Do You Want Your French Fries — Small, Medium, or Large?

we’re trying out when we don’t know we’re trying out

The elders of a well-known church wanted to talk with me about working with them. I was in their town on a program when they asked to meet. They introduced the subject. I was confused. They were talking to me about working with them as their preacher. They had a preacher.

I asked if their present preacher had resigned, was going to retire, or they were going to release him. They said they would keep him on. I would be the preacher. He would serve in other ways.

I inquired how he felt about that. They said they hadn’t told him yet.

That ended our conversation. I declined to proceed until they worked that out.

A year later, I was with the church in a similar program. Their preacher approached me. He told me the elders had discussed the arrangement. He said he’d be glad to work with me in that capacity and encouraged me to consider it further with the elders.

We agreed to meet in a few weeks in a town half-way between them and where I lived. We met for lunch and talked later in a local church building.

Two things ended my consideration:

  1. When we were ordering lunch, more than one of the elders struggled with ordering their meals: whether to have french fries and if they were going to have fries, did they want small, medium, or large? My anxiety was raised. If they have this much trouble ordering fries, how would they make more important decisions?
  2. As we talked about my responsibilities should I work with them, they were describing in detail how a former preacher did his work: in tasks and methods of carrying out the duties. I replied I’d do a radio program, but not exactly the way the former preacher did. I would write, but not exactly as the previous preacher did his writing. But they reaffirmed: task for task and method by method it was to be the same.

This former preacher had worked with them for decades. He was outstanding. He was a legend. When I was talking with them, at least two preachers had followed the long-tenured preacher. From my information, they were expected to perform as the famous preacher.

At the end of our meeting, I gave them my evaluation:

I appreciate the good meal and the opportunity to discuss this work with you. You have honored me by considering me. From what I’ve heard, you still want ___ _______ to be your preacher. He’s been dead several years. If I came to be your preacher, you’d be disappointed and I’d be frustrated because I’m not him and cannot be him.

They assured me that wasn’t the case. I suggested ways to accomplish some of the same goals using different methods. None of those were negotiable.

If they have this much trouble ordering fries, how would they make larger, much more important decisions? Click To Tweet


  • Be aware of what’s going on in any situation. We communicate about ourselves by words, actions, inflections, eye contact or lack thereof, body language, how we tip or neglect to tip, how we order french fries, and other ways. Those things mean something. If I don’t know and it concerns me, I need to do more research.
  • Many churches haven’t grieved the loss of a great preacher or adjusted to the ministry of a less than a good preacher. They’re still trying to compensate. Until that’s settled, it’ll be difficult to have a good relationship.
  • Many preachers haven’t grieved the loss of a great work, being fired, or being in an abusive relationship either in home or church. Until that’s worked through, it’ll be difficult to have a close, trusting elder-preacher relationship.
  • Words and promises mean little when words are contradicted by actions.
Many churches haven’t grieved the loss of a great preacher or adjusted to the ministry of a less than a good preacher. They’re still trying to compensate. Click To Tweet

What’s influenced your choice to work or not work with a church or a preacher?

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5 Frequent Problems in Churches

6 suggested solutions

Question by email: If you went to a church that was replacing a problem preacher or a church experiencing problems, what were the issues that were causing the disunity or problem? Maybe it did not result in the preacher being dismissed but you were the counselor to help find a solution. Your proposed solutions.

Causes of Church Problems

If people tell me their church is experiencing serious problems, my suspicions are:


They are gossiping: repeating and listening to things about each other and others that aren’t helpful and encouraging. Passively hearing and repeating gossip are two sides of the same coin. Proverbs 26:20


While they may be sound, giving right answers to some questions, they are sick (unsound) spiritually — rejecting and ignoring Jesus’ simple, but difficult, instructions for resolving conflict. Matthew 5:23, 24; Matthew 18:15-17


Elders spend their meeting and ministry time on deacons’ work and don’t shepherd sheep. They have no conscious, detailed, written, and committed plan to know members, communicate on a personal level, or minister to individuals and families of the congregation. Their main self-imposed job description is “making decisions,” trying to make everyone comfortable by putting out fires, and attempting to keep everyone happy.


Members rarely express appreciation to elders for their dedicated work.


The concept of an ideal Christian by many is to have the right answers to Bible questions, not do bad things, and come to church some. While those may be helpful for everyone, that isn’t close to following Jesus’ description of discipleship:

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

Solutions to Church Problems

Finding sources and implementing solutions to church problems are responsibilities of every member of a local church. If a situation is chronic and people are upset about it, it’s because everybody likes it the way it is more than what it would take to change it.

When a body is having a physical emergency, if the legs can’t walk or drive to the doctor, fingers need to do what they can and call 911. Get help. Don’t die blaming everyone else. It’s fatal. Click To Tweet


Everyone: seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Matthew 6:33


Elders: understand, teach, repeat, communicate, advertise, announce, and assure that each member of your congregation understands and can articulate the individual plan for your congregation to practice the Great Commandments and the Great Commission in your community and in the world. When you ask people what they do for a living, they don’t say, “Buy groceries and make house payments.” They need to do those things. But most have considered choices and evaluated opportunities and can tell you in two minutes or less how they make a living. Their answers: “I teach high school chemistry; I build houses; I’m a lawyer; I’m a truck driver; I’m a nurse.”

While it’s true our mission, in general, is to obey God and keep His commandments, my observation is members of active and excited churches can tell you what’s special about their congregation and how they’re doing God’s work. People know how God is working and how they fit into that plan in this congregation, in their family, and in the community.


Elders: lead into a continuing, consistent relationship with Jesus by example and teaching — whether anyone follows you or not. It’s your choice to lead and do what God teaches you to do, regardless of whether anyone follows. Don’t wait until you know without a doubt the church will follow. Leading is your choice. Following is theirs. I notice when elders lovingly and faithfully lead with dedication and persistence, usually, the church will follow within twenty or thirty years. It took Israel forty years to enter the promised land. But with our technology and training, we may speed that up a decade or two.


Elders: prayerfully and carefully communicate to your fellow Christians that gossip won’t be tolerated in this congregation. There’s a two-step plan shorter than Jesus’ three-step plan for resolving a destructive type of church conflict.

Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10, 11, NKJV).

I often tell elders: if you decide and announce that this church, following your example and leadership, will adopt the same rules for peace as God’s word, within six weeks of your announcement, one of your brothers-in-law and a wife of one of the elders with publicly gossip, either in the foyer or on Facebook, to see if you meant what you said. And your response will make all the difference in the peace or lack of it in your church.


Members: repeatedly, individually and collectively, express to your shepherds your love for them and your appreciation for their work. You don’t have to agree with everything they decide and do. If they sin, with two or more witnesses, rebuke them in a loving way (1 Timothy 5:19, 20). But even if you don’t agree with every announcement and challenge, thank them for their work, over and over again. That’s your command and choice (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). It doesn’t take a whole church to express gratitude for weak or strong working shepherds. One individual or one family can plan and have their own appreciation party.

I ask every congregation where I work, I ask, “How long since you’ve had an Elders Appreciation Dinner?” Many never remember expressing gratitude for the hours their shepherds invest in the congregation. Click To Tweet


Leaders, and followers: “mind your own business” instead of waiting for the ones you’re blaming to get right first. Sometimes leaders follow followers and sometimes followers follow leaders. But everyone is responsible to the Lord for following Him, regardless of what others do. Joshua 24:14, 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:11

Regardless of title or position, when someone sets a good example, those who follow are blessed.

What suggestions for peace do you suggest?

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Questions and Answers about Interim Ministry

what you wanted to know but haven't asked

A college student interviewed me for a paper in one of his classes. Here is the result:

1. What is the purpose/vision of interim ministry?

Assisting preachers and churches in transition through effective training coming from decades of experience to navigate through the pain of loss to begin a new time of growth.

2. How did you become an interim minister? What inspired you?

Our Journey to Interim Ministry

3. I know you like rules, so what are some rules that you have for the congregation and yourself throughout this process? Beginning? Middle? End?

First three rules

Name memory rule

Communication rules

Criticism rule

Originality rule

Discussion rules I use the ones appropriate at the beginning of each group I lead: classes, Transition Monitoring Team, Search training, etc.:

4. How would you describe the difference between yourself, as an interim minister, and any other minister in relation to the congregation?

In addition to preaching and teaching, I lead several activities to encourage the church to think about where they are, where they want to go, and what kind of preacher they need now. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTERIM MINISTRY AND A FILL-IN PREACHER IS THINKING, PROCESS. Interim ministry is an interruption of things as usual and a challenge to think about who we are, what our purpose is, where we want to go, and how do we plan to get there. That takes thinking. I challenge mindless repetition of previous methods continually. Good preaching is good. Interim ministry works with the leadership and the rest of the congregation to encourage growth. I teach classes and provide workshops to impliment this.

5. Throughout your time as an interim minister, have you noticed any patterns that are common to churches you have worked for? Any growth patterns? Any consistent problems within the congregations?

Churches with problems allow, and sometimes encourage, gossip. This brings conflict. Proverbs 26:20 I discuss over and over Jesus’ instructions on resolving conflict. Matthew 18:15-17 When that isn’t followed consistently, people are hurt and there is polarization where Christians are talking about each other instead of to each other.

6. Please describe the overall transition process that you walk a congregation through during the interim.

I start or participate in staff meetings.

I lead a Transition Monitoring Team.

We do a self-study survey.

A group prepares a timeline of attendance and contribution for as long as they have records. It is put on a chart. We designate a night to discuss what we learn from what we see. A group assembles an introduction to the church and community to help prospective preachers decide if this is a church and community that would fit him and his family. They include opportunities and facilities for sports, education, shopping, recreation.

A group prepares a timeline of attendance and contribution for as long as they have records and the results of a self-study.

I have a day of training for people involved in the preacher search

You might like to look at the entire SEARCH page, either for this paper or future reference.

7. What are the main focuses/lessons that you preach/roles to do at the Beginning of the interim? Middle? End?

a. Begin with Luke 9:23, being a disciple of Jesus: Carving Ears, Cutting Out, Calling Angels, or Crucifixion. Are we the kind of congregation that will attract the kind of preacher we want? Seven lessons in this series.

b. How to Survive the Storm and Enjoy the Sunshine. Acts 6:1-7 Seven lessons on dealing with conflict in the church.

c. What Do You Do When God Is Late? Nine lessons on time — God’s Sovereign Time and Human Standard Time. One of the struggles of the interim is getting in a hurry to get a new preacher and “get it back the way it used to be.” We need to take the time to do the work we need to do.

8. How long is the average interim minister hired for?

My contract is six to eighteen months. In two churches, I stayed for nearly two years. We discussed that in the beginning. Both wanted to select elders before they began the preacher search.

9. In your experience, what is the biggest obstacle for spiritual growth in the church?

Insufficient spiritual nourishment, exercise, and rest.

10. Why do you believe that churches struggle to transition to a new pulpit minister?

Why do you believe that churches struggle to transition to a new pulpit minister? Click To Tweet

If the previous preacher has been at the congregation for a long time (five years or more), the people who liked him want another just like him. The people who didn’t like him want a preacher exactly opposite to him. There are none in either category. Part of the value of an interim minister is to allow enough time to pass that the previous preacher isn’t the standard for the new preacher — either positive or negative.

11. Is interim ministry scriptural? What scripture/scriptures are most cited as the “theme scripture” if you will?

I think of Hebrews 11:8, “And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

12. Going along with #11, are there biblical figures who were interim ministers or something like it themselves?

Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness to the edge of the promised land, yet never entered himself. The interim preacher isn’t the star. I’ve often observed it this way: you go to a church where one-third of the people don’t want to in the beginning and 100% of them are praying every week for you to leave as soon as possible (“Lord, help us to find a good preacher soon.”). John the Baptist was an interim preacher for Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). My last sermon at each interim church is “Every Christian Is an Interim Minister.” Someone came before us. Others will follow after us. Our opportunity is to make it better to those who follow.

13. Have you found it to be difficult to build relationships with people knowing that your position is temporary?

Some people are hesitant. But that is true in long-term ministry also.

14. What do you do personally to prepare yourself for your ministry?

I intentionally try to learn from every experience, reflecting on Biblical principles. Every success and failure is an opportunity to learn.

15. This may be similar to #6, but do you have a sermon plan for the interim? If so, what is it? #7

16. What values do you try to instill in the congregation before the interim is over?

God loves His church. Jesus died for it. God loves this congregation. God will give us wisdom. We will survive and thrive as we keep our faith in God.

17. Like your practice of resigning with the hiring of a new elder, what other “radical” practices do you believe help in church growth?

Something that will help us think. One of the most spiritual things a person can do is to think.

Resigning with the change in the eldership.

Eldership funerals.

18. Which spiritual disciplines do you encourage/preach/teach most?

Regular, individual and group Bible study. Pray without ceasing. Think in parables. Jesus never taught without telling a story to illustrate. Mark 4:33, 34

19. Please explain your Accepting Criticism class that you teach and the purpose behind it.

It has been one of the most stress-relieving practices I’ve started. I went from being frozen in fear of criticism to loving criticism. I’m doing the best I know how. Anyone who tells me a better way to live, think, talk, teach, preach, rest, eat, exercise, manage money, or anything else does me a favor. If it gives me a new idea or tells me what I’ve been doing isn’t the best, I have an opportunity to think and evaluate. I can be harmed by criticism in two ways:

a. Rejecting all criticism.

b. Accepting all criticism. I need to think and evaluate — then after prayer and consideration, do what I think is best. When I welcome criticism, it neutralizes henpeckers — people who want to arouse irritation.

20. What are some criticisms that you have received throughout the years?

What are some criticisms that you have received throughout the years? Click To Tweet

Your wife doesn’t have enough different dresses for Sunday.
You preach too long.
I don’t like sermon series.
I don’t think anyone who is paid by the church should drive a red car.
A lady was upset because I didn’t visit her when she was sick even though she didn’t tell me she was sick: “I’ve been sick two weeks and nobody came to see me — not even the preacher.”
I don’t like the clothes your teen-age son wears. The colors are loud and the pants have too many pockets.

21. If you had a snapshot of the congregation when you begin your interim position and another snapshot of the congregation at the end of your interim period, how would you describe the differences in these snapshots? What are the important changes/points of growth within the congregation from the beginning to the end?

Two of the most rewarding were congregations where they had gone through a major split. One lost 50% and the other lost 60% of their members. When we first came, people left as soon as the last prayer was finished. They didn’t trust each other. They thought they could trust the people who left. But since they left, they’ve been calling them dirty religious names such as “liberal, unfaithful, change agents.” If those people were like that, what about some of the ones still here. Will they leave and do the same thing? After a few months, by establishing relationship guidelines, talking, and making commitments about how we will treat each other, people begin to stay longer, talk, and work together again.

22. Which congregations have you worked with in the past as an interim minister?

Eddyville, Kentucky, May 2007-August 2008
Hendersonville, Tennessee, October 2008-December 2009
Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee, March 2010-June 2011
LaVergne, Tennessee, August 2011-June 2013
Maury City, Tennessee, September 2013-July 2015
Northside Church of Christ, Jeffersonville, Indiana, September 2015-February 2017 Next, if the Lord wills,
Shady Acres, Sikeston, Missouri, April 2017-August 2018
River Road, Nashville, Tennessee, November 2018-???

23. What do you view as the biggest threat to the church and individual churches today?

Not studying God’s word with a view to individual application, regardless of the pain.

24. If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to enter the field of interim ministry, what would you say?

Learn from every experience. Study Family Systems.

25. At the beginning of an interim, is there a foundation, so to speak, that must be set?

At the beginning of any relationship, it is good to talk about “family rules.” Family rules are usually unspoken, unconscious, understood, and contradictory. This means in many relationships, in regard to our expectations, we don’t think about anyone having different needs from us, we don’t talk about how we will relate, but when someone misses our expectations, we are offended and often punish the offending party. A better way is to talk about how we will relate, negotiate how we will respond to differences, and if we can’t live with the differences, don’t get tied to each other. The best time to get a divorce is before you get married.

26. Is there a core set of practices (I’m thinking like prayer groups or the elder & staff meetings) that you introduce to the church throughout this period?

I attend elders’ meeting and make observations, always with the wastebasket available (third of the first three rules) — if they don’t think what I say is helpful, they can throw it into the wastebasket. Weekly staff meetings consisting of Bible study, coordination, and staff development (reading a book with ideas of how groups work and discussing the principles).

What questions do you have about interim ministry?

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“We’ll Be Fine When We Get a New Preacher, Elder(s)”

what will it take to fix it?

I was sitting with a family during the surgery of a relative. They told me about their new preacher. He was great. He was preaching outstanding sermons. He was friendly. He was visiting. He was perfect! Then one person said, “I know we’ll be disappointed. We always are.”

You’re correct. That’s normal — if my expectation is a new person will solve all problems in our group. A new coach can’t do it. A new president can’t do it. A new boss can’t do it. A new preacher can’t do it. A new elder (or eldership) can’t do it. I’ll be disappointed and you’ll be disappointed.

A new stereo with the latest apps won’t make a junkyard car run great and get good gas mileage.

Filling a decayed tooth won’t repair a broken arm.

A heart transplant won’t cure cataracts.

All these adjustments may be helpful and a few necessary. But some or all won’t fix the whole.

A great new preacher won't fix everything. The key to letting the church grow is for every member to work as it should. Click To Tweet

If a symptom is chronic and you’re upset about it, it’s because you like it the way it is more than what it would take to change it. One person cannot make the church grow.

The best way to find a good preacher is to become the kind of congregation a good preacher would go out of his way to get to work with those people. Click To Tweet

If I’m waiting for everyone else to reach acceptable function (by my definition of acceptable) before I’ll do what I can, and everyone else has the same attitude, no one will grow and the church will continue to decline.

Joshua had the right approach:

Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14, 15, NKJV).

  1. Here’s what you need to do.
  2. You may think what I think is the right thing is the wrong thing.
  3. You have many choices.
  4. You choose.
  5. Here’s where I stand.

My goal as an interim isn’t just to help the church find a good preacher. It isn’t in my job description to fix leadership or followership. My goal to help us all grow more into the image of Jesus so others may want to be around us and walk with us to the destination. 1 Corinthians 2:2

How can we be protected from false expectations?

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Why Don’t People Return After They Visit?

is it our culture or our rudeness?

Often I hear conversations about why many churches aren’t growing. Many blame our culture, materialism, or some other outside source. Those may play a part.

Let me relate something that happened to me less than fifty years ago, and less than 500 miles from where I’m sitting in Nashville, Tennessee.

I’d started preaching at this congregation a few weeks before this situation. I was the new preacher.

I was talking with a member in the foyer immediately following Sunday morning services. Another member approached and interrupted our conversation. They talked between themselves about where they were going to eat. The interrupter left. We ended our conversation. The person I was speaking to left.

A few weeks later, a similar situation occurred. I was talking with a different member. Here comes a fourth member. He interrupts. They discuss where they wanted to eat.

The person I was talking to said, “I want to go somewhere I can eat breakfast.”

The interrupter said, “I would like breakfast too.”

They agreed on a restaurant. Our original conversation ended soon. Gail and I left for lunch.

Both conversations were similar. In neither case did one of the four say, “Excuse me,” or “Would you like to join us for lunch?” Both times there was no malice on their part, no thought, and no shame. There was no followup. Not one of the four returned Sunday night and said, “What I did this morning was unthoughtful. I shouldn’t have interrupted. I wish we’d invited you to lunch with us. Would you go next Sunday?”

From every indication, this was their rule: “We go to eat together every Sunday. Please complete your conversation so we can get to the restaurant. You’re not invited.” Click To Tweet

I have no intention of quitting the church, becoming angry or ugly. But that’s not a good way to welcome your new preacher, new member, or visitor. Four different households — all prominent families, and leaders. They’re the ones who set the tone for the congregation. I would expect others to be less sensitive than those who lead.

This is a well-known congregation. They’ve been declining several years. What I heard for months after I arrived was how bad the world was and how other churches entertain, and we can’t compete with them.

This attitude thrived because everyone liked it the way it was more than what it would take to change it. Their Sunday-eating rule was so entrenched not one of the four leaders recognized how insensitive he was. Click To Tweet

That’s rude. If you treat your new preacher that way, you’ll do it to a visitor or weak member and then wonder, “Why isn’t the church growing? It must be our corrupt society.”

My Observations

  • Members follow their leaders.
  • The answer to our decline isn’t to entertain or wish others wouldn’t entertain.
  • People want to be valued, led, trained for meaningful service, challenged, and encouraged to serve in meaningful ways.
  • There are Bible principles to encourage us and attract others.
  • We are to follow Jesus and point others to Jesus.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3, 4, NKJV).

How can we practice this “mind of Jesus” principle and encourage it in other Christians?

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Trip to Israel

May 20-30, 2019

Have you dreamed about visiting the land where Jesus walked? Would you like to see the traditional place where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount and read Matthew 5-7 at that spot? Would you like to visit Jerusalem where Jesus often came and observe where He was tried, where He was crucified, was buried, and rose from the dead?

I have been encouraged and moved during the three trips I’ve taken. I look forward to traveling there in May 2019 with my family and would like to invite you to come along.

Dr. Rodney Cloud

Rodney Cloud has been to Israel twenty times. He has spent his life teaching the Bible, Hebrew, and Greek, and leading people to study Bible accounts in the places where they happened. He will be teaching during the trip, describing what we’re seeing, and giving us the benefit of his years of study and experience of traveling to Israel and participating in archeological work.

If you would like more information, please click on the picture or button below and read the itinerary and other details about this wonderful opportunity.

Olive Trees in Israel

More information — Click Here

Between Preachers: Two-month Pause

time to find stuff and reorganize

We moved back to Nashville from Sikeston, Missouri, Friday, August 31. We are unpacking and finding new things every day. I don’t plan to post to Between Preachers during September and October. I may have an announcement or two.

We are in an interim between interims. My plans are to start with a new congregation on November 11. We hope to take a trip. I have a speaking engagement and a workshop scheduled for this time.

Thank you for reading, sharing, and for your encouragement.

Here are my ten top posts (according to your views) since I started this blog:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please share this blog with others leaders who might find a “mustard seed”.

Please send suggestions for additional posts:

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Goodbye to Shady Acres

a new preacher comes and we go — thank you

We are bringing our work at Shady Acres to a close. The church gave us a great anniversary and going away party Sunday.

Gail and I have profited and enjoyed our time in Sikeston. Missouri. The elders, members, and people of the community have treated us kindly.

Keith Olbricht will begin his work next Sunday, September 2.

Thank you to the Shady Acres elders for this letter of recommendation.

Who’s Carrying Wood to the Fire?

and — who’s providing oxygen to keep the fire burning?

There are things I suspect about a church in conflict. They have a problem with gossip. They’re ignoring Jesus’ instructions on dealing with conflict: Matthew 5:23-26, Matthew 18:15-17.

Solomon wrote:

Where there is no wood, the fire goes out;
And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases (Proverbs 26:20, NKJV).

In a seriously conflicted church, many people know who’s carrying wood to the fire and have known it for a long time, yet do nothing to stop it. Click To Tweet

When I work with a church, I talk with individual families. I have a list of questions. I record the answers, anonymously, and share the information with the elders.

The first four questions:

  1. Tell me the problem and what was the flashpoint?
  2. What are underlying long-term problems/attitudes that caused the flashpoint?
  3. What has been your involvement in the problem?
  4. What first-hand knowledge do you have about the person(s) driving the problem? Who is carrying wood to the fire? (Proverbs 26:20)

Notice # 4: What first-hand knowledge do you have about the person(s) driving the problem? Who is carrying wood to the fire? (Proverbs 26:20) The people know who they are and give me the names. After the first half dozen interviews, the main gossipers have been identified. I use an app called TextExpander. I type three or four letters, and the name is pasted into my document. I do very little name typing after the first interviews. The same names occur over, and over, and over again. (For information about the helpful app: TextExpander).

If people know who’s stirring the pot, igniting the conflict, what should they do? Solomon instructs:

Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave;
Yes, strife and reproach will cease (Proverbs 22:10).

For the principle in the New Testament:

Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10, 11).

But they rarely do. Often people like it the way it is more than what it would take to change it. Peter Steinke in his book, How Your Church Family Works, quotes Edwin Friedman:

Listening to gossip

Actually religious institutions are the worst offenders at encouraging immaturity and irresponsibility. In church after church, some member is passively-aggressively holding the whole system hostage, and no one wants to fire him or force her to leave because it wouldn’t be “the Christian thing to do.” It has nothing to do with Christianity. Synagogues also tolerate abusers because it wouldn’t be the Christian thing to do (page 59).

It’s not only true that without wood the fire goes out. It’s also true that without oxygen, a fire will go out.

The oxygen of the raging fire of gossip is people listening to gossip. If there were no listeners to gossipers, there would be no gossip. Or, if there were, it would do little harm. Click To Tweet

The reason a situation gets and stays chronic is that everybody likes it the way it is better than what it would take to change it.

But it doesn’t have to stay explosive. I’ve seen Jesus change people and churches. A few can change the rules in a church. The few who will reject gossip in themselves and others and commit to blessing with encouragement and grace can and will make a difference (Ephesians 4:29).

Let’s put out the fire that’s destroying many churches!

What gossip fire-fighting principles have you learned?

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You Look Weird When You Do That

my most unusual criticism

I continue to reflect on eleven years of interim ministry. I love criticism. I am at peace with the fact: “Not everybody has liked Jerrie Barber in the past; not everybody likes Jerrie Barber today; not everybody will like Jerrie Barber in the future.” Read more: Criticism Rule

This one caught me off guard. I taught a Wednesday night Bible class. I remarked during class, “I think we’ve had our last killing frost for the year. It’s about time for me to get my burr haircut.”

On the way to the elders’ meeting, one of the elders said, “Jerrie, you might want to mention your haircut in the elders meeting tonight.” I was confused, “Mention to the elders I’m getting a haircut tomorrow?” “Yes,” he said, “They’d appreciate it.”

I want to please my elders. As the meeting began, I said, “I’m planning to get my hair cut tomorrow. I get a burr cut for spring and summer.”

One of them responded, “Thank you for telling us. We would appreciate it if you wouldn’t do it. You really look weird when you wear your hair like that.”

I was almost speechless. I replied, “Brethren, I can’t believe it. I’ve heard of elders who don’t want a preacher to wear his hair too long. I’ve heard of a few churches with a rule that if a man’s hair touched his collar or his ears he couldn’t serve in public. I’ve never heard of elders who were concerned about the preacher’s hair being too short.”

This discussion continued for what seemed like thirty minutes. I was in a daze. I looked across the table. An elder had his head shaved and a beard that reminded me of the Duck Commander. Their rule was: an elder could have no hair on his head and much hair on his face, but the preacher looked weird with a buzz haircut.

After a long discussion, an elder said, “Brethren, I wonder if we don’t have bigger fish to fry than telling Jerrie how to wear his hair.”

Thank you, brother, for the relief.

I had nightmares three out of the next four nights. I dreamed of elders knocking on my door in the middle of the night telling me I looked weird with short hair and other variations of the dream theme.

I had nightmares three out of the next four nights. I dreamed of elders knocking on my door in the middle of the night telling me I looked weird with short hair. Click To Tweet

What Did I Learn From That?


  • If you have preferences, in dress or hairstyle, please discuss your expectations in the interviews selecting your next preacher. I had interviewed with them the summer before, wore a burr cut all summer (until the first killing frost, when I start letting it grow out for the winter), and they said nothing about it.
  • Don’t expect different standards of your preacher from what one or more elders practice.
  • I reviewed these suggestions as I was leaving.


  • Ask about dress codes for the preacher and other men serving in public during the interviews.
  • Are dress codes different Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night?
  • What are other appearance expectations for you and your family?
Preachers, what are appearance expectations for you and your family? Click To Tweet

What unusual criticisms have you had and how did you deal with them?

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