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 

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.

5 Ministry Modifications for Cross Vocational Pastors

coffeeThe complexity of cross vocational ministry has be to addressed by each and every pastor pulling double-duty.  You have to evaluate time spent at work, at church, with your family, with your church family, in Sabbath and in labor.

No cross vocational pastor will be able to do it all.  They must make strategic modifications to their ministry approach  in order to maximize their time and their efficiency.

Let me offer 5 suggestions which might help you modify ever so slightly.

1.  Use your cell phone as a conference room channel for team meetings.  Get everyone on the phone using the merge call function and have them open up individual laptops.  Once everyone is connected, use a shared church calendar or virtual planning app and let everyone contribute in real-time.  You might not be able to pull off a full, in-person staff meeting because everyone is at their “other” job, but you can plan and connect as a team if you are thinking ahead.

2. Use text messages & social media to connect to people that you won’t see during the week.  With your day-job absorbing the bulk of your time, you might only see your congregation when you are in the actual building.  To make a connection without being present, send a personal text message, post on the church’s social media channels, or write a church wide email.  Each digital touch gives your people a chance to connect with you, even if it is only with a “like” button.

3.  Write stock notes to be delivered when others make hospital visits.  There is no way you will be able to make all the visits and surgery runs.  If you have a team helping you cover the hospitals, give each person a stack of pre-done hand-written notes to take with them sharing your concern and prayers.  You might think it feels impersonal, but I promise the person in the hospital will appreciate a card from their pastor.  It is something tangible that will go a long way.

4.  Record voice memos of sermon ideas, staff meeting plans, and future ministry strategies.  You might not have a chance to come back and write down your ideas while at work.  So pull out your phone and record your idea before it gets away from you. You can even send those memos to various team members as voice messages allowing them to start stewing on the idea.

5.  Choose family outings where your congregation might also show up.   When you go out to your local bowling alley, movie theater, community festivals, farmers markets, or ball games and see people from church, greet them warmly.  You don’t have to neglect your family to be in ministry-mode, but just say hello and show interest.  It is another connection that makes all the difference.

The key to cross vocational ministry is to be intentional and strategic.  You must maximize your time and take advantage of the little things that can make a huge difference.

What ideas or modifications would you suggest?  Leave a comment.

Pulpit, Podium, Music Stand or Bistro Table

When you enter a church for worship, what piece of furniture do you expect to find on the elevated platform?  What you expect to find often speaks to what you believe about the importance and role of the preaching and teaching ministries in the local church.

When I say platform furniture, I am speaking of the wooden, metal, or Plexiglas structure that the pastor/teacher uses during the message.  I am talking about the pulpit, podium, lectern, or other make shift device that they stand behind.  Some call it the sacred desk; others refer to it as the hunk of wood that will never go away.

These furniture pieces have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  These days you basically have eight options to choose from.

pulpit potters house

The Potter’s House Pulpit. Dallas, TX

1. The Wooden Pulpit.  The wooden pulpit can be natural, stained or painted wood.  It is usually equipped with a hidden storage space, sometimes a clock, maybe even a lamp.

The wooden pulpit establishes a high view of preaching authority.  Since the Reformation, wooden pulpits have been placed front and center to project the importance of the preaching/teaching moment in the worship service.  In predominately African-American churches, pulpit are becoming larger and more elaborate.

2.  The Plexiglas Pulpit.  plexiglas pulpitFor those who wanted to move away from the behemoth wooden pulpit, the Plexiglas pulpit became the preferred choice.  It was lighter, easier to move, and allowed for the church logo to be etched in the front, creating a branding opportunity.

The Plexiglas pulpit is see-through, breaking down some of the distance between the pew and the pulpit.  For the first time in years, you could see the pastor’s legs while they preached.  It was meant to make the pastor more tangible, more human, more accessible.

3.  The Cellphone Tower.  A new addition to modern pulpit design is what a dear friend of mine calls “The Cellphone Tower.”  This pulpit is portable, modern, and gives the appearance of being industrial.  It basically a podium made of piping or stage rigging.

cellphone towerBoth the Plexiglas Pulpit and the Cellphone Tower communicate something different than the Wooden Pulpit. They communicate innovation and an appeal to close the gap between the preacher and the pew.  Most pastors bemoan the large, wooden pulpit and tend to move out from behind it while they preach.  They believe coming out from behind the pulpit make a closer connection with their hearers.  These newer designed pulpits attempt to do the same thing.

4. The Music Stand.  The thought behind this piece of furniture is ease and utility.  The music stand is already on stage, nearly invisible and projects that the sermon/message is more about the communicator than anything else.

Consider the musician or soloist who uses the music stand for their sheet music – no one notices the stand, they focus on the artist.  The same thought is at work when the pastor preaches with a music stand – focus on the message, not the furniture.

5.  The iPad Pulpit.  ipad pulpitEven newer than the cellphone tower, the iPad Pulpit has entered the church marketplace as more and more pastors toss out the paper notes and go fully digital.  This pulpit looks sleek, modern, and like a control panel on the USS Enterprise.

As with the music stand, the iPad Pulpit places more focus on the communicator than the furniture piece itself.  It can be moved to and from the platform with ease, making transitions seamless, perfect when the stage hand has to place stage props or move band instruments.

For younger generations, the idea of packing a leather-bound Bible to church and scribbling out notes with pen and paper may seem antiquated.  Everything is digital these days.  Open your Bible app, use Notes to keep ideas, Tweet good ideas.  If the hearers in the pew are going digital, maybe the pastor should as well.

bistro table6. The Bistro Table.  In the world of conversation and dialogue, a new pulpit concept has emerged.  Enter the Bistro Table.  The bistro table says to the hearers, “Welcome. Pull up a chair.  Let’s chat.  No judgment.  No tradition.  Just conversation.” 

Bistro tables are present in your local restaurant or sports bar, why not at church.  They are cheap, sleek, and very easy to move. They are high enough to hold your notes and Bible with without problems seeing what you’ve written down.

As with the music stand and iPad pulpit, the view of the preacher/teachers is more casual and laid back.  No suit and tie.  No formal robes and vestments.  We are here to worship God and to be in community together.  There is no better way to communicate community than to preach with a restaurant table.

7.  The High Chair and Monitor.  Tossing aside the podium, lectern, stand or table, the high chair and flat panel monitor are growing in popularity.  Probably made most famous by Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church, this removes the pulpit furniture altogether and embraces a communicator-teacher-presenter effect.

The pastor/teacher interacts with the stage props, the audience, and the monitor all in real time.  There are no notes, no Bible, no manuscript. The message is memorized and rehearsed. The sermon is a talk.  The pastor is the presenter.  This is conference style communication. There probably isn’t much of an invitation or call to publicly repent, but that is not the design of the service.

Andy Stanley

8.  Nothing at all.  Consider the apostles, the disciples, or Jesus himself who preached to thousands with no platform furniture at all.  No pulpit.  No cellphone tower.  No monitor.  The founders of our faith preached on hillsides, from fishing boats, seating in synagogues and in open public squares.  They preached without notes, without furniture, without iPads, yet they preached with passion, vitality, and full of God’s spirit.

All in all, whatever platform furniture piece you use, remember these items are not essential, nor are they sinful.  They are tools to use.

Simply put: don’t let platform furniture become a sacred idol.  We can preach the Gospel with or without them and be perfectly biblical and Spirit-led.

Cross Vocational Ministry Demands Organization Skills

cross vocationalIn recent months, my role as a cross vocational minister has changed. If you are not familiar with the term “cross vocational,” it’s because I made it up.

Cross vocational ministry is my invented term for what was once called bi-vocational ministry.

I prefer the term cross vocational because the ministry leader has an everyday, normal job and a ministry calling which are constantly crossing over one another.  At times, the day job is the primary focus and at other times, the ministry role is primary. The cross vocational minister is constantly attempting to balance the two.

I also like the idea of “cross” vocational in the implication of Jesus Christ, who went to the cross, dying for sin, making a bridge for mankind to “cross” over from death to life.

In recent days, my day job at Campbellsville University has become quite a bit more demanding. After seven years of full-time teaching faculty, I have now taken on a role in academic administration in addition to teaching.  Whereas faculty members have flexibility in their weekly teaching schedule, academic administration is more of a 40 hours per week, 8 to 5, kind of job.

What I am now facing is what most cross vocational ministers have faced for years.  They work a full-time job, then switch, or cross over, to the ministry in early mornings, evenings and on weekends.  The time demands are pressing when it comes to sermon preparation, church leadership, communicating vision, and attempting to perform some level of outreach and pastoral care.

The main lesson I am learning in balancing these demands is that organization and preparation must be way in advance.  Time is limited in a full daily schedule, therefore the cross vocational minister must use every free moment to be planning, preparing, and working far in advance.

You never know when your schedule is going to change at the day job.  You might be called in for training or need to make a business trip or be given an assignment that must be finished by Friday. In order to meet these demands and the ministry tasks, you have to utilize every tool available to be organized, prepared and focused.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered for organization and preparation in cross vocational ministry.

1. Use your breaks wisely such as Christmas break, spring break, or long holiday weekends.  Use these extra days off to plan ahead.  I know there are other things on your agenda, but this “free” day might be enough to prepare several sermons or put together a major outreach effort.

2. Be constantly taking notes and jotting down ideas.  Use your smart phone or iPad to track thoughts that might come at the gym, on the road, at a lunch break, or even in the shower.   Carry a ministry journal with you everywhere working on upcoming sermons or to-do lists for ministry projects.  Pack a few blank note cards with you and when you are waiting for a haircut or a doctor’s appointment, write a note to a new member or a family that is struggling.

3. Communicate using web-based tools.  Use group emails, group texts, and group document sharing tools to keep everyone in the loop.  The more you communicate digitally, the more your team (who is probably cross vocational as well) will be able to do their work without a face to face meeting.  Social media and email can also help you connect to the wider church family without being “physically” present for everything.

4. Plan worship services collaboratively using Planning Center Online (planningcenteronline.com).  If you are the primary teaching pastor (as I am), use Planning Center Online to let other worship leaders including your worship minister, media team, vocalist, ushers, etc., know what you are planning far in advance.  You might not get the opportunity to do a sit-down worship planning meeting, but at least they will know where you are going and what you are expecting weeks (or months) in advance.

I plan on writing more this week about cross vocational ministry and several new implications for this type of ministry in the days to come.  From all indicators, cross vocational ministry is going to intensify and grow in the coming decade.

Invitation to Holy Week @ FBC Monticello

We would love to have you come and join us for worship during Holy Week @ FBC Monticello. Please watch this video invitation and invite someone to join you.  We promise to make you feel welcomed and wanted.

SUN MAR 29 10:30am   Palm Sunday Choir Cantata & Lord Supper
SAT  APR 4    11:00am   Family Egg Hunt
SUN APR 5      7:30am   Sunrise Service
SUN APR 5    10:30am   Resurrection Sunday Worship

More information at http://monticellofbc.com or http://facebook.com/monticello1stbc

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.

 

 

How to Get More Out of the Preached Word of God

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Christian believers sitting in church hear a lot of sermons.  Sermons preached from the Old and New Testaments.  Sermons preached through exposition and sermons preached on topics.  Special sermons for holidays, weddings, ordinations, and during revival meetings.

My personal conviction is that growing believers in Christ should also be ingesting the Word through personal Bible study, online videos, podcasts, CDs, books, or from radio broadcasts.  All maturing believers want to grow in the Word of God and the teaching/preaching ministry is one of the primary spiritual disciplines where this growth takes place.

Yet many believers view preaching as an observational act.  They take the posture of politely and respectfully listening, but not doing much of anything else.  They would all agree that they are there to learn and be challenged in the Word, but in actuality, they are very inactive in the learning process, very passive in the spiritual discipline, and very unengaged while the preacher is preaching.

They leave saying, “I really didn’t get much out of that message.”  While it might be true, it could be avoided.

So how can maturing Christ-followers get more out of the preached Word of God?  How can those in the pews become more intentionally involved, feasting upon the spoken Word, engaging the message actively rather than passively?

Here are some ideas on what you can do to get more out of the sermon?  (These are not new or highly innovative, however, I promise they will help.)

1. Read the passage ahead of time.  Your pastor may send out a weekly email or post something on social media with the sermon text, look it up and read it.  Or when you arrive, find sermon text in the bulletin and read it.  If you have to email your pastor and ask for a preaching plan with sermon texts for the whole month.

Do whatever it takes to get that passage in your mind before the service starts.  If you do, you will notice the worship songs point to the key themes of the passage, maybe even the whole direction of the service.  Plus when the pastor reads the text in the sermon, it will be at least your second time going through it.  The flow, the words, the context will make much more sense to you when you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

2.  Pray before the preaching time starts.  Our church has an offertory time before the sermon, which is usually just the piano playing.  I spend this time to specifically ask the Holy Spirit of God to speak to my heart during the message.

Try to carve out a moment of spiritual space where you directly, humbly, ask God Almighty to speak to your heart.  We call that the “prayer of illumination.”  To be certain, God always desires to speak to His people, but we must tune our hearts and spiritual ears toward Him to hear as He speaks.

3. Open your own Bible and study along.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I am seeing less and less people bring their Bibles to church.  Even less open them during the sermon and keep them open the whole time – start to finish.

This has to be the most passive, unengaged Christian in the pew (and probably the most spiritually immature).  If you come to hear the preached Word of God and leave your Bible at home, you are telling God His Word is not valuable enough to carry a few steps to the car and into the building.

You can’t drive your car without the keys.  You don’t go to the grocery without your wallet.  You don’t go to preaching without your Bible. God’s Word is what is inspired and authoritative, not the preacher and his sermon.  Open it.  Use it.  Engage with it.  Underline, circle, mark it up.  It makes all the difference in the world.

4. Take notes during the message.  Taking notes during the sermon has been around for years, but now with all the technology and visual support, I am seeing less and less people actually bring a journal with them to worship.  They are leaning on sermon notes, bulletin inserts, and the Scripture being shown on-screen.  As a preacher, I provide all those support tools, but as a hearer, I take notes in a journal.

I journal during the sermon because in writing my own thoughts, my own understandings, my own questions, I hear the voice of God more clearly.  I hear what God is saying directly to me, which might be very different than what the preacher is saying to others.

Journaling has other benefits as well.  Later, I can go back and reflect on what God was saying to me months, maybe even years ago.  Secondly, I stay far more engaged if I am listening, writing, reflecting, and interacting with the message.  The more active I become, the less passive I am.

5. Finally, make an effort to hear the Spirit of God.  Pray before the sermon.  Pray while the sermon is being preached.  Pray when the sermon is finished.  You do your part as a growing believer in Christ to hear, receive, reflect and act upon the message God has sent to you through His Word.

Preaching may seem like a monologue, where one person is speaking and everyone else is listening, but it is not.  Preaching is a dialogue.  God is speaking through a vessel and we, His people, are listening, questioning, answering, and turning over God’s Word in our mind actively and rigorously.  You might not raise your hand and ask a question right in the middle of the sermon, but trust me, it’s a two-way street.

God always speaks.  The real question is: will you be ready to hear what He says?

 

Last Letter to Hurstbourne BC

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Resurrection Sunday 2014

We knew it would eventually come to an end.   I am sure you have heard the old saying, “All good things must come to an end.” Well, I don’t think I like that saying any more, especially when it comes to the ending of ministry together.

I want every person at Hurstbourne BC to know how much Jennifer, the boys and I have loved being with you. You welcomed us with open arms from the earliest days and have treated us like family every Sunday we been there. Never once did we feel like outsiders. Instead, you made us feel like long-time friends and family.

I want to say a very extra special thank to the pastoral staff – Chris, Cameron, Jeff and Vince – along with office team of Carolyn, Carmen and Mike. Each one of these men and women are top-notch servant-leaders who remain kingdom-minded and Gospel-focused in all they do. Serving with them has been a tremendous joy.

I want to also say thank you to the Personnel Team led by Mrs. Jan Watts. From the beginning interview, through the entire interim, until today, this group, in general and Mrs. Jan in particular, have been so easy to work with and serve alongside. They have made this one of the best interim experiences I have ever had.

I believe there are very bright days ahead for HBC. I believe there are hundreds of people who will come through your doors in the coming months. I encourage and challenge you to treat them just like you have treated us. Introduce yourself. Make them feel at home. Show them around. Help them find the way to the gym, which I still struggle to find. Treat them to your warmest hospitality and friendship as you have done for us.

If you do that, HBC will explode with new faces, new ministry ventures, and news ways to be a blessing to your community. The ride is just beginning. I hope you are ready.

I love you all and will forever keep you in my heart.

Grace, Shane

Interim No. 6 Coming to a Close

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Easter Sunday @ Hurstbourne Baptist Church

Next Sunday, Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville will come together to extend a call to my friend and current student pastor Bro. Cameron Debity.  If all goes well, this means interim pastorate no. 6 is coming to a close.

With each of these six churches and interim contexts, I have learned new lessons about this type of ministry and church leadership in general.  Here are a few lessons I picked up this time around.

1.  Even in the city, rural-like hospitality still works.   There is an assumption that when you live in a major city with hundreds of thousands of people no one wants you in their home or at their table.  While that can be true in some places, I found at HBC that there was still a sweet sense of in-home hospitality.  There hasn’t hardly been a Sunday in over 6 months where we didn’t have an invitation to a home for lunch.  Maybe this is only because I am the pastor, but it is so good to see that table fellowship is still alive.

2.  People of means have the same basic needs as people who struggle.   HBC is located in a rather affluent section of Louisville.  Many of the attenders are, or have been in the past, very successful men and women in their line of work.  One might think because of their status in life they don’t need anything, but that is not true.  It doesn’t matter how much is in the checking account or sitting in mutual funds, people are still people.  And people have needs.  No matter who you are or what you earn, people struggle with sin.  People struggle with relationships.  People struggle making Jesus first and foremost in their lives.

3.  When there are multiple staff members and a senior pastor moves on, the primary goal is to embolden and champion the staff who remain.  This was the first time in any interim where I had a rather large team remaining – 6 full-time teammates, each who were competent, flexible, and really strong in their particular areas of service.   I found the key in this interim was to let them loose.  To challenge them to go big or go home.  To praise them publicly and privately and encourage them to boost their ministry areas 5-fold.  The outcome was the church never felt like we were in an “interim.”  We were able to create momentum which turned the interim phase into a season of advance, not a season of survival.

If all goes well, my last day at Hurstbourne Baptist Church will be August 10.  This has been one of the best interim experiences I’ve had.  Lots of heart connections.  Lots of great times together in worship.  Lots of meaningful conversations.  This experience is going to be hard to match.

Who knows where interim no. 7 might land us next.

5 Questions Answered in 5 Sermons

since you askedAt Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, we have recently finished a series of messages called Since You Asked.

Basically, I gave the entire congregation the chance to ask biblical, theological, and spiritual questions in which I would try to answer in a sermon.  We received nearly 30 questions and I attempted to answer five of them.

Maybe you have wondered about these things.  I have included the question and a link to the sermon audio if these have ever been questions in your mind.  Take a listen and let me know what you think.

  • How do we publicly and privately interact as the body of Christ with people who we significantly disagree with? sermon audio
  • When Christians leave this earthly life, do we immediately go and be with Jesus, seeing him face-to-face or will there be a waiting period for the second coming of Christ?  sermon audio
  • How do relationships work in heaven? Will we know and recognize our earthly family and friends? sermon audio
  • Does God control the small things? Such as does God give us one job over another? Does God determine where a student is accepted into college? Did God put my child in that teacher’s class? A fender bender that could have been a horrible accident, was that a “God thing”? The tickets to a sold-out ball game that are suddenly offered to us by a co-worker, is that orchestrated by God?  sermon audio
  • If a young man accepts Christ and is living a Christian life, has a Christian wife and two children. All is well. Time elapses, he gets involved with another woman, divorces his wife, gets into drinking and gambling. He drops out of church. His lifestyle never changes and he passes away. Is this person still going to heaven?  sermon audio

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross Visual Journey

Four videos, four Scripture readings and three sermons intended to lead you to the cross of Jesus.  You are welcome to use these as you prepare for Holy Week, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Stop ONE:  The GARDEN of GETHSEMANE

Message:  A Cursed Curse from Galatians 3:10-14. Sermon audio here.

Stop TWO:  The MOUNT of OLIVES

Message:  A Sanctified Sacrifice from Hebrews 4:14-5:10. Sermon audio here.

Stop THREE:  CAIAPHAS’ HEADQUARTERS

Message:  A Criminal’s Charge from Matthew 26:57-68. Sermon audio here.

Stop FOUR:  GOLGOTHA, the PLACE of the SKULL

A Scripture reading from Mark 15:33-39.

Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote

vote

Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote.

While in seminary, I was given a book written by Dr. Paul Powell, former pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX.  The book was called “Shepherding the Sheep in the Smaller Church.”  There was a little hidden gem in the back of the book that I have never forgotten.

Dr. Powell encouraged anyone shepherding a smaller (or any size) church to do things that didn’t need a vote.  He encouraged pastors and ministers to do the little things that didn’t need money or permission to be done.  Little things that as a pastor no one could say yes or no to like starting a small group in your home or visiting shut-ins.

Over the years in ministry I keep going back to that little mantra – “do things that don’t need a vote.”  I have added a few other suggestions to my list like…

1.  Send hand-written thank you notes.  Those still catch a surprised and grateful eye.

2.  Send small group leaders a mid-week encouragement email as they are studying for Sunday.  Their study and teaching preparation is as important as yours.  Don’t you love it when someone writes/calls and says “I’m praying for you as prepare.”  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It goes a long way.

3.  Personally invite people to come to your church.  Invite your friends.  Invite your family.  For me, I invite my students all the time.  When you brings guests, it encourages others to do the same.

4.  When preaching, communicate vision and direction in where you see the Lord moving.  Tell your people what you see happening.  While the church newsletter or blog is fine to share vision dates and details, your “face-time” on Sunday morning should be used wisely in casting the direction.  You only have their undivided attention for the first 5 minutes of the message, make it count in moving the ship forward.

5.  Pray for people who come to the altar by laying on hands.  If you believe in the power of prayer (as I do), encourage your people by praying over them.  If possible, invite some others to join you in praying for their needs.  There is nothing more unifying and humbling.

6.  Walk the isles before worship and spend time with your people.  Dr. Ken Hemphill called the 10 minutes before worship the 10 most important minutes in ministry.  Don’t seal yourself off in your office or “green room.”  Be among your sheep.  Talk with them.  Visit with them.  Sit down and pray for them if they ask you to.  Trust me, they all know you are thinking about the sermon and the service, but you have been called to be their “pastor”, not their professional Bible teacher or speaker.  A pastor spends time among their sheep.

I could go on and on.

I feel like church leaders, especially in smaller or mid-sized churches, feel as if they have limited authority in leadership.  While there might be policies and procedures in place for spending larger amounts of money or specific steps to take in securing prime real estate on the church calendar, there is much ministry that can be done without any red tape.

Spend your energies doing those little things that don’t need a vote and you will find greater success in your overall ministry leadership.

What I’ve Learned About KidMin While On the Road with LifeWay

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VBS Preview Event in Ridgecrest, NC

For the last several weeks, I have been on the road with LifeWay Kids training VBS leaders from around the country and North America.  We have traveled to North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and will be in Florida this weekend.

There have been VBS leaders from every state in the union including Alaska and Hawaii and from our neighbors in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

Once everything is finished, we will have trained nearly 6000 VBS leaders who will in turn train another 70,000+ leaders who will host and lead 3 million boys, girls, teens and adults in VBS this year.  I am overwhelmed by the power of multiplication and the enormous influence VBS has on Kids Ministry around the world.

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VBS Preview Event in Nashville, TN

Over the last few weeks of ministry, I have learned several important truths about those who lead and serve in Kids Ministry around the nation.

I have learned that…

1.  THEY ARE PASSIONATE.  These servant-leaders are absolutely passionate about their own personal faith in Christ and the work assigned to them by God in serving kids and families.  They are willing to do whatever it takes to help the next generation know Jesus and grow in Him.  Their passion and vitality is infectious.

2.  THEY ARE HARDWORKING.  These leaders go the extra mile and often do it without any appreciation or recognition.  Without exception, Kids Ministry is the largest people and volunteer network in the church.  It is usually the most demanding with all sorts of different needs among different age groups.  It is usually the most under-funded, yet all the while it is the single most effective evangelistic tool the church has at its disposal.  These leaders get it done week after week, year after year and I applaud them.

3.  Lastly, THEY ARE HUNGRY FOR HELP.  When a KidMin leader attends a training session, they sit on the edge of their seats hungry for any tip, any suggestion, any instruction we can give.  They take page after page of notes.  They listen with their eyes and ears and hearts wide open.  They are starving for anything that will help them lead better.

I have taught similar sessions for pastors, ministers and deacons and I promise you the sessions are not the same.  I am not slamming pastors (goodness, I am one), but the intensity level is not nearly the same as these KidMin leaders.  Pastors tend to generally appreciate the training but all the while are checking their phones, day-dreaming, catching up on some sleep, and running back and forth to the lobby to take a call.  Not so with the KidMin leader.  This is their chance to be equipped and they are in it full on.

My heart and soul goes out to these 6000 VBS leaders.  In the months ahead, they will labor to get volunteers, make preparations, decide about budgets, argue with the church maintenance staff, stay up late, get up early, all to share the love of Christ with kids and families.  We know their labor will not be in vain.

I am simply humbled and honored to be able to meet them, encourage them, and give them a glimmer of hope because I am a VBS salvation.  It still works and will continue to work for generations to come.

Being BOTH Denominationally Loyal AND Fervently Ecumenical

Over this past week three events converged together to influence me, yet again, concerning my personal convictions of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND at the same time fervently ecumenical.

  • Event No. 1 – I preached a 4-day revival at church with dual affiliation with my tribe (Southern Bapt) and a more moderate form of Baptist life, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
  • Event No 2 – The CEO of the Southern Bapt. Conv. Executive Committee Dr. Frank Page was on our campus, speaking in chapel, meeting with local pastors, and sharing in my class.
  • Event no. 3 – I finished an interim at a Christian Church – Disciples of Christ – in Hodgenville.

In one week, I was stretched to see the significant work of other baptistic forms of ministry, 2) made increasing proud of my Southern Bapt. roots and heritage and its mission around the world for the Gospel, and 3) said goodbye to a wonderful group of Christ-honoring believers of another tribe altogether who I don’t align with biblically or theologically, but was able to worship and preach for them for several months without any issue whatsoever.

My conclusion is simpleYou can be BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical at the very same time.

Without question, I am very denominationally-loyal to my tribe called Southern Baptist.  I came to faith in a SBC church through an amazing ministry called vacation Bible school.  I was baptized, discipled and ordained to the ministry in a SBC church.  I have four degrees from three SBC-connected institutions.  I was married by a Baptist pastor in a Baptist church to a Baptist girl.  My personal church membership from salvation until today is in a SBC church.  I firmly believe in the doctrine, mission and direction of my tribe with all my heart.

But I am also very committed to being fervently ecumenical.  Being ecumenical is having the vision that more than one tribe (or denomination) will be in heaven and that you can do more together for the Gospel than you can apart.  We live in a post-Christian, postmodern America where faithful, biblical Christianity is moving to the periphery of the society and I fervently believe we need each other more now than ever.

I think it is all about perspective and context.  Consider this scenario.

You are in the Middle East doing underground mission work and you happen to discover another group of like-minded Christians working among the same people group, but from another denomination.  Do you work with them or reject them entirely?

Well, you carefully consider their missiological framework and understanding of salvation, that is by faith alone in Christ alone, and you begin working with them as best as you possible can without compromising your convictions and remaining biblically faithful.  You will both be in Heaven together one day, why not work together now for the Gospel and bring more souls with you.

Seems easy right.  Its not.  I have found the closer the denominations are to each other, the harder it is for them to trust each other and work together.  For example, it is very difficult for the conservative Baptists and more moderate Baptists to work together because they have purposely separated from each other for a variety of reasons.  Those reasons might be a particular theological doctrine or most likely a social issue but the intentional division drives a hard wedge between the two groups.

Likewise I have come to recognize it is tough for the Disciples of Christ tribe to work closely with the independent Christian church groups because they have purposely separated from each other and have no desire to rejoin.

Conversely, I find it is much easier for two tribes who are relatively far apart theologically to come together for a single purpose and work hand-in-hand.  For example, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are coming together on issues like human trafficking, the sanctity of human life, and the mandatory coverage of contraceptives.  You also see various groups who would differ on all sorts of theological and liturgical issues working together in disaster relief or Operation Christian Child shoe boxes.

So what is my point.  I believe the American 21st century Evangelical Christian must embrace the BOTH/AND nature of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical.  Our culture and world is turning ever-increasingly more hostile toward the Gospel and message of Jesus Christ.  In a world where we are moving more and more toward the minority, division and isolation into tribal loyalties will not be helpful.

Whatever you might think of the Together for the Gospel movement, I believe they have embraced the right motto – We can come together for the Gospel of Jesus and be both denominationally-loyal and fervently ecumenical.

Fall 2013 Ministry Preview

fall leavesThe fall school year has officially started.  My classes are packed.  I am really excited about this semester and how God is going to work in and through my students.

Along with school, the Lord has been so faithful and kind to opened several opportunities to encourage folks here in KY and around the nation.

Here is a snapshot of the fall ministry plans.

  • Through September – Preaching each Sunday morning at the Hodgenville Christian Church.  Helping out my new friend and pastor Bro. Carlton Puryear as he takes a few weeks off.
  • Sunday, Sept 15 – Leading “The Calling of Every Christian Parent” workshop at Ormsby Heights Baptist Church in Louisville.  Joining my long-time friends Pastor Steve and Michelle McKelvey, who serve on the staff there.
  • Sunday, Sept 22-25 – Preaching the fall revival for Stanford Baptist Church.  I will be joined by some great worship leader friends: Caleb Phelps, Kristina Critcher, CU Sound, and my old friend from Lancaster BC, the one and only Nehemiah Wilkinson.
  • Oct. 8-9 – Jennifer and I will be leading 3 breakout sessions for the LifeWay Christian Resources Kids Ministry Conference in Nashville, TN.  We will be teaching: 1) Teaching Children Contemplatively, 2) The Full Spectrum of Family Ministry Models, and 3) Memory Makers.  This will be our first time to lead together as a couple.
  • Oct. 13, 20 and Nov. 3, 10, 17 – Preaching Sunday mornings at Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
  • Oct. 27 – Preaching for Campbellsville University Day at Lancaster Baptist Church in Garrard Co.  I can’t wait to visit my dear friends at LBC.  I have missed them greatly over the past year.

And I am getting ready for another huge January, February and March, 2014.

In January and February, I will be joining the LifeWay VBSi Team again at Ridgecrest, Nashville, Fort Worth, and Kissimmee, FL as we train over 6000 VBS leaders from across North America.  I will be preaching during the main worship service and leading a breakout session.

And then in March, I get the great privilege of traveling back to Israel and Jordan for the second time in 5 years as part of the Campbellsville Univ. School of Theology Holy Land Tour.  This time I will be joined by my dad and brother in Christ, Danny Garrison, along with many CU faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends.  Space is available, if you are interested in joining us.

I would really covet your prayers for me, Jennifer, the boys, and these opportunities to preach and teach about our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Pros and Cons of Interim Transitional Ministry

moving-forwardIn April, I finished my fifth interim/transitional pastorate. In a little over 4 years, God opened the door for me to lead four churches who were in transition – one church twice. In some ways it is a very Paul-like ministry. Moving around from city to city, learning different church cultures, trying to discern the needs, spreading the Gospel to different people in a different place with different backgrounds.

In other ways, it can be utterly heart breaking. From the onset you know you are not going to be there forever, but you still develop deep relationships with the people and know that as some point, you are going to have to go.

Now with a few months behind me since the last completion, I wanted to reflect on the pros and cons of interim transitional ministry and try to outline a few things I’ve learned on this journey.

3 PROS

1. Helping When a Church Needs Help the Most – A church who has recently lost their pastor is a hurting church. Even in the best case scenario, there is still someone they love who has left them behind taking family and children with them. There is significant pain, heartache, and a real sense of abandonment.

The interim transitional pastor can help with this pain by speaking well of the former pastor and helping the healing process begin through intentional methods, such as extra communication, fellowship, and opportunities to serve together to show unity and togetherness.

2. Helping When a Church Needs Leadership the Most – Immediately following the exit of a lead pastor, there is a HUGE leadership vacuum. The power players come out of the woodwork and start plying for more influence and leverage. You might think this “hawking” is only for the largest of churches, but you would be wrong. Even the smallest church has power players and the interim transitional period is an opening for conflict and confusion.

The interim transitional pastor must manage these dynamics to make sure the selection process is done well and with full integrity, holding the power players at bay while moving the church forward.

3. Helping When a Church Needs Stability the Most – While I am not sure the numbers are perfectly accurate, the stated trends tell us that a church will decline by 15% in attendance and 25% in giving during an interim period. And the longer the interim, the greater the declines, especially in giving. Those two trends alone will cripple a church in transition.

The interim transitional pastor provides stability in the pulpit, which is paramount. Stability in the leadership vacuum to limit the grabbing forces. And stability in casting a vision for this all-important transitional period so that in 12-24 months everyone will be okay and headed in the right direction.

3 CONS (These are a bit more personal, so be aware.)

1. Leaving All the Time – In four years, I have had to leave several great churches. Now I knew this was part of the deal going in, but it still stings. As an interim transitional leader, you are effectively a “temp.” You are meant for a particular season and no more. And while you enter the situation with this understanding, the leaving part still breaks your heart.

This is one reason why many interim pastors choose to go to different cities than where they permanently reside. Because once they leave, it makes it easier on the heart to not see everyone all the time. It is comparable to seeing an old girlfriend and not knowing what to say. “Its good to see you. How have you been? Are you seeing anyone new these days.” Awkward and gut-wrenching.

2. Limited Vision and Direction for the Long Haul – Since your time is limited, your ability to cast a vision is short-lived. You can not lead the church toward a particular ministry objective if you are not going to be there to see it through. The ministry is very 90-day driven, meaning you have a 90-day window to set a goal or cast a vision, but no more. Because in 120 days, the new pastor may be getting close to arriving and you will be moving on.

3. Languishing Over Choices Made in the Search Process – Here is probably the most sensitive of issues in interim transitional ministry. As the interim pastor, you are made privy to the work of the Pastor Search Team. You might be asked to look over potential resumes or be asked to talk to a potential candidate by phone. I have even been asked to contact a personal friend and ask them for their name to be put into consideration.

I have been brought into the meetings as they work through theological questionnaires to explain what the questions and answers mean. You must remember that most search team members are not trained theologians, nor are they equipped to understand the nuances of pastoral philosophy or ministry methodology.

In the process, you see things, read things, and hear things which cause you to cringe, but you simply can’t say too much in response. You have to let the committee find their own way through prayer and God’s direction. You don’t want to sway or divert them, so you remain neutral and only answer when asked, which is extremely difficult for most leaders.

For those considering this type of ministry, take care to learn and grow in the Lord. It is not as easy as it may seem, but serving the Lord is a calling to sacrifice, which is never easy.