Monday, March 31, 2014

Helping People Grow During Transiton

     A group that I have found helpful in some of my interims is the Transition Monitoring Team. The team is to be composed of twenty people from different groups (ages, occupations, interests, proponents, critics) in the congregation: ten selected by the elders, ten volunteers.

     This group is to help the congregation make a good transition (which is growth on the inside – spiritually) while change (finding a new preacher) is happening in this church. It is important for everyone to understand the purpose of this group. It is a monitoring team–not a management team. It has no decision-making power. It's purpose is to facilitate communication to the elders, among people involved in the transition, and to demonstrate that the leaders want to know how things are going for people.

     We can review plans or communications before they are announced and provide ready access to the grapevine so that it can correct misinformation and counter rumors. This group is to function from now until a new preacher is selected. 

     It is good to encourage people to participate in this group because of the benefits: to this church in helping during this important time in its growth and to themselves. The members will develop closer relationships with good people. They will learn more about change, loss, transition, and growth during the events in our lives and they will feel satisfaction that they have contributed to the peace, harmony, and development of the congregation. 

     This group is designed to meet once a month and to give a report to the elders about what people are saying, what people are asking, what people are fearing, and what they are losing. We do not identify the people who make the statements.

     We have three items each month.

  • Report from the grapevine—what people are saying.
  • Read a chapter from William Bridges’ book, Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes, and share a “mustard seed” from it.
  • Tell how you are doing with the transition in this church and with others transitions in your life.
     It is my observation that people grow in their understanding of themselves and what is happening in the church. From that, they are able to share their understanding with others.  I believe that health is catching as well as disease.

     The concept of a monitoring team and many details are taken from Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, by William Bridges, Copyright © 1991, 2003 by William Bridges and Associates, Inc.

     To buy these books, click on the links below:

     Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes

     Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Suggestions and Examples of Good Leaving for a Preacher

     The preacher is leaving.

     It is my thinking that is it helpful for the preacher and the congregation to acknowledge this reality and plan for it. The best time to begin this process is when the preacher comes or earlier – during the interview process. When I was talking with the elders of Berry‟s Chapel during the fall and winter of 1992-1993, I told them that I wanted to do interim ministry in the future. Perhaps this made our relationship better and maybe this was my first interim although I was there fourteen years.

     I did “pre-marital counseling” with one preacher and congregation a few years ago. We talked about him leaving that congregation before he started working with them. We discussed how they would treat his wife and children should he die during his time with them. I asked them how they would like to be informed should he decide to move to another work. I made suggestions and we discussed how to apply the golden rule in dismissing a preacher from his work. It is my observation that it is easier to discuss those topics when they have not happened. We lay a foundation of agreements that will be helpful when the change occurs. 

     The elders at Berry‟s Chapel and I discussed my leaving each year at my evaluation. “Are you still planning to do interim ministry?,” they would ask. In the fall of 2003, they asked if I had a date in mind. They said my contract called for ninety days notice. They wanted more time than that. The elders assured me they were not trying to rush the event but simply wanted us to plan. 

     After coming up with a transition plan, we announced my leaving during a family meeting June 13, 2004. I was to finish my work the first Sunday of April 2007. In a later announcement, the elders said, “To our knowledge, in the 105 year history of this congregation, there has never been a planned transition. We would like to try it one time and see how it works.” 

      From my perspective, this worked well. As we were approaching twenty months remaining, my wife and I decided that a visit with each family would be a good way to say good-bye. We started and the beginning and end of the directory and worked toward the middle. We visited 95% of the families in the congregation. These visits were in their homes, our homes, at restaurants, and at the church building. It was a good way to express appreciation for the time we enjoyed with that congregation, to talk about our departure, and the work we planned to do in the future. 

     During the last six months, I had a “workshop Sunday night” each month. I selected some of my favorite sermons – some that I had preached there before and some that I had not preached – and delivered them. I used some lessons that I had presented at workshops and special services at other congregations. Several people told me that I should have resigned earlier because I was preaching better after I announced my departure. 

     From time to time, I would mention what I would miss about this congregation and what the time with them had meant to me and my family. This is the time to express gratitude for time shared – not how great the next place is going to be. 

     The outgoing preacher should finish his work and see that necessary things are covered. It is good to see that the next preacher is provided with information that will help his ministry start well. I delivered a lesson on how to treat the new preachers. Wes Gallagher had recently begun working with the congregation. Andy Baker would be following me in the pulpit. 

     It is no credit to any preacher and his ministry for the work to go down and the congregation to dislike the next preacher. The leaving preacher can be helpful in preparing for the change. 

     John the Baptist had the right idea for transition when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Jesus is a model for preparing for change: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21). Although it did not take away the hurt and confusion, when the apostles worked though their disorientation and disappointment, they did what Jesus commanded and trained them to do – carry the gospel to the world. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

How Is Your Preacher Leaving?

     The present preacher is leaving your congregation. A preacher may leave his present congregation in one of four ways:
  1. He may leave at the second coming of Jesus when everyone else in the congregation leaves (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
  2. Within the next seventy-five to one hundred years most preachers reading this will die.
  3. Elders have the choice of making changes.
  4. Preachers can decide to quit preaching, move to another congregation, or retire.
     Any of the last three are emotionally and spiritually challenging. I have not observed the first.

     Since this event will have an impact on the congregation, the preacher, and his family, I think it is good to think about it, pray about it, and plan for it. I have tried it with and without planning. In my experience, talking and planning are better.

     Jesus prepared His disciples for His leaving. “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21, NKJV). They were upset (Matthew 16:22, 23). They didn’t understand (Mark 9:20–37). They fussed about who would be the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:43–48). But he kept telling them (Luke 22:14–23). They continued to get upset with each other (Luke 22:24). He increased the details and words of comfort (John 14:1–6).

     Although Jesus planned and prepared His friends for His leaving, it did not take away the panic and the pain. But after He left earth, they carried out His mission.

     Next month, I plan to discuss some suggestions on planning to leave.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Your Preacher Is Leaving

     It has been my observation that churches and preachers do better when there is a long ministry.  When they are effective, they get to know each other and the community.  They can build relationships that are mutually beneficial.

     I have had the opportunity to visit where the preacher has been at the same congregation for more than a decade.  I have had that situation more than once in my years of ministry.

     But at some time, that ministry in that place with that preacher is going to end.  I think it is helpful when all involved realize that, talk about it, and plan for the transition.

     One of the frequent ways I hear people dealing with that reality is denial.  "We love our preacher.  He has been with us twenty-five years and he is never going to leave."  "Our preacher is also an elder.  He doesn’t want to leave and he has job security."

     The preacher is leaving. I have known preachers who have been at a church for many years, felt secure, and suddenly found out they were leaving.  I have known preachers who also served as elders who left—sometimes by their choice, at other times not by their choice.

     Next month, I plan to tell you how he is going to leave.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to Establish Trust

     Several years ago, I was new in a congregation. I noticed a young man asking different people to borrow a dollar. Most people gave him a dollar. I observed this for several weeks.  One day this young man asked, “Brother Barber, could I borrow a dollar?”

      I replied, “Why do you need it and when will you pay me back?”. When he answered those questions, I told him I had to sign notes when I borrowed money. He was willing. I wrote the details on two 3 x 5 cards:  date, amount, 0% interest, and due date. We both signed both copies.  He paid me on the agreed date. I signed his note:  “Paid in Full,” and dated it. 

     Several weeks later, he asked to borrow $5.00.  After satisfactorily answering the questions of why and when, I loaned him the money.  He paid me back at the specified time.  After some time, he asked to borrow $10.00.  With the same procedure, I loaned him the money.  However, the Wednesday night before the due date the following Sunday, he came to me with a distressed look on his face.  “Brother Barber, I don’t know what to do.  I’ve promised to pay you Sunday and I can’t do it.  What can I do?”

     “You have done the most responsible thing you can do.  You told me before the money was due.  When can you pay me?”  He answered, “A week from Sunday.”  I explained, “All we have to do is change the due date.”  I changed the date on both cards.  He paid on the adjusted due date. 

     Several months went by.  He asked this time, “May I borrow $20.00?”.  After asking “Why” and “When,” I loaned him the money without any worry or doubt.  Why?  He had been responsible with less.  He had showed me what he would do when things didn’t work out the way he had hoped.  “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10, NKJV). 

     That is my model for developing trust with any person or group.  In the beginning, I give only what I can afford to loose.  If that works well, I give more.  I like to be aware of what happens when things don’t work as planned.  I want to watch and learn.  What is really happening?  Is there consistency?  What is the basis for trust?  “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  This is the way to develop trust, or to be aware of distrust–depending on the evidence.  It is not a service to me or others to give what I can’t afford to lose or to cast my “pearls before lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6).  On the other hand, it is good to be able “to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).  This process of developing and evaluating confidence is helpful in courtship, in considering a preacher or a church, in potential friendship, or in business.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Preacher Checking References on a Church the previous three blog posts on checking references on prospective preachers.

     Several years ago, an elder from a church searching for a preacher asked me to send a résumé, three tapes, and three references. I told him I would be glad to do that. I then asked him to send me the average attendance and contribution for the past five years, three tapes, and three references.

     He asked, “Why do you want me to do that?”

     I asked, “Why do you want me to send my information?

     He said, “Because we don‟t know you.”

     I replied, “I don‟t know you. I need that information for the same reason.”

     I call this, “equalizing the pressure.” The examination phase should not be one way. A successful try-out is determining if we fit, not getting the invitation to come. If we talk and find out we do not fit and do not work together, we are just as successful as when we talk and determine we fit and decide to work together.

     I like to interview the preachers for past twenty years, secretaries, members, members who left the congregation happy, members who left the congregation unhappy, and preachers for congregations in area.

     I prefer talking in person. Often that is not possible or practical. If not, I call, tell my purpose, and ask for a telephone appointment. I ask for up to an hour of their time, determine when it is convenient, and call back. I establish a rule of confidentiality and proceed to learn what I can that will be helpful in assessing my fit with this congregation.

     Questionnaire guidelines that I have used:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Do I Ask in Checking References on a Preacher?

…continued from last month

     In my opinion, the minimum of checking references should be a detailed time of questioning the references listed with at least three more references that the person did not list. I like a guideline: Preacher Reference Form . This helps my thinking and gives uniformity when more than one person is checking references. I adapted this one from the Minister Transition Packet prepared by Dr. Charles Siburt. I recommend that churches and preachers considering transition get a copy of this book assembled in a 3-ring binder and read it from cover to cover. It is the wisdom and forms from many books, congregations, and individuals and contains ideas that will help discern how to handle a change. You can order this material:  Minister Transition Packet . There is also one prepared for selecting youth ministers. Order from this email: .

     Churches can prevent much heartache by doing adequate checking of references, background check, and credit check. A man with nothing to hide will not mind. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). I want to listen to the person’s strengths. I have noticed some. That’s the reason I am following up. I want to hear about his weaknesses. If the reference doesn’t know or tell at least one weakness, I discount the reference. He may not know the person well enough to know his weaknesses. He may not want to tell. I want to know to determine if we can live with what we don’t like about each other. One of the questions that has been very productive for me in checking references is the Golden Rule Question: Matthew 7:12 – "If I were in your place and you were in mine, what would you want me to tell you?" 

     Next month, I plan to discuss preachers checking references of churches.