TRANSITION TEAM - FROM ONE PASTOR TO THE NEXT
Many churches view the time between the resignation or death of one pastor and the call of another as unproductive or time that is wasted. Some members fear the congregation will lose members or dollars. Others are in a rush to call a new pastor as quickly as possible, so things can return to normal, without considering the long term implications.
Significant studies of hundreds of transition congregations over the past twenty-five years are now showing that the transition between pastors can be an important time in congregational life. R. Neil Chafin, an experienced consultant to congregations, says, "The way a congregation chooses to use its transition time will shape congregational growth, identity, and health for years to come. We also know that what is done in the transition time really determines whether the new minister and congregation will form a solid ministry team."
Congregations which fail to make wise use of the transition time tend to repeat their history with the new minister. This can lead to pain and confusion for the minister and prevent the congregation from meeting its goals of spiritual growth for its members and ministry to its community. Expectations of ministers and churches vary enormously. Memberships in many churches are either level or decreasing. Many congregations are unsure of their future. Each generation differs on expectations for the church. The transition is the best time to talk about and clarify these hopes and questions about church life.
Research has identified five tasks churches should consider revisiting during the transition period. These tasks serve as the foundation work for helping a congregation understand itself, gain insight in how they want to proceed, and prepare for a new pastor.
The five tasks are:
1. Coming to Terms with History
It is vital to make time for healing within the congregation and for putting the service of the former minister in perspective. There must be a time of letting go of the former minister and for discarding old expectations, wounds, patterns, and baggage of the past. Only when the congregation has let go of the former minister, can a new minister be fully accepted.
2. Examining Leadership and Organisational Needs
Every congregation today must be conscious of developing new leadership for the tasks of ministry and for incorporating younger and newer members into its body. The transition is prime time for reviewing the membership, its needs, and its ways of organising, and for making decisions on how to best use its resources.
3. Rethinking Denominational and affiliation Linkage
A congregation has often learned to see the denomination or its affiliation through the eyes of its former pastor. With increasing polarization of theological differences, it is crucial that each local congregation clarify its mainstream theological belief. A congregation that does not deal with this aspect of its life runs a strong risk of calling a minister who does not align theologically with the congregation. This can be a devastating experience for the minister and congregation and lead to severe congregational conflict.
4. Developing a New Identity and Vision
A congregation must periodically redefine a sense of purpose, direction, and what distinguishes it from other churches in the community. The interim is an appropriate time to do this. It is also an ideal time to conduct membership and neighbourhood studies to find out how effectively the church is reaching and serving its own community. A church that fails to connect and serve its community through missions and ministry becomes an endangered church. Many churches today have turned inward to serve their own members.
Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
5. Commitment to New Leadership
When a congregation has completed the four preceding tasks, it is ready to talk with candidates who can be a good match for the congregation. During this phase of the transition, the congregation prepares to receive a new leader and makes arrangement for call, installation, and start-up for its new minister.
These are the five crucial developmental tasks of a congregation in search of a new pastor. If congregational members do these tasks thoroughly with wide participation, the chances for effective ministry with a new pastor are greatly enhanced.
THE TRANSITION TEAM
The church accomplishes this process of transitional interim ministry by forming a collective group of people. Leadership for the process is vested in a group of church members chosen by the congregation and/or leadership team. This group is called the “Transition Team” and it is selected by asking church members to identify three or four people that they most trust to lead the church in the interim between pastors. The team should be representative of diversity in the congregation, including men and women, younger and older people, when I help formulate this team I tend to use the current leadership to help keep moral up. This team can have between 5 and 15 members depending upon the size of the church and the diversity necessary for it to be broadly representative of the congregation.
The Transition Team works through the developmental tasks of the transitional church themselves. Then, they make decisions about how to best involve the congregation in dealing with the developmental tasks of the church. The Transition Team is vested by the congregation with recommending when the self-study process should be concluded and the search for a new minister should begin. The membership of the Transition Team and its appropriate functioning is a key to the church experiencing the full benefits of the transition interim process.
THE INTENTIONAL INTERIM PASTOR
Most Transition Teams need some outside help in working through the intentional interim process. Such help can be secured in at least two ways. An intentional interim pastor normally provides the best assistance. This person is an ordained minister with pastoral experience, who has had additional training in leading a congregation through the intentional interim process.
The intentional interim pastor performs at least two roles in most churches.
First, the minister serves as the interim pastor of the congregation. This includes preaching, teaching, pastoral care and administration.
Second, the pastor works as a consultant to the Transition Team in working on the developmental tasks. The specific responsibilities of the pastor are normally clarified in a written agreement between the minister and the congregation. Each agreement reflects the uniqueness of the relationship. The Intentional Interim Pastor agrees in the agreement not to become the pastor of the church they are serving.
COST OF INTENTIONAL INTERIM MINISTRY
The level of service that the church needs determines the cost of this process. If the church wants a full-time pastor to serve as the intentional interim pastor for the congregation, then they can expect to pay that pastor approximately what they paid their last full-time pastor. The only additional expense might be for housing in the community where the church is located.
If the church does not need the pastor to work on a full-time basis, then the church can negotiate with the interim to handle less responsibility and thus, less pay.
One of the characteristics of an intentional interim pastor and church relationship is that relationship is defined by some written covenant. This agreement states clearly what the expectations of the church are for the intentional interim pastor and what the church has committed to do in terms of intentional interim ministry. The pastor's role should be well defined, including the fact that the interim pastor will not be a candidate to serve as the permanent pastor of the church.
Key Elements of Intentional Interim Ministry
Two things are required in order for a church to be considered doing intentional interim ministry:
- The church has officially voted that it will work on a self-study, including the first four of the five developmental tasks of the interim church, before it releases a search committee to begin searching for a new pastor. Ideally, the church will not even elect a search committee until after the self-study phase has ended.
- The church has a specific agreement describing the relationship between the intentional interim pastor/consultant and the church. These agreements include the fact that none of these outside persons are open to accepting the call from the church to serve as the next permanent pastor.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
The intentional interim process typically takes approximately 9 to 18 months from the decision of the congregation or leadership to begin intentional interim ministry until the calling of the next pastor.
However, certain circumstances can extend this period of time. Experience indicates that if the previous pastor had a long tenure of service of more than 10 years, then the interim time will be extended beyond a year. If the church had a significant conflict with the previous pastor that also will likely extend the interim time. The Transition Team that guides the process determines the amount of time that it takes for a church to do intentional interim ministry. It also is determined by the length of time that a search committee requires finding an acceptable minister to serve as pastor. There are no hard and fast rules. Usually a church commits to work with an intentional interim pastor for one year. The agreement can be renewed after that time, if the church so desires.
Most of the time, these agreements also can be terminated at any point by the pastor or the congregation.
MYTHS ABOUT INTENTIONAL INTERIM MINISTRY
# 1: Intentional interim is better than traditional interim ministry.
This is certainly false. Some churches need to go through a process of self-study and other churches do not need that sort of formal process. Intentional interim ministry is not better or worse. It is simply different from how churches have traditionally handled the interim or transitional period between pastors. Many people serve very effectively as interim pastors of congregations and they need to be recognised for the valuable service that they perform both for those congregations and for the Kingdom of God.
# 2: Intentional interim ministry is only for troubled churches.
Intentional interim ministry is designed from experience with healthy congregations. Certain congregations in difficult situations may find intentional interim ministry particularly valuable. However, any church that can benefit from self-study and clarity about who it is before it calls a new pastor can benefit from the process of intentional interim ministry.
# 3: Intentional interim ministry is very costly.
The process is designed so that it should not be much more expensive than having a permanent pastor on the church field.
# 4. The intentional interim pastor will tell us what we need to do.
The intentional interim pastor is a guide or facilitator to help the process. The work of intentional interim ministry is a work for the church and leadership in deciding and doing what it needs to do.
Does This Process Work?
Intentional interim ministry works differently in every church because it is a process designed by the congregation’s leaders. Faith Works International is happy to provide the names of lay leaders in congregations that have experienced this process so that you may contact them directly about their experiences.
Where does Bartley Books fit into all of this?
We exists to help churches become healthier communities of faith. We believe that intentional interim ministry is a process that can help churches become healthier.