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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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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Interim Ministry Workshop

September 21–23, 2017

What do you plan to do for the rest of your life? How will you use the wisdom you have gained by study and experience as a preacher? For ten years, Gail and I have enjoyed interim ministry in seven congregations. We have continued to learn and grow. We have been encouraged by brethren in all these places. Some of you have the ability to offer a great service. I would like to share what I am learning with you. We will meet in the beautiful new facilities of the Charlotte Heights Church of Christ, 6833 Old Charlotte Pike, Nashville, Tennessee 37209.

Three things to do to take advantage of this opportunity:

    1. Mark your calendar for September 21-23
    2. To answer any questions, contact Jerrie Barber:jerrie@barberclippings.com(615) 584-0512
    3. Reserve your place in this workshop: I want to participate in this workshop

Reserve my place in this workshop

Eddyville, Kentucky

The cost is $317.49 per person.

Hendersonville, Tennessee

There is a minimum and a maximum number of participants:
The minimum for the course to be conducted is — 1. If no one shows up, I won’t talk.
The maximum is 20 people, total. We will be doing group sessions. Twenty will be the limit.

Cookeville, Tennessee

The concepts we’ll discuss will be good training for any preacher and his wife. Gail and I had an introduction course in 1996. We went through Interim Ministry Network training in 1998-1999, seven years before I started interim ministry. I took a refresher course in March 2007, before starting interim ministry in May of that year. The training and what I learned helped during those last years of full-time ministry.

LaVergne, Tennessee

Preachers’ wives are encouraged but not required to attend this workshop. Gail and I went for training together.

Maury City, Tennessee

Schedule

Thursday, September 21, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Friday, September 22, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 23, 8:00 a.m.-noon

Jeffersonville, Indiana

Topics:

  • The story of our journey to interim ministry.
  • Family Systems, the framework of working with groups.
  • Is there any hope for this church?
  • The work of the interim preacher — to guide and coach a process.
  • Contracts, opportunity to clarify expectations — objections to written contracts.
  • Compensation for an interim.
  • Making contacts, getting the word out that you’re available for interim ministry.
  • Rules. (Differentiation)
  • Initial Family Meeting.
  • Projects.
  • Preaching during the interim.
  • The interim’s wife — discussion, Q & A with Gail.
  • The Search — training those who will be searching for the new preacher.
  • The Preacher.
  • When you don’t need an interim.
  • Conflict management.

Sikeston, Missouri

Three things to do to take advantage of this opportunity:

    1. Mark your calendar for September 21-23
    2. To answer any questions, contact Jerrie Barber: jerrie@barberclippings.com(615) 584-0512
    3. Reserve your place in this workshop: I want to participate in this workshop

Reserve my place in this workshop

Self-Study Survey

What kind of preacher do we want? Will that kind of preacher want us?

Most Christians have an idea of the characteristics of the preacher they’d like to have. If the last preacher was their good friend, they probably want another just like him. Those aren’t available. If they didn’t like the former preacher, someone who is exactly opposite him would be good. There’s none of those.

Most want a preacher who lives like Jesus, studies like Paul, loves like John (when he was older), and visits and ministers like the Good Samaritan. It’s good to know what you are seeking, or you won’t know when you find him.

Have you thought about what prospective preachers are looking for in a congregation? How do they know if they fit the opportunities and expectations of the church? Are you aware the church is “trying out” as well as the preacher?

One helpful tool is a Self-Study Survey. I helped congregations administer one of these in each church where I’ve served as an interim.

There are several parts:

  1. Demographics: age, how long with the congregation, travel time to and from services.
  2. Involvement: roles, attendance, increase or decrease in involvement and why.
  3. Evaluation of programs and services of the congregation.
  4. How the congregation is like or different in its makeup compared to the community.
  5. Possible tasks of the future preacher and which are most important.
  6. Evaluation of the worship of the congregation.
  7. Thoughts on what makes a good sermon.
  8. Convictions on certain issues.
  9. Three open-ended questions:
    1. What would you tell the next preacher at this church?
    2. What advice would you give the elders of this church as they proceed?
    3. Please make any other comments that would be helpful for the health of this congregation during this time of transition or in the future.

The survey is anonymous. We don’t ask for names or save IP numbers of computers used.

Most congregations where I served used SurveyMonkey, an online survey tool. Paper copies are available for those who prefer and those who want to think before starting on the computer.

Filling out the survey takes forty-five minutes to an hour. We wanted, and have obtained, a number of at least half the Sunday morning attendance to complete the self-study.

My observations after administering and reading every word of surveys in six congregations:

  • Not everyone thinks alike. Some people who have different understandings are sitting on the pew with me — or very close.
  • Christians are at different stages in their growth, understanding, and service.
  • People have different expectations of a preacher.
  • The results of the survey can help men who are considering and being considered as the next preacher.
  • Open-ended questions are powerful. People have an opportunity to say what they’ve wanted to say. I’ve seen a change in the way those were shared. In the first two congregations, answers to the open-ended questions were not shared with the congregation. In the third, a committee summarized and paraphrased the answers to share with the church and prospective preachers. In the last three, answers were shared with the church and prospective preachers. I prefer the latter. The work of the search committee or elders is not to make the church look perfect, but to let a preacher know the challenges and opportunities before he gets there. This is one way to do this. If this isn’t the group he would like to serve, now’s the time to learn that. The best time to get a divorce is before you get married.
  • From my perspective, the most helpful thing about the survey is the thinking going on in the person completing the survey. Many have never thought of how complex leading and preaching to a group of people can be. Not everyone will get everything they want.

One of the most spiritual things a person can do is to think. One of the differences in fill-in preaching between preachers and interim ministry is the interim minister leads in several planned activities to encourage members to think about themselves and their relationship to the Lord, the effectiveness of the congregation and how it is serving Jesus, their community, and the world, and the transition going on in this church and their lives.

What would you do to help people make the transition after a long ministry?

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Transition Monitoring Team

what are people thinking, saying, asking, losing, fearing, and hoping?

In my first interim, the elders asked for help with communication. They said, “Members won’t tell us what they’re thinking.”

As soon as we arrived, Gail and I started visiting families in the congregation. We asked three questions:

  1. What do you like about this congregation?
  2. What would you like to see improved?
  3. What can we do while we’re here to help you?

Ninety percent of families we visited said, “We need help with communication. The elders won’t tell us what’s going on.”

I picked up the idea of a Transition Monitoring Team from William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions. He makes a case for this type of group:

Leaders usually assume that all the feedback they need will come up through regular channels and be voiced at staff meeting in reply to the question, “How are things going?” Such is seldom the case…Ed Carlson, the former CEO of United Airlines, used to call it the NETMA problem — Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything” (pages 48, 49).

I set up the TMT as soon as I arrive at a new congregation with twenty people on the team. I want ten volunteers. I ask the elders to select ten people: five who like you and five who don’t.

It should be clear at the beginning — this is a transition monitoring team — not a transition management team. This group has no decision-making authority. Their work is to report what they’re hearing in the congregation.

The first meeting is to go over the purpose of the TMT and negotiate Rules of Discussion. We agree on how we’ll conduct ourselves in this role.

There is an emphasis on the rule of confidentiality — what we say here stays here. I’ve seen no better illustration of everyone understanding and participating in this guideline than the flood wall in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Around the town, the wall has several places where cars and people can pass through until the Ohio River starts rising. Then they fill gaps in the wall. Some are large enough for two cars to pass through. On the sides of large openings, are small openings the size of a door in our house. I ask, “How many gaps have to be left open for water to get into Jeffersonville flooding the town?” The answer is obvious. In reports of the TMT, sources of comments and reporters are confidential.

The group meets once a month. We do three things described in a letter I send out on Monday preceding the meeting:

Brothers and Sisters,

The next meeting of the Transition Monitoring Team will be Sunday, 5:00 p.m., January 8 in Room 101.

Our agenda:

1. What have you heard from people and how should you respond? As you hear comments, feel free to take notes and bring them to the meeting.
a.  What are they saying?
b.  What are they asking?
c.  What do they fear?
d.  What are they losing?
e.  What are their hopes?

2. What “mustard seed” did you get from reading Transitions, chapter 5?

3. How are you dealing with this transition and other transitions in your life?

We will be finished in 60 minutes or less.

As can be seen, meetings have three parts:

  1. Reporting. What have you heard since the last meeting? Members express what they’ve heard people say about the church and the transition. No names are attached to the source or the reporter. Members of the TMT can talk to themselves and report things they think the elders should hear. These results are recorded by a member of the team, typed, and given to the elders after each meeting.
  2. Sharing “mustard seeds” of what they’re learning. Each member of the team is given a copy of Transitions, by William Bridges. He explains the process of transition. There are predictable steps: an ending, a new beginning, and in the middle a neutral zone where people are confused, blaming, depressed, and wishing we could “get things back like they used to be.” When we understand this is expected, we can be less anxious than if we see all these human responses as sinful, dangerous, and indications that things are falling apart. I believe health is catching as well as disease. This group will come to understand the process. When someone is in despair saying there’s no hope, they understand and can communicate these feelings are normal. We’ll get through the wilderness of the neutral zone and enter the promised land of the new beginning if we don’t lose hope.
  3. Personal application. As trust grows in the group, three or four months, people begin to share how much of their church anxiety is tied to anxiety related to personal, family, and business issues. Many tell how principles they learned in the group have been helpful to them in their personal life.
[tweetthis]I believe health is catching as well as disease.[/tweetthis]

I warn the elders they may be shocked at the first report or two from the TMT. In churches I’ve served, most of the shepherds weren’t aware of thoughts and feelings of many in their flock.

In one church, one of the elders was a professional counselor in private practice. Monday morning after I’d given the elders the first report from the TMT, this shepherd-counselor called+, “Jerrie, after reading the report of the Transition Monitoring Team, I’m depressed.”

My response, “You need a good counselor.”

[tweetthis]When we know what to expect, we can be less anxious.[/tweetthis]

There’s hope. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, NKJV). In the context, Jesus was talking about revealed truth from God. But the principle applies to any part of truth. When you know what people are thinking, feeling, saying, and doing, you can prepare to make an appropriate response.

What questions do you have about a Transition Monitoring Team?

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Staff Meetings

coordinating and growing individually and as a group

Unity isn’t an accident looking for a place to happen. I often hear youth ministers, preachers, administrative assistants, and other members of the team talking about either bad or practically non-existent relationships among those who work out of the church building. I ask about their staff meetings, celebrations, and time they spend together. The answer often is, “We don’t spend time together.”

I’m not surprised that camaraderie isn’t great without aiming for it and working for it. I’ve enjoyed in four of six interim congregations having other people who are part of the team. We’ve had weekly staff meetings.

These weren’t always welcomed. As we began at one congregation, I asked, “What kind of staff meeting would you like to have?”

The reply from more than one person was, “None.” They told me previous staff meetings were times when they were reprimanded and embarrassed. I can understand their aversion to that kind of meeting

In some congregations, we have one or more elders who come to staff meetings. In some, they rotate. In others, it’s the same elder each time.

I begin with rules. Family rules are usually unconscious, unspoken, but understood. I spend the first meeting discussing and negotiating rules for staff meetings. I like to discuss them, agree to follow the guidelines we’ve negotiated, then review them six months from the beginning and adjust to achieve better results.

Here are guidelines for the staff meetings at Northside, the church I’m serving now:

 

For Staff Guidelines in PDF, click here

For Staff Guidelines in Word document, click here

There are three parts to our staff meetings:

  1. Bible study and prayer. We read a book of the Bible, a chapter a week. We spend about 30 minutes reading and discussing the chapter. The way we select a book to read is to give everyone a piece of paper. Each person writes the book they would like to read in staff meetings. We draw one to start, finish it, then draw for the next book. Eventually, everyone gets to study the book he or she suggested.
  2. Coordination. We discuss what’s going on in the congregation: regular services and projects, special events, the bulletin, people’s schedules, and other things that need to be coordinated.
  3. Staff development. This consists of reading 3-5 pages from a book encouraging growth in a group of people who work with others. It often takes a year or longer to read a book. But at the end of the year, we have ideas and a vocabulary enabling us to work more effectively. Some of the books we’ve read in staff meetings:

Conrad — Alabama Star;
30+ years at Northside!

Our staff has times of celebrations. We celebrate birthdays. It’s the responsibility of the person having a birthday to remind us it’s time for a birthday party. We go to a restaurant of their choice. Different groups have their rules on paying for the meal. In some, each person pays for the honoree’s meal and brings a card for the birthday.In others, elders allot money from the budget to pay for everyone’s meal. In one church, we enjoyed birthday parties so much we celebrated half-birthdays. Six months after each person’s birthday, he or she alerted us the half-birthday was coming up. We went to a restaurant of their choice; each person paid for their meal, and the honoree brought a birthday card for himself and told why he deserved the card.

It’s also good to schedule a time to say good-bye. When a staff member is leaving, we have a meal together and say what we need to say to reflect on our time together.

[tweetthis]Staff relationships ooze out to the congregation.[/tweetthis] [tweetthis]I believe that health is catching as well as disease.[/tweetthis]

When the preacher, youth minister, administrative assistants, and other people who work from the church office like each other, get along, and work well together, people learn that. They notice the relationship, appreciate it, and may imitate it in their interactions with those close to them.

The opposite is also true.

It’s my observation that time and money spent in developing better staff relationships are wise investments and produce valuable dividends.

How have you improved staff cooperation?

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Opening Family Meeting

introduction to transition and interim ministry for the church where I'm ministering

At the beginning of each interim, usually on the first Sunday night following evening services, I hold a Family Meeting to get the process started. In two larger congregations, 600 and 1,400 in Sunday morning attendance, I went to Bible classes for this discussion. This provided an opportunity for more people to participate in the discussion.

I begin with the Discussion Rules. I start each new group with negotiating the Discussion Rules: Sunday morning Bible Class, Wednesday night Bible class, Staff Meetings, Transition Monitoring Team. When I had gone over the Discussion Rules the second time in one congregation, a perplexed brother asked, “How many times am I going to have to listen to those rules?”.

My reply, “Every time we start a new group. And you haven’t heard anything yet. You’re on the Transition Monitoring Team. We’ll take an hour to negotiate the rules at the first meeting.” Read more about Discussion Rules .

During this first Family Meeting, an information session for the entire congregation, we are setting structure and expectations of the next year to year and a half of our work together.

  • In the first part of the meeting: 
  • Recruit people for specific transition tasks (I will discuss these in following posts):
    • Transition Monitoring Team: a group to tap into the grapevine of the church and communicate to the elders what people are thinking, feeling, asking, saying, fearing, and hoping.
    • Welcome to our congregation and community: a document or part of the website to introduce the prospective preachers to the congregation and the community.
    • Timeline of this congregation: a compilation of the history, attendance, and contribution of the congregation from the earliest records until the present.
    • Conducting a self-study: an extensive questionnaire to let members tell who they are, evaluate the strengths and needs of the congregation, and describe the type of preacher needed at this church now. This will be set up as an on-line survey with printed copies for those who prefer that to using an electronic tablet or computer.
  • Planned sermon series:
    • Carving Ears, Cutting Out, Calling Angels, or Crucifixion, requirements for a follower of Jesus. Luke 9:23
    • How to Survive the Storm and Enjoy the Sunshine, dealing with conflict in the church. Acts 6:1-7
    • I Want the Church to Grow, But I Don’t Want Any More People, overcoming my discomforts to reach out to people unlike me and people I don’t like.
    • What Do You Do When God Is Late?, setting my clock with God’s clock.
  • Workshop once a month on Sunday night, a longer lesson on a practical topic.
  • Leadership Training Classes. 
    • God’s Great Servants, conducted on Wednesday night for elders, deacons, other men and young men who desire to be leaders in the church, their family, business, and other areas. These classes are for the administrative part of leadership.
    • Learning to Love My Friend(s), classes in the homes of the participants. We learn to have a greater appreciation of Jesus as my Friend, become a better friend to others using Jesus as the example of a perfect friend, and encouraging telling others about our best Friend by word and example. The study is about the pastoral part of leadership.
  • Read my contract, including my salary and housing allowance — if the elders permit. Early in my ministry, I didn’t want people to know my financial arrangements. I’ve learned that full disclosure of all agreements helps people understand and eliminates many questions. They already have the answers. Interim contract…read more.
  • Questions and comments.

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Discussion Rules

guidelines for a peaceful and productive meeting

You can’t have a congregational meeting here. It always gets out of hand.” “I’d be afraid to address these things with the church. You can never tell what people may say in a group.” And so we do not communicate. People are already frustrated because we haven’t communicated. We decide not to communicate because people are frustrated. Then they get more frustrated because we are not communicating.

Many discussions, classes, and especially meetings where there is conflict break up and/or become unproductive. It may be that the leader(s) did not know the value of guidelines.

Amos asked, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). We don’t have to agree on everything. But if we are going to travel together from Nashville, Tennessee, to St. Louis, Missouri, we must agree on some things: What time will we leave? What kind of transportation will we take? Who will drive? The clothes we wear and the food we eat along the way can be individual choice, but we must agree on the basics of the trip.

[tweetthis]Often “family rules” are unconscious, unspoken, but understood.[/tweetthis]

That means we rarely think about the rules, usually don’t discuss them, but people pay a price when they disobey them. It is my observation that it is better to have our rules conscious, spoken, and understood. Then we can evaluate them and change them if that would be helpful to the group: family, congregation, work group, or sports team.

I use a form of these guidelines anytime I am leading a group: counseling, workshop, auditorium Bible class, preachers’ workshop stress session, congregational “Family Meeting,” or conflict resolution. Many conflicts arise because we are playing by different rules.

I will discuss the ideas behind the guidelines. James Jones introduced these concepts to me. I watched him in counseling sessions, classes, and leadership workshops. It was amazing how stress went down when I knew the boundaries. It was safe when I played by the rules and believed that others would do the same or be held accountable for not doing so.

These guidelines need to be negotiated – not commanded. Simply reading them to a group will not get a buy-in. I like to discuss them and talk about why they contribute to group health. I take about ten minutes with a group where most of the people are familiar. I take about an hour and a half to negotiate these guidelines when doing a Saturday church meeting during a conflict intervention workshop.

  • May I be the leader of this group?

I need the group’s permission because I only lead those who give me permission to be the leader. I may have the authority. My name may be on the brochure or church letterhead as preacher, elder, or Bible class teacher. But if the group doesn’t give me permission to be the leader, I will not lead. How much authority does Jesus have (Matthew 28:18)? How many people is He leading? Jesus is only leading those who give Him permission to be their leader. Many are invited, but only those who desire to take the water of life follow Him (Revelation 22:17). He wanted Jerusalem to follow Him and enjoy His protection. But they were not willing (Matthew 22:37). I don’t have the authority of Jesus. I will not be the leader if the group doesn’t give me permission.

  • Will we start on time?
[tweetthis]We penalize those who come on time when we wait for late-comers.[/tweetthis]
  • Will we quit on time?

Especially in a workshop setting, this helps the group learn to operate within limits, boundaries. That is the way the world operates. It is a good practice since it respects everyone’s time.

  • Will we speak one at a time? 1 Corinthians 14:27–33

If we are working as a group, I show disrespect to the group in general and to the person speaking in particular when I begin a private conversation with my neighbor. If it relates to the group, it should be shared with the group. If it doesn’t relate to the group, it can be held until a break.

This has been the most difficult rule for me to enforce as a leader. I have been leading the Third Monday Workshop stress session made up of preachers, elders, youth ministers, and other interested Christians in the Nashville, Tennessee, area since the fall of 1988. Three times I have come to the group to suggest that we agree to dispense with this guideline because it is violated so often. It is embarrassing for me to call to account preachers and elders who are older than I am and have more education than I have for talking when they have agreed not to talk. But each time the group has assured me that it is important to the group process. We still have the guideline, and it seems that it has been observed better for several months.

  • Will we talk where others can hear or will we speak softly and in small groups where others will not know what is being said?

This is a follow-up on the previous guideline. Unauthorized sub-grouping will destroy the group. It drains energy and attention when some obviously do not think the person who is speaking has anything as valuable to say as what they are saying.

  • Will each person speak for himself or herself or will we speak for others such as “they,” “them,” “everybody,” and for God as well?

How many times have you heard, “A lot of people are upset,” “Several are unhappy with the preacher”? When asked for names, the reply often is, “Well I can’t tell you who they are, but there’s a bunch.” I like to have the guideline, “I’ll speak for me, you speak for you, and let God speak for God. Unless you have been elected to the House of Representatives or the Senate, you do not have permission to represent anyone in this group except yourself.” I don’t know who the “several” are.
I don’t know how many are in a “bunch.” I would be interested in knowing what you think. I will value what you say.

  • Will we have a right to all our feelings: the painful as well as the pleasant?

Some people are convinced that there are good feelings and bad feelings. I think there are pleasant feelings and painful feelings. But it is my understanding that all our emotions are given to us by God and are good for us. I need to be responsible how I act on my emotions, but they are all helpful. I usually mention the four “feeling groups”: mad, sad, glad, scared.

We can be sad. We have tissues. If Jesus can cry (John 11:35), I can cry. We can be scared and talk about that. We have a right to be angry. Jesus was angry (Mark 3:5). Therefore, it must not be sinful. Paul said to be angry and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). You have a right to be angry. You have a right to be angry with me. You can talk about being angry with me. However, you do not have a right to hit me or tear up the furniture. There is a difference in what we feel and what we do with our feelings. We can be glad and laugh. There is a qualification on that which is included in the next guideline.

  • Do you want to have a rule that we will not make fun of what people say in this group?

We can laugh with people but not at people. How can we know if we are laughing with or laughing at? The first test is to see if the other person is laughing. I cannot laugh with someone who is not laughing. But I may need to ask the person being discussed if it feels like we are laughing with him or at him. Solomon said, “Sorrow may hide behind laughter, and happiness may end in sorrow (Proverbs 14:13, The Contemporary English Version). This brings us to the next rule.

  • May I, as a leader, have a right to interrupt?

If I have any question, I will ask the person who is the focus of the laughter, “Does it feel like we are laughing with you or at you?”. Several years ago, I was leading a group. After an elder’s wife had made a comment, someone said, “That’s the way Yankees are.” The group laughed. I asked her, “Does it feel like we are laughing with you or at you?”. She replied: “We have been living here fourteen years and worshiping with this congregation. We have taught Bible classes. We have been involved in the work. It would feel good to be just a Christian, a member of this church and not a ‘Yankee Christian.’ ” We learned a lesson that night.

  • Will we have a right to disagree with each other?

In several decades of leading groups, I have always gained permission for disagreement in the group. I’ve always said that if I ever get a group where we can’t disagree, I want to talk first because I like my opinions better than those of anyone else. But I wouldn’t learn very much.

  • Will we settle group business in the group or will we get in small groups afterward and talk about each other?

Polarizing begins to take place when we start talking about each other instead of to each other. If it is group business, it needs to be addressed in the group.

  • Do we want to have a rule of confidentiality: what we say here stays here?

This is essential if we are to develop a trusting group. Many people assume that elders, preachers, and other leaders will keep confidences. This is where people are often hurt. Assuming is not good communication. Too often Christians don’t keep personal matters confidential. I like to talk about it. What does it mean “What we say here stays here”? What if we discuss the weather or read John 3:16 in the group? Can we not take that out of the group? In our staff meetings at Berry’s Chapel, we developed the “church bulletin rule”: if we talk about something in a staff meeting that we would print in the church bulletin, we can talk about it out of the group. If we wouldn’t print it in the bulletin, we won’t carry it out of the meeting. If there is any question, it is best to check with the person or people to whom the information belongs.

  • Will I take care of myself, telling the group only what I trust them to keep?

After we have established this rule, I encourage new members to doubt that as long as they need to doubt it. Anyone can say what we have just said, “What we say here stays here.” I believe that faith grows through “creative doubt.” Creative doubt is doubt that asks questions and sincerely wants to know the truth. It is my observation that it took about two years in our Third Monday Workshop to establish trust in the group where we could talk about serious, personal issues. After establishing that trust in the core group, new members do not seem to diminish the readiness of group members bring up what they need to discuss. Since August of 1988, I don’t know of a matter getting out of the group. That’s powerful! That’s encouraging to have that kind of support group.

  • If what I say offends or hurts you, will you tell me or will you talk about me to others?

This is a powerful commitment! Think how assuring it would be if we didn’t have to wonder how we were coming across to others.

  • If, after a group session is over, you realize that you didn’t get finished, will you bring the matter back to the group and work it out?

This reminds us that we deal with group business in the group.

  • May we be humble instead of arrogant?

That is, if we don’t know what someone is thinking or feeling, will we ask or will we assume that we know what they are thinking or feeling? [Matthew 5:3; 1 Corinthians 2:11]

One of my mistakes in communication is attempting to mind-read. I think I know what you are thinking and act on that assumption. The only problem is that I don’t know what you are thinking unless you tell me. The best policy is to ask.

  • May others respond to what we say?
[tweetthis]Do I have to have the last word or would it be helpful to get feedback?[/tweetthis]
  • When we ask a question, will we be willing to tell why we want to know the answer?

I may want to know why someone is asking questions. What are you going to do with the information? Why are you interested?

  • May a person decide to quit talking when they choose?

In most groups, I do not require people to talk. Some people learn better with their mouths open and others learn better with their mouths closed. Each person can decide which works best for them without pressure.

  • Will we attend all sessions? If we must be absent, will we tell the group why?

It is a matter of courtesy to be responsible to a group (class, elder’s meeting, committee meeting). It takes energy away from group process when a member is late or absent without explanation. “I wonder if they are sick, had an accident, forgot, or don’t care about our work?” This can be eliminated by a call, text, or e-mail: “I will be fifteen minutes late,” or “I am sick and will be unable attend tonight’s meeting.”

  • Will we agree not to talk about group business during breaks?

This guideline is especially helpful in groups that are learning experiences in how groups work. If we talk about group business during breaks, we deprive the rest of the group of our thoughts and ourselves of the wisdom of the rest of the group. If the meeting is dealing with conflict, it is easier to choose sides and plot destruction by subdividing and talking about others during breaks of ten minutes or two days.

  • While in the discussion and exploration of new ideas, will the group allow any title, position, seniority, family relationship, age, actual or perceived net worth, chain of command, level of management, inhibit or repress any comment or idea from being shared and seriously considered?

When this principle is ignored, many times a “head elder” will result. This may be a toxic head elder or a benevolent head elder. I think both are hurtful to the long-term leadership of the church or any group.

  • Are we aware that some of these rules will probably be broken?

What will we learn about ourselves and leadership when they are broken?

  1. By us?
  2. By others?

Can we ask and will we answer the question, “What did you learn from that”? These guidelines form boundaries that are sometimes difficult to remember and/or difficult to keep. When we hold ourselves and others accountable to do what we agreed to do, it can be helpful. If a guideline is not helpful, it can be changed. Self-reporting is especially commendable and an opportunity to teach and give others permission to analyze themselves in the group process.

  • Will we agree to try to apply these Biblical principles to ourselves before we try to “fix” other people who are in this group or people who are not here? [Psalm 139:23, 24; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 10:12]

It is hard to keep everyone in the room during a class or group session. I want to jump out the window and bring in a friend or an enemy who needs to hear this more than I do. “I wish John and Mary were here. They need to hear this. Those folks down the street need this.” I call this the “me first” principle of Bible study. The first question I need to ask when studying God’s word or implementing principles that I am learning is, “How does this apply to me?”.

  • May we bring up “old business” if we need to clarify or discuss something further?

Sometimes a comment is countered by, “We’ve already talked about that.” If a person isn’t finished with an issue, it may need to be discussed again.

  • May we have permission to make additional rules, if needed, to help this group be more effective?

This list is not exhaustive. Some discussions need fewer guidelines, some more.

In some meetings that involved anticipated conflict, we had the “no shouting” rule. As the facilitator, I have been told that previous meetings had ended in a shouting match which was hurtful. It was suggested that I call people to account when they were getting too loud. I decided not to get into the middle of that group’s conflict. What we negotiated was that when three people held up their hands when a person was getting louder and louder, I would report to the speaker, “Three people in the group think you are getting louder than is helpful for this discussion.” That helps the group be responsible for itself and keeps me out of the middle of a conflict that doesn’t belong to me.

In some meetings, we have had the “Why are you leaving?” rule. When I was informed that this group’s meetings often end in people leaving mad, we worked out the agreement that if people left, they would tell why. This kept people from assuming that people were leaving angry or letting them know that they were angry and possibly why.

In one preachers’ meeting, the group requested the guideline, “We will not talk disparagingly about any person not present.” This came out of painful experience of previous preachers’ luncheons that developed into a discussion of who was doing or saying the wrong things since our last meeting. This spirit killed that meeting.

  • Would you be willing to tell what you like about this group process, what is helpful and what is not helpful, and in this way give suggestions for improving future discussions?

This can be one of the most helpful guidelines for the leader as well as for the rest of the group. If the leader is serious and honest, he or she can model a learning attitude that encourages growth. I like criticism! When anyone loves me enough to tell me how I can improve, that person is doing me a favor. If you find salmonella in my refrigerator and tell me about it, you are not hurting me. You are helping me.

When I am leading a meeting, I have the choice of the Amos rule, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3), or the Judges rule, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Which rule I choose can make a great difference in the effectiveness of the discussion.

For a list of the rules, without comments, click on Discussion Guidelines.

For a PDF eBook of these rules with the commentary, click on Guidelines for a Good Discussion: how to lead a peaceful conversation about powerful things.

What have you found helpful in leading discussions and meetings?
Please comment below: