By Barbara Shoun
TUSCUMBIA – “They saw something they could do under God’s leadership,” said Clyde Leonard, transitional pastor at First Baptist Church, Tuscumbia.
“It was like catching the flu from each other,” he said, referring to the excitement the church was experiencing.
Some 10 church members attended the “Essential Church ’09” regional Sunday School training at First Baptist Church, Osage Beach, in August in anticipation of building the church’s Sunday School program, and their enthusiasm was running high.
Since then, the Sunday School has grown from one adult class to five classes serving all ages.
“They were excited about going. It was very helpful to them. They are still talking about what they learned,” he said.
The church had been without a pastor for several months before Leonard arrived. Attendance was low. The church needed to become organized and to have Bible study.
This is Leonard’s fourth transitional pastorate since retiring as the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) first church-starting teacher for 19 years, so he had some experience under his belt.
He credits Dennis Manley, Miller County Association’s director of missions, with helping the congregation to see that the church was needed, that they could do it, and that he was going to give them the help they needed.
Leonard stepped into the position as transitional pastor realizing that every church is unique. “They had to have some leaders who were officially elected by the church. I helped them see this was a high priority,” he said.
The church’s first effort was to produce a full-blown Vacation Bible School. First Baptist Church of Eminence donated materials, and the VBS was a success. “This was the first spark that showed them they could do better,” Leonard reported.
Now the church is working on its vision. From there, it is expected to produce a mission statement, assess its spiritual gifts, set up a budget, and agree on a constitution and bylaws. When these things are in place, the church will be ready to call its new pastor.
Leonard said the transitional pastor ministry has been rewarding for him. “I like to help people see their gifts and abilities and see them put these to work. I like to watch what they can do.”
“Transitional ministry is not just someone who preaches on Sunday,” he explained. “It’s being an interim with a plan. You help them from the last pastor to the next pastor, whatever that involves.”
George Roach, MBC ministerial services specialist, gave a similar definition of the ministry. “An interim usually comes in and helps a church maintain the status quo. Transitional ministry is designed to help the church get ready, in every aspect, and hit the ground running with a new pastor.”
Leonard is one of about 140 Missouri pastors who have taken the eight to ten hours of training offered either by the MBC or by LifeWay to serve churches in transition.
The MBC’s Transitional Pastor Process teaches pastors to resolve conflict, look to the future, and help train church committees to make good choices in calling the next pastor.
Roach said there’s no better time to get things right than when a church is in transition. “I think it’s a great ministry to help churches get healthy and get on with kingdom work,” he said.
Leonard agreed, saying he thinks it is one of the more vital things that MBC churches need in light of the fact that many have hit a plateau or are declining.
“The Convention gave us training in churches in transition,” Leonard said. “It’s something I love and enjoy doing. My reward is seeing them become alive and recognize their spiritual gifts.
“We need to have a vision,” he said. “It involves change.”