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.

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The Difference Between an Interim and Transitional Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more posts on transitional ministry, check these out.

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

New Lessons in Transitional Ministry

Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

Three Types of Transitional Pastorates

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

Eight.  It is hard to believe.

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

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

Those three types are:  Hold, Help, Heal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Back to the Big City

Back in 2010-11, I had the great honor of being called interim pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville.  We met and served alongside wonderful people for that year.  We loved getting to travel to the big city of Louisville each Sunday and eat breakfast at Whole Foods and then maybe another cool place for lunch.  We could run to the mall, go to Target, eat Krispy Kreme donuts, and drink Starbucks coffee from a real store, not just the little kiosk we have on our campus.

hurstbourne bc

Hurstbourne Baptist Church, Louisville

Well starting yesterday, January 26, we are back in the Big City for a new season of ministry.  I have been called to serve as interim pastor of Hurstbourne Baptist Church over in the St. Matthews area.

We have already come to love this congregation, having spent about a month with them back in 2013.

HBC has a great ministerial staff, men and women who love the Lord Jesus and love people as Jesus would.  The congregation is made up of multiple generations, both young and old.  We have an active ministry to kids and families all the way through teenagers and young adults.

One of the things I especially love about this place is their desire to be missional in the Jefferson country region by serving regularly at the Baptist Fellowship Center, teaching weekly ESL classes, and serving in all sorts of local mission projects.  If there is a mission project to be a blessing to another group of people, they are usually right on top of it.

We also have a Korean church, KY Vineyard Community Church, led by a wonderful pastor Young Choi and his wife Youn, who is also our church pianist, that meets each Sunday @ 1:00 pm.

I am so excited about this opportunity and season of ministry back in the Big City.  If you live in the Louisville area and are looking for a church home, we would love for you to come and visit us at Hurstbourne Baptist.  Our Sunday morning service starts at 10:45 am.  You can find more information at HurstbourneBC.org.

Pros and Cons of Itinerant Ministry

Back in the 1800’s and early into the 1900’s, it was not unusual for a pastor/preacher to be itinerant.  Itinerant meant that they either lived in one city and did ministry in another or they were a circuit preacher preaching in numerous churches on a rotational cycle.

With so many churches being extremely small and unable to afford a pastor all their own, sharing was a must.  So the itinerant pastor traveled between locations, most often by horse and much later by car.

So far in my ministry life, I have been far more of an itinerant pastor/preacher than anything else.  I have been on 6 church staffs in KY & TX, in nearly every position except Senior Pastor (i.e., Youth Minister, Associate Pastor and Interim Pastor) and in only one of those positions did I live in the actual city of the church.

Here’s the list and the drive time, one-way, to church.

  • First Baptist Church, (part-time staff) Millsap, TX – 45 minutes away
  • Trinity Baptist Church, (part-time staff) Fort Worth, TX – 30 minutes away
  • Main Street Baptist Church, (full-time staff) Alexandria, KY – we lived in Alex.
  • Parkway Baptist Church (interim), Bardstown, KY – 50 minutes away
  • Bethany Baptist Church (interim), Louisville, KY – 90 minutes away
  • Lancaster Baptist Church (interim), Lancaster, KY – 75 minutes away

Itinerant ministry can provide some benefits and challenges.

Benefits

– First, there can be a benefit to having some space between you and your people.  Especially in the smaller community, pastors can feel as if they are always “on” whether at a restaurant, the grocery store or even driving from place to place.  Over time, this amplifies the glass-house syndrome.
– Secondly, itinerant ministry demands the pastor/minister and the church select only the most important of ministry tasks.  When you don’t live in the city, you have to come and go, which demands everyone to be selective and prioritize what is going to happen and what is going to be dismissed.

Challenges
–  No question, relationships.  It is possible to build great relationships in itinerant ministry, but they will not be as strong as other types of connection.  It is hard for the people to ever view you as an insider and local, if you live 45 minutes away.
–  No coffee shops conversations.  No bump into’s in the Walmart parking lot.  No seeing each other at the Memorial Day parade.  Just as space can be a benefit in preventing the glass-house syndrome, space can also be a huge disadvantage in that you are too far away to be completely available for the non-calendared meetings