JEFFERSON CITY – Losing a senior pastor for any reason can send a church into crisis mode. But the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) “transitional pastor ministry” aims to help pastorless churches prepare them for a bright future of ministry.
“One thing that a transitional minister can bring to a church is hope,” said Mark Arnold, a member of the MBC’s network of transitional pastors. “He helps them understand that God still has a future for them, still has a purpose for them.”
The transitional pastor does this by guiding churches through an eight-step process, helping them to see their history, their present realities, and their future potential from God’s perspective. Meanwhile, the transitional pastor preaches and fulfills other common ministry roles.
“A transitional pastor is an interim pastor, but he is more,” Gary Mathes, the pastoral ministries specialist at the MBC, said.
Though precise stats are hard to come by, roughly 80 to 180 Missouri Baptist churches have no senior pastor at any given time, he said. Moreover, nearly 10 percent of these churches are walking through the eight-step process under the leadership of transitional pastors, who usually have special MBC training and several years of ministry experience.
Mathes hopes many more pastorless churches will take advantage of this ministry.
“The challenge for a church without a pastor is learning to discern between the pastor they want and the pastor they need,” Mathes said. “Invariably, we always come up with this profile: ‘We want a 30-year-old pastor with 40 years of experience.’ And I get that, because every church is looking for that silver bullet process and pastor to come and make all the world of difference.”
But, when a church takes advantage of the MBC’s transitional pastor ministry, it temporarily puts its search for a senior pastor on hold. Instead, the church spends 18 months—on average—evaluating the reality of its condition in light of God’s ideal. It learns who it is as a church, how it fits into the community, how it can bring gospel-transformation to the community, and what kind of senior pastor the church needs.
Whenever Mathes describes this process to churches, he reminds them of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3. Then he asks, “If Jesus were to write a letter to your church, what would he say?” The MBC’s transitional pastor ministry helps church members answer this question in a way that prepares them for the next senior pastor.
“Using a transitional pastor, the church isn’t standing still, but it’s actually growing, moving forward,” Mathes said. “In most cases, it’s fully functional. The transitional pastor is shepherding you as a church body, but he is also walking you through a process that will make you healthier and help you gain clarity as a church.”
In fact, as a result of this ministry, the “pastor search team is better equipped to look for the pastor that the church needs,” he added. And the final two steps in the MBC’s eight-step transition process include “finding a pastor to lead in fulfilling God’s future for the church” and “helping the pastor get a good start in the church and community.”
And the MBC’s transitional pastor ministry has done exactly this, Missouri Baptist Pastor David Ross testified. Ross became the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Sikeston, after the church went through the eight-step process.
“The day I stepped into that church, I was already a year ahead, and the wind was at my back,” Ross told Mathes.
The MBC’s transitional pastor ministry is made possible by Missouri Baptists’ generous giving through the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program (CP) is the funding process Southern Baptists have used since 1925 to support missions and evangelism at the state, national, and international levels. Through CP, Missouri Baptist churches are multiplied, revitalized, and mobilized to transform lives and communities around the world.
To learn more about the MBC’s transitional pastor ministry, contact Mathes at 1.800.736.6227, ext. 338 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.mobaptist.org/pastoral-ministry/transitiona-pastors.