How many churches do you help noticeably?

I read in an article of the Interim Ministry Network that intentional interim ministers were able to help about 50% of churches where they work.

From my perspective, that’s been my experience.

“That’s not a high percentage.”

That’s correct.

If a patient is sick and goes to a doctor, two things determine the success of the transaction:

  1. The doctor gives a proper diagnosis and prescribes the best medicine.
  2. The patient describes their symptoms and takes the medicine.

If either is less than excellent and honest in each position, odds aren’t good for the patient to get better.

I’m not always accurate in what I do.

Churches don’t always admit their disease and some don’t want to get better if it means doing somethng more or different from what they have been doing.

When I interview and am interviewed by a prospective church, there are three issues I want to explore:

  1. Does this church want to do an interim, transition, grow in leadership and discipleship, or do they want fill-in preaching? One interesting exploration trip I took came when I received a call to preach for a church whose long-time preacher had recently resigned. Gail and I drove more than five hundred miles to get there. When I arrived in town Saturday afternoon, I called my contact and asked if we had a discussion time scheduled for Saturday night. “No.” What about after services Sunday? “No.” There were no Sunday night services. From the announcements and casual conversation, I learned I was one of three trying out for the interim position. The following Sunday after the three interim tryouts, they had scheduled the first preacher for the permanent position. They didn’t want an interim. They had no concept of what an intentional interim does. I hope I learned to ask more qualifying questions before driving more than a thousand miles.
  2. How many problems and what kind of problems do they have? One of the most cooperative and growing churches I’ve worked with I interviewed two different times. The first time they weren’t interested. After I talked with them, they found their next preacher in two weeks. He lasted two years. The church split and lost 60% of its members. The second interview reminded me of Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (ESV). They cooperated, learned, grew as leaders, selected a great fit for the congregation, and continue to grow and serve their community.
  3. Are they aware of their problems and do they want to work on them or do they want to defend what they’ve done? But, what if a church has no problems? I couldn’t work with that church. I only work with churches on earth. The ones in heaven don’t need me. Some of my best visible signs of growth have come from churches with the most problems. I was approached by two congregations: one with very few problems and one with serious problems (divided eldership, staff leaving, and people leaving the church). I chose the one with the most problems. That’s become my policy: go to the church with the most problems.

The Two Biggest Mistakes in Churches Looking for a Preacher

  1. They get in a hurry to get the job done rather than taking the time to find a good fit.
  2. They shortcut or omit checking references. The search team needs to not only check references listed on the résumé, but others not listed — and before the visit to preach, include the elders and others of the last two or three churches where he preached.

Suggested Reference-checking Checklist

Other selection suggestions for churches and preachers: The Search

What suggestions do you have to increase the effectiveness of this process?

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

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