Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

I have been on a bit of a break from the blogging world primarily because ministry demands have been very high the last couple months.

In January, I was on a whirlwind tour with the amazing people from LifeWay Kids helping train thousands of VBS leaders and volunteers around the country with stops in NC, TX, and TN.

Then in February, I finished up transitional pastorate No. 7 at the Stanford Baptist Church in Lincoln Co., KY.  Finishing strong is so important for any ministry leader, but even moreso for those in transitional ministry.  It is the baton-pass you were brought there to help facilitate with effectiveness and efficiency.

Then starting in March (just a couple weeks ago), I began transitional pastorate No. 8 @ the First Baptist Church Monticello (Wayne Co.), KY.  I have been there two weeks and we are quickly preparing for Holy Week outreach events and Resurrection Sunday celebrations.

Not to mention, we are in the middle of the spring semester at Campbellsville University and students are everywhere.  Jennifer and I are doing pre-marriage counseling for two couples who are getting married soon.  It is always wonderful to walk alongside students we so dearly love.

The new transitional pastorate in Monticello has been wide-open from the very start.  The people have been so friendly and welcoming to our family.  The staff, consisting of a pastor of outreach & missions and a worship leader, have been tremendously helpful to work with.  They are “whatever it takes” kind of men, which I love.  Personally, because I am a media-tech nerd, I have been so thrilled to work with a full media arts team that makes our worship time colorful and vibrant.

Starting at First Monticello has proven once again this undeniable fact of transitional ministry: “If the church chooses to sit around and wait until the next senior pastor arrives to do anything substantial in ministry, there might not be much for a new pastor to arrive to.”

There are two streams of thought in transitional church ministry: 1) maintain and buy time until the new pastor arrives or 2) move forward boldly as best you can with what you got.

I have been in churches that have practiced both.  The “maintain and buy time” churches are not wrong or bad.  There are simply choosing to push pause on everything until leadership is reestablished.  Usually these churches have some healing to do before they can really move ahead together.

The “move forward boldly” churches feel a sense of urgency to keep momentum alive.  They believe God has a purpose and plan for their church no matter who is in the pastor’s study and they want to be about that purpose now.

It is then critical for me, as the transitional pastor, to assess which stream of thought the church is following within the first days.  I have to discern which pattern is going to best serve them over this period of time and in doing so, determine my leadership output and speed.  Either we are moving slowly and cautiously toward the next pastor or we are moving ahead urgently with their God-given purpose.

Business human resources

For those churches who want to move ahead, my primary task earlier on is to assess resources. I have to attempt to read between the lines, asking probing questions, and have engaging conversations with staff, leadership groups, and key share-holders, trying to determine what resources we really have to work with.

Resources in church life are four-fold: 1) people resources, 2) facility resources, 3) budgetary resources, and 4) on-going ministry resources.

People resources are those leaders, volunteers, talented musicians, artists, technicians, organizers, community leaders, people of influence and skill inside the church.  The people resources are my favorite to engage.  We must find a way to encourage and spur on these folks to even greater leadership and ministry.

Secondly are facility resources.  Some churches have facilities that help them; others have facilities that hurt them.  You must gauge that facility to see how it can be maximized for ministry potential.  Frankly, some facilities need so much work and maintenance that ministry is better suited outside of the facility than inside.

Third are budgetary resources.  During a transitional period, the giving can vary greatly. Usually the longer the transition, the more the budget begins to struggle.  On the converse side is that a senior pastor salary is not being paid allowing for some budgetary flexibility.  However the budget is moving, you have to consider what financial resources you have very carefully.

Lastly are on-going ministry resources.  Every church has several ministries that are their “bread and butter.”  It might be kids ministry.  It might be missions.  It might be music.  It might be disaster relief.

As a transitional pastor, I have to find the ministry that taps into the DNA of the church and pour fuel on the fire.  Whatever that ministry is, its fire cannot die out.  You should publicly praise the leaders of that ministry.  Cheer-lead for them to grow and stretch even in a transitional time.  Possibly put more people and budgetary resources behind that one ministry so they know what they are doing really matters and is important to the life of the church.

Assessing resources is paramount in transitional ministry.  Your time with the church might not be long, however, your leadership impact can potentially be huge.  

There is nothing more attractive to a prospective pastor than a church who is not waiting for him to arrive, but are choosing to press forward in the purpose God has called them to do.

 

 

Interim No. 7 Coming to a Close

Stanford BC FB BannerInterim pastorate no. 7 is coming to a close.  Yesterday, the members of Stanford Baptist Church in Stanford, KY (Lincoln Co.) overwhelmingly affirmed Bro. Nick Manzie to be their new senior pastor.  I am thrilled for Nick and the church.

This journey has been nearly three years in the making.  I was their third interim pastor in as many years.  I knew from the moment I met Bro. Nick that this was going to be a great fit.  He is perfect for this church.  God has shown Himself to be completely faithful to unite the right shepherd with the right flock.

With this being the seventh interim/transitional pastorate in seven years, I believe I am starting to get a small handle on this type of ministry.  I would never admit to “knowing it all” because every church and every situation are uniquely different, but there are some strategic principles that seem to be essential in every place.

This experience, however, offered me some new lessons that I have needed to add to my ministry toolbelt.  Here are a few of those lessons.

1.  How things start are not going to be how things end.  This particular interim began a bit rocky.  I entered into a church struggling with tension and the first few weeks were not the best.  In the minds of some within the church, I was just another preacher they had thrown in the pulpit to manage while the church was searching.  And frankly, most of the members were quite weary of the process already.  So by extension, I was held responsible.

Thank God the end has been nothing like the beginning.  Around the third month, the ice began to melt and people truly began to let me know them and their lives.  There was a warming of heart and a commonality that formed.  I was here to help, not harm.  I was here to walk alongside, not push my agenda on anyone.

We have come to the end of this journey with much love, appreciation, grace, kindness, and genuine affection for one another.

2.  Keep walking the aisles.  Keep shaking hands.  Keep asking “How’s your week?”  Dr. Ken Hemphill, former president of Southwestern Bapt. Theological Seminary, called the 15 minutes before a worship service began “the most important time in ministry.”  This has been so true for me.

Walking up and down the aisles, meeting people in the pews, shaking hands, asking about their week, making an attempt to enter into their personal space has been critical for my ministry success.  Dr. Hemphill would go onto say, “Anyone can get up in the pulpit and preach; it takes personal time to be a shepherd.”   

In interim ministry, your time on-site can be limited.  You are not going to be the permanent pastor, and everyone knows it.  A relational distance can form, and remain, throughout the duration of the transition.  The only way to breach that distance is to meet people where they are.  To walk the room and ask people to let you into their lives.

3.  Lastly, coach, cheer, and champion the Pastor Search Team till the very end.  There have been interims where the Pastor Search Team did not want anything to do with me; others have been very open to the kind of help I can provide.  The reality is that their job is very hard in this day and age.  This work takes time and the ability to understand very complex scenarios.  Making all the pieces fit together is not easy.

The Pastor Search Team need the transitional pastor to coach them, yet do so in a way where the team members still function independently.  At the end of the day, the decision must be theirs and theirs alone.  Your task is to answer questions, give input when asked, and be their greatest cheerleader before the people.

You have something the PST doesn’t: opportunities to communicate.  You have the pulpit, the newsletter, bulletin, website, social media, email, blog, etc.  Your task as the interim is to champion their work and let the congregation know you support them in everything.

I have gained three new lessons that I am sure will enhance my future in this type of itinerant ministry.  My last Sunday at Stanford BC will be February 15.

The next stop has yet to be determined.  God sends – I go.

Personal Journeys Off the Map

vbs 2015The LifeWay Christian Resources VBS (vacation Bible school) theme for 2015 is “Journey Off the Map.”  The  theme captures the heart of adventure, unchartered territories, unknown places and dangerous challenges. I have been on the road with LifeWay the last couple weeks and have loved challenging leaders about what it means to follow God on a journey into the unknown.

The theme has got me thinking.  What is it about human nature that loves a good journey?  Why are we drawn to adventure novels, movies and stories?  Why do little boys and girls love to pretend to find hidden treasures in the backyard that can only be discovered with an ancient map?

Apparently God has implanted the desire for journey into our soul.

As I look back on my life, I have been on some great journeys.  They may not seem great to Mt. Everest climbers or Appalachian Trail trekkers, but they have been amazing journeys for me.

Short-term international mission trips have been a journey.  Places like the Sinai desert of Egypt, the ancient city of Xian, China, all through rugged Latin America and modernized Europe.

The chance to go on three Bible land tours has been a journey.  Walking where Jesus, Peter, Paul, Luke, Timothy, Titus walked has been a real adventure.

Leaving my home in KY and moving to Dallas/Fort Worth for seminary was a huge journey.  Saying good-bye to the familiarity and comfort of the Bluegrass state in lieu of full dependence on God and willingness to do whatever He called me to do in the Lone Star state.  Looking back, that journey was really hard but ABSOLUTELY worth every minute.  Without leaving, I don’t believe I would have grown as much as I did.

There have been more relational journeys that have been just as adventurous.  Marriage has been a wild journey.  Standing with and loving my wife of nearly 13 years has been a journey into uncharted waters.  Parenting two sons has been a great journey.  Watching them grow, learn, explore has been filled with adventure, and at times, chaos.

Teaching and walking alongside college students has been a glorious journey. Seeing them walk into college fresh, eager, green and hopefully leaving more matures equipped, discipled, trained and properly launched.

There is one student, in particular, that has been a journey to say the least.  From his entrance into our lives four years ago to his recent exit, he has completely transformed.  There is still more for God to do, but the difference is radical.

I love the journey.  I love the adventure into the unknown. I love letting God Almighty set the course and take me and my family anywhere He wants us to go.  I wonder what journeys lie ahead.

Collegiate Ministry Students – Don’t Waste Your Christmas Break

keep-calm-and-make-it-to-christmas-break-120It was Christmas break 1996 – that wonderful four weeks off in the midst of the college academic year – when God’s call came crashing down on my life.

Having spent the previous summer as a summer youth director in a local church and swearing that I would never have anything to do with local church ministry ever again, I felt the rush of God’s Spirit break through my frustration and disobedience so that I finally surrendered to His divine call.

The actual date was December 28, 1996.  Nearly 20 years ago.

The college Christmas break is truly a winter wonderland.  Whereas elementary, middle and high school students have roughly 10 days off, college students have nearly a month in-between semesters.  This long break allows some students to squeeze in a J-term class, but most stay at home and veg out with family and friends.

For collegiate ministry students, I suggest you use your Christmas break differently.  I suggest you take this time away from classes and books and put it to use for God’s glory and for your future in Christian ministry.

Here are a few suggestions of things you can do over the break.

1.  Reconnect with your home church.  Offer to sing in the choir.  Be a part of the Christmas Eve service.  Ask to fill in for anyone out on vacation in the youth or children’s ministry.  If you are feeling a call to pastoral ministry, offer to preach a Sunday evening service for your pastor or cover one of the Wednesday night small groups.  Offer to go and serve communion in a nursing home or to shut-in members.

At the minimum, ask one of your pastors if you can shadow them for a day or two to learn.  Fold bulletins in the church office or sweep floors in the food pantry.  Get your hands dirty in some ministry function, even if it seems like nothing at the time, I promise you it is something in the kingdom.

2.  Update your ministry resume.  A ministry resume is more than a simple piece of paper describing your education and past experience, it is, in many cases, your first impression to a church or para-church ministry.  Therefore it is not something to be slopped together in one sitting.  It should be created and updated with excellence and diligence.  The Christmas break is the perfect time to sink some significant time into this document.

For help on this task, I have written several posts offering tips on creating solid ministry resumes. Find them here, here and here.

3.  Setup your summer ministry internship.  During the break, make a few calls, schedule a Skype meeting, even make a visit to the location of your summer ministry internship.  Talk at length with your intended supervisor.  See if there is anything that you need to prepare for during the spring semester.

Collegiate ministry students must, and I can’t emphasis must enough, take advantage of every summer to serve somewhere in ministry.  Three good summers in ministry will nearly assure you a ministry placement upon graduation.

4.  Visit a seminary.  Even if you are not considering seminary at the present time, make a visit anyway.  Take the tour.  Make a day trip out of it.  It will at least get you out of the house and possibly open your mind up to the possibility of theological education.  If you are already planning to go to seminary, these visits are huge in helping you discern God’s will for where you are to study.

I suggest to my students visiting at least three seminaries before making a final decision.  You can’t get the ethos or vibe of a school just by visiting a website or browsing a brochure, you must get on campus and pray onsite with insight.

5.  Network. Network. Network.  There is nothing more important in ministry placement these days than building your ministry network.  We all know the cliché, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”  I would add, “It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you.”

Invite a ministry leader, denominational representative, former pastor, retired chaplain or missionary, whatever ministry you are feeling called to, to lunch.  Ask them question after question.  Bring a notebook and take copious notes or ask if you can record the conversation on your phone.  Before the lunch, write 10-15 good, thoughtful, insightful questions and then fire away.  Make it more about them and their experience than puffing yourself up.

If possible, do this a couple times over the break.  Most leaders, even if you offer to pay, will want to help a poor ministry student out and will pick up the check.  In the end, you glean from their knowledge, build your ministry network, and possibly even develop a new friendship and mentor in the ministry.

All in all, college ministry students, don’t waste your Christmas break.  Use it wisely and purposefully.  Besides, you can play Call of Duty and catch up on Netflix when you get back to campus.  This might be your only shot to get out in the world and make those critical ministry connections for the long haul.

LifeWay VBS Institutes and Previews Round 3

LifeWay VBS 2015 - Journey Off the Map

LifeWay VBS 2015 – Journey Off the Map

I am so thrilled to be back on the road again in January 2015 joining the wonderful LifeWay VBS team as we travel to three cities training thousands of volunteer leaders for this summer’s Vacation Bible School (VBS).

LifeWay’s VBS Institute and Preview events are really unlike anything I had ever been exposed to.  Imagine 500-700 VBS junkies filing into an auditorium excited and joyful about reaching out to spiritual orphans and families with the message of the Gospel.  For them, this is the Super Bowl of their summer.

They pray for, plan, prepare and organize all year long for this week of intense outreach and teaching.  They go all out in making every opportunity available for families and children to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a fun and creative way.

I am truly inspired by these heroes of the faith.  They give me hope knowing that I stand with thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ willing to go the extra mile in spreading the Gospel of Jesus to kids.  They believe, as I do, that young ones can hear, trust, and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and commit their lives to him fully.  .

We will be in three cities this year:

  • Jan. 9-10 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, NC
  • Jan.16-17 at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX
  • Jan. 22-24 at the LifeWay headquarters in Nashville, TN.

For more information on the VBS Preview events, click here.