate Pastor for a Designated Term Committee that was interviewing candidates as well; Merchant was one of those candidates up for consideration and Wrisley was excited to have the opportunity to work with Mr. Merchant should that be the guidance of the Spirit through the APDTNC. It was. A year later, the church appointed a APNC to search for an Associate Pastor for Congregational Care who was distinctly qualified to meet the pastoral care needs of the congregation. The APNC located and called Rev. Dr. Pam Masten, a Board-Certified Chaplain, to fill this role.

Current Perichoretic Leadership Structure

The church administrative structure is currently: Pastor/Head of Staff, Associate Pastor for Spiritual Formation, and Pastor for Congregational Care. Wrisley as HOS operates this leadership structure with a collaborative style of leadership, i.e., the ultimate “buck stops at his desk;” functionally, FPC’s three pastors operate under a trinitarian model where each one has their special giftedness, but like the Trinity, the three pastors move in a fluid, complementary rhythm of leadership and decision making. On paper, there appears to be a hierarchy; in reality, a perichoresis occurs – a fluid back-and-forth of leadership between the three pastors. The perichoretic model is a consensus-building model. In the event a thorny issue arises, the three pastors will each bring their attention to the issue; ultimately, the Co-Pastors will need to make a final decision based on consensus. It is important for the Session to understand that Dr. Masten has been included in these conversations and is aware of its coming before Session.

This model of leadership demands that all three pastors leave their egos at the door and approach their duties and relationships with each other with the utmost humility in a spirit of self-emptying kenosis. First Pres has achieved a point where the entire pastoral staff mutually respects the gifts and graces of his or her colleagues and works towards the common goal of moving the Kingdom of God forward. Each of FPC’s pastors realizes, affirms, and lives out their ministry understanding that it’s not about “them” but is for the purpose of advancing the church’s four-fold mission of leading people to Christ, helping others learn about their faith, living a Christ-centered life, and loving our neighbors through ministries of service and compassion.

This pastoral team will continue to work under this perichoretic model, and each pastor will continue to work with the same team assignments they are currently assigned. The most visible change to the congregation will be that the co-pastors shall split the preaching and moderatorial duties of Session and the Congregation.

The Pros and Cons

The Pros

It provides the church with a pastoral succession plan.

An internal hire leverages already-established relationships and networks.

The maintenance of church momentum continues because there is not a lengthy process of selecting a PNC, writing mission studies, advertising, and interviews; if anything, it should provide a boost in congregational momentum and energy.

The co-pastor model is more efficient in terms of using members’ time and energy for ministry purposes and creativity versus devoting time to a search.

The process is completed in a matter of a few months versus 18 to 24 months (It took 5 years to secure Dr. Wrisley). The cost of transitioning to this new model does not incur the cost of a national search.

There is a dwindling pool of qualified pastoral leaders to be chosen from in the larger church that would be qualified to serve as Head of Staff.

The Cons

The method of pastoral succession does not permit a church in transition to engage with the discerning process of finding a candidate for the job.

The method of pastoral succession does not permit Rev. Merchant and his family the opportunity to listen for a new call or direction God may want to lead them.

Dr. Wrisley does not achieve professional benefits from this model and in fact, has reduced status.

Is the church limiting itself from hearing other voices speaking into the congregational system?

The Process

  1. The Session meets in an executive session to hear the proposal. The Session will take one month to personally pray and ask for God’s discernment. It will meet again on Thursday, August 25, 2022, to vote on the proposal. If the vote is affirmative, General Presbyter/Stated Clerk Daris Bultena contacts the Committee on the Minister (COM), and the closing minutes from the Executive Session of July 28, 2022, are entered into the overall minutes of the August 25th Session meeting along with this document. 
  2. The COM meets on October 6 to hear the proposal and then provides the Session the needed information in order to call a Congregational Meeting. A Congregational Meeting is called for Sunday, October 30, immediately following the 11:00 a.m. service to enact the Session’s recommendation to the congregation.
  3. Motion: Do we the members of First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale call Nicholas B. Merchant and Patrick H. Wrisley to the position of Co-Pastors whose terms as Co-Pastor commence on ­­­January 1, 2023?
  4. There is needed a simple majority from the congregation for the motion to pass.
  5. During this time the congregation, would hear and determine the Co-Pastor’s Terms of Call that would be effective 1/1/2023.
  6. If the congregation votes in the affirmative, General Presbyter Bultena will petition that the COM concur in the matter and discern if said committee shall refer the matter to a Presbytery Assembly or act in its usual and customary manner (as the Presbytery); the committee shall by supermajority allow the change in strategy for the mission under the Word of First Presbyterian Church.  
  7. The COM then makes the motion to ratify First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale’s call for Nicholas B. Merchant and Patrick H. Wrisley to the position of Co-Pastor on November 12, 2022, Presbytery Assembly; the change in leadership model would commence on January 1, 2023 

There must be a ¾ affirmative vote of the Presbytery to approve the call.

The Session will determine a date to formally install Dr. Wrisley and Rev. Merchant to this new position early in 2023.

Miscellaneous Notes on the Process

  1. There is no need for a Pastoral Nominating Committee nor a lengthy mission study and search process as this is a request of Session.  We are not calling new individuals but are simply changing the model of ministry within the church itself. Instead of being a church with a Pastor and two Associate Pastors, we become a church with two Co-Pastors and one Associate Pastor.
  2. The Head of COM recommends that Nic’s salary be immediately raised by $10,000. The co-pastors’ wages are not equal because of the education, experience, and years in ordained ministry Wrisley has accumulated. A compensation rationale should accompany the final request that comes before the COM.
  3. Job expectations need to be clearly lined out. The Head of COM strongly recommends that each of the current pastor’s job responsibilities remain the same concerning those already working on individual teams and projects. Other duties such as serving as Session Moderator, leading Staff meetings, preaching, teaching, and visioning will be done with synchronistic collaboration between the Co-Pastors and the Associate Pastor of Congregational Care. There will be a season of onboarding Nic into the more prominent roles of leadership in the church.
  4. The chair of COM strongly recommends that all three First Presbyterian Church pastors be assigned a professional coach to work through the issues of the transition. The General Presbyter can facilitate this process. In addition to individual coaching, it is recommended that a mutual periodic coaching opportunity be sought among the co-pastors as an accountability and relationship enhancement avenue.  
  5. The Session and the congregation need to be aware that the genesis of this new proposed model for pastoral leadership came from the current Pastor, Dr. Patrick Wrisley.  

Respectfully submitted,

The Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley

Moderator, Pastor/Head of Staff

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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