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.

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:

New Lessons in Transitional Ministry

Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

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.

 

 

New Lessons in Transitional Ministry

lessons-learnedThis Sunday, September 4, will be my final Sunday as Transitional Pastor of Monticello First Baptist Church.  We have served this loving congregation in Wayne Co., KY since March, 2015.  My longest transitional pastorate to date ending at 18 months.

As I pass the baton to Bro. Mark Helton, a fine pastor and faithful man of God, I am turning over some new lessons I learned in this church that I hadn’t picked up in previous transitional pastorates.

I thought I might share 4 of those lessons.

1.   Keep an eye on the financial health of the church.  There is a temptation in transitional ministry is to focus exclusively on the people and the preaching leaving the financial side of house to others to keep watch over.  This is not a good idea.

The lead pastor, no matter permanent or transitional, has to keep an eye on the financial flow and pacing of the church.  This is part of what it means to be a good steward and a wise shepherd.  You have to watch the weekly, the monthly, and the annual trends.  Any major dips, swings, or abrupt turns must be addressed.

Additionally, there can be strategic steps taken during the transitional period that cannot happen when a pastor arrives.  For example, at Monticello FBC, we eliminated a building renovation debt during the transitional period.  We also adjusted the yearly budget to be more in line with the weekly giving trends.  We also took a hard look at future personnel needs and tried to balance what was needed versus what was financially reasonable.

Because we were in the transitional period, we were able to evaluate these needs while the budget was a little padded as we were not supporting a full-time senior pastor.

2.   Elevate different leaders in worship.   As a transitional pastor, you might feel you have to preach every Sunday because that’s what you were brought in to do.  But actually I have found that you can share the pulpit with great guest speakers, missionaries, lay-leaders, seminarians, and other trusted guests.

You have the freedom that a senior pastor might not have to share the preaching load.  As long as you are physically there and have secured someone solid, there isn’t much of a fuss if you are preaching 50 Sundays a year.  Especially if you are equipping people from within the church to use their gifts in public teaching and proclamation.

Beyond the pulpit, I have found the transitional period to an excellent opportunity to incorporate others in worship leadership, such as college students, kids, teenagers, outside musicians, testimonials, and mission teams.  There is an openness in to involving lots of different people “on stage.”

3.  Make pastoral care connections at church.  There is no way a transitional pastor can handle pastoral care demands, especially in a situation like mine where I lived 1.5 hours away.

Therefore, I had to make pastoral care a priority while in the building.  If someone was sick and after they recover are able to make it to church, you make a bee-line to check on them.  If someone has experience grief or loss and you’re able to go to the funeral, the next time they are back in church you spend extra time with them.  Sit down with them and give them the same time you would have given at the hospital.

I have found that most people understand your limits and recognize that you can’t be everywhere all the time.  Still, if you can, give them your undivided attention at church when they return so they know they are loved and thought of.

4.  Create collaboration pathways that the new pastor can immediately use.  When you are transitional and living a good distance away, you have to rely on numerous collaboration tools to keep the ministry going.

I use email, text, Remind, Slack, Planning Center Online, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Each one of these tools allowed me to plan, communication, and collaborate with my volunteers without meetings.  This is out of necessity.

The key is to transfer these pathways to the new pastor so that he can continue using them in the early days of his ministry.

There is a tendency for ministry volunteers to press pause when a new pastor arrives waiting to see what he wants, likes, and needs.  The problem is that this pause slows down the momentum of the ministry.

With these collaboration tools already in place, the new pastor can immediately see who the volunteer teams are, what they have been up to in the past 6-12 months, and what is the horizon.

In other words, they don’t have to wait to get their teams and communication channels in place.  They can bring their vision and direction to a good working system from day one.

These four lessons are now added to my ever-growing list of practical lessons in transitional ministry.  To read more, select these topics.

Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

Pros and Cons of Interim Transitional Ministry

Interim No. 7 Coming to a Close

 

 

 

 

The Great 8:28: Eight Years in Review

Eight years ago (July, 2008), my family and I felt God’s call to leave our beloved Main Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, KY to serve in the Campbellsville University School of Theology.  I can’t believe it has been 8 years.  I still dream about Cincinnati chili and wonder who has claimed my Red’s clergy pass.

During these 8 past years, I have been so honored to serve alongside 7 churches as transitional pastor: Parkway Baptist, Bethany Baptist, Living Grace Church (2xs), Lancaster Baptist, Hurstbourne Baptist, Stanford Baptist, and Monticello First Baptist. We also were invited to do short preaching stints at Pleasant Grove Baptist & Hodgenville Christian.

We had no idea that transitional ministry was going to be God’s plan for us to stay connected in local church ministry all the while teaching full-time in the classroom at CU.

For three years, I traveled the country on the LifeWay Kids VBS training tour and for the past 5 years been a content developer and camp pastor for LifeWay CentriKid Camps.  These ministry opportunities still amaze me.  I am so unqualified to represent such a top-quality national ministry.

In the School of Theology, I’ve been so blessed to teach amazing students, travel to Israel and Jordan (2xs), Greece, and Turkey, and work with some of the most encouraging people on the planet.

Then, starting in 2015, God opened the door for me to try my hand at academic administration as the Dean of Online Education.  Again, I am humbled by the chance to stretch my leadership wings and explore what it means to lead & teach in the Christian university setting.

Over the past 5 years, Jennifer (my beautiful wife and ministry tag-team partner) started, finished and graduated with her Ph.D. in Family Ministry from Southern Seminary and began her teaching career also in the Campbellsville University School of Theology.  When we left Main Street 8 years ago, this idea wasn’t even in our wildest dreams.

Most importantly, above all else, both of our handsome, strapping sons have trusted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and have followed Him in believer’s baptism.

Isaac surrendered to Christ during a worship service at Hurstbourne BC saying during the invitation to his mother, “Momma, I need to be saved.”  He was baptized a few weeks later.

Ethan prayed to trust Christ during VBS at Campbellsville BC while his Momma was explaining the Gospel to the children.  He was baptized a year later in Monticello FBC.

We praise God for His work in the lives of our sons.

Eight years.  2008-2016.  Wow, what a ride.

In a few weeks, we will finish transitional pastorate #8.  And the question of “where next” is upon us.  But we are holding fast to the GREAT 8:28 from Romans 8:28.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Wherever He leads, we will go knowing that God’s amazing purpose for our lives is for our good.

He has worked.  He is working.  He will continue to work all things together for our good.

Why I Keep Saying “Thank You But No Thank You” to Full-Time Church Ministry

no thank youFor the past 8 years, I have served in cross-vocational ministry.  I have willingly, intentionally, and consistently turned down several gracious invitations to return to “full-time” church-based ministry.  “Why did you say no?” you might ask.  Please let me explain.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with full-time, church-based ministry.  It is a high calling and something I believe firmly in.  As a ministry professor, I am thrilled when I hear that my students have accepted their first FT position on a church staff or in a para-church organization.  I remember well my first FT ministry position and how it changed my life forever.

However, I am seeing some trends in the larger landscape of ministry today that compel me to stay in a cross-vocational role with no plans of making a change in the future.

What are some of those larger landscape trends?

1. Issues with insurance.  While none of us enter into ministry to make the big bucks, the reality that self-employed insurance premiums can  drain our monthly budgets very, very fast.  Even with new government-subsidized insurance plans available, the cost is still significant to a ministry family.

If there are on-going medical needs, monthly prescriptions, or the desire to have a large family full of little ones running around, you could see a fourth of your monthly take-home pay devoted to medical expenses.

Churches are doing their best in trying to help their ministerial staff, but in all honesty, they are only able to provide a small portion of what is actually needed.  Going cross-vocational can assure that a second employer is there to help with medical expenses and possibly even provide medical insurance as a benefit over and above the salary.

2. Access to influence.  Everyone knows that the community influence once held by pastors and ministers is waning in the US.  The church is being pushed further and further to the periphery of society, being displaced from the central position it once held.  A voice once sought after in community affairs is slowing being silenced from the public dialogue.

Yet, by remaining cross-vocational, you’re influence in not tied to your church position. It’s tied to the relationships and networks you’ve built within your community. Because you work in this industry or are a member of that professional group, your voice within community is held much stronger.

3.  Invitation to conversation.   There are two types of people never invited to the party: the pastor and the police.  Yet, Jesus was constantly being invited to gatherings of all sorts.  He was invited because people wanted to hear what he had to say.

When you’re only answer to the most avoided question – “What do you do for a living?” – is pastor or minister, you know the conversation will quickly end as walls go up and stereotypes flood in.  But if your honest answer is teacher, nurse, sales, event planner, web designer, then you have a chance for the conversation to move forward. You will be given the opportunity to build a relationship and engage in a conversation which eventually could lead to the topic of faith.  When your lead is “preacher,” the conversation is pretty much over.

4.  Financial freedom from the finance committee.  Lastly, I continue to say no to opportunities to return to FT ministry because, frankly, I don’t trust a committee or volunteer group to hold my financial future in the palm of their hands.

I am not opposed to churches utilizing finance or stewardship teams in making decisions on salaries and compensation.  I actually applaud congregational leadership and place value in seeking and hearing from wise counsel in decision making.

Yet, I don’t want an argument or disagreement I’ve had with one member of a single committee to become a foothold in my heart, creating fear and anxiety about my next paycheck or raise.   Nothing makes my blood boil more than a volunteer committee using the pastor or church leader’s salary as leverage to get what they want.

“If you don’t bend to my way, you will never see an increase as long as I am on that committee.”   This mentality is the exception to the rule, I assure you, but I have seen it with my own eyes and know it happens all the time.

The FT minister can be stuck between leading with courage and boldness and facing fear about feeding their family all because of a disagreement with someone on a volunteer committee.  When you have an income coming from somewhere other than the church, you can lead far more courageously.

For these reasons, and others, I am happy to say “no thank you” to the gracious invitations to return to FT church-based ministry.

Personally, I see the cross-vocational calling aligning well with the words of the Apostle Paul,

For you remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)