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.

Please leave a comment by ...... clicking here.

 

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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Evaluation

what was helpful; what can be improved?

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

I request evaluations as I leave each congregation.

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

 

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

This is helpful in several ways.

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

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

Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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

Between Preachers Has Completed a Year!

Thank you

Thank you for your encouragement during this first year of Between Preachers blog. Your reading, “liking” on Facebook, commenting, and emails have been helpful. I am asking three favors:

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This survey is anonymous. It will improve my focus in writing during 2017, and beyond — if the Lord wills.

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I’m planning an Interim Ministers Workshop in September. If you have an interest and would like more information, please send me an email: jerrie@barberclippings.com

Most Popular Blog Pages of 2016

  1. Between Preachers
  2. Is There Any Hope for this Church?
  3. Beginning at a New Church — My First Three Rules
  4. Originality Rule
  5. Communication Rules
  6. Our Journey to Interim Ministry
  7. The Search
  8. “I Don’t Think We Need to Write It!”
  9. Criticism Rule
  10. Principle 1 of Family Systems: The Identified Patient

Opening Family Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Discussion Rules

guidelines for a peaceful and productive meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • May I be the leader of this group?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • May we be humble instead of arrogant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. By us?
  2. By others?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

[tweetthis]As a young preacher, I dreaded, feared, and avoided criticism. I equated it with failure.[/tweetthis]

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).

[tweetthis]A leader is more like a lightning rod than a cute wall decoration. [/tweetthis]

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:

Beginning at a New Church — My First Three Rules

clear expectations reduce conflict and disappointment.

I like to begin with rules — guidelines, expectations. Family rules are usually unconscious, unspoken, but understood. That means we rarely think about them, and neglect discussing them. But when someone violates a family (group) rule, he is in trouble! The group will discipline or shun a rule-breaker.

family-rules-leather-bookI think there’s a better way. Let’s discuss how we’re going to relate to each other. What do you expect of me? Let me tell you what I expect of you. Let’s negotiate. Then let’s hold each other accountable for what we agreed to do.

Some tell me they don’t like rules. But we still have them. There are things we like, things we don’t like, things we’ll tolerate, and things we won’t tolerate. It’s good to know them. The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is a rule, a good rule.

My second Sunday in a new interim, I begin with my rules, expectations. I explain these same three guidelines in meetings and workshops.

#1: Try not to learn very much. This has been my aim since graduating from college and not having to take tests. When I read a book, attend a seminar or lecture, or listen to a podcast, I try not to learn much. I usually can’t recreate the outline. I probably missed several points.

Although I try not to learn very much, I want to get something helpful to make a difference in the way I think, act, and relate to God and others. I call it the “mustard seed” principle. Jesus told His apostles if they had faith of a grain of mustard seed, they could move a mountain (Matthew 17:20).

#2: You have permission to sleep. I don’t know how much sleep you’ve had. I don’t know what kind of medicine you’re taking. I don’t know how hard you’ve worked. Sometimes people nod and even take a nap when I’m speaking. I won’t be offended.

It used to bother me. I thought it was an insult to my preaching. But you can learn many things from the Bible. In Acts, chapter 20, a man was preaching. A young man went to sleep, fell out a window, and died. Who was the preacher? Paul. Good preacher or bad preacher? Good preacher. Someone going to sleep doesn’t necessarily mean the preaching is bad.

A guy flung all over the couchWe can gain wisdom from reflecting on our experiences. I started preaching when I was sixteen years old. One Sunday, in November 1962, I was preaching at the Wolf Creek Church of Christ, in Hickman County, Tennessee. I was about half way through the sermon. I said, “In Hebrews 10:24, 25, we read…” I fell to the floor. I went to sleep during my own sermon. Two doctors examined me and came to the same conclusion: I was exhausted. I’d played a basketball game Friday night. Both teams kept a full-court press going the whole game. My father was building a rock house. I hauled rocks all day Saturday. I went bowling Saturday night. I arose early Sunday morning to study.  About half way through the sermon, it was time for a nap, and I took one.

As I’ve thought about this, if I sleep when I preach, I shouldn’t be upset if other people sleep when I preach.

[tweetthis] If I sleep when I preach, I shouldn’t be upset if other people sleep when I preach.[/tweetthis]

#3: Feel free to use the waste basket. We’ll have someone to empty it at the end of each session. I like to put a filter on the waste basket — the Bible. If God said it, don’t throw it away. And we’ll be reading much of God’s word. However, there’ll be times when I say, “I think; it’s my observation; this is the way I see it.”img_1306

I think it’s pretty good. But you may not think it’s worth taking home. Feel free to use the waste basket.

In announcing these three expectations, I’m recognizing what people are going to do anyway. What I’ve promised is I’m not going to get upset and angry.

  1. I won’t be giving tests. The Lord will do that. I’d rather a person get one concept that moves him closer to the example of Jesus than to be able to recite every point.
  2. People may nod or sleep. That’s their condition or choice. I won’t be monitoring the situation and making loud noises to keep them awake. Each person can be responsible for himself.
  3. A person may disagree with me. If he asks, I’ll explain. If he persists, my reply, “This sounds like this may be waste basket material to you.”

[tweetthis]Some tell me they don’t like rules. But we still have them.[/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]There are things we like, things we don’t like, things we’ll tolerate, and things we won’t tolerate.[/tweetthis]

I’m working on defining myself and letting the church know what I expect and what responses I’ll give to different situations.

More rules to follow in the next post.
Please comment below: