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.

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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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Search Team Training

how do you look for a new preacher?

How do you suggest searching for a preacher that will be blessed by and a blessing to this congregation at this time? In this post, I give experience from 1961 to the present, with five congregations in full-time work and interim churches since 2007. This is an outline of a training day for the team directly involved in the search process. As always, the wastebasket is available for any ideas that aren’t helpful.

Presuppositions

     I begin the training process with some presuppositions.

  • I believe God loves His church. Jesus built it and died for it (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28). God is not only concerned about the church universal but each congregation individually. Several letters of the New Testament are to local groups of believers.
  • Since God loves His church and wants the best for it, we should invite Him to be part of this process. Remind yourself and others that His wisdom is available to those who pray for it (James 1:5) and work for it (Proverbs 2:1-5).
  • The process is as important as the product. Christians on the Search and Interview Teams, including the entire eldership, are not just doing a job but you are participating in an opportunity to grow spiritually. You can learn about God, about others, and about yourself.
  • Each committee should become a group before they see the first résumé or mention the first preacher’s name. A friend used to say, “I dream of a place and a time where Christians can get together and tell the truth.” The interview and selection process should be one of those times and places.
  • If one holds back, does not speak his mind, doesn’t ask important questions, doesn’t add helpful insight, or is in any way intimidated or compromised, the group and the church is deprived of group wisdom. Becoming a group will require several meetings before they “get on with the Lord’s work” of selecting a preacher. I believe learning to get along with each other, discussing how we’re going to conduct business, including how we’ll settle conflict when it arises, and getting to know each other in order to “stir up love and good works” is part of “the Lord’s work.”
  • The training day is designed to begin this process. It’s only the beginning. Usually, a group goes through three stages before it  is ready to function:
      1. Forming.
      2. Storming.
      3. Norming.
     I include activities in the training to begin those stages. I conducted these training sessions on a Saturday.

7:30     Breakfast. We start with a light meal. Eating together begins the group process. Many things happen when we are eating to bring us together.

After breakfast, I get the group into a circle. Everyone is facing everyone else. Everyone is on the front row.

Prayer is a part of our day at many different times. We pray for wisdom. We pray for the members of the search and interview team. We pray for the elders. We pray for the next preacher. We pray for the men who will be considered who will want to come but will not be selected.  We pray for this church and the body of Christ over the world.

8:00     Guidelines. I begin any group (counseling session, Bible class, Family Meeting, Stress Session in a monthly ministers’ workshop) with negotiating guidelines. Family (group) rules are usually unconscious, unspoken, but understood. That makes for difficult communication. I want the rules to be spoken, conscious, and understood. These are the boundaries that improve the possibility that “Christians can get together and tell the truth.” “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3, NKJV)? The answer to that question is, “No!” Many discussions end in chaos or miscommunication because we didn’t talk about how we were going to talk. You can receive a free copy of the guidelines I use by subscribing to my www.newshepherdsorientation.com blog post reminders: GUIDELINES FOR A GOOD DISCUSSION: how to lead a peaceful conversation about powerful things .

8:35     Mixer, introduction. The people line up according to birthdays: January – December. They get into pairs. Each person interviews the other, preparing to introduce the partner to the group. Tell something about yourself and include something that no one knows about you until today. Each person introduces his/her partner.

8:45     What do you bring to this process? It is interesting how different people contribute to the search process. Some are good at calling, recording, leading the meetings, writing letters or emails, asking interview questions, arranging for visits to the congregation, keeping spreadsheets of where each candidate is in the process, preparing sermons on CDs or MP3s for others to hear. We learn more about that in this section of the training session.

9:15     What will you get out of this? Each person needs to examine his motives. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The search process is long and sometimes difficult and frustrating. Unless there is adequate motivation, the members will get discouraged. That can result in some people quitting and/or rushing the process to “get it over with” and end with less than excellent results.

Break 

9:45     Centertown Church of Christ now—10 years from now. After the break, I bring people to tables with crayons and large drawing paper. I ask each person to draw a line vertically in the middle of the page. On the left side of the paper, each person draws his or her impression of this congregation now. On the right side of the page, each person draws his or her hopes and dreams for this church ten years from now. After everyone is finished, we come back into the circle and discuss the pictures. Everyone is learning what others see now and what they want to see in the future. These ideas will help form what they want to see in the next preacher.

10:30    Book “mustard seeds”. A few weeks before, I have given everyone a book on the selection process. During this session, each person shares some ideas gained that may be helpful in selecting the next preacher for this congregation. Some suggested books for preacher search . My recommended book is The Search Committee Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to Hiring Your Next Minister, by Don Viar.

11:15     Search Committee, Interview Committee, Elders. This is where we discuss the job description of each committee and the elders. It is necessary to have a clear understanding of what each group is and is not to do in the process.

12:00    Lunch.

12:45     Chain Letter. After lunch, I read a chain letter about preachers I received by email: Preacher Chain Letter .

1:00      Preacher of your dreams—preacher of your nightmares. It’s back to the drawing board for this exercise. As before, I ask each person to draw a line down the middle of the paper. On the left side, please draw a representation of the “Preacher of Your Dreams.” If you could get the perfect preacher, what would he look like? What is the kind of preacher would you want to come to this congregation? This will certainly include something about his stand for truth but also attitudes, mannerisms, and attitudes—both in and out of the pulpit. What should be his emphasis? In what areas would you tolerate weaknesses in order to have strengths in other areas?

     After everyone is finished with that, on the right side of the paper, please draw the “Preacher of Your Nightmares.” What would the opposite of the “Preacher of Your Dreams” look like?

     When all are finished, we get into the circle to discuss these works of art and visualizations of our expectations of the next preacher. I allow each one to tell about their picture and their preacher.

     My final question in this exercise is, “What if the preacher of your dreams is someone else’s nightmare?”. How will you work with others who have different expectations of the next preacher? That is the challenge of the selection committee—whether it is the elders during the whole process or whether a group makes recommendations to the elders for their consideration before making the decision. Will each person listen to the other and will each person express their thoughts and feelings freely to contribute to the final selection?

1:30      Barber’s Bullets for Preacher Search is a collection of my thoughts and observations as I have experienced and watched this process. I express my best judgment. As always, the wastebasket is available for anything not worth taking home. 

1:45      Evaluation. A good way for me to learn is to do the best I know how and ask others to help me improve. In evaluating the training session, I ask two questions?

  • What did you learn?
  • How can this training be better next time?

     We conclude at 2:00 with a prayer for God to bless the process and bless us to take advantage of this opportunity to grow in our faith in God, connection to each other, and improvement in our wisdom, skills, and attitude.

What suggestions do you have to prepare people for the new preacher search?

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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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10 Years in Interim Ministry

…we had a party!

Joe Walker, one of the elders at Eddyville, Kentucky, called me in May 2006. He asked if I would consider coming to Eddyville to do my first interim. I told him I was committed to Berry’s Chapel through the first Sunday of April 2007. He said, “We’ll wait.” That began meetings and discussions with the elders, Randell O’Bryan, Doyle Walker, and Joe Walker. We thought, talked, prayed, and visited. We decided to begin in May 2007. Ten years after beginning, we had a party at Patti’s 1880’s Settlement in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Gail and I met the elders, Randell O’Bryan and Joe Walker and their wives, Martha and Cheryl (Doyle Walker died after we left), and enjoyed bread in a flower pot, strawberry butter, and pie with a 9” meringue. To me, the main course was incidental.

We are working with our seventh congregation.

  1. Eddyville Church of Christ, Eddyville, Kentucky, May 2007-August 2008
  2. Hendersonville Church of Christ, Hendersonville, Tennessee, October 2008-December 2009
  3. Collegeside Church of Christ, Cookeville, Tennessee, March 2010-June 2011
  4. LaVergne Church of Christ, LaVergne, Tennessee, August 2011-June 2013
  5. Maury City Church of Christ, Maury City, Tennessee, September 2013-July 2015
  6. Northside Church of Christ, Jeffersonville, Indiana, September 2015-February 2017
  7. Shady Acres Church of Christ, Sikeston, Missouri, April 2017-present

Observations Over a Decade

  • I never met an interim I didn’t like. Brethren have been gracious to us.
I never met an interim I didn’t like. Click To Tweet
  • I have been and continue to be shepherded by shepherds of congregations we served. That hasn’t ended since we left. Gail had surgery in January 2010. An elder’s wife came to stay with Gail while I went to Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship. Elders from more than one interim church call to encourage me, check on how Gail and I are doing, and ask about the work in the congregation where we’re working.
  • The work is getting easier. I’m learning more. I experience fewer doubts that I’m going to do what I said I’d do — move on. I’m not on a long try-out with this church. In earlier congregations, some wondered if I were trying to hang on as long as I could, or maybe I wanted to be the next preacher. After six churches, it’s evident I’m an interim preacher. I’ve already quit. I’ll leave when you get a preacher or when the agreed time limit is over.
  • Elders struggle with giving up deacon work and being shepherds. We’ve had this discussion, and we’ve worked on it in every congregation. After fire-fighting and picking up after deacons for decades, it’s difficult to start a plan of preventive care.
  • Elders who shepherd plan for it, commit to it, work it into their schedule, make it a priority, report, and are accountable to the congregation to do what they promised to do. Meeting with families and people who are doing well but need someone to say, “I’m proud of you; God loves you; I can see Jesus in the way you live; you’ll make it raising your children; you can finish strong in your old age; have you thought about a new challenge in your life?; tell us about your spiritual growth; share with us how we can pray for you”, won’t happen accidentally and won’t be accomplished in your spare time. It takes commitment and action. Direction is more important than speed. I’d rather see shepherds commit and complete one visit a month than to start with two or three a week and quit in two months.
Direction is more important than speed. Click To Tweet
  • One of the biggest mistakes of the selection process is getting in a hurry. Being on a selection committee is hard work. People get tired. Your favorite man turned you down. The second favorite didn’t come. Let’s get the next available person.
  • The next mistake is failing to check references adequately. Many times when the committee gets to checking references, they want someone to confirm the preacher they’ve fallen in love with is the best preacher available. That’s a mistake. Faith (trust) grows through creative doubt. If he’s good and a fit, he can stand the scrutiny of a thorough check. If he isn’t good or doesn’t fit, you don’t need him.
  • From the perspective of Jerrie and Gail Barber, interim ministry is delightful! There’s nothing we’d rather be doing. We’ve worked with more than 3,000 people in ten years. Many of those will be special to us for the rest of our lives. We’ve lived in seven different communities and enjoyed people and places. Some of the cultural and culinary highlights: best catfish sandwich at Echo Charlie’s in Eddyville, Kentucky; Drakes Creek Park and Indian Lakes for running in Hendersonville, Tennessee; Poke Sallet Festival in Gainesboro and J. T. Watts Gen’l Mdse. in Nameless while living in Cookeville, Tennessee; Demos Restaurant and Accurate Automotive, where we bought two cars that are serving us well with no repairs after 150,000+ miles, in the Laverne area; finding contented and grateful farmers and the Olympic Steak House (the restaurant by which we judge all others) at Maury City, Tennessee; the Big 4 Bridge for running and great neighbors in the “Old Folks Village” in Jeffersonville, Indiana; Lambert’s and The Original Fried Pie Shop in Sikeston, Missouri.
  • There’s more work in interim ministry than we can do. We’re limited by driving distance from Nashville. We’re limited by time. There are opportunities for more people to work in this ministry. That’s one of the reasons for the Interim Ministry Workshop September 21-23.

What questions, comments, observations do you have?

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Timeline

are we growing, plateaued, or declining?

Before we decide where we want to go,  we need to know where we are.

How big is the congregation? “Oh, we run about 250 or 260. Of course, it was Family Day year before last since we hit that number.” “It seems like we’re gaining a few now. The parking lot looked like there were more cars than usual.”

Those statements may or may not correspond to reality.

The best way I know how to learn the facts is to average attendance and contribution for as many years as the church has kept records and plot the results on a graph. Growth or decline is clear. I know nickels and noses are not the whole story, but they’re part of the indication of the health of the church.

Early in the interim process, I ask for volunteers to collect and record this information. In one congregation, we went through boxes and boxes of old bulletins to assemble figures.

The easiest time of collecting stats was at Eddyville, Kentucky. Emma Walker had kept information for Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, gospel meetings, and Vacation Bible Schools since the church moved to “New Eddyville” in 1961.

We copied her hand-written books (I didn’t want to be responsible for loosing the originals), distributed them to people who transferred information to Excel spreadsheets, and drew charts on large paper.

In other congregations, we made spreadsheets, took them to Staples or Office Depot and printed large charts to display.Adding other information can help give a visual factual reminder of major changes in the congregation:

Adding other information can help give a visual factual reminder of major changes in the congregation:

  • Appointment and resignations or deaths of elders and deacons.
  • Names and dates of service of preachers, youth ministers, and other staff members.
  • Building programs or relocations of the church.
  • Other major events that have affected the congregation.
  • Plotting of national and world events can put additional perspective to the graphic history.

After we review and discuss graphs and events, we divide into small groups and encourage people to share their memories of pleasant and painful events in the congregation.

A copy of this timeline should be sent to each preacher the church is considering. Just as the search committee wants a résumé, recordings of sermons, and three references of each preacher they are considering, they should supply information to candidates to help them evaluate their fit in this church.

I’ve observed the night of the timeline discussion to be a time of celebration, shock, nostalgia, contemplation, and hope. It’s one way of helping a group come to terms with it’s history.

What have you done to help a congregation reflect on where they have been to move forward more effectively?

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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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