Throughout the years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on staff and as pastor of some great churches. Since God’s call has led me to state convention service, I’ve had the honor of serving 12 churches as transitional (interim) pastor. With rare exception, throughout the life of a church, pastoral leadership has a way of changing for multiple reasons, and when it occurs it is a great time for assisting church leaders with the process of change.
One of my colleagues in the role of state executive director, Anthony Jordan, who once served as a Missouri pastor, wrote an excellent column on this subject. Allow me to share some excerpts from it:
“What do you do when your church has gone through a difficult time and the pastor leaves? What do you do when you have a pastor who served for a long period of time and then retires or leaves to pastor another church?
“These are just two of the scenarios played out in the lives of churches. In each case, the church has a decision to make. Does the church forge ahead and find another pastor, or do you take some time to determine where you are as a church and where the church needs to go?
“Churches that have gone through a rough time that ends with the pastor leaving, often move swiftly to get a new pastor who will solve the problems or heal the body of the church. I understand why the church feels this way. Most of the time, churches think that a different pastor will cause the people to forget the past and unite around a new pastor who will bring a new future in his hip pocket. To be honest, it rarely works that way.
“Or when a pastor has served a church for a long time, the church fails to realize that there needs to be time for their members to lift their eyes to the new future God desires for them. Loyalties and focus will of necessity change. Indeed, if God would have wanted a church to remain the same, He would have left the pastor in place.
“Too often churches move swiftly to call a pastor, and the results are less than best. In the first scenario mentioned above, rarely do wounds heal by ignoring them. Problems that exist in the church do not go away when a new pastor arrives. Often the same issues rise under the new pastor. The church is not healthy and needs time to heal. In the second setting, the next pastor is often called an unintentional interim. He becomes the bridge between the former long-term pastor and the new pastor. This interim pastor’s tenure is short.
“There is a better way – a proven approach that helps churches to methodically, effectively and spiritually walk through a process that allows the church body to heal, seek the Lord for direction and then seek a pastor who fits the vision God has given to the church. This process is called the Transitional Pastor Ministry.
“A transitional pastor is a man of God who is trained in a very specific process to help churches deal with the past and prepare for the future. These men spend several months, sometimes as much as a year, working with the church and leading the membership through a very thorough and strategic process of healing and envisioning the future.
“The transitional pastor leads a team representative of church membership. This team spends hours together, considering the past, present and future of the church. In the end, this team produces a plan of action the church adopts. This plan does not tie the hands of a new pastor but gives him opportunity to see the heart of the church and determine whether he is a match.. In addition, the church seeks to solve its problems during the transition time rather than asking a new pastor to try to do so in the first few months, which can alienate many people.”
Here in Missouri, we have some great men of God trained to serve churches as transitional pastors. No one is perfect, and no plan is perfect, but I have witnessed firsthand the work of God in the people of God through this process.
Want more information on transitional pastors in Missouri? Contact Gary Mathes at 573.636.0400 or via email at gmathes@MoBaptist.org.
One more note
If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at June’s CP video, found online at mobaptist.org/cp/cp-works/. It is a great testimony by one of our next generation pastors, Mark Fugitt, about the power of the Cooperative Program and the revitalization of a local church that nearly died. Today, the ministry there is flourishing thanks to God’s people cooperatively working together to make a difference.