Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When Might an Interim Minister Be Helpful?



     The concept of having a preacher for a planned short time after a long ministry is foreign to many people.  To some members of the church, if we dont have a full-time preacher with a long-term commitment, we are spinning our wheels.” 

     Many churches have done well without an intentional interim. One the other hand, many preachers have been hurt and many congregations have suffered because the leaders hurriedly selected a man who became an unintentional interim  a preacher who was brought in after a long and successful ministry of a good faithful preacher or after a period of conflict in the congregation and was soon rejected through no fault of his own.

     When might it be good to bring in a trained preacher who will agree to stay for a limited time (six to eighteen months on average), who will give stability in the pulpit, and who will prepare the church for the next full-time preacher?

     Ronald G. Brown wrote this in an article on Intentional Interim:

     An Intentional Interim Minister is needed if a church finds itself in one or more of the following situations:

1. The minister served seven or more years before leaving,
2. The minister resigned under pressure (a forced termination),
3. The The ministers resignation was requested due to ethical or moral misconduct,
4. The minister departed in the midst of severe conflict within the church,
5. The church has not conducted a self-study of its structure, history, priorities, mission or vision in the last five years, or 
6.  The church has a pattern of the last two ministers leaving after having served the church for only 2-3 years (Ronald G. Brown, © Intentional Interim is copyrighted by Interim Ministry Network, Inc., Baltimore, MD).


BE WATCHING FOR A CHANGE IN MY BLOG IN THE NEAR FUTURE!

Friday, May 30, 2014

What Do You Do When They Don't Call Tuesday Night at 7:00?




     Last month I discussed one of the most disappointing and frustrating things in the search process for me as a preacher: a promise to call with information on the search committee's progress or of the elders' deliberation, usually preceded with, “We'll let you know something next Tuesday night at 7:00": followed by nothing.

     One year at the Eldership Retreat at Faulkner University, I was exhorting elders to communicate with prospective preachers – especially when you say you will. David Short, then director of Faulkner development and an elder of the University congregation, taught me a good lesson. He said, “Jerrie, we experience the same thing in raising money for the school. We present the opportunity to help Faulkner. The person needs some time to think about it and promises to call at a certain time. I also note it in my planner and confirm the date and time. Then I add, "I'll look forward to hearing from you next Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. And if you are not able to call at that time, I'll check with you a day or two after that." That gives me permission to renew the conversation.”

     Thank you, David Short! That is an application of a principle that I have long believed and taught: I am 100% responsible for my communication. As I have reflected on that valuable suggestion, I wonder if I had not done that for the same reason that many have not called. Most people don't like to give and receive unpleasant news. And most of the news in the search process is not favorable – unless the church is considering only one preacher and the preacher is only talking to one congregation and they both could not envision any other being as good as the one now being considered.


     I would guess that most elders or search committee members don't enjoy delivering the message, “We have decided to look elsewhere.” I know that is not the most encouraging news for a preacher with three weeks to go on a ninety-day agreement. Therefore what I need to do as the preacher wanting to know what is happening is complete the conversation. Make the call. Ask for the information I want. Minutes are free on my cell after 9:00 p.m. and on weekends. If they are still considering me or if I am the preacher they want, I learn that and the call probably will not change that. If I am no longer being considered, I learn that and I am free from thinking about that possibility any longer. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, NKJV).  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

“We’ll Call You Next Tuesday Night at 7:00”



      One of the most frustrating experiences that I had several years ago when I was talking with congregations considering me as their next preacher was the statement of those looking for a preacher, “We’ll call you next Tuesday night at 7:00 and let you know something.” When this happened – and it happened more than a dozen times – I would confirm: “Is that Tuesday the 16th? Is that 7:00 Central time or Eastern time?” I was living in the Eastern time zone.

     I would confirm our appointment: “I’ll be waiting for your call next Tuesday night, February 16th, at 7:00, Eastern standard time.”

     I looked forward with great anticipation. Was I still being considered? Would they like me to come for an interview? Have they eliminated me from consideration? Am I their choice and are they ready to make final plans for us to locate to a new work?

     Time after time, I would prepare the family: “I have an important call coming at 7:00. No one is to use the phone after 6:30.” This was before call waiting and cell phones. “It is essential that I get this call. I need to talk with an elder calling me about the opportunity to work with a congregation.”

      7:00 p.m. EST would come and go. 7:30 would pass. I thought, “Surely I misunderstood. They said Central time. They will call in thirty minutes.” 8:00 passed. 9:00 and still no call. I assumed, “Maybe they meant Wednesday night. That’s when elders usually meet.”

     In anticipation, I would prepare my family the next night for clear phone lines. My experience was: no call that night, sometimes a week or two later than promised, and sometimes never.

     This was so frustrating and disappointing. That experience was so much the norm that I remember the name of an elder decades later who was different. Jimmy Vaughn from Amory, Mississippi, talked with me on the phone about their preacher search. He said, “We are talking with one preacher at a time. We would be interested in talking with you if we do not come to an agreement with the one now in consideration. I will call you either way.” He set a time and date to call. Now to my surprise, he called on the night and at the appointed time. It was so unusual, that when I see him now I refer to him as “the elder who tells the truth.”

     What am I saying about the selection process? If you are on a search committee or if you are an elder working on the search process:

  • Acknowledge each applicant. A form letter is better than ignoring the person as unimportant.
  • If you say you are going to call, make a note and call.
  • If you don’t have any new information at the appointed time, call at the appointed time and say you don’t have any new information and indicate when the preacher might learn more.
  • When a preacher is no longer under consideration, contact that man and tell him he is no longer under consideration. The rejection hurts. But it hurt me more to learn of it three months after the new preacher had moved and I still had received no communication.
  • Thank the person who applied and give a word of encouragement that God has a place in His kingdom for him to work.

     The principle Jesus taught was, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NKJV).

     Next month: What can the preacher do when they don’t call at 7:00 p.m., EST?

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.