Friday, September 9, 2016

7 Ways an Interim Pastor can help a Church in Transition

When a church finds itself without a pastor—whether because of resignation, firing, or death—it is a crucial time. It could be a time when a church comes apart, or it could be that the congregation comes together. If the church is independent, or affiliated with a denomination in which each congregation is responsible to find a new pastor, suddenly being without a leader is very scary for the leadership board of the church, the staff, and the members. Too many times when churches call a new pastor, particularly after long tenured pastor, the next pastor becomes what could be called an unintentional interim pastor and only stays an often difficult year or two. This is because the church didn’t take the time to heal any wounds and prepare for a new direction under a new leader. A good interim pastor can do a lot to help a congregation navigate this unsettled, often stormy time. Here are seven ways an interim pastor can help.

1. The Interim Pastor becomes a consistent face and voice in the pulpit.
People want to know what to expect when they come to worship on Sunday morning. If the pulpit is filled week to week by a variety of speakers that may, or may not be available in its area, the church may find the quality of the preaching to be unsteady. The interim pastor can keep up the interest of worship attenders and speak with areas that may help the church deal with the loss of the former pastor. There may well be hurt, conflict, and confusion in the church, and the interim pastor will be able to get the feel for where the church needs help and “scratch where they itch.” Also he can preach messages and message series to help keep the church from turning in on itself and becoming inward focused.

2. A good interim pastor can help the church deal with the changes that are inevitable with the coming of a new pastor.
Change is often the biggest issue when a church is without a pastor. Change or lack of change may have been the issue that led to the former pastor’s departure. An interim pastor can help the congregation deal with its fear of change and prepare them for the new vision the new pastor will bring. He can talk about Jesus’ purpose for the church: to make more disciples, and help them see that change is good if the object of the change is to make more disciples of Christ. The interim pastor can begin turning a fear of change into an expectation for a new and greater day.

3. An interim can help members deal with the loss of the last pastor.
The consistent presence of an interim pastor can help the people know someone is at the helm of the church. On a more personal level, an interim pastor can help people work through their personal issues, and/or grief as they miss the former pastor. In addition, it’s reassuring for the people to know that someone is on hand if they need help in a family tragedy or a personal trauma. Furthermore, if there are tensions that have been caused by the circumstances that brought about the departure of the former pastor, the interim pastor can work on peacemaking and reconciliation within the church.

4.The interim pastor can be a great resource for the Search Team and Board.
Hopefully, it has been a while since the congregation has had to look for a new pastor. If the church is independent has congregational polity, the Search Team may well need help getting started. They will need someone in the denomination to contact to get their position posted and find out which pastors are looking for a position. Also he can help them find other pastoral placement organizations that could be helpful. When the team gets together, the interim pastor can help the Search Team focus on what kind of person the church needs to be the next pastor to lead the church into a new life cycle. He can help them answer questions like:  What kind of a surveys should we do to find out the thinking of the congregation? Do we need a consultation team to help us evaluate where we are as a church, and if so, how do we find a good consultant firm?

5. He can give leadership to the staff and resource them in a time of uncertainty.
Having an interim pastor sitting in the lead pastor’s chair can enable the staff to continue to work together on accomplishing the Great Commission and the Great Commandments in the church and community.

Many churches require the rest of the staff to offer their resignations when the lead pastor leaves so that the new pastor can build his own team. Often the new pastor will retain at least part of the staff, but for this, and a multitude of other reasons, time between pastors is very unsettling for the staff. An interim pastor can be a sounding board when the staff gets nervous. He will be able to dampen the effects of the natural upheaval that comes when leadership changes, and he may be able to help them start their searches for new positions.

6. An interim can analyze the church’s structure and help them adopt a new structure if needed.
In churches with congregational polity, sometimes the structure of the church is problematic. Perhaps the bylaws need to be updated, or even totally rewritten so that new leadership can make sense of them. It would be tragic if a good pastoral candidate didn’t consider the church because he/she was put off by antiquated bylaws that he had no idea how to use.

In churches that have a prescribed structure the interim could make sure the membership and attendance statistics are up to date and that the structure the church is using is the appropriate one for the size it is now.

7. An interim can get the church ready for the coming of a new pastor.
If the church has had the same pastor for many years, and especially if the church has grown during that time, some of the members will have a hard time imagining another pastor in the pulpit. The presence of an interim pastor helps the church get used to another person filling the role. Members can become able to picture someone, with a different style, and a different approach, leading their church. The interim pastor can talk about great days ahead for the church and help them look forward to a new vision and a new life-cycle with excitement instead of dread.

Churches need to resist the temptation to try to save the money they would’ve paid a pastor during the time they don’t have one. The months between pastors become very important as the church turns the page and closes the chapter of its history that was written by the old leader and prepares itself to begin writing a new chapter under new leadership. A good interim pastor can help the congregation do that and is well worth a salary.

Effective interim pastors should be people called to that ministry and not people marking time until retirement, or retirees “just keeping their hand in”, or people who have repeatedly failed as pastors. Interim pastors may work part time, or full time depending on the needs and size of the church. It should be very, very rare for an interim pastor to become the next pastor of the church. If he wants to be the permanent pastor, he should apply for that job, and not accept the interim position. The interim needs to be a free agent, able to do what is best to prepare the church for its next chapter.

The most important thing when a church loses a pastor for whatever reason is to prepare for the future God has in mind. Whenever a church finds itself in that position it should seriously consider finding an interim to help them.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

We Needed a Christmas Tree: an Unexpected Blessing

It was our fourth Christmas together, and it was time for our annual hunt for a tree. While my family had used an artificial tree for many years, Tina was convinced that only a “real” tree was acceptable. Just a month before our annual hunt I had left my job as an associate pastor to accept my first lead pastor, actually solo pastor, position. My new church had come through a difficult couple of years, although they were paying me all they could, it was southern California and everything was more expensive than it should have been. That was particularly true for the cut Christmas trees that were imported from far away. We shopped and shopped, but even my wife, the Christmas nut, was not prepared to break the bank for a tree that would be in our apartment for less than a month. So, reluctantly, she went with me to K-Mart to look at artificial trees. Tina had to admit that they looked better than she thought they would and we picked one out. Of course, the one we wanted was about the most expensive one they had. We looked at it, and looked at it. We rationalized that if we spent the money on it, it would be several years before we would need to buy another one.  But still… it was just more than we could spend. It was a big deal to Tina and she was almost in tears. That made it a big deal for me too. Just then we heard a small voice say, “Do you kids like that tree?” The voice belonged to a little old lady who was standing near us. Tina said, “Yes, it is very beautiful, but it is kind of expensive.” The woman said, “I have one just like it at home that my husband and I bought last Christmas. We love it.” After a brief pause she went on, “Or I should say, I love it. My husband passed away last summer.” We made the normal clumsy attempts to say something comforting. She thanked us for that, and then said. “I am going to my daughters for the Holidays so I am not putting up a tree this year, and I have plans move into an apartment some time next year, so I don’t need a big tree anymore.” She started to tell us about her family, and even though the last thing we wanted was to be rude to this sad little lady, we really wanted to get on with our shopping.  We began looking for a way out of the conversation with this stranger when she said, “I came here today to see if I could find someone who might like my tree. Would you kids like to have my tree?” Tina said, “That would be nice, how much do you want for it.” She replied, “If you are willing to come by my house and get it, you can have it.”

In amazement we made arrangements to stop by her house the next day. It was a nice home where she had raised a family and made a life with her husband. We could tell she loved the place, but it was lonely for her to live there by herself. She invited us in and gave us cookies and coffee. We spent several minutes talking with her, which she seemed to enjoy very much, and so did Tina and I. That sweet lady was at the other end of life from Tina and I. We were not yet parents. Her children had grown, moved away and had children of her own. Tina and I were only a little more than newlyweds. She had outlived her husband. We were dreaming of glorious Christmases ahead. She was remembering wonderful ones of the past.

We took her tree home and used it for many years after that. Because of our memory of her generosity and her story, we hated to retire it. For several years we exchanged Christmas cards with her. Then one year none came from her and we were pretty sure that she was celebrating once again with her husband, this time in Heaven. It was a loving thing she had done for us that Christmas. The love she shared with us grew out of her love for her husband. She just wanted us to enjoy our Christmases together just as much as she had enjoyed her cherished Christmas memories.

She showed us something else. An act of kindness does not have to be huge to be greatly appreciated. The nice lady went out of her way to find a good home for her tree. I guess that is the key, sometimes the greatness of a gift, is in its timing, the story that goes with it, and the love that accompanies the gesture. We get so busy at Christmastime we sometimes miss the opportunities God sets before us to share love with friends or strangers. This season is going to be exceptionally busy for me, but I’m going to try to keep my eyes open for ways to be a blessing to someone. Why don’t we all ask God for the chance to share His love in a special, even unusual, way this year? Perhaps we can be used by God to lighten someone’s load and brighten his/her outlook of life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Second Coming of the Church

 All my life I‘ve heard people who were convinced that the time for the second coming of Christ was just around the corner. Today, with the turmoil in the world and the rejection of Judeo-Christian values by our society, that teaching is especially loud. Those teachers could be right. This might well be the time. I’ve even heard some folks say they wish Jesus would come now and put an end to all this tumult. I can understand their point, but we, the church, have a job to do, no matter what the circumstances are. We are still under orders to love God, love others, be witnesses to the love, hope, and salvation we have received from Him, and make disciples of people from the world over and from all walks of life. 

Perhaps, instead of wishing and praying for the second coming of Jesus right now to bail us out of this wicked world and to punish the wicked ones, we should be praying for a second coming of the church. Isn’t it time for the church to redouble its effort to accomplish the mission Jesus gave us before He ascended? I think the church needs to quit worrying about less important things like our comfort, Starbucks’ cups, worship styles, and our difference over the methods we use to share the Gospel message. Instead, we need to get on with being the church Jesus wants us to be.

I can hear some folks say, “But it’s so hard today. People don’t hold the church in high esteem and they don’t know the Bible. Besides that, our culture seems to be marching away from biblical principles as fast as it can.” My response to that is a very profound, “So what.” The church was born into the 1st Century Roman world, which knew absolutely nothing about the church, nothing about Jesus or the Bible, and their culture was built on paganism and secular philosophy. This is precisely why what is needed now is a second coming of the church. The tiny band of Jesus’ followers ignited a complete cultural change. The church gathered so much influence in the relatively short time of 300 years that Emperor Constantine felt it necessary to declare Christianity the religion of Rome to keep his army together. Remember that the church was able to do that in a day without mass communication, without the printing press, without the computer, without air travel or powered sea and land travel. By simply relying on the yielded lives of Christ’s followers and the power of the Holy Spirit the church spread the Word through the entire Roman world and far beyond. Just imagine what the Holy Spirit can do today through Christ-followers who are fully yielded to Him and have access to all the communication and transportation tools of the 21st Century.

Could such a “Second Coming of the Church” happen? Could a New Great Awakening come across our land and the entire world? Of course it could! Is that God’s will? I believe it is, because the Great Commission has never been rescinded! What I’m afraid is lacking is a church that is motivated to accomplish it. Jesus challenged His disciples with reaching every person with the Gospel and, finally, in this century, it is possible to answer that challenge. However, making disciples is more than simply telling the story. It’s helping people choose to believe and then learn to follow Jesus. The second coming of the church will not happen until the church turns its focus to fulfilling Jesus’ commands. Let’s quit fretting over minor things and make the main thing, making disciples, the main thing. To accomplish this He must be the main thing, not only in our church program, but also in the fabric of our everyday lives. I want to see the Second Coming of the Church.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Under Orders from the King

We were buying a house—a brand new house. It was about to be built just up the hill from the model home. Tina’s (my wife) mom came to visit; of course, we took her to see the lot and the model home. We were young; in fact, I was young enough to think that we would do a quick walk through of the model and then go to lunch. Can you tell I had not been married very long? Somehow Tina produced a tape measurer and she and her mother began measuring all the windows and sliding glass doors so they could get started picking out, and/or making curtains, drapes, etc. They were talking about colors and accents, and all the stuff I didn’t care about. So I sat down on one of the couches in the living room and watched the other people who came in to look the model over.

As I sat there enjoying the couch and listening to my stomach begin to growl for lunch, a man, probably old enough to be my father, sat heavily in the easy chair next to me. He was a talkative guy. At times I have been accused of enjoying the sound of my voice too, so we got into a conversation. Apparently, his daughter was looking for a house. I excitedly told him we had already bought one and it would soon be under construction. When we exhausted that line of conversation and our women-folk hadn’t reappeared, he asked me what I did for a living. I was in my very first lead, actually solo, pastoral assignment, so I excitedly told him that I was the pastor of Church of the Foothills, gave him directions, and invited him to join us any Sunday morning for worship.

He asked me what kind of church it was. I told him what I always say when people ask me that:  “We are a non-denominational church affiliated with the Church of God of Anderson, Indiana. It’s sort of a non-denominational denomination.” He said, “Just so long as it’s not one of the those evangelical churches.” I asked him what church he belonged to. He said, “I’m Jewish.” So I asked him what was wrong with “evangelical” churches, and told him that our church could be considered evangelical. He went into a rant for several minutes about how his daughter had been going to an evangelical church and they wanted her to become a Christian, and why couldn’t we just let people be what they were born to be. At the end of his monologue, he was pretty red in the face and he asked me if I tried to get people to become Christians. I told him I did, and he asked why I thought I should try to get people to believe as I do. After a minute or two he again stopped talking and I told him that the last thing Jesus did on this earth was tell His followers to go into all the world and make disciples. I told the man, we have to try to persuade people to join us. We believe God’s Son ordered us to do so. He huffed a time or two and then got up to go find his family. Tina and her mom came back and said they were ready to go about then and we left. I never saw that man again, but that conversation has stayed with me.

We are under orders to bring the world to Jesus. Doing the Great Commission is not something we can do when we get around to it. It is what the Lord calls all of us to do. Some people will laugh at you. Some will get angry. Some will avoid you. But some will believe. Praise God, some will believe! The proper way to share the Good News about Jesus is by building relationships with people who don’t know Him and sharing our lives with them. It is more than can be done in a few minutes on a doorstep … or in a model home. It’s about loving folks who need the Good News and earning the right to be heard. I didn’t have the opportunity to do that with the man on the couch that day, but I think someone was building that kind of relationship with his daughter. I hope at some time someone came into that man’s life and got to share with him on a deeper level than I had the opportunity to do. He was very resistant to me and, I think, to anyone at that time, but maybe later someone got the opportunity to help him know our Savior.

It’s a big job that Jesus gave us. If we do it right it changes lives, cultures, and history. It has done so in the past, and it can again. In recent months several things have happened that demonstrate that the influence of Judeo-Christian values has lessened on our society. That needs to change, but it won’t be changed by winning elections and passing legislation. If the change comes, it will be because hearts have turned to God. That only happens as we build relationships with neighbors, colleagues, teammates, whoever we do life with who don’t know Christ. It only happens when we risk being ostracized and even hated. It will only happen when people see Christ’s love in us. Remember, we are under orders. Jesus did His part on the cross. The Holy Spirit will help us. We must do our assignment.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Grow the Church by Sharing Your Faith the Way the Disciples Did

We have an amazing example from the disciples when it comes to sharing our faith. Well at least from one of the disciples: Andrew. You see, I believe the best chance, perhaps the only chance, for the church to influence the world in the 21st century is to imitate Andrew. If we do that, Joe and Jill Christ-follower will share their faith with Josh and Amy who live next door, or share a cubicle, or go to the same fitness center, or who are involved with the same children’s school, sports team, or dance class. Even in this time, when communication is everywhere and unbelievably fast, when we can see and hear great speakers on our TVs, our computers, and our phones, the human one-on-one touch of a Christ-follower with his friend remains the most effective way to communicate with people who need the Lord. At this time, at least in America, other means of communication saturate our ears. We have learned to be apathetic, and even skeptical of the things we hear and see on mass media. When a friend shares not only his faith, but also his life, with a friend he has a chance to introduce him/her to Jesus. We have a blazing example of how this works in the New Testament. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was not in the inner circle like Peter, James, and John, and we don’t see him preaching in Acts, but we do see him witnessing one-on-one 3 times.

First of all, he witnessed to Peter (John 1:40-42). After Andrew heard what John said about Jesus and decided to follow Him, the first thing he did was tell Peter all about Jesus and what he believed about Him. The next thing he did was to introduce Peter to Jesus. That is all Andrew did; Jesus took it from there. So Joe and Jill Christ-follower simply need to introduce their friends and relatives to Jesus like Andrew did. Then they need to do another thing that Andrew did:  trust Jesus to take it from there.

The next time we meet Andrew is when Jesus spoke all morning to a crowd and then challenged the disciples to feed lunch to everyone (John 6:1-13). They were dumbfounded. Finally, Andrew told Jesus about a little boy in the crowd whose mother had packed him a lunch—five barley loaves and two small fish. I don’t know how Andrew knew about the boy’s lunch. He must have made friends with the boy and perhaps the boy showed him the lunch he brought. The point is, Andrew introduced the little boy (and his lunch) to Jesus. Jesus did the rest. He took what the little boy brought and made an amazing miracle.

One more time we see Andrew witnessing in this way (John 12:20-26). It seems that Phillip didn’t know what to do with the Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus. They were different. They weren’t “their kind of people.” Andrew did what he had done with Peter and with the little boy. He simply introduced the Greeks to Jesus then stepped back and let Jesus do His thing. (He told the Greeks they would need to follow Him and serve.)

In each of these instances Andrew simply introduced Jesus. Today Joe and Jill Christ-follower need to step up and simply introduce their friends to Jesus. Andrew didn’t need to know all the answers. He didn’t know what Jesus would do with Peter, with the boy and his lunch, or with a group of Gentile Greeks. He didn’t have to know. All he had to do was introduce Jesus and believe that Jesus would do whatever else needed to be done. That’s exactly what we need to learn to do. Too often we make witnessing complicated; really it’s not. It’s simply telling what Jesus has done in your life and inviting your friends to believe in Him, too. Now, more than anytime since its founding, the United States is ignorant of the Bible, and of the Jesus who came to give them hope, love, and eternal life. The calling for all of us is to be Andrews and introduce our friends to Him.