One Year in Review at YCreekBC

One year ago (11/13/16 to be exact), I was invited to serve as the transitional pastor of Youngers Creek Baptist Church in Elizabethtown, KY.

“The Creek” as my family lovingly refers to her has become a wonderful home for us.

This is the eighth interim/transitional pastorate I have served and the fourth to extend beyond a year.  The longest tenure was 18 months at Monticello FBC, where I served before coming to The Creek.

I wanted to share a few thoughts and reflections, primarily to my brothers and sisters at The Creek, but even beyond for anyone who is actively involved in interim/transitional ministry or considering this calling as a way to serve Jesus’ bride, the Church, and God’s kingdom in Christian service.

3 Reflections to My Family at The Creek

1. Thank you for letting my family into your heart. 

As a smaller church made up of many inter-connected families it might be hard to let “outsiders” from Campbellsville into your heart.  But you have shown us grace and love.

You have loved my wife, my sons, and me.  You have love Dr. Cunha, Mrs. Raquel, Gabrielle and Bea.  You have loved Adam and Kaitlin.  You loved Ms. Stephanie.  None of us live in Etown.  None of us are related to anyone.  But you loved us anyway.

I pray you will always love “outsiders” in the same way you have loved us.  Remember, what brings us together is Christ.  His blood on the cross is greater and stronger than any human blood line.  We all have the same Father.  We all have the same Savior.  We all have the same Spirit dwelling in us.  That makes us one big Family.

2.  Thank you for letting me challenge and stretch you. 

I hope you have felt challenged in looking at your ministry approaches.  You definitely have been willing to try new things, do new things, attempt greater things.

Just think one year ago we didn’t have a functioning website, social media, sermon podcasts, WiFi in the sanctuary, guest cards, remodeled nursery, toddler room, downstairs restrooms, revised landscaping and curb appeal.

These might seem cosmetic or superficial, but they all have a purpose.  They say to the guest, you’re welcome here.  We are thinking about you.

3.  Thank you for trying a different church staff approach.  

There is no doubt the church staff structure we have utilized over the past year is unique.  Five part-time staff members – three living an hour away, two in town.  Permanent, interim, transitional, temporary, intern, volunteer – we’d had it all.

I know it has been odd at times wondering what was normal.  Is it was okay to call, okay to text, okay to ask for something beyond the normal schedule?  But I believe we have come through it with a great team spirit, a great atmosphere, and an amazing spirit of cooperation.  The level of commitment and volunteerism shown by the entire congregation has to be at one of the highest levels possible.

Just consider the Fall in Love with Jesus Fall Festival.  We had volunteers everywhere.  There was an amazing spirit of cooperation and pulling together to reach out to our local community.  That made me very proud and overjoyed.  As much as a hot dog can get overjoyed.

In all, I couldn’t be more happy with the year we have spent together as the faith family at The Creek.

God has graced me by bringing you into my life.  Hopefully you feel the same way.

 

 

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Unusual Yet Blessed: A Different Approach to Church Staffing

Unusual.  That is a safe description of the staffing structure we are currently using at Youngers Creek Baptist Church.

Unusual in that none of our pastoral and ministerial staff live in the town the church is located in.

The church is located on the outskirts of Elizabethtown, KY, in east Hardin Co.  None of our church staff, with the exception of our fabulous church secretary, live in Elizabethtown, Hardin Co, or any of the adjacent counties.

Our worship minister, children’s ministry intern and I (the transitional pastor) all live in Campbellsville about 50 minutes away.  Our student minister has recently moved from Campbellsville and now lives in Bowling Green about an hour away.

This approach is not normal.  This is definitely an out-of-the-box model.  Honestly, it was not something I anticipated when I arrived.

When I came as transitional pastor in November 2016, our student minister was finishing his final year at Campbellsville University.  He was already in place having started a few months before.  He was one of my students and was instrumental in recommending me to the deacons to possibly come during the transition.

Then in December, just a month after I arrived, our worship leader, who was a lay volunteer, announced she was having a baby and would be stepping away at the end of the year.

I immediately went to my dear friend and colleague with extensive experience in worship leading and music and asked if he could come lead us.  It took a few months, but eventually he was able to come.

Then in January, our children’s director, another lay leader, stepped away to focus on her family and job.  I knew the perfect Educational Ministries student who could help our kids ministry.  We brought her on as a children’s ministry intern and she has done amazingly well.

So now we have…

  • Four staff members and none live in the town of the church.
  • Four staff members who all drive at least an hour to get to the building.
  • Four staff members all who work another job or are going to school.

Unusual, yes I know.  Yet we are greatly blessed.

Our ministry to middle school and high school students is outstanding.  Our student minister keeps the focus rooted in God’s Word and is committed to making disciples.

The children ministry is vibrant and at times, overwhelming.  The Lord keeps bringing little ones to us even as our church median age is Baby Boomers and retirees.  We are seeing younger families bring preschool and grade-school aged kids more and more.

Our worship atmosphere is lively, inspiring and grace-filled.  There is a sweet expression on every face.  Our choir, praise band and media team do an amazing job leading us into the throne of grace.

Our staff planning is unusual.  Most of our communication is through text messages, planning websites, emails, car pools to church on Wednesday night, meet ups on campus, and phone calls.

Yet even as we approach things in a unique way,  the staff is of one mind, united in heart, and dedicated to the mission of Youngers Creek Church.  We, together, seek to to bring church to life.

I am so grateful for this unusual opportunity.  I recognize how unorthodox it is, but I am very thankful for a church that is willing to try the unusual.

8 Things I Am Thankful For at YCreek BC

Youngers Creek Church Elizabethtown, KY

As I am reflecting at the end of Resurrection Sunday on my back deck, I am so thankful to God for Youngers Creek Baptist Church in Elizabethtown.  This wonderful faith family invited my family and I into their lives in November.  It was a joy to spend my first holy week with them this year.

My heart is full of thanks this evening, but let me try and capture a few specific things I am thankful for.

1. The REACHOUT Effort.  We had 132 in attendance on Palm Sunday and 156 on Resurrection Sunday.  Numbers are not everything, but each of these men, women, kids and students represent a soul that God loves and Jesus was willing to give his life for. There were 3200 invitations mailed to our community and over 200 personal invites made to friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers.  For this I am very thankful.

2. The Family Egg Hunt.  We had over 40 kids and 4 guest families attend the family egg hunt.  I am so thankful for Ms. Stephanie Litton and the children’s ministry lead team for making this a HUGE success.  They prayed, planned, invited kids and families, and created a perfect atmosphere where families could come, have fun and hear about the message of the Resurrection.  For this I am very thankful.

3.  The REFRESH Efforts.  Many volunteers gave countless hours refreshing the exterior landscaping, cleaning up the parking lot, painting downstairs, setting up banners, and completely revamping the nursery, toddler room, and kids space in fellowship hall.  Everyone has been so willing to give their time and talents to make space ready for younger children and families.  For this I am very thankful.

4. Volunteers Galore.   Over 3 weeks (i.e., Serve Saturday, Palm Sunday and Easter), we had nearly 80 volunteers serving in all sorts of ways.  We had 30+ volunteers for Serve Saturday.  About 15 volunteers who organized, decorated, cooked and led the family egg hunt.  Volunteers served as greeters for our worship services.  Volunteers prepared music and media for worship.  Volunteers arranged for the communion elements.  Volunteers baked cookies to give out as gifts.  It has truly been a team effort. For this I am very thankful.

5. Tremendous Staff Leaders.  With an all part-time church staff, you might think we would go light and do the minimum.  That has not been the case at all.  I am thankful to Dr. Tony Cunha, Mr. Adam Hicks, Ms. Stephanie Litton and Ms. Pat Filyaw for their hard work over the past few weeks.  You make my role very easy because each of you are so committed and dedicated to your ministry calling.  For this I am very thankful.

6. The Warmest of Christian Hospitality.  If @YCreekBC is known for something, it is their gift of gracious hospitality.  From the homemade cookies, to the Easter bookmarks, to the lively, friendly, inviting atmosphere, they make everyone feel right at home.  Friends and family alike can never say YCreek is a stuffy church.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For this I am very thankful.

7. Dedicated Deacon Servant Leaders.  The six men who serve as deacons truly represent Christ-like servant leadership.  They pray, serve, guide and give without any hint of pride or arrogance.  They are humble, kind, and Spirit-filled.  They love Youngers Creek Church and do their very best to serve Christ in their words and deeds.  For this I am very thankful.

8. The Vision of Two Godly Women.  This whole 3-week effort was the dream of two godly women – Mrs. Bonnie Thompson & Mrs. Laura Mobley.  During a Wednesday night dream session, they shared their dream of letting the community know “our church is alive.”  From that dream came Serve Saturday, the community mailer, the refresh effort, the family egg hunt, and the various first impression improvements for Palm Sunday and Resurrection services.  Their vision has become the vision for our entire church.  For this I am very thankful.

Lastly, I am very thankful to God for the opportunity to serve alongside the Youngers Creek faith family.  This Easter ministry season has been truly blessed.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 1 Peter 4:10 

The Difference Between an Interim and Transitional Pastor

staSeveral weeks ago, I was being interview by a church for a new transitional pastorate. It was an open Q & A format with the entire church on a Wednesday night.

There were many good questions about my ministry philosophy, doctrinal convictions, experience and personal life.

However, one question really stuck out in my mind after the fact.

The question was: What is the difference between an interim pastor and a transitional pastor?  Good question.

I gave a reasonable answer during the session, but have since thought through the question a bit more.

There really is a stark difference between an interim pastor and a transitional pastor.   It is more than merely semantics or changing a title to sound more modern and up-to-date.  It is about the pastors true intentions and ministry aspirations.  Let me try to explain.

An Interim pastor is intrigued, interested, and possibly hoping to do an elongated interview.

They are intrigued about the church and the possibility of serving at the church.  They are intrigued about the community and the mission field the congregation has been placed in.  They are intrigued about their future role at the church, but have not come to a place of security for any number of reasons.

Their intrigue has led to interest in the position.  As they come to be the interim pastor, there is an exploratory mission on their mind.  They  are hoping to explore the ministry opportunity.  Explore the community surroundings.  Explore the congregation’s resources.  Explore if this appears to be a good fit.

In a way, the interim period becomes a really long interview.  It could be 3 months.  It could be a year.

There is no pressure to rush or try and make things happen.  Both the church and the interim pastor are learning from each other and trying to discern if there is a longer future awaiting after the interim period is complete.

A transitional pastorate is different.  A transitional pastor is temporary, on a timetable, and has no interest in taking the permanent role.

A transitional pastor wants to help.  They want to serve.  They want to be a blessing to the local church and help expand God’s kingdom.  Most likely, they are cross-vocational, working full-time in another ministry, business, industry or company.

Their service with the church is not to impede the search process in any way, but support and advance the search.  They truly want the church to secure a new pastor, giving them the chance to easily, smoothly pass the baton without any problems.

While they might not admit it in the beginning, the transitional pastor is on a time-table.  They want the church to find a pastor.  They don’t want the search committee to sit back and become complacent because the pulpit is being filled by someone they like and are growing to love.

The transitional pastor encourages  the search committee to continue in their work and make strides each month to move forward with resumes, candidates, and interviews.

If, over time, the transitional pastor finds themselves interested in the permanent position, they need to make that intention known.  I would suggest removing themselves from the interim/transitional role to let the search committee do due diligence like any other potential candidate.

In summary, interim pastors are interested; transitional pastors are temporary.

If everyone can keep their lines clear and the expectations up front, these two very different roles can serve the congregation well during these critical times in the life of the church.

For more posts on transitional ministry, check these out.

https://shanegarrison.org/2016/11/20/three-types-of-transitional-pastorates/

New Lessons in Transitional Ministry

Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

Three Types of Transitional Pastorates

helpOver the past week, I was invited to begin my eighth transitional pastorate here in the state of KY.

Eight.  It is hard to believe.

With each opportunity, I am starting to learn and develop more concrete ideas about this type of ministry and how leaders should approach it.

One of the foundational principles I have gleaned is that there are three (3) different types of interim / transitional pastorates.  Three models or approaches that someone feeling called to this type of ministry should attempt to identify as soon as possible.

Those three types are:  Hold, Help, Heal.

Hold Us Together.
The first model is found when a church needs the transitional pastor to come in and hold things together giving the search committee or denominational structure time to find and/or secure a new lead pastor.

In the “hold us together” model, the transitional pastor is needed to provide stability, maintain positive feelings, and supply the congregation with consistent encouragement that things are going to be alright, they need only trust the process.

In this model, lay leadership and existing church staff are healthy, happy, and willing to pitch-in to do the little extras while the search process is taking place.  Overall, the demeanor of the church is positive and relaxed.

The key in the “hold us together” model is to remember time is of the essence.  With the average lead pastor search process in some denominations taking 18-24 months, the transitional pastor must read the emotions of the congregation and assure them that the search is moving and active.

If you edge close to the two years searching phase, the transitional pastor will need to address the search committee and congregation about their future.  If it is going to take longer than 24 months, a new plan might need to be evaluated.

Help Us Move Forward.
The second model sees the opportunity of a pastoral vacancy to move the church forward toward modernization.  The message of the Gospel is never-changing, but the methods and strategies utilized to convey that message must always change.

In the “help us move forward” model, the transitional pastor enters with a fresh set of eyes.  They don’t know the relationship or history.  They don’t know past successes or failures.  They don’t know which family to avoid or who thinks they runs the place.

With this lack of information and exposure, they can see the church as it is seen to guests, visitors, and to the unchurched.  Their insights are so valuable to exposing the areas of much needed improvement and renovation.

Their work is like that of an outside consultant in business.  They are not an insider, and probably will never become an insider, therefore, they can identify problems, offer solutions, and encourage the established leadership to move forward before the new pastor arrives.

Heal Our Wounds.
The third model deals with healing and wholeness.  No transitional pastor can heal all the hurts and pains a congregation goes through when there is a particularly traumatic event surrounding the exit of the previous pastor.   Events such as the sudden death of a pastor, a moral failure, leaving the ministry entirely, a marital separation or divorce, cause a congregation to deeply grieve and struggle.

Any of these events, among others, can cause the congregation to spiral out of control. There can be a leadership vacuum.  There can be hurt feelings.  There can be a sense of God has left us or we are being punished for something we’ve done.   The congregation is broken and barely hanging on.

The role of the transitional pastor in the “heal our wounds” model is to pour on love and encouragement.  They need extra hugs and inspiration from the Word of God to know that God will never leave them or forsake them (Heb. 13:5).

It is not the time for rapid change or ministry innovation, it is a time for rest, rejuvenation, and drawing together in unity.

If there has been a church-wide conflict, this can also be a time to seek out reconciliation.  Taking time to hear each side and return to recognizing everyone in the room are brothers and sisters in Christ, not enemies on opposing sides of an argument.

Hold. Help. Heal. 
These three models have served me well.  The key is taking the proper steps early on to identify which model the church needs and then actively pursuing that model for the duration of the transitional pastorate.

For more concepts on transitional ministry, check out these posts:

https://shanegarrison.org/2016/08/30/new-lessons-in-transitional-ministry/

https://shanegarrison.org/2015/03/17/assessing-your-resources-in-transitional-ministry/

https://shanegarrison.org/2013/07/06/pros-and-cons-of-interim-transitional-ministry/

 

ETCH Conf 2016 – What I Heard Part 2

etch

I am continuing a 3-part series of posts sharing questions I repeatedly heard at the ETCH Family Ministry Conference October 3-5, 2016 in Nashville, TN.

The ETCH Conference was invigorating as nearly 1000 kidmin, student, family and young adult ministry leaders came together to learn from each other.  Jennifer and I were privileged to share in a couple breakout sessions.

As I talked with ministry leaders after those sessions, several questions kept coming up.  It seems these questions are what next-gen leaders are regularly facing in their ministry leadership.

Questions I Repeatedly Heard

  1. What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ?  How do I respond to them?
  2. What do I do to get outside the walls of my church?
  3.  How can I respond to all the cultural issues that are flying at our kids/students?

Question 2:  What do I do to get outside the walls of my church?

Kidmin and stumin leaders are running into a consistent problem.  They are offering all these ministry programs at church, such as age-specific worship services, small group opportunities, weekend and summer activities, but the seats are remaining empty.

They want to see growth, but spiritually and numerically, but they fear their programming is not helping that happen.

They are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The rock is the underlying pressure to go hardcore, event-driven, using a host of attractional methods such as free Xbox giveaways, big promotional events, and outlandish gimmick-type things that can draw a large crowd.

The hard place is knowing that you can’t entertain kids and students to Jesus. Entertainment-based, attractional ministry efforts have a short shelf life.  No matter how big you go, it will never be big enough to sustain.  And if you start big, you’ll have to go bigger and bigger each year in order to keep the crowd that the gimmick initially drew.

So they find themselves stuck.

  • They know they must go outside the walls of the church to reach kids and students for Christ.
  • They know they have to be actively involved in the schools and community in order to make kingdom connections.
  • They know that in order to get the attention of kids and students in a day of uber-technology and crazy-busy schedules, they have to make an appeal to something fun and exciting, but at what cost.

They’re stuck and they don’t really know what to do.  Let me attempt to offer a word of encouragement for those who might find themselves in this predicament.

Going BIG Once in a While Is not Sinful

I would offer that doing something attractional on a yearly basis is not out of line.  If for no other reason than to get the message out that your ministry is still alive and kicking.

While cars might drive by your church day after day, most will swing by Monday through Friday when the parking lot is mostly empty.

Doing one or two attractional events in a given year lets folks know, “Wow, they’re open. We might check them out sometime.”

Additionally, kids and students have strong connections to their peers.  One benefit of the occasional attractional events is for the students in your ministry to have an easy invite to their friends.  We know they can invite their friends to any Bible study or worship service, but one attractional event can create an easier opportunity for them to be on-mission.

Never Expect the Crowd to Turn Into the Core

If you utilize an occasional attractional event, keep your expectations in check.  If you have 200 at the large event, expect 5-10 to come back the following week. Don’t expect 50. Keep your expectations reasonable.

Consider the fact that Jesus had differing levels of followers: the crowd, the crew (the 12) and the core (the inner 3, Peter, James, and John).  The same is true today.

An event can draw a crowd, it will be the Spirit and the seed of the Gospel that will bring them back.

“Outside-the-Walls” Ministry Takes Creativity

If you choose to hold-off on attractional events, you have my complete support.  I back you 100%.  It is not for everyone in every ministry context.

For that reason, you will want to be thinking about other ways to consistently connect with kids, students and families outside the walls of your church.  This approach is more organic and missional in that you keep your eyes open for ways to be an avenue of blessing to the students and families in your town.

You might…

  • Offer tutoring for students struggling in math.
  • Adopt a sports team and provide meals for them after home games.
  • Provide water and snacks during big tournaments weekends.
  • Host parent workshops & seminars on hot topics.
  • Organize service projects like cleaning a park or painting a building.

Creative, multi-faceted, missional approaches that change from month-to-month, year-to-year, will keep the ministry you lead from becoming insulated inside the building.

Remember, kingdom work is a marathon, not a sprint.  Be open to the Spirit’s leading and have your eyes open to where kids and students are gathering.  Then find a creative way to build a bridge into that gathering place.

This will work much like an attractional event but extended over time.

See the responses to question #1 and #3 in corresponding posts.

 

 

 

ETCH Conf 2016 – What I Heard Part 1

etchThis week my family and I spent a few days in Nashville, TN at the ETCH (Equipping the Church & Home) Family Ministry Conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources at the beautiful Music City Center.

Jennifer and I were honored to lead a couple breakout sessions and record a podcast for the LifeWay Kids podcast.

This is my fourth time to be a part of the conference; Jennifer’s second.

We love seeing many familiar faces from the CentriKid world and the VBS Preview events.

The conference attendance was close 1000 people from all over the country.

As we shared with kidmin, student, family and young adult ministry leaders, several questions kept rising up in our conversations.  I thought these repeated questions were a good indicator of where nextgen ministries are these days.  These leaders are on the front lines of ministry with children, students, and young adults in churches small and large.

Questions I Repeatedly Heard

  1. What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ?  How do I respond to them?
  2. What do I do to get outside the walls of my church?
  3.  How can I respond to all the cultural issues that are flying at our kids/students?

Reflections about the Questions

In a series of three posts, I want to try and reflect and respond to these questions.  Not that I am an expert in any way, but these questions are really at the heart of disciple-making for kids and students – something near to my heart.

Question 1:  What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ?  How do I respond to them?

The issue of unbelieving parents should not be a surprise to any of us.  Kid and student ministries that actively reach spiritual orphans have been facing this for decades.  When children and students find their way into a local church without believing Christian parents in tow, some of our recent ministry paradigm shifts come to a screeching halt.

The paradigm shift of family ministry and moving the focus to equipping believing parents to be the primary discipler of their kids has been a wonderful shift.  There is no question that when kidmin and stumin leaders push believing parents away from their ministry design, they are making a terrible, unbiblical mistake.

The parent equipping shift, however, only works when you have believing Christian parents.  If the kid or student finds their way into your local church without believing parents, the family-based discipleship model is useless.  There are no believing parents to equip and encourage.

Even more difficult, but eternally glorious, is when an unbelieving child or student comes to faith in Christ without believing parents and the ministry now has the discipleship responsibility for that infant brother or sister in Christ for the long haul.

Kidmin and stumin leaders are seeing that the family-ministry shift, while necessary and good and wise, is based on the premise that believing parents will be available.  That isn’t always the case.

S0 how do you respond to unbelieving parents?  I offer you four suggestions: Introduction.  Information.  Conversation.  Friendship.

  • Introduction:  Introduce yourself to them.  Share your name, role at the church, cell phone number, email address.  Much like a coach introduces themselves to parents on the first day of practice, give them a chance to get to know you.  In their mind, you are kind of like a new coach or teacher for their kid, just in church-y things.
  • Information:  Keep them informed of what is going on.  The coaching metaphor works again.  Give them a schedule of the games, times for practice, and regular updates throughout the season.  You will never go wrong in sharing information with unbelieving parents.  They expect it from their kid’s teachers and coaches, they expect it from you as well.
  • Conversation.  As you share information, make yourself available for conversation. Send a note basically saying, “God loves your kid.  Our ministry loves your kid.  I know you love your kid, so if there is anyway we can do to help you and your family, just let us know.”  Then let the conversations naturally come.
  • Friendship.  Hopefully over time, you will become a trusted friend to the unbelieving parent. Maybe you will never be super buddy-buddy like you might be with a Christian parent who serves alongside of you in ministry, but a friendship and mutual trust will form allowing their child or student to remain in the ministry for the duration.

In my limited opinion, the number of kids and students in ministries without believing parents is going to rise exponentially in the coming years.  As our nation becomes more and more secular and the place of personal faith becomes more and more marginalized, churches will see a good number of kids and students coming who have no faith background or previous spiritual exposure in the home.

I see this as an amazing opportunity for Gospel advance.  It will require ministry leaders to be wise and savvy to recognize that their ministry efforts will have two parallel tracks – one track for students with believing parents and another track for students without believing parents.

The two tracks are not in competition or opposition.  They do, however, have different speeds.

See the responses to question #2 and #3 in corresponding posts.