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

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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?
  • 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?
  • 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:

Criticism Rule

a leader is more like a lightning rod than a cute wall decoration

My rule for criticism is: I love criticism! As a young preacher, I dreaded, feared, and avoided criticism. I equated it with failure. I should be able to study enough, work enough, visit enough, and be good enough so people would have nothing but appreciation for me and my work.

I had a conversion experience with a counselor that changed my attitude toward criticism.

One Sunday, I’d received some stinging words. I made an appointment with James Jones, a counselor from the Atlanta area, who worked in our building at Central in Dalton, Georgia, the following day.

I wanted him to do two things:

  1. Agree I was right and those who criticized me were wrong. To me, it was clear. I was right. There was no reason for their criticism.
  2. I hoped, but doubted, that on one of his visits to our congregation he might work it into his conversation to these people it was hurtful to me for them to criticize me. It’d be good if they wouldn’t do it again.

I presented my case, awaiting his agreement, help, and encouragement.

He paused, as he often did, glanced at me a time or two, then said, “Did it ever occur to you not everybody likes Jerrie Barber?”.

Then I paused. That wasn’t the reply I expected and wanted. I had nothing to say.james-and-jerrie

James continued:

Not everybody likes Jerrie Barber. Not everybody has liked Jerrie Barber in the past. Not everybody likes Jerrie Barber today. Not everybody will like Jerrie Barber in the future. That’s facts. That’s reality. That’s the way the world operates. You have two choices:

  1. You can communicate verbally and nonverbally you don’t like and don’t want criticism. Few will criticize you — until they get ready to fire you. (That wasn’t good. I’d experienced that. The Best Day to Fire Your Preacher; 3 Ways I Helped Get Myself Fired. I didn’t like that option. I looked forward to the next.)
  2. You can let people know you’re concerned; you want to know what they think and feel. If you communicate clearly, sincerely, and often, they’ll tell you. And many times it’ll really hurt. But…you’ll learn things you’ll never learn any other way.

The conversation made sense and made a difference. From then, I’ve grown in welcoming and inviting criticism. It’s a Biblical concept:

Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge,
But he who hates correction is stupid (Proverbs 12:1, NKJV).

I started conducting a What Do You Think About the Preacher Night once a year in full-time work. I do a session or two in interim ministry. After services, I set the structure for good discussions, then open the floor for people to tell me how I can improve. (You can receive a free copy of Guidelines for a Good Discussion: how to lead a peaceful conversation about powerful things, for subscribing to New Shepherds Orientation — SUBSCRIBE.)

During this interchange, I promise to do three things:

  1. I’ll listen to what is said.
  2. I’ll write it down.
  3.  I’ll think about it.

I’ve received some helpful suggestions. I show I’m willing to listen to criticism and not get defensive. I set a precedent. I encourage people to come to me at any time to tell me how to improve. I believe anyone who finds salmonella in my refrigerator and tells me about it isn’t hurting me. He’s helping me.

Once I invite people to tell me how I can be better and do better, it takes the sting out. When they do, and I thank them, I gain credibility and often build better relationships. I sometimes write personal notes to those who do an outstanding job criticizing me — especially if it seemed difficult for them.

There’s a modification to this rule: I don’t accept anonymous criticism. I won’t receive and act on second-hand criticism. Since 2011, I’ve this in my contract: “Any criticism of Jerrie Barber will be directed to Jerrie Barber and it will be welcomed. Jerrie Barber does not accept anonymous criticism.” Interim Minister — Transition Consultant Job Description and Contract, page 2, # 8)

That means should anyone approach me saying, “We’ve had some complaints about…”, I reply, “I don’t accept anonymous criticism. Please have the person or persons talk to me. I’ll treat them with respect and appreciation.”

Should a person persist (which I haven’t experienced), I’d reply, “I cannot respond. It’d be going against my contract.” It’d also be going against scripture. Jesus told us to bring any complaint against a brother by going to him ALONE. (Matthew 18:15).

A leader is more like a lightning rod than a cute wall decoration. A lightning rod rises above the building, saying, “Hit me, hit me.” The potentially destructive charge is transferred to the ground. The building is protected. Leadership, greatness isn’t for cuteness and admiration. It comes with service and often pain (Matthew 20:25-28).

I communicate this information the fourth week in a new interim. About this time, I conduct a one-hour workshop on Criticism. After this, people test whether I meant what I said or not. Depending on my response, I have the opportunity to increase or decrease my credibility.

But that happens to any leader, whether he articulates the way he handles criticism or not.

What suggestions do you have for dealing with criticism?
Please comment below:

Name Memory Rule

what happens when I don’t remember your name?

We’ve been doing interim ministry more than nine years. We’ve worked with six congregations. There are more than 2,500 people that attend those congregations. Frequently, when I’m in a group, someone will ask, “Do you know who I am?”. The answer is often in the negative. The situation is awkward. Embarrassment is felt by both sides of the conversation.

I’ve found letting people know in the beginning about how I remember names is helpful.

I know how to remember names.

I’ve been through the Dale Carnegie course five times. I was a student the first time in Madisonville, Kentucky starting in August 1969. Besides the Bible courses I took in college, the Dale Carnegie course is one of the most helpful learning experiences in improving my preaching, study, and working with people. After graduating from that course, I served as a graduate assistant four times. I also took the Dale Carnegie Sales course.

I know how to remember names.

The laws of memory are

I — impression
R — repetition
A — association

Six common ways to make associations:

B — business
R — rhyming word
A — appearance
M — meaning
M — mind picture
S — similar name

I know how to remember names. I can quote the rules.

However, I often forget to practice what I know. Therefore, I don’t remember a couple hundred or more new names quickly.

Let me ask you — do you enjoy someone coming to you, putting you on the spot, and asking, “Do you know who I am; do you remember my name?” I’ve asked that question to 2,500+ people and I haven’t had a person raise a hand indicating they welcome that encounter.

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It’s encouraging to me. Because no one likes that, I know how everyone is going to treat me. We are followers of Jesus. Jesus taught us how to treat people in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).

My rule is this:

If you’re in a hurry for me to remember your name, I’ve found that having a meal with someone improves my memory. Feel free to schedule that soon and let’s get acquainted.

This has worked well. It’s true. I’m a slow learner. I don’t like to embarrass myself and others. People have understood and cooperated.

I’m doing this for myself. But I am also doing this for the next preacher. In some congregations where I’ve worked as an interim, most people don’t remember a new preacher coming. Their former preacher had been there many years and knew everyone. It’ll be easier on the new preacher if people don’t put pressure on him to remember their names the first week.

Please leave comments below:

“I Don’t Think We Need to Write It!”

objections to written job descriptions and contracts

We don’t need to write anything down. We’ll just trust each other like Christians, and I promise you we’ll take care of you and work out any problems that come up along the way.” And that’s been the beginning of disappointing “agreements” between leaders and their new preacher.

But what could go wrong when we’re all sincere, honest, and faithful brethren?

Let me suggest a few things I’ve learned from the University of Hard Knocks, whose colors are black and blue and the school yell is, “OUCH!”.

Some possible agreements:

  1. What do you expect of me?
  2. What are my responsibilities?
  3. How will I know if I am doing well, mediocre, or if I am in danger of being terminated?
  4. Will I know that in advance of termination or will I be informed on the way out?
  5. What spiritual support will I receive?
  6. How often and when will I meet with the shepherds?
  7. As your preacher, how many weeks do I get for vacation?
  8. Will these be with or without pay?
  9. How many weeks do I have for workshops and gospel meetings?
  10. Who arranges for speakers when I am gone and who pays them?
  11. Are there provisions for medical and life insurance, car mileage reimbursement, provisions for continuing education or lectureships or seminars, reimbursement for half of social security, retirement, or other benefits?
  12. When I decide to leave, or you decide for me to leave, will there be severance compensation until I relocate?
  13. How long will that be?
  14. Etc., etc., and etc.

If any, all, or some of those are discussed, how many in the group remember them fifteen minutes after we agreed on them?

In the last two posts, I wrote about the importance of specific written agreements. Not everyone agrees with that concept. Here are reasons people have for resisting.

  • “If we don’t trust each other any more than that, we have no business working together.” It isn’t a matter of trust, it’s a result of imperfect memory. After that, each will regard the other with suspicion and distrust. Each is sure he remembered correctly. A way to eliminate that is to write it, sign it, distribute it to all parties, scan it, save it on your computer, back it up to external hard drives (I use three in rotation), secure it in the cloud, and put the original in your safe-deposit box in the bank. Since I’ve done that, I’ve never had a disagreement on details of my agreements that wasn’t solved by reading the document.
  • “In my daddy’s day, people just shook hands and did what they said they were going to do.” If it worked for your daddy, I’m pleased. My experience is I forget. We had written agreements with our children when they were growing up. Every time I remember having a disagreement, I was wrong. I wasn’t trying to cheat my children. I forgot the details. When we checked the document, I had no trouble doing what I promised to do.
  • “I don’t think it’s spiritual for brethren to have to write every detail. It seems like Christians should be able just to agree and do what they said they’d do.” In His two big agreements, the Old Testament and the New Testament, He chose to have details and stories recorded in writing. Some of the big agreements, He wrote in stone — twice! When the first copy was deleted by breakage, He had another copy made and placed in a safe-deposit box (the Ark of the Covenant).

My conclusion: the only people who don’t need to write their agreements are those who’ll never forget and who’ll never die — and they need to work only with people who’ll never forget and never die. Otherwise, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and damaged relationships are likely.

What are your thoughts and what’s been your experience in recording and keeping of agreements?
Please comment below:

How Much Do You Pay an Interim?

what is fair compensation for the interim preacher and the congregation?

In each discussion with a congregation considering inviting me to work with them, we get to the question, “How much do you pay an interim?” My consistent response for nine years, “Pay me what you paid your last preacher.”

Five reasons I think this is a good and fair request:

  1. You need an interim who’s as good at his work as your last preacher was at his.
  2. Paying your interim the salary you paid your last preacher is fair for small, medium, and large congregations.
  3. You’ll pay your next preacher as much, or more than you paid your last preacher. I’ll help you hold the place in the budget for him.
  4. A worker is worthy of his pay. If an interim preacher has spent his life learning, applying, and teaching the principles of transition, his knowledge and wisdom are worth that of any other consultant of comparable ability.
  5. People show respect, value, and credibility by compensation. Not every church has followed this principle, and I agreed to work with them. Observation: when a church did significantly less, it was also expressed in their attitude toward me. They expressed that by what they paid me and by the way they treated me while I was there. I just wasn’t that valuable. Non-verbal communication is powerful. Although I was paid well and lived comfortably, their response to that suggestion was the first sign of how I’d be regarded by them. I’ll ponder this in the future.

It’s expensive to be an interim.

We live where we work. We’ve lived in two houses owned by churches for use by their preacher. We’ve rented three apartments. We’re now renting a house close to Northside where we’re woking, and paying utilities.

We’re maintaining our house in Nashville. We pay utilities, property taxes, insurance, and mowing. We don’t move to a new location. We live there, bringing our clothes, computers, and an interim bed. Brethren loan us furniture while we’re working in a location. They pick it up when we leave. What isn’t loaned, Gail buys at a thrift store. This helps the most unpleasant part of our interim ministry, relocating every eighteen months.

God has been good and provided for our every need and most of our wants. I appreciate the support of brethren to permit the enjoyable work we’ve been doing for nine years.

What are your thoughts about compensation for interim preachers?
Please comment below: