Checking References

do you want to know the truth?

“Everything looks good. This man is impressive. He’s devoted to Jesus. His sermons on the net are outstanding—Biblical, interesting, challenging, authentic, and applicable to daily life. His wife and family seem to be dedicated and a compliment to the preacher’s ministry. His interview was outstanding! He answered questions well. His questions were relevant and challenging for the search group. I say let’s offer him the work before someone else gets him!”

What about checking references?

“What else could you want? He preaches, lives, and applies God’s word. He was recommended by a friend of mine who said he didn’t know anything against him. We better call quickly or he’ll be gone.”

Checking references is often a distraction in the process. Many people who call me as a reference for a preacher come across as someone who wants me to confirm the decision they’ve already made to secure this man.

It’s the responsibility of the search team to find a disciple of Jesus who is a competent, caring, and clean man who will be the next preacher. To do that, the searchers need to do due diligence to find the truth which will set them, the preacher, and the congregation free to enter into a good relationship.

There’s no problem of securing the “chief of sinners” to be the next preacher if he’s received mercy, has put off the old man, and is continually putting on the new man. It’s a problem if the old man is denied, still lives in the back bedroom, and visits in his life frequently.

If the preacher has no issues with most forms of immorality, but is lazy, filled with uncontrolled anger, incompetent, dull, or uncooperative, the best time to learn about any of these things is before he loads up the U-Haul™ coming your way.

If the preacher has no issues with most forms of immorality, but is lazy, filled with uncontrolled anger,… Click To Tweet

What do you ask a reference?

You need to address many aspects of the prospective preacher’s life to contribute to a good fit for the ministry you want in your congregation. The best material I’ve seen came from the Minister Transition Packet, prepared by Dr. Charles Siburt. I bought a copy several years ago. It’s full of good ideas about the transition process. They now have different packets for securing preachers, youth ministers, and for ministers looking: Transition Packets.

Click links to see the reference form I’ve modified for search teams:

Call the reference to make an appointment to do the interview. I plan on forty-five minutes to an hour. I prefer a personal meeting, but often it isn’t practical.

I like to go over the rules: why I’m calling, confidentiality for the person answering questions, the importance of providing information, and our desire to do what’s best for the preacher, his family, the church where he’s working now, and our congregation. I want to know his strengths and weaknesses. If a reference doesn’t give any weaknesses, I disregard that contact. Either he or she doesn’t know the person well enough or isn’t being forthright with the information.

I want to know his strengths and weaknesses. If a reference doesn’t give any weaknesses, I disregard that… Click To Tweet

A church isn’t ready to invite a preacher to work with them until they know what they like, what they don’t like, and how they plan to put up with what they don’t like. A preacher isn’t ready to move to a church until he knows what he likes, at least a thing or two he won’t like, and how he plans to put up with what he doesn’t like.

In addition to a thorough checking of references—both the ones submitted by the candidate and more references suggested by initial references, you should:

  1. Do a criminal background check.
  2. Do a credit check.
  3. Discuss with the preacher any unfavorable reports you received from all sources and determine truth which will set you free to proceed or stop the process with this person (Matthew 7:12).

Check laws in your state about proper permission to do a criminal background check and credit check. You may need to get written permission to do these.

I don’t know how to over-emphasize the necessity of working hard to know the person you’re considering to work with you and your people in the intimate and essential areas of life, death, sin, holiness, family, discipleship, loving God, and our neighbors. Regardless of his eloquence and pizzazz, if his life doesn’t back up his message, he isn’t the man for your pulpit.

What has worked for you in finding vital information about a prospective preacher?

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Preacher Search — Interviews

what will you ask and what will you be asked?

The search team has read recommendations and resumes. They’ve sorted their first impressions into A, B, and C categories. It’s time to continue the evaluation.

The search team and prospective preacher should consider, compile, and practice two sets of questions:

  1. What will I ask?
  2. What will I be asked?

If I’m concerned with only one side of the interview, what I want to know, I’ll be half-prepared. That will come across when the other party begins to ask questions. I need to prepare a repertoire of responses to every question I may be asked by the other person(s).

Some Presuppositions

  • The purpose of the interview isn’t to “get the job” or “hire this good preacher.” The purpose of interview-evaluation is to see if we fit. There are many good preachers and many good congregations that don’t need to be together. They don’t fit. They may be equally righteous and faithful. But they don’t fit. There are many good men and good women that don’t need to be married. They are good Christians following Jesus. But they don’t fit each other.
  • Each of the interviewing parties should be equally eager to give and receive critical information that will help the other make a good decision.
  • Both the church and preacher are trying out. Both have choices. Either can reject the other. If one wants to work together and the other doesn’t, they don’t fit. It takes two to make a match. It takes one to reject an offer.
  • The best time to get a divorce is before you get married. If there’s anything that would be a disappointment and deal breaker, it’s better to come out during the interview than six months after the new preacher has moved and someone is surprised — the church or the preacher.
  • Faith grows through creative doubt (Mark 9:23, 24). Ask what you need to know and check with independent sources to sustain or question answers during the interview. Read the post on Checking References.
  • An excellent principle of the search process:

     Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).

The purpose of the interview isn’t to “get the job” or “hire this good preacher.” Click To Tweet

Interviews

Church to Preacher

The general principle: ask what you need to know to make a good selection of the preacher and church. Ask enough to discover what you like about the other, what you don’t like, and whether you can put up with what you don’t like to enjoy what you like.

For sample interview tools, on the Search page, click on Interviews.

You’ll find (click on tabs at the top of the page or download PDF or Word files on the links below):

  1. Phone Interview.pdf; Phone Interview.doc.
  2. Pulpit Minister Interview Questions.pdf; Pulpit Minister Interview Questions.doc.
  3. Minister Interview Summary.
  4. Letter to Applicant.pdf; Letter to Applicant.doc.
  5. Letter of Regret.pdf; Letter of Regret.doc.

In addition to these questions, I suggest:

  • Discuss media involvement on Facebook, Twitter, other media. Exchange friendship, follows, and check the past year of posts.
  • Discuss how the preacher deals with political issues, your philosophy of the Christian and government, and how it should be handled from the pulpit, in classes, bulletin, and on social media.
  • Ask about sermon preparation. What % of your sermons come from preparation from scratch, what % from reworked sermons of lessons heard on the internet, lectureships, etc., and what % copies from internet sources such as Sermon Central.
  • Ask about previous involvement in pornography in print, on the internet, movies, or other sources, and how he guards against this. This is a problem for many ministers: Here’s How 770 Pastors Describe Their Struggle with Porn. If you decide this is unimportant, be prepared to deal with an angry, depressed preacher who will have to be right on every issue, or who’ll have to change everything his way to grow and please the Lord, and could have sexual issues acted out with members of the congregation. To prepare for this question, practice with all members of the Search Team and elders in case the preacher prospect is interested in the same issue with you (Matthew 7:12).

You may find these questions inadequate for your needs. Delete the questions you think are unnecessary, add questions you think are vital, and you’ll have an ideal list for your search.

I suggest a practice session before your first interview. I did this with one interim congregation. I was the preaching candidate. They asked me their questions. I answered. I asked questions a preacher might ask.

The best time to get a divorce is before you get married. Click To Tweet

Preacher to Church

If you’re on the Search Team or if you’re an elder interviewing a prospective preacher, what will he ask you?

For a sample of questions three preachers have used, click on Questions for Elders.

Questions by three preachers (click on tabs at top of page or download PDF or Word files on links below):

  1. Dale Jenkins.pdf; Dale Jenkins.doc.
  2. Bryan McAlister.pdf; Bryan McAlister.doc.
  3. Jeremy Houck.pdf; Jeremy Houck.doc.

You may find these inadequate for your needs. They ask the wrong questions. They don’t ask the right questions. Delete the unnecessary questions, add vital questions, and you’ll have an ideal list for your search.

What suggestions do you have for an evaluation by both parties that will lead to a good fit?

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Interim Ministry Workshop

Nashville, Tennessee, September 21-23, 2017

Front Row: Alisa Leonard, Susan Sandefur
Back Row: Roger Leonard, Dean Miller, Ron Sandefur. We had an elder and wife, a preacher and wife, and another preacher.

Our schedule:
Thursday and Friday: 8:00-12:00; 1:00-5:00; 7:00-9:00
Saturday: 8:00-12:00

I appreciate the brethren at Charlotte Heights Church of Christ allowing us to use their building and helping in every way.

Some of the topics we discussed:

  • Three Rules.
  • Introductions.
  • Discussion Guidelines.
  • My ministry today — my ministry ten years from today.
  • Family Systems.
  • Questions to Learn More About Your Family.
  • When to Leave…Before You Go, “mustard seeds”.
  • Elder Rules.
  • Staff, elder, deacon evaluation.
  • Contracts.
  • Learning from past elders.
  • Getting the word out about your availability.
    • Blog, website.
    • Emails from Contacts.
  • Interim Ministry Network.
  • Leadership classes:
    • God’s Great Servants.
    • Learning to Love my Friend(s).
  • Preaching during the interim. (Workbook).
    • Sermon series I always preach.
    • How to Treat the New Preacher.
    • Every Christian Is an Interim Minister.
  • Staff meetings.
  • Different ways of doing interim.
    • Sundays.
    • Weekend.
    • Residence.
  • Transitions, “mustard seeds”.
  • Jesus and Peacemaking—how to reduce conflict in a church.
  • Compensation for an interim preacher.
  • Setting goals.
  • Transition Monitoring Team.
  • Gail and ladies discussion of wives of interims.
  • Expressing gratitude, appreciation, recognition.
  • Self-study.
  • Timeline.
  • What Preachers Wish Elders Knew About Preachers.
  • Evaluation of workshop.

I’m considering another workshop next year (2018). Please let me know your interest and preferences as to the month and which three days in the week.

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Search Team Training

how do you look for a new preacher?

How do you suggest searching for a preacher that will be blessed by and a blessing to this congregation at this time? In this post, I give experience from 1961 to the present, with five congregations in full-time work and interim churches since 2007. This is an outline of a training day for the team directly involved in the search process. As always, the wastebasket is available for any ideas that aren’t helpful.

Presuppositions

     I begin the training process with some presuppositions.

  • I believe God loves His church. Jesus built it and died for it (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28). God is not only concerned about the church universal but each congregation individually. Several letters of the New Testament are to local groups of believers.
  • Since God loves His church and wants the best for it, we should invite Him to be part of this process. Remind yourself and others that His wisdom is available to those who pray for it (James 1:5) and work for it (Proverbs 2:1-5).
  • The process is as important as the product. Christians on the Search and Interview Teams, including the entire eldership, are not just doing a job but you are participating in an opportunity to grow spiritually. You can learn about God, about others, and about yourself.
  • Each committee should become a group before they see the first résumé or mention the first preacher’s name. A friend used to say, “I dream of a place and a time where Christians can get together and tell the truth.” The interview and selection process should be one of those times and places.
  • If one holds back, does not speak his mind, doesn’t ask important questions, doesn’t add helpful insight, or is in any way intimidated or compromised, the group and the church is deprived of group wisdom. Becoming a group will require several meetings before they “get on with the Lord’s work” of selecting a preacher. I believe learning to get along with each other, discussing how we’re going to conduct business, including how we’ll settle conflict when it arises, and getting to know each other in order to “stir up love and good works” is part of “the Lord’s work.”
  • The training day is designed to begin this process. It’s only the beginning. Usually, a group goes through three stages before it  is ready to function:
      1. Forming.
      2. Storming.
      3. Norming.
     I include activities in the training to begin those stages. I conducted these training sessions on a Saturday.

7:30     Breakfast. We start with a light meal. Eating together begins the group process. Many things happen when we are eating to bring us together.

After breakfast, I get the group into a circle. Everyone is facing everyone else. Everyone is on the front row.

Prayer is a part of our day at many different times. We pray for wisdom. We pray for the members of the search and interview team. We pray for the elders. We pray for the next preacher. We pray for the men who will be considered who will want to come but will not be selected.  We pray for this church and the body of Christ over the world.

8:00     Guidelines. I begin any group (counseling session, Bible class, Family Meeting, Stress Session in a monthly ministers’ workshop) with negotiating guidelines. Family (group) rules are usually unconscious, unspoken, but understood. That makes for difficult communication. I want the rules to be spoken, conscious, and understood. These are the boundaries that improve the possibility that “Christians can get together and tell the truth.” “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3, NKJV)? The answer to that question is, “No!” Many discussions end in chaos or miscommunication because we didn’t talk about how we were going to talk. You can receive a free copy of the guidelines I use by subscribing to my www.newshepherdsorientation.com blog post reminders: GUIDELINES FOR A GOOD DISCUSSION: how to lead a peaceful conversation about powerful things .

8:35     Mixer, introduction. The people line up according to birthdays: January – December. They get into pairs. Each person interviews the other, preparing to introduce the partner to the group. Tell something about yourself and include something that no one knows about you until today. Each person introduces his/her partner.

8:45     What do you bring to this process? It is interesting how different people contribute to the search process. Some are good at calling, recording, leading the meetings, writing letters or emails, asking interview questions, arranging for visits to the congregation, keeping spreadsheets of where each candidate is in the process, preparing sermons on CDs or MP3s for others to hear. We learn more about that in this section of the training session.

9:15     What will you get out of this? Each person needs to examine his motives. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The search process is long and sometimes difficult and frustrating. Unless there is adequate motivation, the members will get discouraged. That can result in some people quitting and/or rushing the process to “get it over with” and end with less than excellent results.

Break 

9:45     Centertown Church of Christ now—10 years from now. After the break, I bring people to tables with crayons and large drawing paper. I ask each person to draw a line vertically in the middle of the page. On the left side of the paper, each person draws his or her impression of this congregation now. On the right side of the page, each person draws his or her hopes and dreams for this church ten years from now. After everyone is finished, we come back into the circle and discuss the pictures. Everyone is learning what others see now and what they want to see in the future. These ideas will help form what they want to see in the next preacher.

10:30    Book “mustard seeds”. A few weeks before, I have given everyone a book on the selection process. During this session, each person shares some ideas gained that may be helpful in selecting the next preacher for this congregation. Some suggested books for preacher search . My recommended book is The Search Committee Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to Hiring Your Next Minister, by Don Viar.

11:15     Search Committee, Interview Committee, Elders. This is where we discuss the job description of each committee and the elders. It is necessary to have a clear understanding of what each group is and is not to do in the process.

12:00    Lunch.

12:45     Chain Letter. After lunch, I read a chain letter about preachers I received by email: Preacher Chain Letter .

1:00      Preacher of your dreams—preacher of your nightmares. It’s back to the drawing board for this exercise. As before, I ask each person to draw a line down the middle of the paper. On the left side, please draw a representation of the “Preacher of Your Dreams.” If you could get the perfect preacher, what would he look like? What is the kind of preacher would you want to come to this congregation? This will certainly include something about his stand for truth but also attitudes, mannerisms, and attitudes—both in and out of the pulpit. What should be his emphasis? In what areas would you tolerate weaknesses in order to have strengths in other areas?

     After everyone is finished with that, on the right side of the paper, please draw the “Preacher of Your Nightmares.” What would the opposite of the “Preacher of Your Dreams” look like?

     When all are finished, we get into the circle to discuss these works of art and visualizations of our expectations of the next preacher. I allow each one to tell about their picture and their preacher.

     My final question in this exercise is, “What if the preacher of your dreams is someone else’s nightmare?”. How will you work with others who have different expectations of the next preacher? That is the challenge of the selection committee—whether it is the elders during the whole process or whether a group makes recommendations to the elders for their consideration before making the decision. Will each person listen to the other and will each person express their thoughts and feelings freely to contribute to the final selection?

1:30      Barber’s Bullets for Preacher Search is a collection of my thoughts and observations as I have experienced and watched this process. I express my best judgment. As always, the wastebasket is available for anything not worth taking home. 

1:45      Evaluation. A good way for me to learn is to do the best I know how and ask others to help me improve. In evaluating the training session, I ask two questions?

  • What did you learn?
  • How can this training be better next time?

     We conclude at 2:00 with a prayer for God to bless the process and bless us to take advantage of this opportunity to grow in our faith in God, connection to each other, and improvement in our wisdom, skills, and attitude.

What suggestions do you have to prepare people for the new preacher search?

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Preaching During the Interim…Workshops and Closing

practical principles and closing sermons

My general practice is to present a workshop once a month on Sunday night.

The workshop rules:

  1. They are very practical principles.
  2. Workshop is a code-word for—I can preach as long as I want to. Some of the lessons last an hour.

Workshops

  • How to Accept, Invite, and Enjoy Criticism. For years I avoided criticism. For that approach, I paid a high price of offense, lack of learning valuable lessons, and eventually, I was told it would be good for me to preach somewhere else. After a session with a counselor one Monday afternoon, I changed my attitude toward criticism. In this workshop, we look at proverbs about criticism and how to deal with it. Listen to How to Accept, Invite, and Enjoy Criticism
  • We Need More Funerals and Parties. I use an outline I found on the internet prepared by Tom Miller, a former teacher at East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions. I’d never preached a sermon on this. I often discussed the concept at leadership workshops. Tom attended one of these workshops and shortly I found the outline. I’ve preached it often since then. Listen to We Need More Funerals and Parties
  • Love Is the Golden Chain that Binds. One of the most over-used, misused, and abused words in our language is a four-letter word, LOVE. In this workshop, we see the word Jesus commands in our relationship with God, family, each other, and our enemies has no emotion in it. It is a way to treat each other, not a way to feel about others. When understood, it makes a difference in the way we act and feel. It’s OK to love someone you don’t like. Listen to Love Is the Golden Chain that Binds
  • When You Look in the Mirror, Do You Like the Person You See? How do you see yourself? Are you valuable or worthless? Are you important or unimportant? Are you competent or a klutz? Is there hope for being who God wants you to be? Listen to When You Look in the Mirror, Do You Like the Person You See?
  • Are You Building Your Life on Facts or Fairy Tales? Are you looking for the time, place, people, and circumstances where you can live happily ever after? If you had the right job, car, house, spouse, or education, could you live happily ever after? Listen to Are You Building Your Life on Facts or Fairy Tales?
Are you building your life on facts or fairy tales? Click To Tweet

Two Closing Sermons

  • How Should We Treat the New Preacher? I insert observations about preachers, their needs, and how to be helpful to them throughout my interim. The next-to-last sermon in each church is a lesson on how to treat the new preacher. It’s a compilation from many preachers who gave suggestions on how they’d like to be treated—especially when they follow a preacher who has been at a congregation a long time (five or more years). Many people tell me after this sermon they never thought about what I discuss in this lesson. Listen to How Should We Treat the New Preacher?
  • Every Christian Is an Interim Minister. Many people tell Gail and me they don’t see how we go into a congregation, work a few months, leave, and go somewhere else. When you consider it, every Christian is an interim minister. Someone preceded you. Someone(s) will follow you. Your opportunity is to make it easier and better for those who follow. Listen to Every Christian Is an Interim Minister
Every Christian is an interim minister. Click To Tweet

I preach many more sermons. The past three posts describe some I think are helpful for transition. As I said at the beginning of the posts on preaching during the interim, I don’t think other interim preachers need to preach the same sermons I preach the same way I preach them. This is a report—not a recommendation. I hope you found a “mustard seed” that’s been helpful.

What would you recommend for preaching during the interim?

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Preaching During the Interim…Church Problems

why do we have problems in the church? because we have people in the church

After nine sermons: two introductions and a series on discipleship from Luke 9:23, I preach a first principle sermon on Can We Make Progress by Going Backward?. Listen: Can We Make Progress by Going Backward?

The next Sunday, I start a series on How to Survive the Storm and Enjoy the Sunshine. These sermons discuss how to deal with problems in the church.

How to Survive the Storm and Enjoy the Sunshine

  1. Why Do We Have Problems in the Church and How Long Will They Exist? We have problems in the church because we have people in the church. How long will we have problems in the church? As long as we have people in the church. Listen to Storm 1 We have problems in the church because we have people in the church. Click To TweetHow long will we have problems in the church? As long as we have people in the church. Click To Tweet
  2. What Other Things Cause Problems in the Church? Jesus invites and attracts open, habitual, active sinners. When they accept His invitation to follow, they bring problems with them. Old attitudes and habits don’t disappear instantly. Jews wanted to continue to observe and bind circumcision and the law of Moses. Some people are slow learners. It took at least three tries for Peter to understand the unity of Jews and Gentiles. When we invite and embrace “whosoever will,” the whosoevers bring their problems with them. The problem in many churches is they don’t have enough problems. They screen out undesirables and only accept people who are like them and those they like. This isn’t the invitation of Jesus. Listen to Storm 2
  3. What are Some Situations that May Precede Greater Problems? Many things happened between the church “having favor with all the people” and the first church conflict in Acts 6. Acts 2 begins with a different Pentecost. A new age was coming. People were in Jerusalem from different backgrounds. There was a radical change for some of the converts. They converted from “Let Him be crucified…His blood be on us and on our children” to “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”. Lingering visitors placed a strain on finances and hospitality that lead to radical fund-raising. The rapid growth—3,000, daily additions, 5,000 men, believers increasingly added, the numbers of the disciples was multiplying—brought opportunity for more problems. Growing churches where I’ve worked experienced increased problems. Acts 4 brings a new issue: opposition from outside the church. The apostles were arrested and imprisoned. Acts 5 tells of a sin problem within the Jerusalem church. Acts 6 opens with conflict. Listen to Storm 3
  4. How Can Good Communication Help Solve Problems? My beginning assumption is the apostles were good leaders. Jesus selected them, taught them, and trained them. Their resumé was adequate. When complaint came, they listened. There was a conflict between the Grecian group and the Hebrew group. We have groups in our congregations: rich-poor, young-old, black-white-brown-yellow, country-city, Democrat-Republican-Independent, your family-my family. Their differences are sometimes bases for conflict. The apostles listened to the murmuring, complaint, quarrel. This isn’t good communication. But the widows were being neglected. The apostles didn’t wait until everyone passed a New and Improved Communication Class before they moved to help widows. All communication should be heard, evaluated, and an appropriate response given. Listen to Storm 4
  5. Why Am I Often Disappointed in Leaders? People disappointed in their leaders doesn’t necessarily indicate the leaders are inadequate. Even the best leaders have limitations and blind spots. The apostles were good leaders. However, widows were neglected. Even the best leaders cannot do everything that should be done in a growing church. The apostles essentially said, “We’re not going to the grocery store.” The benevolent work was good. They weren’t the ones to do it. Good leaders won’t be pressured into doing a thousand other tasks because of guilt or fear of losing leadership. Listen to Storm 5 Even the best leaders have limitations and blind spots Click To TweetEven the best leaders cannot do everything that should be done in a growing church. Click To Tweet
  6. How Many People Should Be Involved in Solving Problems? Good leaders don’t assume responsibility belonging to the group in solving group problems, but they help and lead the group in a solution. The apostles’ response: we won’t neglect our responsibility in the ministry of the word and prayer to put out brush fires; you select seven men to lead this effort; we’ll appoint them. They’ll do the work. Listen to Storm 6
  7. How Can Trust Grow Between Leaders and Followers? Sometimes the congregation doesn’t trust the elders and the elders don’t trust the congregation. Both have good examples and reasons. If you don’t believe it, ask them, and they’ll tell you. Someone has to start the trust risk. When people are commissioned to become part of the solution instead of a burden and a problem, they’ll be happy. The multitude was pleased (Acts 6:5). Greeks were neglected. They chose Greeks to correct the problem. The group selected seven men. The seven men the group selected, the apostles appointed. Listen to Storm 7

The church grew. Those responsible for the mission of the church didn’t leave their chief tasks to do other things. If the apostles had left their work to serve tables, the word couldn’t have spread as it did. When elders (parents) do the work of deacons (children), and deacons (children) make policy decisions elders (parents) should make, there’ll be unnecessary conflict and stagnation instead of growth. Each member of the body is to function in his or her place.

Acts 6:1-7 is a good example of God’s leaders dealing with conflict in a healthy way.

What have you found helpful in dealing with conflict in a congregation?

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Evaluation

what was helpful; what can be improved?

After an interim church has announced the new preacher and his arrival date, I go into the goodbye and evaluation mode. I discussed the goodbye process in the June 13 post: Leaving an Interim Church.

I request evaluations as I leave each congregation.

  1. I ask for the elders’ suggestions.
  2. I ask for staff comments to improve staff meetings and my ministry.
  3. Special classes end with an evaluation.
  4. The last meeting of the Transition Monitoring Team includes time for evaluation of how to improve the process and saying goodbye.
  5. I distribute and encourage everyone (men, women, children) to fill out and return Review of Barber’s Interim Ministry.

 

For a PDF of the form: Review of Barber’s Interim Ministry.

This is helpful in several ways.

  • I gain credibility when people tell how our ministry has been helpful.
  • I learn ways to improve at the next church. My commitment to each congregation — I’ll do the best I know during this time with you. I’d like to do better at the next church. You’ll help me by telling me how to improve.
  •  I post those who give me permission on my website in two places: the right sidebar. I post a new one each Tuesday. I add to the list of Reviews of Jerrie and Gail’s Interim Ministry each week.
  • By posting, I build trust. A leader is someone who can hear what people like and what they don’t like. An effective leader asks for more. Many people won’t tell their real objections first. My reaction at the first criticism determines whether they’ll share their main concerns. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, NKJV). People who took time to fill out evaluations see both compliments and criticisms posted for everyone to see.

I gain much from people who want to help. I appreciate each one who shares and evaluates.

Observations

Few people will tell us what they think of us unless we beg them to do it and thank them when they do. Click To Tweet

Unless we know how we’re doing, we may spend a lifetime thinking we are more effective or less effective than we are.

When we learn, we can improve and enjoy. Click To Tweet

I use the same process for improving New Shepherds Orientation Workshops.

How do you get feedback to improve yourself and your ministry?

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10 Years in Interim Ministry

…we had a party!

Joe Walker, one of the elders at Eddyville, Kentucky, called me in May 2006. He asked if I would consider coming to Eddyville to do my first interim. I told him I was committed to Berry’s Chapel through the first Sunday of April 2007. He said, “We’ll wait.” That began meetings and discussions with the elders, Randell O’Bryan, Doyle Walker, and Joe Walker. We thought, talked, prayed, and visited. We decided to begin in May 2007. Ten years after beginning, we had a party at Patti’s 1880’s Settlement in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Gail and I met the elders, Randell O’Bryan and Joe Walker and their wives, Martha and Cheryl (Doyle Walker died after we left), and enjoyed bread in a flower pot, strawberry butter, and pie with a 9” meringue. To me, the main course was incidental.

We are working with our seventh congregation.

  1. Eddyville Church of Christ, Eddyville, Kentucky, May 2007-August 2008
  2. Hendersonville Church of Christ, Hendersonville, Tennessee, October 2008-December 2009
  3. Collegeside Church of Christ, Cookeville, Tennessee, March 2010-June 2011
  4. LaVergne Church of Christ, LaVergne, Tennessee, August 2011-June 2013
  5. Maury City Church of Christ, Maury City, Tennessee, September 2013-July 2015
  6. Northside Church of Christ, Jeffersonville, Indiana, September 2015-February 2017
  7. Shady Acres Church of Christ, Sikeston, Missouri, April 2017-present

Observations Over a Decade

  • I never met an interim I didn’t like. Brethren have been gracious to us.
I never met an interim I didn’t like. Click To Tweet
  • I have been and continue to be shepherded by shepherds of congregations we served. That hasn’t ended since we left. Gail had surgery in January 2010. An elder’s wife came to stay with Gail while I went to Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship. Elders from more than one interim church call to encourage me, check on how Gail and I are doing, and ask about the work in the congregation where we’re working.
  • The work is getting easier. I’m learning more. I experience fewer doubts that I’m going to do what I said I’d do — move on. I’m not on a long try-out with this church. In earlier congregations, some wondered if I were trying to hang on as long as I could, or maybe I wanted to be the next preacher. After six churches, it’s evident I’m an interim preacher. I’ve already quit. I’ll leave when you get a preacher or when the agreed time limit is over.
  • Elders struggle with giving up deacon work and being shepherds. We’ve had this discussion, and we’ve worked on it in every congregation. After fire-fighting and picking up after deacons for decades, it’s difficult to start a plan of preventive care.
  • Elders who shepherd plan for it, commit to it, work it into their schedule, make it a priority, report, and are accountable to the congregation to do what they promised to do. Meeting with families and people who are doing well but need someone to say, “I’m proud of you; God loves you; I can see Jesus in the way you live; you’ll make it raising your children; you can finish strong in your old age; have you thought about a new challenge in your life?; tell us about your spiritual growth; share with us how we can pray for you”, won’t happen accidentally and won’t be accomplished in your spare time. It takes commitment and action. Direction is more important than speed. I’d rather see shepherds commit and complete one visit a month than to start with two or three a week and quit in two months.
Direction is more important than speed. Click To Tweet
  • One of the biggest mistakes of the selection process is getting in a hurry. Being on a selection committee is hard work. People get tired. Your favorite man turned you down. The second favorite didn’t come. Let’s get the next available person.
  • The next mistake is failing to check references adequately. Many times when the committee gets to checking references, they want someone to confirm the preacher they’ve fallen in love with is the best preacher available. That’s a mistake. Faith (trust) grows through creative doubt. If he’s good and a fit, he can stand the scrutiny of a thorough check. If he isn’t good or doesn’t fit, you don’t need him.
  • From the perspective of Jerrie and Gail Barber, interim ministry is delightful! There’s nothing we’d rather be doing. We’ve worked with more than 3,000 people in ten years. Many of those will be special to us for the rest of our lives. We’ve lived in seven different communities and enjoyed people and places. Some of the cultural and culinary highlights: best catfish sandwich at Echo Charlie’s in Eddyville, Kentucky; Drakes Creek Park and Indian Lakes for running in Hendersonville, Tennessee; Poke Sallet Festival in Gainesboro and J. T. Watts Gen’l Mdse. in Nameless while living in Cookeville, Tennessee; Demos Restaurant and Accurate Automotive, where we bought two cars that are serving us well with no repairs after 150,000+ miles, in the Laverne area; finding contented and grateful farmers and the Olympic Steak House (the restaurant by which we judge all others) at Maury City, Tennessee; the Big 4 Bridge for running and great neighbors in the “Old Folks Village” in Jeffersonville, Indiana; Lambert’s and The Original Fried Pie Shop in Sikeston, Missouri.
  • There’s more work in interim ministry than we can do. We’re limited by driving distance from Nashville. We’re limited by time. There are opportunities for more people to work in this ministry. That’s one of the reasons for the Interim Ministry Workshop September 21-23.

What questions, comments, observations do you have?

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Leaving an Interim Church

finishing and saying good-bye

Someone, in one of our interim congregations, asked Gail, “Doesn’t it hurt when you have to leave a church after getting to know people and making new friends?”.

Gail’s reply was, “Yes, it hurts.”

“Then why do you do it?”

“Would it be better to get to know you, have friends for life, and hurt leaving, or never to have known you?”

The metaphor that makes sense to me is serving as foster parents. When a family takes a foster child, they know they’ll give up the child when their home is ready to reenter or when they’re adopted. The family will miss the child. But they’re doing a valuable service caring for this child during transition.

Some preachers and other humans don’t like to say goodbye. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts.

Life is hard. That’s part of the challenge of transition. People don’t want to hurt. They want to get comfortable quickly. Therefore, they want to:

  1. Get it back like it was.
  2. Hurry and get through this so we can get back to the Lord’s work, not realizing walking through the valley of the shadow of death is part of the Lord’s work.

[tweetthis]Walking through the valley of the shadow of death is part of the Lord’s work.[/tweetthis]

I make a conscious effort to finish, get ready for the next preacher (which I’ve been doing since I started this interim), and say goodbye. That’s one of the advantages of the interim relationship. What I do in no way is trying to keep my job; I’ve already quit. I’m not trying to get a raise; I don’t stay long enough to get a raise. I have a limited time. I have a few opportunities to make a difference, as every person in every situation — limited time and few opportunities.

I enjoy connecting with all age groups. I begin playing with children the first day I arrive. We exchange high-fives. I tell them they are POWERFUL! I don’t want to not show up one Sunday with my absence being the first indication to the children I’m leaving.

About a month before we finish, when we know our departure date, I ask parents to start talking with their children about us leaving. As the time approaches, I talk to them, to their ability to understand, about us not seeing them each week. I invite them to come to see us at our new location or in Nashville when we’re there. Gail and I were thrilled a few weeks ago when a family from Northside in Jeffersonville, Indiana, showed up at our front door to visit. People become important to us, and it’s good to keep in touch.

Once we have a departure day, either when the new preacher comes or the end of our commitment, I begin saying goodbye. My model is something I read years ago:

The Five Acts of Dying

  1. Forgive me. If I’ve been hurtful or negligent in any way, I want to correct it before I leave.
  2. I forgive you. If any relationships need repairing, I want to finish before I leave.
  3. Thank you. Gratitude is good for the giver and the recipient. It’s easy to find occasions of graciousness to recognize and express appreciation.
  4. I love you. We’re not leaving because we don’t love you or like you. We’re leaving because this is what we do. We’re rendering a service. We’ve enjoyed and have been blessed by our time with you. We go to another church to bless and be blessed by them.
  5. Goodbye. I don’t use euphemisms such as, “It’s not goodbye, but so long. It’ll still be the same as when we were here. We’ll be back often.” That isn’t accurate. It won’t be the same. We won’t be back often. We’re working our seventh interim church. We don’t have time to visit previous places often. It’s goodbye.

[tweetthis]It won’t be the same. We won’t be back often.[/tweetthis]

I promise to stay away for a year. Even when we’ve been close to Nashville or our new interim, we don’t drop in on our immediate past interims. The new preacher and his family need to get acquainted with the church without our interruption.

I schedule a visit a year from our departure. We come back to visit and to do an evaluation. I am interested in how the transition is going for the church and the new preacher.

I like to ask and take notes on answers to two questions about our interim ministry:

  1. What went well?
  2. What improvements would you suggest? I love criticism. Suggestions from previous churches can improve our ministry at future churches.

Gail and I consciously say goodbye to people in the community. I start talking with my barber about our departure date. In smaller communities where we get to know people well, Gail has cooked “goodies” to deliver to people we’ve known and who have served us well: barber, post office, Y.M.C.A., and individuals in the grocery store in a small town.

Brethren have been gracious. They usually have a going away party for us. I’ve talked to preachers who rejected such offers because they said it made them feel uncomfortable. I suggest, if that’s true with you, be uncomfortable. It’s not just about you. Others need a “funeral” to say goodbye.

Solomon stated a good principle when he wrote:

Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
For by a sad countenance the heart is made better (Ecclesiastes 7:2, 3, NKJV).

End well to release the church to love their next preacher and his family and to start clean with the next church in your ministry.

What have you found helpful in good endings?

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Learning from Previous Shepherds

what I see now, I wish I had known then

In one interim congregation, I met an unusual number of men who had served as elders. Some were still in the congregation. Others were in the community. Only two were in other cities.

As I was getting acquainted, I kept meeting men who told me, “I used to be an elder here.” Or someone else would point to a man as a former shepherd.

After several of these encounters early in my tenure, I said during an elders’ meeting, “I think every baptized man in this county has served as an elder of this church at one time or another.”

I wondered if we could gain some wisdom by talking with these men. The elders of the church I was serving gave me permission and encouragement, along with names and phone numbers. I was able to interview 26 of 27.

I called for appointments and visited each man. I assured his information would be confidential, not sharing names with specific answers. I was thrilled with the cooperation of former elders and the willingness of the present elders to meet for several hours and discuss these observations.

Questions I Asked

  1. How long were you an elder?
  2. How was your experience?
    Good?
    Unpleasant?
  3. While you were serving as an elder if you had had a magic wand, what would you have changed to make the eldership better?
  4. In what ways and how often did people express appreciation to you for your service?
  5. What appreciation did you receive when you resigned?
  6. Why did you leave the eldership: personal issues, good of the church, forced?
  7. Did you see alliances, division in the eldership?
  8. If so, how was this handled?
  9. What suggestions would you have for the present eldership?
[tweetthis]While you were serving if you had had a magic wand, what would you have changed to make the eldership better?[/tweetthis] [tweetthis]What suggestions do you have for the present eldership?[/tweetthis]

Observations from Former Elders

  1. Of 24 who answered this question, there was a total of 143.58 years of service. Average was 6 years.
  2. Good experiences: fellowship with fellow shepherds, better relationship with the congregation, able to know God and people better.
  3. Unpleasant experiences: doing the work of deacons, board of directors, some elders did not live up to their word, politicking.
  4. Ways to improve shepherd service: fewer decisions — more visiting, change focus from administration to spiritual matters, more shepherding — less firefighting, continue training of elders.
  5. What appreciation did you receive for your service?: 81% said they received regular and adequate appreciation while they were serving; 19% said they did not. When they resigned, 50% said they received appreciation, 50% said they did not.
  6. Why they left the eldership: moved, frustrated, asked to leave, personal and family issues, burned out, finished what I came to do.
  7. 84% said there were alliances and divisions in the eldership when they served. 16% said there were none.
  8. Most said alliances were not handled. Several reported there were meetings before meetings to decide what was going to be decided in the meetings.

Answers provided excellent insight gained from Bible study, prayer, experience, and time in reflection.

There were many good suggestions for the present eldership. I am not reporting those. To do so might reveal individuals commenting to some who are in that congregation.

For this process to be effective, the person asking questions and recording answers should do it for information only and not explain, prosecute, or defend present or former elderships.

Consider this, or a similar exercise, to tap the wisdom of men who have served, still love the Lord and His church, and can give good perspectives when asked.

What are some other ways to gain wisdom for shepherds?

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