Interim 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.