Checking References

do you want to know the truth?

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

What about checking references?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you ask a reference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Preacher Search — Interviews

what will you ask and what will you be asked?

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

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

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

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

Some Presuppositions

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

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

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

Interviews

Church to Preacher

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

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

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

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

In addition to these questions, I suggest:

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

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

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

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

Preacher to Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interim Ministry Workshop

Nashville, Tennessee, September 21-23, 2017

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

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

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

Some of the topics we discussed:

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

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

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The Search 1

who will participate?

It’s time to look for the next preacher. Who’ll have a part in the search and selection? How will the search be conducted?

Possibilities, Some Ways I’ve Observed

  1. Recommendation. Contact a favorite preacher, president or head of the Bible department of a Christian college, or the director of a preacher training school and ask for their best recommendation. Take their suggestion. Have him try out. If everything looks OK, offer him the work that night before he accepts an offer from another congregation.
  2. “Beauty contest.” Assemble a list of many good preachers. Invite them in to speak on successive Sundays. Give members a reply form. The one most members like, invite him to be your next preacher unless there were red flags during the interview.
  3. Elders serve as the selection group. They decide on a method of search. The elders go ahead with as many as they like, interview, check references, come to a conclusion with or without input from the congregation, and select the new preacher.
  4. Elders involve a group(s) to help in the selection process. I’ve seen this done three ways:
    1. Begin with a Selection Committee. This group receives resumes, asks for recommendations, makes phone interviews, and presents the Interview Committee with four names. The Interview Committee invites the four men and wives, to come to town for a Friday-Saturday visit for more detailed observation and interviews. An elder meets with this committee to keep the elders informed and up-to-date on the progress and prospect. This group recommends a preacher who comes to meet with the elders. If they find him qualified and a fit, he becomes the next preacher. Another possibility, which I recommend: the pick of the preachers visits with the understanding the congregation will have a voice in the invitation of the elders. I’ve known of churches who omitted this step and selected a preacher with a shady past. After he comes to the church and repeats past indiscretions, members say, “I could have told you so. But you hired him, and you gave us no opportunity to comment.”
    2. Have a Selection Committee who does the tasks of the two committees mentioned above. They narrow the field to four and makes recommendations to the elders. The elders invite the four men and wives for their interviews and interaction. They select one man to be considered for the work. That man comes to preach. They ask the congregation to give comments.
    3. Have a Selection Committee do all the work, invite the four men, decide on the best man, present him to the congregation, and receive a response from the group after his visit. The elders meet with him during his visit for try-out.

Whatever the method, there should be a clear understanding of the role of each person and group.  Develop written descriptions of the authority and expectations of each person in each group about what is and is not expected. Those expectations should be communicated to the congregation. Understand many will not listen, not understand, and forget. That’s the reason it needs to be written and repeated over and over during the search process.

Prayer to God for wisdom should precede, saturate, and follow the search for the new preacher.

What have you seen helpful in selecting a new preacher?

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Preaching During the Interim…Workshops and Closing

practical principles and closing sermons

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

The workshop rules:

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

Workshops

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

Two Closing Sermons

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

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

What would you recommend for preaching during the interim?

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Preaching During the Interim…Beginning

let’s look at ourselves before we start looking for a preacher

The aim of this blog (and I hope book) is to tell how I do interim ministry. There’s a better way and I hope to do better the next time. I think I’ve improved since my last interim I finished five months ago. This is the plan for now.

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.

The first Sunday after moving to a new location is Psalm 118:24. I ask three questions:

  • Do you believe Jesus loves His church? Surely. He died for it.
  • Do you believe Jesus loves this congregation? Absolutely. Every saved person here is a member of His body, His bride.
  • Do you believe God will give us wisdom during this process? He promised it in James 1:5.

Listen to:  This is the Day the Lord Has Made.

The second Sunday in the new church: Recruiting People to Be in the Mustard Seed Collectors and Planters Association. Listen to Mustard Seed Sermon This is an expansion of my first rule: Try not to learn very much. It doesn’t take many Christians doing things better to help the church grow and become more healthy.

We pass out Official Mustard Seed Collector and Planter cards:

The next week I start a seven-week series on Luke 9:23:

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NKJV).

Before we look for a preacher, let’s look at ourselves. Are we the kind of church, am I the kind of Christian, who would attract the kind of preacher we would like to have?

Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23 the path to being His disciple, following Him: deny self, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus. When I want to do something well, I learn best by watching someone who does it well. I believe Jesus was the best cross-carrier Who ever lived. Paul did a good job following Jesus. Jesus and Paul will be our models during this series of how to carry a cross successfully.

You Have the Power to Live Through Dying — How to Be a Good Winner by Losing
Luke 9:23

  1. What Choices Do I Have When I Face Difficult Decisions? Listen to Cross Bearing 1
  2. Why Can’t I Have Everything? What Do I Have to Give Up? Listen to Cross Bearing 2
  3. Will I Always Have Pain in My Life? Listen to Cross Bearing 3
  4. What Do I Do When I Am Embarrassed to Do Right? Listen to Cross Bearing 4
  5. How Can I Make Difficult Decisions? Listen to Cross Bearing 5
  6. How Do I Keep Going When I Want to Give Up? Listen to Cross Bearing 6
  7. Why Would I Make a Decision to Suffer? What Will I Gain? Listen to Cross Bearing 7

This is the first eight weeks on Sunday morning. I want the church to have a good transition. A good transition begins with a good ending. The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). I find many get excited about resurrection. Not many want to volunteer for crucifixion. The truth is: crucifixion precedes resurrection. That’s the ending that starts the new beginning.

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Introduction to this Church and Our Community

would you want to work with this church and live in this community?

The first task of the search committee isn’t to hire this great preacher. The main goal of the great preacher isn’t to try to be selected by this outstanding congregation. The great question is, “Do we fit?”. One step in answering the question is for both to provide as much about themselves as would be helpful.

One way each church where I’ve served as an interim did this was to prepare a document giving an introduction to the church and the community.

The first congregation did this in a 3-ring binder. Succeeding churches did it digitally on their website or a CD.

[tweetthis]The first task of the search committee isn’t to hire this great preacher. [/tweetthis]

Some things included were:

Introduction to the Church

  • History.
  • Plans and vision of the future.
  • Leadership.
  • Ministries.
  • Statistics of attendance and contribution for several decades.
  • Results of self-study survey.
[tweetthis]The main goal of the great preacher isn’t to try to be selected by this outstanding congregation.[/tweetthis]

Introduction to the Community

  • History.
  • Recent census.
  • Schools for children and adults.
  • Local sports programs.
  • Medical facilities.
  • Transportation.
  • Recreation.
  • Other interesting things within driving distance of this community.

The best approach I observed in my ministry was from the Pleasant Ridge church in Arlington, Texas. I received a call one Monday morning. A gentleman said he would like to meet with me. He needed thirty minutes of my time. We agreed on 4:00 that afternoon.

At 4:00 p.m., two men arrived at my study in Dalton, Georgia. They identified themselves as elders of the Pleasant Ridge church. They had a package of information about the church and community. I informed them I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas. They told me, “We’re not asking you to move to Texas. Please consider this information and ask any questions you have. Think and pray about this and see if this is an opportunity you should consider. We’ll be in contact with you in a couple of weeks.” They had driven from Texas to Georgia to deliver the information. That began a three-month discussion. It was a memorable time of learning how to consider and be considered by a church.

They had a very detailed approach to let us patiently consider each other and whether we should work together.

Several years ago, a church selected a new preacher. He moved and had a great beginning. He helped the church by his preaching. He was serving in a great way. Everything seemed to be perfect.

But in a short time he was moving. Why? There wasn’t a Walmart nearby and his wife wasn’t happy without Walmart.

Those are things you can learn before you select a preacher and save confusion and moving expenses — coming and going.

[tweetthis]The great question for the church and the prospective preacher is, “Do we fit?”.[/tweetthis]

The information-gathering of the search is important. In addition to the facts we share with each other, we’re telling each other the amount about us we’re willing to disclose, the excellence and details of the work we do, and how much of what Jesus said we believe:

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32, NKJV).

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

What are some things you would like to know about a church and community you would consider?

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Interim Ministry Workshop

September 21–23, 2017

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

Three things to do to take advantage of this opportunity:

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

Reserve my place in this workshop

Eddyville, Kentucky

The cost is $317.49 per person.

Hendersonville, Tennessee

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

Cookeville, Tennessee

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

LaVergne, Tennessee

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

Maury City, Tennessee

Schedule

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

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

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

Jeffersonville, Indiana

Topics:

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

Sikeston, Missouri

Three things to do to take advantage of this opportunity:

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

Reserve my place in this workshop

Self-Study Survey

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

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

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

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

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

There are several parts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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