When and How Will the Next Preacher Leave?

How long do you plan to stay? How do you plan to leave?

What’s something you need to discuss with your prospective preacher before you sign the job description and contract? I think there needs to be a clear understanding: how long do you plan to stay and how do you plan to leave?

This Needs To Be Discussed For The Benefit Of The Church
How Long Do You Plan to Stay?

Growing churches have preachers that stay a long time. Preachers staying a long time doesn’t guarantee church growth. But I’ve never seen or heard of a growing church changing preachers every two to five years.

If a preacher’s making this move as a stepping stone to a larger congregation or if he’s taking this opportunity to hold him until a church opens up in a more desirable location, it may not be wise to choose him as your next preacher.

How Do You Plan to Leave?

A preacher can destroy his previous ministry and damage the congregation if he leaves with a bad attitude.

He can make the transition easy when he cooperates with his departure, regardless of the reason. It’s easy to think elders are wise when they want us to come and decide they lose their wisdom when they ask us to leave.

This Needs to Be Discussed for the Benefit of the Preacher
What Would it Take for You to Ask Me to Leave and How Will You Treat My Family and Me Should That Happen?

Some churches have a plan to change preachers on a regular basis. I talked with one preacher who’d been at a congregation for four and a half years. The church was growing. The congregation seemed to be happy. The preacher and his family were enjoying their work. The elders informed him it was time for him to be looking for another congregation.

“What’s wrong,” the surprised preacher asked.

“Nothing’s wrong,” the elders answered. “We have a policy we change preachers every five years. You’ve been here four and a half years, and we want to give you plenty of time to find another church.”

That would’ve been a good discussion four years and seven months ago!

“We have a policy we change preachers every five years. You’ve been here four and a half years, and we want to give you plenty of time to find another church.” Click To Tweet

The best time to plan a funeral is before a terminal illness. It’s easier to select caskets, clothes, a preacher for the funeral, pallbearers, songs, and other special requests when everyone is well and happy.

The best time to discuss how dismissal might be conducted is when elders think they’re selecting the best preacher in the brotherhood and the preacher thinks he’s found the perfect church. There’s no conflict then. Emotions are pleasant. Everyone’s happy. Let’s talk about a possible head-on collision no one saw coming and decide how we’ll treat each other if the tragedy occurs.

Elders Preparation for This Discussion

The best way for elders to prepare for this discussion, it to have the same understanding about their tenure and departure. One of the most destructive things that can happen in a church is for there to be a “leadership suicide.”

“I hereby resign as a…of this congregation—effective immediately!” There may be a nod of the head, his wife rises, and they exit the back door. Or a gasp when even his wife didn’t know it was coming. I’ve observed or heard of it happening from elders, deacons, and preachers. Without discussion or planning, an angry or discouraged leader expresses his frustration by leaving without warning.

When elders have an understanding in place, they introduce this discussion by telling the prospective preacher, “This is the way we operate. We have a ‘no-suicide’ agreement in our eldership and with our deacons. We believe smooth transitions are important in any group and especially in the Lord’s church. Let’s discuss your leaving when we’re excited about your coming. Our commitment to you: we’ll follow Jesus’ teaching to treat you as we want others to treat us.” To read more about this: Preventing Leadership Suicide: we never saw it coming!

It would be good to continue to have this discussion during the annual review. Providing financial incentives and checking to be sure the preacher is preparing for eventual leaving by choice, retirement, disability, or death is a kindness shown by caring shepherds.

It’s better to have hard conversations when they’re easy! Click To Tweet

What suggestions do you have for good partings?

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Preacher Search Suggestions 3

suggestions about looking for a preacher

Please read previous suggestions: Preacher Search Suggestions 1; Preacher Search Suggestions 2.

  • Don’t promise prospective preachers much.
    • Each member of the search team should be careful not to discuss your preferences and give an indication to a preacher he’s the “top pick” when the group hasn’t reached a decision.
    • Avoid feel-good phrases without specific meaning, “We’ll take care of you when you get here.”
    • Think before you promise, “We’ll call you Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.”
  • Do what you promise. One of the most disappointing things in my years of ministry is a failure of elders and search committees to call when they promised. Often an interview would end with the statement, “We’ll meet and discuss this. We’ll call you Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. to let you know what we decided.”

    My question, “Central time or Eastern time?” When clarified, I wrote the telephone appointment in my DayTimer™.

    As Tuesday night approached, I told my children, “I have an important call Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. If one of your friends calls from 7:45 on, tell them, ‘Daddy has an important call coming at 8:00. I’ll call you back.’ ”

    8:00 came and went; 8:15, 8:30, 9:00. No call. My reasoning: elders usually meet on Wednesday night. That’s what they probably meant. They’ll call after services. On the way home from Bible study, the conversation with my children, “I may have an important call coming in tonight. If one of your friends calls, tell them, ‘Daddy is expecting an important call. I’ll call you back later.’ ”

    No call on Wednesday, Thursday—often never. I’d learn about their new preacher when I read an announcement in the Gospel Advocate. This happened time after time.

    This practice was so pronounced that one elder who did what he promised stands out. In 1988, I learned at Freed-Hardeman lectures the church in Amory, Mississippi, was looking for a preacher. I called one of the elders, Jimmy Vaughan, and talked with him. He told me, “Yes, we’re looking. We heard you might be available. We may want to talk with you. We’re talking with one man at a time. We’re talking with a preacher now, and it looks like we may come to an agreement. If we don’t, we want to talk with you next. We plan to decide this weekend. I’ll call you Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. and let you know, either way.”

    “Central time or Eastern time?”

    “Central time.”

    My conversation with my children, “I have an important call Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. If one of your friends call from 7:45 on, tell them, ‘Daddy has an important call coming at 8:00. I’ll call you back.’ ”

    Tuesday night came. I was waiting. At 8:00 p.m., 7:00 CST, my phone rang in Dalton, Georgia.

    “This is Jimmy Vaughan from Amory, Mississippi.” That’s when he said he would call!

    From that day, every time I saw Jimmy Vaughan, I would address him, “There’s Jimmy Vaughan from Amory, Mississippi, the elder who tells the truth.” In notes in my Contacts list on my iPhone under Jimmy Vaughan, I have this written, “the elder who tells the truth” – 1988. In notes below Contacts information in his daughter’s entry, “Daughter of Jimmy Vaughn, Amory, Mississippi, the elder who tells the truth”.

    I’ve labored this point because in my experience, and in the experience of many preachers who’ve talked with me, this practice is common. That should not be!

    During the time of looking for a preacher isn’t time to disregard principles or Biblical morality of telling the truth and being considerate of others.

  • Keep everyone in the process informed. Considering moving is a time of stress for many people: the preacher, his wife, his children, the congregation where he’s working, if they know about his consideration, and other congregations he’s considering. If a person is no longer in consideration, let him know. If it’ll be longer to complete a particular phase than you stated, let the people involved know. If it’s been some time since you communicated to those involved and you don’t have anything to say, let them know you don’t have anything to say.

Notice Three Main Rules for the Preacher Search above in the post. Both preachers and churches should study verbal and non-verbal communication. We’re beginning to tell each other how we’ll treat each other when we get together.

What suggestions do you have for the search?

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Barber Bullets 1

suggestions from observation and experience about looking for a preacher

This started as a hand-out during the training workshop for the group looking for and evaluating the next preacher. These are things I’ve learned from the University of Hard Knocks. Consider what I say and feel free to use the wastebasket.

  • Invite God 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). You’re starting a lengthy, difficult, invigorating, enlightening, and frustrating journey. Neither you individually nor the group collectively has the wisdom to deal with all issues, individuals, families, and churches you’ll be affecting as you carry out your task. Each person, including yourself, is a creation of God deserving to be treated with respect and love. God’s word gives us principles for every situation in life. God promised to give us wisdom when we realize we don’t have it. Click To Tweet I suggest you begin this search being poor in spirit and begging God for wisdom you need.
  • The process is as important as the product. Christians on the Search/Interview committees are not just doing a job. You are participating in an opportunity to grow spiritually. You can learn about God, others, and yourself. Be aware of your hopes, fears, prejudices, and faith. Watch for growth. Thank God for the opportunity to take part in this good work and the strength and wisdom He furnishes.
  • What are your rules? What are the spoken guidelines? What are the unspoken expectations? Don’t start talking until you agree, as a group, how you’re going to talk. Some suggested guidelines: Discussion Rules. Good agreements are ways of reducing conflict before conflict begins. If you don’t have conflict—differences of opinion—several of you are unnecessary. The reason we have a committee instead of a CEO is to get different perspectives. Click To Tweet The goal is to create an atmosphere where each person feels free and is encouraged to express every viewpoint. What may seem trivial to you, may spark an idea in another person that will make a difference in the outcome.
  • Spend five minutes at the end of each session to evaluate the process. How did we do? Was I heard? How am I feeling about what we’re doing? How am I relating to others in the group? Do I feel part of the team? It’s easy for a dominant personality or two to monopolize and unduly influence the group. Many people won’t talk unless they’re asked. Be concerned. Be honest. Be interested in the best choice possible. The chairman should ask each person about the process and how they feel about how they interacted during the meeting today.

What suggestions do you have to help in searching for a new preacher?

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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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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