GALENA—Harold Stanley, assistant chaplain in the Stone County Jail Ministry and a member of First Baptist Church, Cape Fair, described the strength of his calling as he continues to serve the Lord.
As he walked into the Stone County jail for the first time, a man asked him if he was afraid.
“I’ve been shot twice, I’ve fought in two wars, I’ve been married to the same woman for 48 years, and I’ve got cancer,” Stanley said. “What are you going to do to me? You just feel that grace surround you. You know that you’re doing what God wants you to do.”
Stanley gets a kick out of watching the head chaplain, Bob Reed, whom he describes as “an old rock and roller from the 50s,” lead the inmates in song.
“You have not lived until you sit in there and see men covered with tattoos and long hair, and Bob’s got them singing about hiding their candle under a basket, no, like you sing in Bible school,” Stanley said. “It’s just awesome.”
Ultimately their ministry is about life change. When it happens in unexpected ways it is particularly rewarding.
“I had a young man, tattoos all over, always quiet, very respectful,” Reed said. “One day he said, ‘I’ve been an Aryan all my life. That’s what I’ve kind of been into, but I think I need to get back to my roots.’ I think it’s the quiet ministry that he saw taking place that really touched him. He said, ‘Could you please get me a Catholic Bible, and a little prayer book?’ I said, ‘Sure, of course I will.’”
Sheriff Richard Hill estimated that about 90 percent of the inmates who find themselves in Galena can trace their hardships to drugs. When it comes to putting a face on criminal activity, a look at the inmate population of Stone County may be a glimpse into what is occurring in Missouri’s 114 counties.
“I’m convinced that it’s probably the largest local home mission field that we have,” Reed said. “Every county in the state of Missouri has a county jail. You add up all the people who are represented there plus the families, there’s a great need to duplicate this.”
ALLEN PALMERI/associate editor
Churches in transition have helpful options Bruce Tegg/contributing writer ST. LOUIS—The statistics are alarming.
According to the Schaeffer Institute, 88 percent of the people leaving their church left because they felt “forced” to leave. Over half of those said it was because of a conflict with another member which resulted in gossip or strife. The strife was not properly resolved and the person felt forced to leave the church.
This crisis is found in the pulpits as well. Approximately 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. An additional 1,300 pastors are terminated every month and many of them without cause. Whole congregations are being impacted by these conditions in that each year approximately 4,000 churches are started while about 7,000 are dissolved.
Arriving at a resolution to this spiritual pandemic will be both arduous and complex, but LifeWay and the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) have identified a process which may prove to provide an answer. Churches in transition provide an opportune time to interrupt a cycle of decay and introduce a path of healing through the transitional pastor.
Today, churches without a pastor have a variety of choices. A congregation may employ a deacon, a member of the church or someone else selected to deliver to provide “pulpit fill” in a vacancy. Other churches elect an interim pastor to supply the pulpit on a consistent basis for each service.
“The problem is, both of these options can only ‘hold the fort’ until a full-time pastor is secured,” said Curtis Porter, transitional pastor, First Baptist Church of Festus/Crystal City.
Serving with authority
The transitional pastor offers a congregation much more than a regular sermon. He acts as a spiritual investigator, a counselor and a mentor for the congregation. The transitional pastor is voted in with the authority of a senior pastor to formulate committees, moderate and lead the business meetings, suggest changes to the church constitution, investigate areas of conflict and division, and work to resolve issues. He also helps to remove the temptation to rush the pastor search process.
The MBC website describes it further: “With effective transitional leadership, the period between pastors can be very productive—a time of growth in personal and congregational awareness, renewal, and celebration; and a time when people are attracted by congregational worship, evangelism, fellowship and discipleship, and personal and family ministries of the church.”
The LifeWay website explains: “Many churches without pastors need transitional pastors with experience, training, and ministry gifts that assure high-quality transitional leadership.” Porter added, “Many of the transitional pastors bring 30-40 years of experience being a senior pastor.” This experience is vital when dealing with the issues and conflict often found in churches today.
“The transitional pastor must be unafraid to tackle the tough issues and deal with the unpleasant conflicts in the church in order to make a real change,” explained Don Kelley, transitional pastor, Carpenter Street Baptist Church, Moberly. In separate interviews, Kelley and Porter identified the need to enter a church with no preconceived ideas.
Porter noted, “He (the transitional pastor) listens with an open heart and mind to find any unresolved issues so they may be addressed and resolved prior to securing a permanent senior pastor.” Kelley observed, “There cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach taken by the transitional pastor. Each church has its own personality and the transitional pastor must take time to learn the issues in the church before he can attempt to address those issues.”
When a congregation secures a transitional pastor, they acknowledge there are unresolved issues and commit to finding a biblical resolution. This effort does not succeed with the energy of just one man. Porter said, “Of course, the Holy Spirit must be actively involved in the whole process.” In addition to the entire congregation committing to change, “deacon participation is crucial to effect a spiritual change in the congregation,” Kelley added.
Helping people heal
In most churches the issues are much deeper than the deacons or the leadership care to admit.
“Many churches just try to gloss over their issues instead of address them,” Kelley said.
The MBC website has it worded this way: “The transitional period in the life of a church is the period between pastors that is treated by many church members as the ‘hold things together, keep things going’ period. For nominal church members it is likely to be the ‘wait and see’ period.” Porter has observed, “Many times we are dealing with demonic warfare which is only overcome through confession and repentance of sin.”
Far from a ‘heavy-handed’ approach, the transitional pastor enters the scene with a heart of love and understanding, recognizing the need to have an open mind and compassion for what the people are facing in this process. He may be skilled at building bridges but he will not force people to walk across.
“The victory can only be achieved with the cooperation of the people and the power of the Holy Spirit,” Porter said.
“At first I was a little skeptical,” said Eric Eggers, associate pastor, First Festus / Crystal City. “This was our first experience with a transitional pastor and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but now I believe it was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
“I can see we have come a long way in the past year. It is not about numbers or financial growth, but it has produced a real sense of spiritual healing for the people that participated. He (Porter) helped us to intentionally focus on the issues and actively seek viable resolutions to conflict.”
More testimonials and information about the benefits of a transitional pastor are available from the MBC office for transitional pastors at (573) 636-0400, ext. 221, or toll free at (800) 736-6227. For more information about LifeWay’s transitional pastor program, call (615) 251-2216 or visit lifeway.com online. n