How Long Will it Take?

It was my first day as an interim preacher at this congregation. I taught Bible class, preached Sunday morning and Sunday night. We were having a Family Meeting after evening services. After setting rules of discussion, it was time for questions.

A good sister was ready: “Brother Barber, nothing against you, but I don’t think we need an interim preacher. We’ve always just gone out and got another preacher in the past and that’s what I think we need to do this time. We need to get on with the Lord’s work.”

My reply, “With that kind of honesty, there’s a lot of hope for this church.” This sister was kind to me and was one of my best encouragers. She shared her food and her thoughts. She asked a question many have thought about the interim process.

Why do we have to do a self-study, reflect on our past, dream about the future, think about the kind of preacher we need, devise a thoughtful plan for the search, take the time we need to get to know prospective preachers and encourage them to get to know us, interview, check references, pray for us, pray for the preacher and his family who will come to work with us, pray for the preachers who wanted to come but were eliminated in favor of the one selected, and finally welcome a new preacher a year or two later?

Why go through all this?

We’ve never done it this way before. Why can’t we just get on with the Lord’s work?

If the alternator goes out on my car, I want it fixed. I take it to the mechanic. He removes the old, installs the new, and my car is fixed. Many want to “fix” the church like they fix their automobile.

However, let’s suppose there are two couples in their fifties. A man in one couple and woman in the other dies within a few months of each other. It might be great for the surviving spouses to marry each other.

Conventional wisdom says they need to wait a few months after the funeral. People aren’t machines. The emotional process of grief takes time. One relationship needs to have some closure before a new one begins for the new one to be most effective.

Often when people are fondly recalling their former preacher – repeating something he said, or telling how he did something — someone will say, “They have preacheritis.” Certainly, Paul addressed harmful allegiance to men causing division in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1-15). It isn’t right to follow a human instead of Jesus. It isn’t right to cause division in the church because of personalities.

But, it may be some people are dealing with the loss of a preacher, a brother in Christ, and a friend, in a normal way.

Does a woman who is depressed, angry, disoriented, sad, and crying have “husbanitis” after her companion of twenty or more years is buried?

Did Job’s wife have “oxenitis,” “donkeyitis,” “sheepitis,” “camelitis,” and “childitis” when she said to her sick husband, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9, NKJV)? Years ago, I was critical of Mrs. Job for this statement. But I have never attended the funeral for all my children in one day besides going from being one of the richest persons in my community to losing every investment and the health of my companion in a short time.

Did Mary and Martha have “brotheritis” when they individually said to Jesus when he came to visit, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32)?

The normal human reaction to loss is grief.

To deny people the right to work through their feelings of sadness, anger, fear, and jealousy or their feelings of joy, guilt, and frustration (depending on whether the person is one who wanted the preacher to go or stay) is to create an atmosphere to act out in an unhealthy way what could be talked out in a beneficial exchange. Perhaps listening and asking questions to allow more talking would be more helpful than being critical and assigning a negative label to the person talking about the recently departed preacher.

This is one of the benefits of interim ministry. A trained interim sees complimentary comments about the previous preacher as a normal part of the transition process and isn’t threatened. The interim preacher doesn’t come to replace the previous preacher. He’s working in the congregation in the in-between times. Part of the service of an interim is to “be there” to allow time for grief and adjustment after a long ministry or during a time of conflict.

People aren’t machines. The emotional process of grief takes time.

Several years ago I taught a class on grief, discussing various stages and how people progressed at different speeds. A good deacon came after class and said, “I take three days to grieve after a death and get over it.”

A few years later his wife developed cancer and died. He remembered his statement in class. He said it took longer than three days!

Was Jesus “doing the Lord’s work” when He wept at Lazarus’ death?

Are we “doing the Lord’s work” when we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)?

How can we grieve the loss of one relationship to move to the next?
Please comment below:

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

5 Responses to “How Long Will it Take?

  • Roger L. Leonard
    8 years ago

    I know of people who married on the rebound after the death of a spouse or a divorce, only to wish they had dated longer. Much longer. Churches who may not have the opportunity to get trained interim minister can still do some serious research before they hurriedly replace a preacher. We cannot make rational decisions when we’re emotionally unstable. I appreciated the point about Mrs. Job. She was Job’s enemy early on, but I got the point about not experiencing what she did. Who’s to say she did not get better? The Bible does not say. But she and Job did have more children, so at least she did not leave him. I think Job would make a good interim preacher.

    • Roger, You are right. The process is more important than the person. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us there is a time for everything. To rush an appropriate time or to substitute one for the other can be harmful.

  • Ron Gambill
    8 years ago

    Excellent article Jerrie. I recall waking on a Sunday morning to my wife sitting on the side of the bed crying. It was Father’s Day and her Dad had passed away two years earlier. She missed him as I did and it was good to know how much she loved him. We never know exactly how long the grieving process will take, but it is very healthy. A congregation has many members and they have different needs in the grieving process and your work in interim ministry is such a good way to get through the process. Thank you for your service in this work for the Lord.

    • Ron, Thank you for reading and replying. You remind us that the cycle of the year after a loss brings new losses. And often it continues after that.

  • Jay Ulrich
    8 years ago

    Grieving: there is often 2 parts of grieving
    1) the immediate deep sorry of the lost
    2) the longer lasting baggage that hangs on that which affects one’s future happiness, decisions, relationships, etc.
    my Mom died one day before my 9th birthday. I am now 65. I still have baggage I am carrying from losing her.
    I can see how losing her affected many of my past and still present decisions.