Wacky Transition Stories #2
In this series, we're sharing stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"
So, here's Wacky Story #2, which came to us from a member of the search committee in this account...
The search committee for Covenant Church had been very efficient in their work, and within about four months had identified a strong candidate, who we'll call Fred, who they were prepared to present to the congregation. They invited him (and his wife) for a visit, and Fred spent about four days with the committee, the session, the diaconate, and the congregation. He got to know the church very well, and indicated to everyone his willingness to come serve them as pastor.
A week after his visit, the congregation held a meeting and voted with a very strong majority to extend Fred the call as their next senior pastor. The search committee chair communicated this to Fred, and they began to discuss his terms of call and the other logistics related to his call as their pastor. Once all of these were essentially settled (within about another week), Fred again indicated his interest but also stated that he wanted to pray about it with his wife, and seek the counsel of some others.
A week went by. Then another. A member of the search committee e-mailed Fred, who responded vaguely that he was still praying about it. Another couple of weeks passed.
Finally, the presbytery meeting where Fred's call as Covenant Church's new senior pastor would be approved was approaching. The search committee chair called Fred, who still maintained that he was prayerfully considering it. Fred told him that he would let them know what his decision was at the presbytery meeting.
The day of the presbytery meeting arrived, and Fred didn't even show up! The search committee chair called Fred from the presbytery meeting, and Fred said bluntly that he wasn't taking the call.
Needless to say, by this point the members of the search committee—and many of the members of the congregation—were having their own doubts about whether Fred was the right guy for them, as well. There was a certain amount of relief in the final conclusion of it, but it also led to doubts and some second-guessing for the next candidate (who did take the call).
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Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at: email@example.com.
Wacky Transition Stories #1
In this new series, we'll share stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"
So, here's Wacky Story #1, which came to us from a ruling elder who served as the chair of the search committee in this account...
Community Church in York, South Carolina is a small, 50-member congregation that has been around for a little over 60 years. Their pastor had received another call, so the congregation formed a search committee led by one of the elders (call him Joe). This committee was active and diligent in their work to evaluate candidates and begin the process of narrowing the list down to a few. Meanwhile, several qualified men in the region served Community Church in their weekly worship service by providing pulpit supply.
One particular preacher, who we'll call Tom, became a regular; he was a seminary graduate with some ministry experience, and had been ordained by their presbytery; however, he was currently without a call, and was therefore available to come fill the pulpit for Community Church on a regular basis. Tom had a good rapport with the congregation in general, and had submitted his name to the search committee as a candidate to be the next pastor—but, for a variety of reasons, they had eliminated him fairly early on in the process. He took it well, and continued to serve them regularly in preaching.
After several months of consideration, the search committee began to turn its attention to one candidate in particular, whom we will call Bill. They really liked the way Bill had answered his questionnaire, and when they did a phone interview it went really well. Bill and Joe had also had several phone conversations one-on-one, and a friendship had begun to form between them. After further consideration, the committee decided to invite Bill to spend a long weekend with them, interviewing, leading worship, and preaching.
The interview weekend came, and Bill and his family arrived on Thursday night. They spent time with a wide variety of congregants, including a lengthy interview with the session (all of the elders together) and another extended conversation with some other leaders. Bill seemed at ease leading their worship service, and his sermon hit the mark pretty well. When Joe asked around, he couldn't find anyone who didn't seem favorable to Bill as their candidate—it looked like they had found their next pastor.
The congregation was scheduled to meet and vote the following Sunday. The process was supposed to be simple: they would call to order, pass out ballots, and cast their votes. There would be a few minutes before the votes when they could have some discussion, if they needed it. Joe didn't think they would.
So he was surprised when, after asking if there were any questions or discussion, someone stood up and asked, "Why didn't we consider Tom to be our next pastor?" Joe began to explain that Tom had, indeed, applied—and then another member cut him off angrily, saying, "How come you never told us that!?" The discussion quickly devolved into an emotion-filled, multi-sided debate: some wanted Tom and were angry that he wasn't the candidate; others didn't want Tom, but were still frustrated they didn't know he had been a candidate. Others didn't care about Tom at all, and couldn't understand how the vote for Bill had become an argument about someone else!
The meeting went for nearly two hours. In the end, Joe was able to make a full explanation that Tom had been given a fair consideration, and had been eliminated for a variety of reasons (which he was grilled about in the meeting). With the hope that questions about Tom were behind them, he asked if they wanted to go ahead and vote on Bill, or wait until the following week. The general mood seemed to be that they wanted to go ahead and have the vote.
Clearly, though, the spirit of enthusiasm for Bill had been tempered severely by the debate about Tom. When the votes were counted, only 55% had voted in favor of Bill.
Bill declined to accept the call, such as it was, because he recognized the problems associated with taking such a barely-legitimate call. Bill continued his search with other congregations, and Community Church eventually called a different candidate to be their pastor.
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Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Infographic on recruiting
A few take-aways from this are helpful:
- My guess is that the average time looking at a CV (or resume) spent by a search committee is slightly more than the 5–7 seconds listed above; however, I would guess, too, that it is not more than 30 seconds for the first time they look (in other words, if you don't make the first cut, that's all the time you may get).
- A lot of this stuff has already been covered on this blog (see Removing pebbles from the path...); however, here's further verification that those warnings are true (at least in the world in general).
- I still maintain that finding opportunities via networking is the best way to go—precisely because of the notions mentioned above.
Where "vision" fits into transition
I recently blogged (on my other blog) about what happened in the church I most recently served in Arizona. One of the things that "happened"—or rather, didn't happen—was the articulation of vision.
As I laid out in that post, and won't re-cover in the same detail here, my first and biggest mistake in how I served that church was related to vision. In the case of Dove Mountain Church, they didn't have a clear vision which the congregation was united behind. This was evident in the early phone interviews (honest hems and haws in response to questions about vision), and it was clear when I visited for my interview weekend. Both in the phone interviews and during a congregation-wide Q&A time over my weekend visit, I was asked point-blank: "What would your vision for our congregation be, should we call you as our pastor?"
Candidate-Pastors, when you hear this question or something like it, you must discern which of the following you are dealing with:
- Do they have a vision of their own, and they are seeking congruence and compatibility? OR
- Do they have NO vision, and they are relying on you to bring it?
If the former, then your work is clear: you need to ascertain what their vision is, and decide whether YOU believe that your own vision is a good fit. A good search team is doing the same, and if you and they all agree that your vision is compatible with theirs, you'll be off on the right foot.
If the latter—and they lack a clear vision—your work is also clear: you must state YOUR vision clearly, succinctly, and in a way that can be easily conveyed to others in their congregation. In this case, you are effectively asking them to buy into your vision as part of the process of calling you to be their pastor. (This, in addition to the other things they are committing to in calling you—but that's material for a future post.)
So what is a vision? What are they looking for in asking the question I was asked?
A vision is a simple declaration of where we are going, why we're going there, and what we're going to do when we get there. Or you could think of it as stating who we are and who we want to be.
This is where my trouble arose: in response to the question above, I said, "I won't know that until I get here and discern what this congregation's vision is."
That's an acceptable answer IF the congregation already has a vision. If they know who they are and where they want to go, then it is perfectly fine to say, "I'm comfortable leading you into the greater fulfillment of your existing vision." Be sure, however, that you understand very clearly what their vision is, and that it is truly the vision that the whole congregation shares. It's still probably better if you can show them your own vision (in your own words) and help them to see how they are two different statements saying basically the same thing; in that case, you can
determine how clearly the existing vision is understood by people on the search team, in the leadership, and in the congregation as a whole.
But if they don't have a vision—or, worse yet, they have a vision that only part of the congregation has committed to—then you absolutely must state your vision for church ministry. Do so uncompromisingly; be crystal clear that this is what you believe God has called you to do in His church. (Be flexible with the wording, of course, but steadfast in the principles.) If it's not something you're that committed to, then it's not really your vision—it's just A vision. State YOURS; if they aren't able to get behind it, then you will eventually find it to be a poor fit.
On aging and succession planning in ministry
Congregations: do you have an aging pastor? Has your leadership had frank discussions with him about how he (and they) are planning together for how this will inevitably take place?
I would strongly urge pastors (especially aging pastors) to watch this video together with their leadership as a discussion-starter for this needed conversation.
What’s going on here?
Moving far from home, part 3
Back to my friend "Brian" who lives in Colorado, and his family is in South Carolina. Here's another observation Brian had, this time about his children's relationship with their grandparents.
Brian has several children, so naturally his parents (and his wife's parents) try to come visit as often as they can. Brian's wife has a sister who still lives in their hometown, so there's an interesting contrast between how Brian's mother-in-law and father-in-law relate to his children in comparison to his nieces and nephews.
Here's what Brian has noticed: his in-laws are a part of the "regular life" of his nieces and nephews. Because they live in the same town, the in-laws can attend school functions, recitals, etc., and see the kids on a regular basis. At the same time, the nature of "regular life" is such that they rarely get extended, uninterrupted time with their grandchildren.
On the other hand, when the in-laws come out Brian's way, they have regularly kept the kids home from school, and Brian has taken a few vacation days. Brian's family gives their undivided attention to his in-laws, as much as possible.
The contrast is significant. In a recent conversation with his mother-in-law, Brian and his wife learned that they (his in-laws) feel like they know Brian's children better, and that the children know them better, than their other grandchildren-- because Brian and his family live far away.
Obviously this would not be the case if Brian's in-laws were unable (because of schedule, money, health, etc.) to travel the great distance to see Brian's family. But since they are, in their case at least this is a surprising answer to what is surely a great concern for many.
Challenging the conventional wisdom on Ministerial Calls
Trueman observes that the practice often is in conflict with similar practices in other parts of our congregational life:
I have often wondered why it is in Presbyterian circles (and probably other churches too) that we routinely call men in their twenties, straight from seminary, to be ministers when we would never dream of calling someone of such an age to be a ruling elder. It seems odd to apply the biblical norms only to the latter.
I think he is more right than wrong here. I know at Covenant Seminary, where I studied, there is a requirement that a man must have at least three years of pastoral ministry behind him before beginning a Doctor of Ministry program; I have wondered why a similar requirement is not made for those who would enter the ministry. Why not at least one or the other of the following: either several years of work experience in secular employment, or several years of ministry experience as an intern, pastoral assistant, or non-ordained ministry position?
Trueman goes on to point out that, too often, churches and presbyteries simply rely on seminaries to do their jobs for them, with regard to determining whether a man is fit for ministry. If they have completed seminary, the conventional wisdom goes, they must have some "chops" that make them suitable as a pastor. He makes the following point about that:
What is needed is a clear understanding that seminaries are not presbyteries: they do not make any judgment on suitability for ministry; they simply teach the necessary technical theological skills at the appropriate level.
He concludes with a poignant reminder about achievement and potential vs. fitness and qualification for ministry:
An MDiv degree, a congregational vote, an `internal call' and an act of presbytery do not mean that a man is really called by God to be a minister.
This is much-needed re-thinking. I know that our presbytery has ordained men on these bases, when in fact several of us have had serious questions about whether they were truly ready to serve the church as pastors-- or whether we were setting them up (and their congregations as well) for potential devastation.
Read all of the posts here:
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls I
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls II
Moving far from home, part 2
Now let's consider a comment from "John" whose family is from Alabama, and who is now a pastor in California. Here's what John said:
"The best advice I received was from [a seminary professor] who said, 'you just need to negotiate into your terms of call that they will fly your whole family home once a year.' So we did-- and now there's a line-item in the church budget for $2,500 of airfare for my whole family to fly back!"
This is a great idea. Airfare is expensive enough for one or two, but John and his wife have several children. For most pastors, the cost would simply be prohibitive to think of paying for that every year, or even every other year. Or at very least, it might keep them from being able to afford other vacation time, as a couple or as a family.
With John's arrangement, however, they are free to simply not worry about the biggest part of the costs of visiting family. The first year they were there, John and his family flew back to Alabama around Christmas-- about six months after they had moved. Surely this was a great comfort, both to John's family and to their extended families.
The upside of this, among other things, is that the burden of traveling expenses is carried by neither John's family nor their parents or siblings. It's easy to think that extended family might simply travel out to see them in California, but that can get costly too (even if it is only one set of parents, with airfare for only two instead of five or six). This solution tempers that problem, at least a bit.
The downside, obviously, is that this represents a substantial financial commitment for the congregation. Some congregations may not be able to afford it. Others, while sympathetic, may not be willing to make such a large investment. (I would counter the latter, however, by pointing back to Brian's comment about how hard the decision can be to move so far from family, and suggesting that an unwilling approach in the short term may have unfavorable consequences in the longer term.)
On effective succession planning in pastoral ministry
Churches seem to settle quickly into the assumption that, now that they have a pastor, he's there for good! And some great churches have seen devastating results as a consequence of that neglect. On the other hand, the exceptions prove the rule here; think about the congregations (or even large ministries) that you know of that have had a strong, capable leader follow another, and go on to advance the existing ministry even further than their predecessor did. I can count on one hand those that come to my mind.
That's one reason why this Gospel Coalition article from Collin Hansen, "Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession," is so valuable.
Hansen holds out Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan as a current example of effective succession planning. Few churches in our day have ministries as strong and with as great an impact as Redeemer, and few pastors are as recognizable as Keller. Yet Keller and the leadership of Redeemer have put in place a succession plan that spans the next 10 years, and surely lays a foundation for the future leaders to build upon. Hansen comments:
The succession plan corresponds with a larger ministry reorientation for Redeemer. For about 20 years, Redeemer grew as members invited their friends to hear the exceptional music and Keller’s compelling sermons. Without Keller as a draw, however, the church’s strategy will need to change. Church leaders and members will need to become more missional.
Hansen goes on to consider several other prominent examples, all learning from the foibles of others in church history who, great though the leaders were, failed to adequately consider the need for a strong succession plan.
Succession isn’t simple. It isn’t smooth. It’s not often successful. Yet it’s a matter of gospel integrity. God doesn’t promise our churches will evermore yield wide influence through a preacher’s exceptional leadership. Surely, however, we can testify to his steadfast love by making more of Jesus Christ than ourselves. And that means planning ahead for generations who will never hear the great preacher’s voice.
Read the whole article here.
At long last
That book, now seven years in the making, is finally out! From M.Div. to Rev.: making an effective transition from seminary into pastoral ministry, is finally available. It can be had in print and digital editions.
Because the book is published by Doulos Resources, naturally I would prefer that you buy it directly through the Doulos Resources eStore.
However, it is also available through the Covenant Seminary Bookstore, as well as through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble (if not immediately, then soon). Hopefully, more resellers (especially seminary bookstores) will be carrying it soon, as well.
Thanks to those of you who have supported the concept of this book. The wait is over! (Of course, now most of you are well-placed in ministry and your interest is merely theoretical...)
Moving far from home, part 1
First let me say this: I define "a long way from home" as meaning either simply too far to drive, or far enough that it requires several days (3 whole days or more) of driving to get from where you live to where your extended family generally lives.
Also, a quick disclaimer: I realize that the question of "home" is relative for some, and it certainly is loaded with implications, spiritual and otherwise. Here I'm using it simply to mean where the larger part of your family is, whatever place (or places) that may be.
So, first up is "Brian" who grew up in South Carolina. Several years ago, Brian accepted a call to be a pastor in Colorado; when they do the drive, it takes his family 3-4 days of solid travel to get back "home."
Brian commented that the most difficult part has been this:
"When we first accepted the call, we made the decision to 'put hand to plow' and not look back. Our mistake was in thinking that was a one-time decision."
This is a powerful reflection. Brian elaborated, stating that the decision was one they kept making on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis. That being the case, it is easy to see how that would represent a regular struggle, individually and as a family.
Does that mean that a pastor cannot effectively minister in those circumstances? Not at all; in his years of ministry, Brian has been quite effective and a great asset to his congregation. But the struggle is there nevertheless.
How have they dealt with it? In Brian's case, they have driven back most years; by scheduling a week or more of family vacation after our denominational General Assembly, Brian's church is happy to cover most or all of the gas costs as an expense related to his involvement in the assembly, and yet he and his family also get to spend an extended period with their families. Often, his wife and children will spend the week of the assembly there, as well-- amounting to even more time with their relatives.
This arrangement is a great solution. Of course, it is contingent on the congregation being strongly committed to Brian's attendance at the General Assembly all or most years, which may not be a commitment that every congregation is able or willing to make.
The dirty secret of churches wearing out pastors
I thought of that this morning as I read this piece from pastor and blogger David Foster (HT: Mark). Pastor Foster does a great job of exposing what he calls the "dirtiest little secret" of the American church:
"that we regularly, relentlessly, and without mercy beat-up, chew-up and spit-out our leaders."
Rev. Foster correctly diagnoses (and describes, more than I've reproduced here) five ways that many churches abuse their pastors:
- We starve them.
- We have outrageously unreasonable expectations of our leaders.
- We strip them of power.
- We let pretend leaders bully them.
- We leave them in financial peril.
Quite pastorally, Pastor Foster also offers five well-articulated antidotes to his diagnosis in the same post:
- Let's pay them a livable wage.
- Encourage them.
- Give them time off for vacation, for training, for restoration.
- Stop the complaints you hear about them at their source.
- Give them a safety net.
Even those congregations that don't regularly fall into the traps of the first five would do well to regularly re-evaluate their diligent attention to these five solutions. And congregations that are in transition would do very well to take a hard look at both lists; what an opportunity, in this season of change that is already upon you, to make healthy changes for the better!
I would encourage every church member, and especially every church leader, to read David Foster's blog post.
Singleness in ministry and transition
A long time ago, I blogged briefly about a couple of struggles that singles might face (see "Singleness AND Carelessness?"); my aim, however, was not to fortify the underlying rationale that makes it difficult for singles in ministry, but to point it out as something that singles would be wise to be aware of. According the the Times piece, these difficulties still remain-- and if anything, they are getting stronger.
The article focuses on Mark Almlie, a pastor (age 37, never married) who is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and has experience as a pastor. Mr. Almlie, who has also written on this topic for Christianity Today's popular blog Out of Ur (Are We Afraid of Single Pastors? and part two) argues that, biblically, singleness is equal, if not preferable, to marriage as a quality in a future pastor:
Our married pastors need to preach the goodness of singleness in accord with 1 Corinthians 7 (consider emailing this post to your senior pastor). Denominations should write position papers affirming singleness as equally biblical as marriage. And pastoral search committees need to stop listing marriage as a requirement in their job applications.
Finally, prominent Evangelicals concerned about the importance of marriage need to avoid obscuring the importance of singleness. Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Seminary) recently wrote: “From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible assumes that marriage is normative for human beings.”1 The Bible makes no such assumption. In 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, Paul argues that both marriage and singleness are normative for Christians.[ref.]
I don't disagree that singleness has its own dignity, nor that Paul is arguing that singleness has its advantages when it comes to ministry; in my own experience, I remember being a single Youth Pastor and reveling in my freedom to devote as much time as I wanted to my ministry pursuits (and, likewise, reflecting some years later on how marriage could sometimes require turning aside from ministry for family matters, and seeing the validation of Paul's argument). Neither do I disagree that the church in general has done a disservice to singles, and made them to feel like second-class members. I'm certain that I have participated in that, in spite of my heightened sensitivity from my sister's long-time singleness.
But I don't fully agree with Mr. Almlie's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7; I don't believe that Paul is arguing (contra a huge chunk of the rest of Scripture) that singleness is equal to marriage and normative for a believer. Frankly, I think he takes that point too far, and perhaps discredits himself in so doing. While some Christians are obviously single, and while this shouldn't leave them without a sense of belonging or place in the community of Christ's church, Scripture does teach that marriage is normative. If marriage is normative, then singleness cannot be-- for they are clear opposites.
However, he has a solid point when it comes to the biblical rationale (or total absence of one) for excluding singles as viable candidates for a given pastoral position. And I think Mr. Almlie's points to that end are solid and valuable:
The bottom line is that it is not about being single or married. It’s about being called and gifted by the Spirit to minister to people both like and unlike us (race, gender, marital status, etc). I plead with search committees everywhere to reflect on the implications of 1 Corinthians 7 before overlooking your next single pastoral candidate. They deserve to be evaluated on their excellence, not their marital status.[ref.]
What's interesting is just how uniformly pervasive this problem is. In all of the church profiles and other documentation concerning what sort of candidates a congregation will consider-- in all of the ones that I have seen-- I can't remember ever seeing one that checked single as a preference, or even that indicated no preference. All of them indicate a desire for a married man, and most prefer "married with children".
Some of this is due to poor biblical exegesis: verses such as 1 Timothy 3:2, which speaks of an Elder being a "one-woman man" (as a fairly literal translation) leave many with the assumption that the prescriptive texts about the qualifications of officers require that he be married. This rules out widows, also-- can you envision a man stepping down as pastor solely because his wife passed away? Oh, and it also rules out Paul and Jesus.
Some of it is due to really lame reasons and excuses offered by inconsistent thinking and irrational fear. Mr. Almlie testifies to his own experience here:
When I press people on why they think single pastors are treated with suspicion, 99 percent of the time I get a list of fears rather than actual evidence:
“What if he’s gay?”
“What if he flirts with all the single women at church?”
“What if he tries to steal a married woman for himself?”
“There must be something wrong with him because he’s single.”
“Aren’t single pastors more likely to molest our children?”[ref.]
Ironically, as Matt Steen (another single pastor) points out, all of these can be struggles for married men, just as much as for single men. "Many interviewers seemed to fear that he might 'do something stupid, like get involved with a student,' he said. 'I told them that I understand the concern, but that I’ve seen married pastors make the same mistakes.'”[ref.]
Some of the problem is due, sadly, to a notion that a married pastor is a "two-for-one" bargain, and an unrealistic model for congregations. Witness the example I posted about a few months ago: "Wife to Assist". From the Times piece again: “Sometimes, parishioners have an unspoken preference for a happily married male with a wife who does not work outside the home,” Cynthia Woolever, research director at U.S. Congregations, wrote in a 2009 article. “She also volunteers at the church while raising ‘wholesome and polite children.’ ”[ref.]
Whatever the root, it's a problem that needs to be rooted out. Search Committees, take note!
From M.Div. to Rev. -- endorsement #3
My friend Mark Dalbey sent along another endorsement. Mark's endorsement is so valuable to me, not only because he is my friend, but also because he is VP of Academics and Faculty Development and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. When I was a student there, Mark taught the elective class on "Candidating and Transition into Ministry" and several times honored me with an invitation to lecture on this material as part of that class.
Here is Mark's endorsement:
"I have been looking for this book for over a decade. Finally it has been written. Ed Eubanks has captured and written what every seminary student seeking a ministry call needs to discover. The biblical and theological foundation and perspective are strong. The sensitivity to the range of struggles and challenges a candidate for a ministry position goes through is very pastoral. The extremely practical and detailed information from start to finish is incredibly helpful. This is the precious gem that has been sought after by many for a long time. I heartily recommend it to seminary students. It will also be very helpful to already ordained pastors seeking subsequent calls after their first call."
From M.Div. to Rev. -- endorsement #2
I received my second endorsement recently, this time from Dr. Will Willimon. Dr. Willimon is an author, and a Bishop in the United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL. He is a former professor of Duke Divinity School, and served as the Dean of the Chapel at Duke as well. He has also served several congregations as a Pastor. I'm so honored by Dr. Willimon's words:
Here is a book full of wisdom and practical advice for new pastors making the most important transition of their ministry – the move from thinking about ministry in seminary to practicing ministry in the parish. Ed Eubanks has poured his great experience and theologically informed insights into this lively look at the crucial first days of ministry. I highly recommend this very helpful book.
From M.Div. to Rev.-- first endorsement
The first endorsement for the book has come in, from Dr. Rod Culbertson, Jr., who is Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Dean of Student Development, and Director of the Institute for Reformed Campus Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Here's Dr. Culbertson's endorsement:
“Ed Eubanks has provided a much needed resource for aspiring ministers, one which is thorough, comprehensive and extraordinarily practical. If you are on the verge of graduating from seminary and pursuing a call to the ministry you will find From M.Div. to Rev.: making an effective transition from seminary into pastoral ministry invaluable. I highly recommend it!”
9Marks articles on transition
They are all very good. Here's a run-down of the articles included:
Leaving Your Church Well: An Interview with Michael Lawrence. This is an informative interview, offering one pastor's reflections on his experience with transition. (I think it's important to keep in mind the fact that this is one guy's experience.)
Prepare the Church for the Next Guy by Matt Schmucker. A good list of things to do that will accomplish what the title suggests. This particular list is written from a Baptist perspective, and will have less application in other contexts.
Book Review: Handle That New Call With Care by David Campbell (reviewed by Bobby Jamieson). This is a helpful review; there are a lot of good books on this topic, and I appreciate the objectivity in this review.
What's Wrong With Search Committees? Part 1 of 2 on Finding a Pastor by Mark Dever. This is standard Mark Dever fare: good insights and sound wisdom, served up with a slightly abrasive tone. If committee members can read through the abrasiveness, they'll find some good warnings here.
What's Right About Elders? Part 2 of 2 on Finding a Pastor by Mark Dever and Bobby Jamieson. A very interesting counter-point to the previous article, here arguing for Elders (instead of more broadly-based Search Committees) conducting pastoral searches. He makes some strong points, though I question how practicable this approach is, especially for larger congregations.
What Not To Do When You're The New Guy by Walter Price. Very solid advice from a seasoned pastor, useful in pretty much every transition. Definitely worth reading.
You Might Have The Wrong Candidate If... by Dennis Newkirk. Skip the opening half of this article; the real meat is in the last half (and especially the last third). But the stuff there is really good stuff. Committees, please take note!
Tips For An Interim Pastor by Jonathan Leeman. Generally some good advice here. The writer's points of reference were fairly short interims, and those with a longer interim tenure (six months or more) might take much of this with a grain of salt.
Staying To The Glory Of God: One Preacher's Death Wish by Jeramie Rinne. This piece is a good challenge to consider long-tenure pastorates, which I agree is not seriously considered often enough in today's pastoral climate.
Staying For The Glory Of God: The Sibbes, Simeon, And Stott Model by Mark Dever. Another good challenge to consider staying longer.
Click over to the 9Marks site through any of the links above and check out some of these articles. Thanks, Adam for pointing these out to me!
Joblessness Hits the Pulpit
Here's a vital take-away from Joe Light's article for those who are in the midst of transition (interestingly, from my own denomination, the PCA): "Right now, the Presbyterian Church in America, which includes about 1,700 churches, has about five pastors looking for work for each of its 54 job openings, about twice the level before the recession."
This statistic isn't presented as an anomaly, but as the norm. That means that, if you are in transition into ministry right now, the "competition" is as high as it has been for a long time. It also means that seminary students are particularly disadvantaged in at least one way: most churches would prefer to hire a pastor with experience over one who has little or none; likewise, most will ordinarily prefer a pastor who has been out of seminary and is already ordained than one who is a fresh graduate.
Another interesting note from the article is that "[n]early half of the 3,000 members of the National Association of Church Business Administration say they have reduced or frozen salaries and benefits." I certainly know guys for whom this is true; I'll be you do too, even if you don't realize it.
Dealing with rejection in transition
If you find yourself in the second category, you will feel a wash of many emotions. Disappointment. Relief. Loneliness. Discouragement. Uncertainty and doubt. Ambivalence about moving forward with other opportunities. Inclination to guard your heart and avoid honest vulnerability in future candidacy encounters.
This is a hard point to reach, yet it is a point that almost every pastor and candidate-pastor will eventually face. If my research is any indication, very few seminary graduates landed a call to a particular ministry the first time through; even rarer is the case when a man might do so and remain there for the duration of his ministry. In other words, you may feel very alone, but you are not alone. You are in the company of 99% of all pastors and seminary graduates around you.
Don’t be afraid to simply live in these emotions for a little while— maybe a day or two, or even a week or two. Spend that time in spiritual refreshment and in relationships that are renewing to you. Engage your heart in soul-nourishing spiritual disciplines. Get extra rest. Do something fun.
A few more concrete suggestions for this hard season come to mind:
- Speak frequently and openly with your spouse and/or a few close friends. If you are married, the conversations with your wife (or husband) are vital. Open your heart to them and let them open theirs to you. Lean heavily on your friends, as well. After one particularly discouraging rejection, I may not have been able to continue pursuit of candidacy had it not been for the prayerful support of a few good friends; I simply sent out an e-mail plea for their prayers, and the following days were filled with e-mails, phone calls, and visits from those who bore my burdens with me.
• Ask for your pastor’s counsel and support. There may be no one better to understand what you are going through than your pastor: he has been through the process, and also knows you individually. He can offer you a unique type of care and encouragement.
• Find renewal in Word, prayer, and worship. I found corporate worship especially poignant during my last season of candidacy, especially during the hardest times (like when I was processing a recent rejection). Longer seasons of Bible reading and prayer were also great times of soul-searching for me.
• Take stock of the calling God has given to you. Remember how He has particularly gifted you, prepared you, and strengthened you for ministry. Our Lord does not labor in vain; His calling for you will be fulfilled in a way that will be satisfying and beyond your dreams or expectations. In His timing, He will place you in an opportunity that will be even better than recently ceased to be before you.
• Remember God’s protection. The idea that I named before about how “rejection=protection” isn't meant as mere platitudes; they are biblical truths that you are feeling the reality of in a hard way. But the other side of the equation is just as real and true for you: God is protecting you from what is a bad fit, and making you all the more ready for His service elsewhere.
Churchill on writing books
Winston Churchill once said that writing a book goes through five phases. In phase one, it is a novelty or a toy. But by phase five, it becomes a tyrant ruling your life. And just when you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling it into the public.
~Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p.ix.
I resonate with that quote so strongly, especially because, at this point in the brief history of my life, I am at phase five with one book and close to it (probably phase 4.9) with another.
Most of my 10s of readers (are you still there?) know that I've long been working on a book on the process of transition from seminary to ministry. Lord willing, this November that book will be released by Doulos Resources; From M.Div. to Rev.: making an effective transition from seminary into pastoral ministry is about 90% complete, and I'm earnestly hopeful that I might finish the manuscript in the next month.
You may also be aware that, a few years ago, I realized that I needed to carve a section out of that manuscript and use it to form a separate book on surviving and thriving in seminary. It wasn't very long after that point that I came in contact with Mark Warnock, who writes a blog entitled Seminary Survival Guide. We quickly figured out that we should combine our efforts to fight the powers of evil, and we began to hammer out a hybrid of our collective work into what is now taking shape as a book. We're still working on a title, but we're considering Mastering Divinity (and Other Myths): a seminary survival guide.
Soon I will fling the beasts out into the public! Get ready...
Things to Pray for during Transition
- Pray that God would lead you in your search. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray that He would grant you awareness of key factors for your decisions. Pray that your priorities would be rightly aligned with His for your particular calling. Pray for clarity, and that He would make straight your path to fulfilling your calling in service to His church and Kingdom.
- Pray that God would lead the search teams you have interacted with. Pray that they would be wholly submissive to His will and leading. Pray for their hearts to be made ready to follow the pastor He would call to them. Pray that He would give them wise and discerning insight into the candidates they are considering. Pray for the information that they need to make careful decisions to come to light quickly and clearly. Pray for their endurance through the search process. Pray that God would fill their pastoral needs in the timing of His will— and pray that His timing would be speedy!
- Pray that God would protect your heart from discouragement and fatigue. Pray for Him to prepare you for the reality of rejection. Pray that you would be able to see His work of protection in those opportunities that tell you that you are not the right fit. Pray that God would protect your heart from bitterness and disappointment. Pray for God to raise up friends and supporters around you who will buoy your spirits and refresh your commitment to your calling. Pray that you would be able to press on when the search has become long and your endurance is tested.
- Pray that God would protect your heart from a competitive spirit. Pray for earnest hope and expectation both for yourself and for your friends who are also seeking placement. Pray that you would know how to love and support one another through the season of candidacy that you will all face together. Pray that you would be able to rejoice with those who find placement before you do, and that others would rejoice in your placement in spite of their own lack of it. Pray for God to overcome on your behalf those temptations to envy, jealousy, and slandering of others in your heart and mind.
- Pray that God would shepherd His flock well during the difficult seasons of transition they are encountering. Pray that the churches that you have encountered who are seeking a pastor would be sustained by God’s grace, and would weather the season of transition in a healthy manner. Pray for the members of the congregations to be made ready for their new pastor. Pray that God would tend and care for them through the leaders that are present, as well as through sister congregations and others who may come alongside them during this season. Pray for their patience and perseverance through a time of unknown and uncertain future.
- Pray that God would make you ready for transition into ministry. Pray that the remaining weeks/months/semesters that you have in seminary would be useful for your pastoral preparation. Pray for your spiritual health and maturity to be well-founded and grounded in His grace, mercy, and love. Pray that you would gain the knowledge you need, as well as the experience, wisdom, and love to lead a congregation or ministry well in the capacity to which you will be called. Pray that He would prepare you (and your family) for the joys, difficulties, successes, and trials that lay before you in your calling to ministry.
A narrow window?
Three of the men I spoke with indicated that they felt they were facing a barrier because they were "older" -- which, in these cases, translated into somewhere in their 50s -- and that it seemed like many churches might not consider a pastor who was of that age for a solo or Senior Pastor position. My sense is that this concern was based on at least nominal exposure to hesitation about this on the part of one or more search committees.
At the same time, my own experience (and that of others I've known) is that "younger" men (maybe early 30s or younger?) are also often overlooked for such positions.
I have guesses about why these false barriers are there: for the "younger" men, there is concern or even a fear of a lack of experience and/or lack of wisdom or spiritual maturity; for the "older" men, there is concern about approaching retirement and/or age bringing on health problems.
While neither concern is entirely unfounded, I want to push back against those and encourage both pastors and search committees alike:
- [Younger] Lack of experience and/or spiritual maturity are factors at any age; isn't it far better to consider the man, and not necessarily his age?
- [Younger] How much of your concern is based on your own experiences at that age? In other words, are you evaluating a candidate by age simply by thinking, "I wouldn't have been able to be a solo/Senior Pastor when I was that age"? If this is so, isn't it possible that your experiences might be the exception instead of the rule?
- [Older] Are you basing your assumptions about retirement age on the model of the business world, rather than of the pastorate? Is it reasonable to assert that, because our culture assumes retirement between the ages of 62 and 67, pastors will also retire then? Have you asked yourself whether pastors (or anyone else, for that matter) should retire at that age?
- [Older] What basis do such assumptions about age and health have? Does the fact that, in general, pastors tend to be healthier than other demographics (due to lifestyles of moderation, stability, and good mechanisms for coping with stress) mitigate your concerns at all?
Anecdotally, I know several Senior Pastors of churches that are in their mid-30s or younger, who are incredibly capable. I also know a number of pastors who have served ably and actively into their 70s. In my experience, I haven't found age to be a valuable primary consideration.
One more comment in defense of my colleagues mentioned on the outset, whose maturity and "older" age seems to be a liability: were I on a search committee, several things would stand out in favor of such men. Most have experience, wisdom, and spiritual maturity that is the fruit of many years of ministry. If they have children, the children are often grown and are either adults or approaching adulthood-- which means that their family may not require a salary that can support multiple young children. They also will have paid off education loans, and will have established some equity in their homes. While financial matters ought not be the primary driving force, these factors add up to a compelling picture.
Update on books (mine)
To begin with, Doulos Resources released a book I wrote about six weeks ago: For All the Saints... Praying for the Church is a short book that I wrote for congregation-level reading, offering a guide to what specific ways people might pray for the church, the biblical basis behind each, and some suggested sub-topics for prayer under each. It's available in the Doulos Resources e-Store, as well as through Amazon, Monergism Books, the PCA's CE&P Bookstore, and the Covenant Seminary Bookstore.
Second, my friend and fellow pastor Mark Warnock joined me here in west Tennessee for a few days last week, and we made substantial progress on a book on surviving and thriving in seminary. Mark is one of the pastors of First Baptist Church of Columbia, IL and who writes and edits the blog Seminary Survival Guide. We're encouraged about the work we got done, and I hope that this book will be available by the end of this summer-- in time for incoming seminary classes everywhere to benefit from it.
Finally, I've also been making some progress (slow though it is) on my longtime-coming book on making an effective transition from seminary into ministry. If all goes according to (MY) plan, it will also be ready for a late summer/fall release. I'll keep you posted.
From the archives: making a healthy transition #8
The floor examination has a clear purpose: to test your readiness for ministry.
Notice: I didn't say, “test your knowledge” or “test your theological acuity.” This is a test of how ready you are for the day-to-day, hour-by-hour work of ministry.
A little background-- when a Candidate for Gospel Ministry pursues ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), he will be examined orally at least twice: once by a committee of presbytery, and once on the floor of presbytery. The committee exam will be private and closed, generally speaking. No one else will be there but the committee and possibly a few other ordinands. This exam will also take longer than the other; the committee exams sometimes go for several hours.
The floor examination, in contrast, will be an open exam. Everyone in attendance who is a member of presbytery will be there, and any other visitors are welcome to attend. It is not uncommon, for example, for an ordinand's wife or parents to come and watch. In fact, visitors may even stay after the ordinand has been asked to leave so that the vote may be taken (although the presbyters do have the right to call for visitors to be excused as well).
The committee exam is essentially all about what you learned in seminary and in other preparation for ministry. They will grill you on church history, fine points of theology, your knowledge of the English Bible, your understanding of the sacraments, and so on. These questions can be as particular as, “what was the point of difference between Ratramnus and Radbertus?” or “explain the rationale for a supra-lapsarian position,” or “give a detailed outline of the books of 2 Chronicles, Nahum, and 2 Thessalonians.” They want to be sure that you have learned as much as you can learn.
The floor exam, on the other hand, is quite different. There will be a few obligatory questions from each major area, because the Book of Church Order of the PCA requires that the floor exam include them, but when the questioning is opened up to anyone at presbytery, most of the questions will not be so particular with regard to “book learnin'.”
Instead, most will be directly related to the kind of issue or question that your ministry will put you in the line of fire for. A recent floor exam I sat in on included a question about how the ordinand (who had a call to an upper-middle class suburban church) would encourage racial and ethnic diversity in his congregation, and another about how he would support and advance that church's already active pro-life ministry.
Many of the questions in a floor examination will touch on things that the ordinand may never have considered before, and he will be forced to articulate an answer on the spot. A friend of mine told me about a question he received at his floor exam: must a person believe that the Bible is the Word of God in order to be a Christian? His answer: “No, one need not believe that the Bible is the Word of God to be a Christian, but I believe that if you are a Christian, you will believe that the Bible is the Word of God.”
The best thing about this kind of examination is that it requires an ordinand to understand his Bible, his theology, his confession of faith, and even his church history in practical, tangible ways. How else should a man be examined, after all?
Recent graduates: I offer you my prayers and hopes that every letter of the Bible, every word of theology, and every moment of history that you were exposed to in seminary may become so real and useful, so life-changing and ministry-shaping, so Gospel-driven and Christ-centered that you will find your floor exams, and all of the ministry that follows, a delight and a welcome challenge. May God bless your transition and your new ministry.
Ed has some excellent advice for interims and churches calling them, especially when it comes to what it takes to BE an interim and what is reasonable to expect an interim to accomplish. I highly recommend his post on this.
(Ed also suggests a couple of helpful other resources on interim leadership.)
I, for one, think that interim pastorates are a wonderful gift to the church, and are NEEDED in many situations. In my view, we in the PCA could take a helpful cue from our brothers in the PC-USA and actually require that churches whose outgoing pastor served beyond a certain point (15 years? 20? 30?!?) must call an interim pastor before settling in (or attempting to) with a "permanent" pastor. I've blogged before about the unintentional interim, and I think such a requirement would alleviate many such situations.
If you're interested in learning more about interim pastorates, you might check out the website ChurchWhisperers.org-- it is full of help and guidance for interim pastors.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #7
Most of the men I know who have remained in ministry for a number of years have done so through the friendships they made in seminary.
In whatever way that it has materialized, these men (and often their families alongside them) have maintained friendships with a few very close friends from their seminary years. Those friendships have been a central factor in keeping them in ministry, stable, and focused on serving God. I know few men who have been in ministry for more than ten years for whom this is not the case, and everyone I know who has been in ministry more than 20 years has done this.
It doesn't always look the same, but some common factors arise among all of the people I've talked to about this:
- All of them are in contact regularly-- usually by phone at least once a quarter, and visiting face-to-face at least once a year.
- All of the relationships have a component of basic accountability to them-- checking in on the health of marriage and family life, personal spiritual growth, avoiding temptations, etc.
- All serve as a “dumping ground” for ministry problems and frustrations-- allowing an outlet for all of the things that these men want and need to talk about, but feel they can't with anyone in their congregation (or even in their town).
- All eventually become a “true North-pointing compass” for the individuals-- giving them a safe and trustworthy place to explore where the Lord may be leading them in the future.
One man I know has a week-long “vacation” with two other families, and they've been doing this for over 25 years. Another man meets twice a year for 48 hours with his two closest friends from seminary, and they call each other periodically. One friend gathers with a dozen others for three days, and they close up on a family farmhouse to play, talk, sing, pray, and laugh together. Another takes turns with a best friend, each visiting the other's house every six months-- whoever is the visitor “dumps” everything while the other listens.
However it turns out, the constant among variables is this: having one or several close friends who can-- over the years, through the moves and transitions, in spite of geographic differences-- be the kind of peer and brother that every Christian needs has become one of the very few keys to long-term, Godly ministry for the men I know.
On the other hand, among any of the men I know who have been in ministry for 20 years or more and don't do this in some form, none of them has the kind of ministry that I want to be a model for my future. I simply don't have a lot of admiration for their ministries. I can't say for certain that this has been the deciding factor, but it certainly seems to have been a contributing one. (And I should mention that I don't really know very many of these-- which is probably also related to the absence of this factor; without this kind of support, you are almost certainly more likely to leave the ministry earlier.)
The lesson here for new graduates and/or new transitioners: get in touch with those few closest friends from seminary and work out how you will keep in touch. Then do it. Don't put this off.
"Advice to pastoral candidates" from David Strain
- Think long and hard about different social contexts and what language fits them.
- Read correspondence before sending it off!
- Practice humility.
- Be careful on blogs and Facebook.
- Tailor your application to specific churches.
- Cultivate relationships for reference while in seminary.
- Be realistic about opportunities.
- Call before sending your materials.
- Read Why Johnny Can't Preach by T. David Gordon.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #6
I don't know any seminarians who have lost weight or gotten in better shape during seminary.
Don't get me wrong-- I do know a good handful of guys that find time to exercise. Even I have found streaks of a few weeks where I've been on the treadmill regularly. But my pitfall is, I would guess, the same as many of my fellow seminarians': some point in the semester (exam time, a major paper due, a break to travel home for a few weeks, etc.) interrupts our exercise patterns and the continuity is lost. Regaining it proves very difficult.
Which is why the transition from seminary into a pastoral position-- or from one position to another, as the case may be-- is a great time to re-prioritize exercise for a pastor.
Once again, this can be difficult to rationalize; after all, when is it easy to find an hour (or more) to haul yourself over to the gym, get a full work out, then shower and change in order to get back to work? And doing this three to five times a week? Surely I'm kidding, right?
No... exercise has got to fit in somewhere. If it means you have to rise early to get to it, then rise early. If it means you have to sacrifice your lunch break (though not your lunch) two or three times a week, so be it. If there is truly no time to exercise, then you're too busy. (This goes for seminarians, too-- and consider this my public confession!)
Studies have shown that the lack of regular exercise affects levels of stress, fatigue, energy, attention-- all negatively. This is not to mention the increased strain your heart, lungs, and structural system endure when you gain weight, which is the result that most of us experience when we fail to exercise regularly. One doctor told a friend of mine that every pound of weight gained amounted to five additional pounds of pressure on the joints when walking or running. No wonder my knees hurt.
On the other hand, regular exercise is just short of magic in its effects on your body. As you exercise (over an extended period of time), your muscles grow and require more energy for even mundane tasks like getting out of a chair, walking across the room, or even typing; thus, your body loses weight more efficiently as your muscular system expands. Meanwhile, your metabolism increases due to the efficiency for burning carbs, proteins, and fats, so that you digest food more efficiently (leading to more weight loss). If you maintain a regular diet-- even the same diet you've always had-- your body will eventually balance out at a healthy weight. You rest more efficiently, you have more energy and endurance, and your overall health improves.
Amazingly, other things also seem to be “magically” handled through exercise: cholesterol issues, high triglycerides, and even diabetes and asthma can be managed, if not overcome, through exercise. Even smokers and heavy drinkers who also exercise seem to fair far better than their inactive counterparts. It is almost as if you can do just about anything you want-- eat what you want, drink what you want-- and, as long as you also exercise regularly, you'll be fine. (Almost... but not really.)
So you don't have to join the YMCA, or any other gym for that matter. If you'd rather jog around the neighborhood or swim laps in your next-door neighbor's pool, that's fine. Ride your bike to work on days when you'll be in the office all day anyway. Or get a treadmill and walk or run regardless of the weather. (If you read World magazine regularly, you know that Editor-in-Chief Marvin Olasky reads on his treadmill every day, finishing dozens of books a year.) Joining an athletic club does have this draw: by shelling out money regularly to a gym, not exercising will weigh that much more heavily on your conscience.
President Bush exercises 6 days a week; he says that it never enters his mind that he won't work out. If he can find the time, why can't you? Start tomorrow-- or re-start tomorrow; exercise is similar to your devotional life: re-starting regularly is better than the alternative.
[Note to self: I'm re-starting my treadmill plan tomorrow...]
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part four
In this (final) installment, I want to think about planning for succession.
The biggest, and most important, aspect of planning and preparing for effective pastoral succession is this single concept (let's say it together, class):
- He celebrates the history of the congregation, and acknowledges God's faithful work through those who have served in leadership (pastoral and other) throughout that history.
- He talks openly and comfortably about previous pastors, not being threatened by their memory or what God accomplished through them.
- He thinks in the long-term, asking questions (of himself and of the leadership) regarding how the decisions they make today will affect the saints who will be a part of that congregation in one, two, several generations from now.
- He trains leadership for the long-term, incorporating both historic and future trajectories in the way that they disciple and train current and future leaders.
- He casts a vision before them that has lasting and healthy implications, not one centered around himself or any one particular leader's strengths.
- He constantly seeks to move to the periphery in leadership, placing the focus of all ministry on Christ and His redeeming work instead on of himself or any other leader.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #4
You think transition is hard on you? Wait until you see the fallout for your family.
Any transition is difficult-- not just for a pastor, but for his wife, children, parents, siblings, former friends... no one is left unscathed. Some friends of mine recently felt the force of this as they moved to seminary: they were doing pretty well with it, until it finally caught up to them. Like the rest of us, they were hit with the troubles that transition brings.
I can remember how it was. Coming to seminary was difficult enough: moving all of our stuff, settling into a new home, meeting new people, looking for/starting new jobs, finding a new church, and undertaking a new degree program. While we didn't have any children at the time, I can only imagine that those who do find the difficulty to be increased exponentially. The seminary transition, as most of my readers will understand (I presume), is beastly.
Yet, it was also wonderful in its own way. The anticipation helps a lot; I can remember just as well all that I hoped for: learning new things, meeting those who will become life-long friends, interacting with professors, getting training and experience for the fulfillment of our callings...
No, wait. That's just me who would be doing all of that. Marcie would be working to put me through that. (Or working at home to raise our children.) She wouldn't really get to experience very much of that at all, would she?
Yes and no. Marcie has had a great seminary experience too.
But if you're married and in seminary (or if you were in seminary at some point), hopefully your wife has communicated to you some of the differences between what you are experiencing and what she is. Sometimes it is like night and day.
Don't forget this.
Keen awareness of this point will be essential information during the transition into pastoral ministry.
Because often, in ministry, the situation is surprisingly the same: you, the pastor, come in with great anticipation of all that will happen. You'll meet many wonderful new people who you'll call your flock and co-laborers. You'll be able to jump right into the hands-on work of ministry. You'll become familiar with the community, the town, and the places that will become your regular haunts. You'll begin to catch a vision for what the Lord may do with you there, and the excitement will be nearly overwhelming.
Meanwhile, your wife will be at home with the kids. Or starting a new job. Or looking for work. She'll be lonely, stressed-out, and tired. She'll feel the pressure to get the boxes unpacked while you're writing a sermon or visiting the home-bound. She'll be the one worrying about the family budget-- after all, she still hasn't found a job and you've already been there four weeks!-- while you're going out to lunch with an Elder.
Sunday will come, and you'll go in early, teach Sunday School, chat with the members you met earlier in the week, lead worship, preach your sermon, and accept an invitation to lunch with your new friends. What a wonderful Sabbath!
She'll wander into church uncertain of what class to attend, stand to the side and talk politely with folks she doesn't know, sit alone with the children during worship, and quietly eat her lunch while you talk and laugh, all the while worrying about getting the kids down for a nap. Was that even a Sabbath?
Brothers, as you're settling in to your new position, making new friends, and getting a vision for the ministry God has brought you to do, don't forget the co-laborer that He gave to you for life-- the one who knows you the best. Share her concerns and burdens. Pay attention to what she is struggling with. Help with the boxes. Watch the kids so that she can get coffee with an Elder's wife. Open your heart and mind to her by telling her about the vision God is giving you.
And take her out on a date very soon after the move. And regularly thereafter.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #3
Anytime I'm left waiting in someone's office, I look at what is on the shelves: usually, the books capture my interest the most, though I was once fascinated to find a clean, yet broken, inner-race of a automotive constant-velocity (CV) joint on the shelf of a philosophy professor! (The CV joint is the amazing piece of a car's axle that allows the wheels to spin at different speeds around turns.)
You can learn a lot about a person from what is on the shelves in their office. In fact, you can learn a lot about them from the whole office.
Now, in spite of Tychicus' (valid and true) comments that motivated this post, I'm not going to post on “feng shui for the pastor.” But there is a psychology to the arrangement of a pastor's study that those in transition ought to pay attention to.
Take, for example, the shelves of books. Nearly every pastor or seminarian I know is a bibliophile, and most of us are somewhat proud of our book collections. Will my study be the best place to store all of my books? Inevitably, there will be those in a congregation who are intimidated by the scholarly nature of their pastor, and the fact that his study is entirely lined with books will not help the intimidation. Perhaps the avenues of ministry would be less congested if some of the books were housed elsewhere.
Obviously, there will be some books that are essential, or nearly so, to a pastor's ministry and therefore have a proper place in his study. But many will not: in my office at the last church I served, I had an entire shelf unit filled with my philosophy books, though-- oddly-- I never used them for youth ministry. They were a nice testimony to the degree I completed in that field, but probably hindered my ministry (and certainly didn't help it). At present, I would guess that 1/4 to 1/3 of my 2000+ books have no direct value to ministry whatsoever, and could be shelved at home when I transition into ministry.
Another aspect to consider is the desk and work space. It may take a while for a working system to emerge as the most efficient way of using the space you have, but let me make a few recommendations based on experience and/or reflection:
- Don't bother with the “In-box/Out-box” sort of arrangement unless you will actually use it. Since I never did, mine were always overflowing, which gave the impression that I was either overworked or never did anything!
- Keep file storage close-at-hand. If you have ready access to your filing cabinets, you are more likely to actually file things regularly. Filing is usually tedious anyway, so any excuse (e.g., “I don't want to bother getting out of the chair to walk across the room”) will be enough to prevent regular filing. [N.B.: for a good system to get this under control, I recommend “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” (David Allen).]
- If possible, place your desk so that it is visible from the doorway. When others walk by and see you working, it will affirm their sense of your work-ethic. Stated negatively, some congregants already suspect that a pastor loafs and slacks all week (“Pretty good pay for two hours a week...”), so if they can't see you working (or see the evidence of your work from the stuff on your desk), they may assume the worst. Obviously this only applies if you actually do work.
- An ancillary point to the last one: set up your computer so that the monitor can be seen from the doorway. Hopefully you're not tempted by pornography on the Internet, but if you are (or is anyone suspects that you are), this setup will provide accountability and dispel suspicion.
The size, shape, and kind of furnishings in a pastor's study vary so greatly from one church to another that it is difficult to offer any concrete suggestions about how a study might be arranged. Here are a few thoughts. Make the space as inviting as possible. Have comfortable seating available apart from your desk chair (one pastor I visited kept metal folding chairs behind the door for guests-- no wonder he seldom had them!). Light it well, but not harshly; indirect, incandescent light has been shown to be both soothing and restful, while fluorescent lights can make the eyes tired. The perfectly arranged study is one that is comfortable and functional for long periods of time, both when you are alone and when others are with you.
As Tychicus suggests, the desk can become an unintended divider between the pastor and his people. I've seen a variety of arrangements that accommodate this, with one thing in common: all of them had a part of the study that was structured for sitting with others-- almost an ante-room of sorts in some cases, while others were just chairs or a loveseat placed behind the desk, so that the pastor could turn around and face his visitors.
Finally, acknowledge the impact of nomenclature. What is the difference between a “pastor's office” and a “pastor's study?” Psychologically and semantically, there is a world of difference. An office is used mainly for administration, meetings, and business. A study, on the other hand, is a place for reading, reflection, contemplation (in other words, for studying). Which of those two best describes your calling?
A couple of helpful links
- Church Whisperers-- this group focuses on strategic interim pastoring, which is a sorely-needed ministry and an oft-neglected topic. I really like what this effort is doing. Check out the latest article: "Working Yourself Out of a Job".
- Congregations and New Pastors: A How-To Guide-- this is a great article for congregations on how to receive a new pastor. The advice here is SO good. I'm really grateful to this Lutheran brother for his work in writing this.
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part three
Now, let's look at some strategies for the newly named Senior Pastor for an effective transition into the new role.
I recommend three essential steps toward moving forward into the new role as Senior Pastor.
- Deal with changing relationships. The new Senior Pastor already has existing relationships with the staff, leadership, and congregation; that's one of the real benefits of this sort of hand-off. But those relationships have been defined, at least in part, by his former role as an Assistant/Associate Pastor. That role is gone, and the relationships MUST change along with his role. Sometimes this will mean frank conversations, or even open discussion of it in a congregational meeting, during Sunday School classes, etc. At other times, the leadership needs to proactively step in to run interference for him (for example, when someone wants him to continue to fulfill one of the duties of his former role). It may mean changes in leadership structure, and even leadership personnel-- in fact, it may even result in staff changes. The important part is that EVERYONE involved in leadership be on the same page about what the new Senior's role now is, how he will fulfill it, what the "chain of command" is, what things he won't do any longer, and other details such as these. I think it would be helpful for the new Senior Pastor to lead a retreat of his staff and leadership in order to work through all of these.
- Recruit mentors. The odds are good that the new Senior Pastor has never been in this sort of position before-- even if he has served as a Senior Pastor before, it has likely been in a smaller congregation with substantially fewer responsibilities. (Very few men who have been Senior Pastor of a medium or large church move into Assistant or Associate roles in other congregations.) It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the new Senior will encounter questions, issues, and puzzles that he may need some assistance figuring out. A mentor-- a seasoned pastor of another congregation, for example-- may be invaluable in such a setting. They are also great for prayer support, general encouragement, and simple fellowship and accountability. In my Presbytery, our Church Care Committee has begun working to put these sorts of mentoring relationships in place with ALL newly-installed Senior Pastors. What is more, because this sort of transition (from Assistant/Associate to Senior in the same church) is atypical, it may be worthwhile to find someone else who has been through a similar transition. I e-mailed a leader in my denomination about this, and he provided me with a list of a half-dozen pastors who had made this transition. I'd be surprised if most of them (if not all) weren't willing to offer counsel to someone else venturing into these waters.
- Own it. As I pointed out before, one of the tangible benefits of this kind of transition is that there is no "honeymoon" period wherein substantial changes and progress are more difficult; instead, in this kind of transition the new Senior can hit the ground running. So he should. As I suggested in part two, if the church is moving in a healthy trajectory, then the new Senior ought to already be asking, "what's the next step down that road?" And he should be ready to lead the congregation in taking it. For example, a pastor I know recently made this transition, and he knew that the church that he served essentially needed revitalization (even though it is a larger congregation). Knowing that I have a particular interest in that subject, he asked me for some "summer reading" recommendations, and we also talked about the value of taking his staff and Session to a conference on church revitalization sometime soon. He's owning his new role, and leading them in the next step toward greater congregational health. Not every such church will be in such need of revitalization-- the next steps will be different for every congregation. But the important part is that the new Senior Pastor not tarry in owning and accepting the leadership that has been given to him.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #2
Sing along if you know it: Oh the postman always brings the mail, in rain or snow or sleet or hail...
The Sr. Pastor I worked with in Roanoke had an interesting experiment going on when I started: he would stop for gas at the station less than two blocks from the church property and would routinely ask the attendant for directions to our church!
When he first started this practice, the response was usually something vague, at best. “I've never heard of that place,” “Isn't that on ___ street [on the other side of town]?” and, “Sure-- it's a half-mile south of here [exactly the opposite direction]” were some of the answers he received. In time, it became a joke-- and not a very funny one.
Our church was fairly active in local issues, and though it would have been easy for my pastor just to explain who he was to the attendants, he wanted to see if they knew about the church by its reputation. I appreciate this desire, but I think that a new pastor can do great things for his ministry if he is attentive to intentionally building relationships with his neighbors, as well.
One of the aspects of transition that is probably overlooked more than any other is this sort of relationship-building outside of the congregation. Getting to know the physical neighbors around the church property (and around the pastor's home, as well) is definitely a ministry-builder, and an invaluable part of settling into ministry.
Here are a few things that such relationship-building accomplishes:
- It allows genuine fulfillment of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- It heals past hurts-- particularly those inflicted by other Christians-- by showing true care and concern.
- It is itself an exercise in hospitality, and it opens up further opportunities for hospitality.
- It creates a venue for the Gospel to be shown and told.
- It helps in future circumstances when civil and political difficulty may arise.
Who are the people in your neighborhood? You don't have to try to meet them all in the first week or even the first months, but set some goals-- maybe you can get to know every merchant, businessperson, or resident on your block by name by the end of the first year of ministry. One new introduction a week would be fairly ambitious. Do you know your regular mail carrier's name, or the folks that make deliveries to your offices? How about the pastors of other nearby churches (more on this in a future post)?
Eventually, those station attendants did get to know us, and where we were. Not long before I left, my pastor can in from lunch beaming. “I stopped at the station like always,” he reported, “but when I asked if they knew where the church was, the guy said, 'You're there! It's just in the middle of the next block on the left!'”
They're the people that you meet each day...
Interview about placement and transition, part two
Here is part two:
8. Briefly describe your experience of transitioning into your role as pastor?
It's still going on, in many ways: most studies have shown that pastors don't really become as effective in their ministries as possible until seven years in, and that they don't effect significant and lasting change in the first 2-3 years. So in many ways, I'm just approaching the threshold of that second season, with the first a long way off.
That said, transition has been about what I expected: I dug in with building relationships with my congregation, began teaching and preaching on what I believed would best fit a new pastoral ministry, and started learning what my patterns and routines would be. I had been planning how I would spend my transition time for months, so it was not hard to know WHAT to do-- mostly just HOW to do it.
9. What surprised you about it?
I was surprised by little things, the kind of things that hide from plain view but make a big difference. For example, I fully intended to not worry too much with getting my pastoral study set up, but to spend my first days heavily with members of my congregation. But I picked up on cues that suggested that they WANTED me to focus on my study and get it set up-- that was a sign of stability to them, and they needed a strong sense of stability in their new pastor. Similarly, I felt very encouraged to spend extra time at home in the first few weeks, helping Marcie to get our house established; they wanted to love us by helping us set up our home, and part of that was freeing me from pastoral labor to attend to that.
(All of this, by the way, is more the nature of the hospitable people I serve than simply an artifact of transition-- they continue to be generous with my time in these ways, even now.)
10. What are some helpful tips you would give to someone about to go through the process?
Don't try to do everything at once! You're settling into a (hopefully) long ministry, with plenty of time to encourage growth, teach what is in your heart, and accomplish your goals for ministry. Don't be in a hurry.
Also, it's not possible to spend "too much" time with your congregation in the first months. I'm in a fairly small congregation, so I set out to visit every household once in the first six months. That didn't end up being possible, but I DID get to see everyone who was a part of the "core group" of the congregation. I tried to include someone from the congregation in almost everything I did-- lunch, a project at home, helping me find a mechanic or specialty store, etc. That relational investment pays big dividends.
Finally, don't be in a hurry to change things. Some things will need changing, but most things can change much more gradually than your instincts tell you. Remember: they are already going through a lot of change just by bringing you in as their pastor, so don't push them too hard on change. A lot of guys will tell you that the "honeymoon" season is the time to change as much as you can; I think that is short-sighted. Such change is seldom lasting, causes the congregation to feel overwhelmed with change (and maybe no longer at home in the church they once loved), and suggests to them that you have no value of anything that happened before you came. If you want to be in transition again in a matter of months, this is a good way to set the stage for it!
11. What do you wish you knew heading into the first year at your current location?
I don't think there was any one thing (or set of things) that stands out as a gap in what I knew: I was pretty familiar with the demographics of the area, what the prospects for ministry were, and what the culture was like. I knew the church's recent history, and had been briefed on the important details of what had been good and what had gone wrong in the past, particularly with regard to the previous pastor. I knew of many of the ways in which the congregation needed healing, and also had a good starting notion of where they were spiritually strong. In short: I knew what I was getting into, both in the great ways and the hard ways. There have been difficult moments, and even weeks and clusters of weeks where I have been challenged by the circumstances-- but nothing that constitutes a "blind side".
I think most guys don't have the benefit of this. Either they are stepping into a situation that is much worse than they were led to believe, or they are entering a culture they really don't know, or something where there is a point that they think, "I'm not sure I would have taken this position if I had realized all of that!"
For those guys, first of all I would challenge them that they probably WOULD still take it, and that they SHOULD. But probably the biggest thing is to go into a transition knowing that there are going to be things that you didn't know about, and that you're going to get blind-sided. I may yet-- who knows? But most guys probably will, and they just need to be ready for it.
12. How has the transition been for your wife?
It has been good in many of the ways that it has been good for me; she has been encouraged by the love and hospitality of the congregation, just as I have. She has noted on several occasions how well our congregation loves our family. She hasn't been forced into a pre-conceived role of what the pastor's wife ought to do or be, and that has been freeing.
It has been hard, too, since she left behind her close friends from seminary and has not found as many friends of similar "age and stage" in our area until recently-- and those are just now budding relationships, approaching two years in. Meanwhile, I've made friends with some other pastors in the area, and don't feel as much need for friends of the same age or life-stage as me anyway-- so it has been harder for her to see me find fulfilling friendships when she hasn't. She has dealt with that very well, but it hasn't been easy.
New resource posted
A few years ago, I wrote a few posts on how a church can prepare for a new pastor; these posts were themselves the result of a series of sermons and Sunday School classes I taught on the subject at a church I was serving in pulpit supply at the time. After I had written these, and received a good bit of positive feedback on them, I re-formatted them into a single article form, and added a few things as well.
That article, entitled "When the Pastor leaves...", is now available here, via the Doulos Resources Transition Tools section. It's in PDF format, and you are free to copy and distribute it in quantity to your congregation, if you wish. (There is information about the Creative Commons license on the Transition Tools page.)
I hope this will be helpful to others. I have had it posted on another website that I'm associated with for several years, and it has consistently been one of the most popular downloads on that page. I thought it would be good to make it available here as well.
[Download "When the Pastor Leaves..."]
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #1
And, since many who were seminarians a week ago are no longer seminarians, but now are seminary graduates, I'm going to re-post my series on making an effective and healthy transition into a new ministry opportunity. Starting now.
Originally posted in July, 2005:
Start your ministry by stacking your boxes of books by the door of your office. Now leave them there for the next two weeks.
It should be no surprise that, if I am convinced that the key to placement is relationships, I am also sure that relationships are the key to good transition. If one of the key questions for placement is, “Who do you love?” then surely one of the key questions for transition is, “How do you love?”
Forget the boxes of books, the adjustment to the new places, and the sermon you have to preach next Sunday. (No, not completely; but don't you have a few sermons you could re-work and save some prep time?) Begin your new ministry strong with a heavy focus on relationship-building. Let the logistics of the new position take care of themselves-- or at least wait a while.
In one of the positions I served, I went the other way: I jumped into the logistical details during the first weeks of ministry. I spent time setting up my office, unpacking books, organizing my schedule, and establishing mobile phone service. Looking back, it was a big mistake that hurt my ministry for the long-term.
After all, ministry is not about those things. Not about cell phones, bookshelves, or offices. Not about the contents of the books on the shelves or the appointments on the schedule. Not even about the sermons you preach-- not essentially. If no one is listening, it won't matter how good you preach, how many appointments you make, or how many books you read. And once they decide that you're interested in things other than relationships with them (whether that is the truth or not), they stop listening.
Jump into your new ministry with both feet by building relationships. That doesn't mean you can't do anything else; obviously you must have something to preach on Sunday, and you should take some time to prepare for that. But let the bulk of your time be spent with people. And make sure they can see that this is your priority; if you can, see to it that everyone in the church knows that they'll get time with you soon. Maybe not this week, but based on how much time you're spending with others...
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part two
- In part one, we considered why the hand-off is valuable. In this post, I want to consider the question, "Should the Associate/Assistant become the Senior?"
There are numerous circumstances in which the answer to that question ought to be a resounding, "YES!" and only a few in which the answer ought to be, "no." Think of it this way: below are some diagnostic questions about the Assistant/Associate Pastor which suggest reasons why the answer might be, "no." If a Search Committee can answer all of these questions in the negative, I see little reason why he should not be the primary choice for the next Senior Pastor. Furthermore, even if one or more is answered in the affirmative, this doesn't necessarily mean that he should NOT be the next Senior-- only that further consideration may be necessary.
- Was the Assistant/Associate Pastor hired for a specific niche in ministry? It isn't uncommon for a church to bring on an Assistant or Associate Pastor for a very specific aspect of ministry. I don't mean something like, "Pastor of Adult Nurture" or "Minister to Families"-- these are broad enough to incorporate most, if not all, of the qualifications that a Senior Pastor would require, and are not a factor. But if your Assistant/Associate's title is, "Pastor of Junior High Guys," "Sports and Leisure Ministries Pastor" (I'm not making that one up, folks), or "Counseling and Grief Minister," it may be that they are too "niche" to easily make the transition. (It may also be that such a niche Pastor may not have the training, giftedness, or experience to be a Senior. Or he may-- that's not the point; the point is that his ministry among YOUR congregation has possibly been to narrow to effectively transition directly into the Senior Pastor role.)
- Had the previous Senior Pastor been the Senior for a long time? Very often, a long pastorate by one Senior Pastor can lead to difficulty in adjusting for the next Senior Pastor-- as I discussed here. (This isn't a deal-breaker for the sort of succession I'm talking about; in fact, I think that good succession planning can be the solution to this problem.) If the Assistant/Associate being considered has not also been around for a while, it may be difficult to execute an effective hand-off. If he has been on staff for a couple of years, it's probably not going to be a factor-- and if he has been around for only a year but was brought in with an eye toward effective succession, it should be fine. But if the previous Senior was there for 15 years and the Associate has been there only six months, there may be difficulty in such a transition.
- Did the previous Senior Pastor leave under difficult circumstances? Having a pastor-- any pastor-- leave under difficulty can cause instability in a church that should give way to further consideration about what is next. Here again, I believe that good succession by an existing Assistant/Associate Pastor may actually be the most healthy way to go-- but only if a couple of other factors are properly addressed:
- Was the Assistant/Associate a part of the difficulties that led to the previous Senior's departure? It isn't always the case, but sometimes a Senior's failure is due to factions and rifts that split off in support of other leadership, including an Assistant or Associate Pastor. If the Assistant/Associate was a part of such a circumstance, naming him as the new Senior will likely further the division in the church, not re-unify it for health and vitality. (And if the Assistant or Associate was actively involved-- in other words, he encouraged the division-- then he probably ought to be let go.)
- Has the congregation faced the circumstances surrounding the previous Senior's difficult departure honestly, and with repentance? When a church has problems enough for a pastor to leave poorly, everyone has some fault. Further, certain individuals within the congregation need to be rebuked and brought into accountability, with discipline if necessary; others need to be sought out for individual apology and asked for forgiveness. If the congregation has not owned its sin and sought repentance and forgiveness for it, they are not ready to be led yet. Better for the pastoral staff that remains to urge them toward the healing and health that comes with such repentance FIRST, and THEN work on who will be the next Senior Pastor.
- Will the outgoing Senior Pastor remain in the area and involved in the life of the congregation (or has he)? Obviously, this is a factor in ANY new Senior Pastor's ministry-- a former Senior who lingers around can be a blessing of support, encouragement, and understanding of complex and history-filled circumstances. More often, however, he presents a difficulty for the new pastor in the newest of circumstances. With a succession, however, the problem becomes more complex: it is too easy for the members of the congregation to continue to relate to the former Senior Pastor as if he is still the Senior, and the new Senior Pastor (who was the former Assistant/Associate for the other guy) as if he is still the Assistant or Associate Pastor. (And if you think that sentence was confusing written out, just think how confusing it can get on a relational level.) Here again, this doesn't HAVE to be a deal-breaker-- but it certainly presents a context where executing an effective hand-off is harder and more complicated.
As I said before, an affirmative answer to one or even most of these does not necessarily indicate that it won't work! Only that further thought and consideration-- and probably a lot more pro-active planning than is usual-- will be required.
If, on the other hand, you have an existing Assistant or Associate Pastor, you're looking for a Senior Pastor, and none of the above apply, then why aren't you considering your Assistant/Associate as your primary (and maybe your only) candidate?
Help during difficult transitions due to economic distress
However, I am greatly encouraged to see this: in my denomination (the Presbyterian Church in America), we have an "agency" of our denomination called Retirement and Benefits, Inc. (RBI) who have as a part of their charter and purpose the economic assistance of pastors, missionaries, and other ministry workers (and their families) during difficult times. For example, the have long had a "Ministerial Relief Fund" whose purpose is to assist church workers in the PCA through one-time, periodic, or monthly financial aid.
This has a number of dimensions-- but the newest to be introduced is called "Emergency Assistance" and has in view those pastors and missionaries who have lost their ministry jobs due to the recession. Naturally, there are some stipulations, and an application and approval process is required. Still, this is a great ministry to folks in the PCA.
To learn more about RBI's Emergency Assistance program, follow this link.
Does your denomination have a similar program in place? I'd love to know about it, so that we can post a link at Doulos Resources and mention it here on the blog. Please, let us know!
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part one
- Why a "hand-off" is valuable
- Should the Associate/Assistant become the Senior?
- Strategies for the newly named Senior Pastor
- Planning for succession
Why would a church, or a search committee, consider naming one of their Assistant or Associate Pastors as their new Senior Pastor? Maybe a better question is, why wouldn't they consider it?
I'm often surprised that this is not considered a more viable option than it is. After all, in every other area of our lives, we would expect this to be the case: a hard-working employee might get first consideration for a promotion to management. A natural leader on an athletic team will be named as captain. An effective Sunday School teacher might be nominated for a church office. In almost every circumstance, it is not difficult to imagine that someone who proves their capacities in one area will be seriously considered in a similar area.
Why is it so difficult to imagine the same thing happening with a pastor? I can see three reasons that immediately commend giving serious consideration to an Assistant or Associate Pastor for any church that is seeking a Senior Pastor:
- His abilities are known. Quite often, an Assistant or Associate Pastor has already demonstrated his abilities in most, if not all, of the areas of responsibility that the Senior Pastor might have. In many cases, he was what I call the "dump guy"-- in other words, everything that the Senior Pastor didn't have time for that week got dumped on his desk! Which means that he likely has a broad range of competencies, the capacities to handle many things competing for his attention, and the ability to get done the most important parts of ministry. You've probably heard him teach plenty, and unless the previous Senior was a pulpit despot, you've heard him preach a good bit, too.
- His weaknesses are known. This one might be more important even than the first, because these are the things that are difficult, if not impossible, to get a sense of in a typical candidacy process (with resumés, interviews, etc.). You already know where he's going to be a disappointment! What is more, you've probably already gotten over the disappointment he'll bring in those areas, and have accepted those weaknesses along with all of the strengths and abilities that make him a good Associate Pastor. In short, the "honeymoon" ended a while ago-- and you're still together, even though you have a clear sense of what his ministry among your congregation will really be like. How much is it worth not having to go through those disappointments again?
- His character is known. By this I mean, he has already earned the trust of the congregation, or at least of a significant part of it. No new Pastor, be they a Senior or Assistant, fresh from seminary or a well-known name in the denomination, has enough credibility to instantly have the trust of a congregation. Sure, there will be some who got to know him through the interviews and like him a lot, and there may even be some who know his name from a conference where he spoke or an article he wrote for the denominational magazine. But if he is new, most of the congregation will not grant him their explicit trust right away. Meanwhile, your existing Assistant or Associate has already done the groundwork to earn their trust, and he now has it. Which means that real ministry can actually happen.
Now, I know what you're thinking: of course, your next Senior Pastor won't be one of those who leaves in around two years. Of course, your next Senior will have true, lasting impact almost right out of the gates. Of course, your church isn't anything like the average church out there.
But if your congregation would name an Assistant or Associate Pastor as the new Senior, you've just done two things to counteract those two statistical points. First, you've all but guaranteed that he'll stay longer than the statistical average, because he's already been there for a little while, and now he'll stay longer than he might have otherwise. Second, you have just shaved off however many years he has already been there from that 5-7 year turning point: his real impact as your Senior Pastor will come a lot sooner, because he already had gotten through the "honeymoon" and earned the trust of the congregation.
There are some circumstances when the existing Assistant or Associate would NOT be a good fit for the Senior Pastor role; I'll consider these in part two. Barring them, however, I would challenge you to think in these terms:
If your existing Assistant or Associate Pastor is not fit to be considered as the next Senior Pastor, then what justifies keeping him on staff in his current capacity?
Special circumstances: The unintentional interim
Here's the lay of the land: the pastor that served this congregation before my friend was their pastor for several decades. He was beloved by his people, and served them faithfully. This isn't to say that there were not surely more difficult times, but over their many years together they learned how to weather those difficult seasons more easily. By the end of his tenure as their pastor, his ministry was marked more by how well he knew his flock-- and how instinctively he could attend to their needs-- than by anything else.
Because of health difficulties with this long-tenured, outgoing pastor, it wasn't possible to execute a well-planned, thoughtful hand-off from him to his successor. It may be the case that such a hand-off was not in view at all, or that circumstances didn't allow one to take place. Regardless, there was only so much that was done to ensure that the new pastor would be empowered for a long, effective ministry.
In comes my friend: new to pastoral ministry and fresh out of seminary, hopeful for a fruitful and long ministry among his new congregation. Over the course of his first two years of ministry there, however, it became clear to him that a portion of the congregation wasn't ready for a new pastor; consciously or not, they still wanted their beloved former pastor instead of this new fellow. Before long, it was apparent that my friend's only true choice was to resign and move on.
Why it didn't work
There are a small handful of factors at play that are unique to that particular pastor and congregation, and I won't address those. However, there are several factors that are true of nearly all churches with a long- (or longer) tenured pastor that, in this case, led to the failure of his successor. We can recognize and avoid these.
- They needed to grieve the loss of their beloved pastor. When a pastor leaves, the congregation needs to deal with the sense of loss they experience. This is true regardless of the circumstances of the pastor's departure, but particularly in cases where the pastor was loved and isn't leaving under duress or troublesome conditions. In some cases, the outgoing pastor retires in the area, stays on as an emeritus pastor, or in some way remains present-- and in many ways, this can be even worse. There is still a substantial sense of loss ("he is no longer my pastor") that a congregant can be made to feel like he/she shouldn't have ("at least he's still in the area"). There must be a good, healthy grieving by the whole congregation, especially the leadership and others who were personally close to the outgoing pastor.
- They needed to actively plan the hand-off. Churches-- and especially the leadership, be it a Session, a Board, or what have you-- must address confidently and realistically the need for a succession plan. Many avoid this because they fear it will stir up concern among the members, or make a pastor feel like he is being pushed out. But the truth is that there is going to be a hand-off whether you plan for it or not. So you may as well plan for it, to ensure that it is done as well as possible. This should take place well before the pastor plans or needs to leave. I recommend highly the book on this subject called The Elephant in the Boardroom by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree (Jossey-Bass, 2004) for guidance on how to do this well.
- They needed to seek someone similar, but not identical, to the outgoing pastor. This was one of the factors that, in some ways, created the biggest problems for my classmate: his style of relating to the congregation was fairly different from his predecessor, if for no other reason than my friend didn't have 20+ years of history with them. Their preaching styles were quite different as well. This is common in pastoral transition for a church; consciously or unconsciously, they think, "this is our chance to fill in the gaps that we realize were missing with our previous/outgoing pastor." What they need, though, is someone who will expand the pastor's ministry to meet some of the most important needs that the previous pastor wasn't able to touch on, while not sacrificing the most important needs that the previous pastor DID meet. This can be difficult, but it almost always means finding someone who is like the outgoing pastor in many ways.
- They needed to be patient and forgiving. In many ways, they tried their best to do this-- and that is to their credit. Anytime a church gets a new pastor, there must be a season where everyone extends an extra measure of grace and forgiveness to each other, and especially to the new pastor. Most pastors are given this grace period, at least to a degree; in some ways, it happens whether the congregation is intentional about it or not. For someone following a long-tenured pastor, it ought to be consciously and intentionally offered, and it ought to be for a longer time period than "normal" (which is usually between 6 months and a year, at most). I'd like to see such a grace-period last at least 18 months to two years for such a church.
- They needed to work with him in his ministry. One of the big differences between a long-term pastor and a newcomer-- especially when the new pastor is recently out of seminary-- is that the seasoned, long-tenured pastor has a clear understanding of both role and expectations. The new pastor needs to be counseled in both in a helpful, godly manner by the leadership of the church. For a very new pastor, this may be as basic as helping him learn what it means to be an Elder in the church! He simply may not have enough experience to know how to do things like visitation, counseling, etc. Even an experienced pastor might be helped by some frank discussions about how the pastor has fulfilled his role in this congregation's past. There must also be clear, upfront discussion about expectations. It is too easy for a congregation to assume that the incoming pastor knows and shares their expectations-- but they should assume nothing of the sort. Instead, they should assume that the most helpful thing they could do-- for themselves and for the incoming pastor-- would be to spell out their expectations in as concrete a manner as possible.
- They should have seriously considered an interim pastor. An interim pastor is a vital help in a time like this. One of the things we in my denomination (the PCA) could learn from our brothers in another related denomination (the PC-USA) is how they handle long-tenured pastorates: they actually require that an interim pastor be brought in for a season of time, and that season's length corresponds to how long the outgoing pastor had been there. This affords everyone-- the officers, the lay-leadership, the congregation, the community around the church-- an opportunity to proactively think and plan for how the church's ministry and community will be inherently different, and how to maintain continuity as well.
In the end, my friend didn't have a strong hope of lasting long at this church. As I said, he unintentionally became the interim pastor that they needed. Thankfully, he maintains his commitment to his call to ministry and intends to pursue another opportunity; sadly, I fear that too many men, otherwise well-qualified for pastoral ministry, would leave the ministry after an experience like this one.
The bottom line: churches and pastors alike would do quite well to be cautious in such situations and recognize the dangers of an unintentional interim.
I'm a big fan of writer Malcolm Gladwell; I think he's not only one of the best writers around, but also one of the smartest guys writing. He recently gave this speech at the New Yorker Conference for 2008 (in addition to his books, Gladwell is a regular columnist for the New Yorker).
Gladwell's premise is that we are stuck in patterns of faulty hiring criteria, mainly because we are so focused on the hope of certainty of a good fit. He calls this idea a "mismatch problem."
I think this is spot-on, and I think it applies to pastoral searches as much as anything else. How many mismatches are there because churches considered the wrong criteria? Or because some Pastor seemed like a "solid candidate" only because of his awards in seminary or the big downtown church where he interned?
Don't get me wrong: the guys I know who won awards in seminary really deserved those awards. And I did an internship at one of the big (well, not downtown) churches, so I believe that they are valuable experience. But these aren't the sorts of credentials that indicate a good fit, are they?
Here's a question for you, my 10s of readers: what if the ONLY materials a search committee gathered about candidates were references? How would that speak to the mismatch problem?
(Go watch the video now, and be prepared for a great speech-- in spite of his crazy hair.)
Congratulations, and fresh starts
Many seminaries have held graduation ceremonies in the past week; others will be doing so in the coming week or so. I don't know how many of my tens of readers are still in seminary, but to all of you who have recently graduated: you have my deep and heartfelt congratulations. You have completed an accomplishment of no small substance, and I commend you on your work and diligence to see it through.
Along those lines: I assume that many (if not most) graduates will be transitioning into ministry over the coming weeks and months. I intend to continue my re-visitation of my original Eight Principles for Starting Effective Ministries Well over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, here's a great (probably better than mine) set of reflections:
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Professor Scot McKnight has been hosting a wonderful series on his blog, where he asks seasoned pastors (most of them seem to have more than a couple of decades of ministry experience) to reflect on the question: if you could start all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you focus on? John Ortberg, John Frye, and Bob Smallman all make great contributions.
What's clear to them (and to me, already) is that it is easy to make assumptions about pastoral ministry that may or may not be fully accurate once you are immersed in the work itself. Draw on the wisdom of these pastors and learn from them what you can.
Bits and tidbits
A few articles, posts, and other such have come to my attention recently that those in transition (or considering it) may find interesting.
- How a Presbyterian Minister Should Resign. Good thoughts here on the way that a resignation is approached-- not in a strictly businesslike manner, but with care and consideration for one's responsibilities as a Pastor and Presbyter.
- PCA Ministerial Glut. Back in January, the "Warfield List" had a brief discussion (now fizzled out, alas) on how there are "too many" candidates for ministry and what to do about it. FWIW, I don't agree with most of the conclusions drawn, but my 3 or 4 readers will recognize a couple of themes that are burdens of my heart. (HT: Heidelblog)
- Finding a new job, when you're on the road. A good (brief) article from the NY Times "Shifting Careers" column. There are meta-themes here that working Pastors (and even seminary students) will be able to apply.
- The Unclutterer blog has been doing a good series on moving lately-- good advice. Catch their posts here, here, and here.
- The secret to success in ministry. A good little reflection from PastorHacks on why devotional life is important for Pastors (also has good application in seminary, BTW).
- Speed mentoring. Interesting concept-- wouldn't this be fascinating to see done at a General Assembly? (HT: 43Folders)
- The Business. Rands in Repose does it again-- this time discussing salary negotiations. As with all of his posts, this one is focused on the process in the context of the world of IT-- but there's a lot of application to be gleaned for the pastoral candidate. (I especially appreciate his advice on gauging your worth.)
Revisiting Transition Principle #2
My second key piece of advice for those in transition was to take time to get to know the people and businesses near the church.
I'll stick with this advice, and think it is valuable part of a good transition. l will say, though, that the ways that these opportunities may manifest themselves are more than I initially suggested.
For example: one of the best opportunities I've had to get to know the people of Hickory Withe is through attending the Hickory Withe Community Association meetings. These monthly meetings are very well-attended and have presented me with some new relationships with key members of the community.
Another qualification I'll mention: I haven't taken advantage of as many of these opportunities as I could have, so far. Not nearly as many. And that's just fine-- because my primary focus isn't on the community at large, or on the town of Hickory Withe. It's the members and regular attenders of Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. The goal of getting to know the "neighbors" of the church is important, but it is a fairly distant second place to the first goal of knowing my flock.
My friend Bob Burns gave me advice unto that end before I left St. Louis, and he's right. Focus on your people first...
Revisiting the Eight Principles for Beginning Ministry Right
Back in the summer of 2005, I wrote a series of posts for those who had recently placed on the idea of how to start your ministry well. Having recently made a transition-- and having completed my first 90 days-- I thought it would be helpful to re-examine those sage bits of advice and see how much I still agreed with what I said back then!
Transition tip #1 was to focus on building the relationships. There's no way to disagree with this principle, in my view-- ministry is ALL about relationships. While we might be most excited about preaching and teaching when we are in seminary, once we are in ministry then the most vital part of our ministry is the relationships we have with our flock.
That said, let me comment a little about the hyperbole of my initial post. The first time around, I advised that a new pastor might leave the books in the boxes for the first couple of weeks. While there's good truth in that-- I still think the principle of putting relationships before "setting up" is essential-- you should take this with a grain of salt. At my church, the people were so excited I was there (really, they were just excited that they had a Pastor), they wanted me to settle in and get my office organized.
When I talked to my friend Craig about a week after we moved here, he asked me, "are the books still in the boxes?" The answer was, "yes and no." No-- I had begun to unpack my books, at the behest of my people. But also, yes-- in the sense that I was following the spirit of that advice, putting relationships first.
I also mentioned in my previous post about not focusing heavily on sermon preparation for the first few weeks. Let me say that one of the best things I did was to take my own advice in this way. Not that I wasn't concerned about my sermons; rather, I utilized a four-week series that I had initially prepared when serving in pulpit supply. While I did take time to refresh these sermons with thorough review, updated illustrations, and re-consideration of application, having the foundations already laid was a huge benefit-- probably saving me 8-10 hours of prep time a week for the first month I was here.
In all, as I re-examine my first principle of transitions, I say it still largely holds. Take stock of your people as you are getting to know them, and that will help you know how firmly (or loosely) to hold onto this principle.
ordination and you
I was examined by the Credentials Committee of Covenant Presbytery today, and they approved me for recommendation for ordination. This is huge, and it really feels great to get this step behind me. My friend Michael compares the completion of ordination to the struggle that consumes the movie Poseidon Adventure-- not a bad analogy.
Almost anyone emerging from seminary and entering ministry will be "ordained" in one way or another. Some will be ordained by the congregation that calls them, while others will be examined by a denomination. I am more convinced at this point in the process than ever: it is imperative that you view ordination, not graduation from seminary, as the completion of your training and preparation for ministry.
This was an idea that my good friend Richard once put before me, and I think he is spot-on with this. (Years of pouring that sort of practical wisdom and mentoring into me is one of many reasons why I've asked Richard to preach at my ordination service.) The truth is, you're not done studying just because you've graduated from seminary; in fact, you might find that you study more than you ever did during seminary!
Different denominations have different standards and requirements for ordination; even within denominations the requirements may change. In the PCA, for example, the general standards are set by the denomination-- but the actual requirements for fulfilling them are set by the individual presbyteries. In my presbytery, I was required to complete one written exam (it took me about 8 hours to complete, and had more than 100 questions), and face oral exams before a committee and the presbytery as a whole. Because I requested to complete ordination in two steps (I was "licensed" by presbytery to be a "stated pulpit supply" for my church beck in October), I face both the committee and the presbytery twice for orals.
Other presbyteries have more rigorous requirements: one that I know of has six individual written exams-- and each can day many hours to finish-- prior to committee and presbytery oral examination. Some presbyteries are more strenuous in certain areas, others more difficult on other areas.
What is true across the board in the PCA-- and, I'm sure, in any denomination or church-- is that there's a lot of work to do in preparing for ordination. Few, if any, seminary graduates are able to emerge from seminary and face this level of comprehensive examination successfully without any further preparation.
As Michael said: "We celebrated my graduation from Covenant Seminary in May. I am not sure why. For the last five months I have continued studying and taking ordination exams." He's right-- not that you shouldn't celebrate the accomplishment of completing seminary, but that you shouldn't see it as the end-- you're still studying and learning until you knock out ordination.
More on this blog, and the book
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I started it as a repository for data, insights, and interaction with the research that I started in 2004 on pastoral placement. I initially did that research for personal reasons (e.g., I wanted to know how to place well!) but quickly became burdened for anyone who is going through a pastoral transition. As I've continued to study this subject, I'm convinced that I have developed some helpful nuts-and-bolts ideas about how to do pastoral transition well, from both the pastor's side and the church's.
At some point, I wondered if there might be a book-length project in this material, or even more than one. I first posted about this idea in July 2006-- so it is something that has been percolating for a while. Since then, I've gone through different stages of prepping for that-- including copying all of my posts into a very useful writing application (and discovering that I had more than enough material already for a book-length project-- and also realizing that about half of the book had barely been discussed); drafting a book proposal; getting great feedback from a trusted friend and fellow writer that I should divide the material into two books; writing a grant (that was rejected) for additional research for my book; actually losing the final draft of my book proposal; and putting all of it (including this blog) on indefinite hold as I transitioned into pastoral ministry.
Now, the time is right for me to pick it up again over the coming months. I think there are several reasons why the timing is good:
- For starters, I've actually done the transition now, and I'm finishing up my examinations for ordination; Lord willing, I'll be ordained by mid-March. Since I first began to discuss doing a book, this has been the biggest hang-up for those who I've interacted with, and while I still believe that the research I've done could stand on its own in this regard, the added (and possibly fundamental) credibility of having actually done it means a lot.
- Next, approaching the completion (hopefully!) of ordination means that a major item that has been on my plate is finished. I'm settling into ministry well, and the other consulting and side work I'm doing is also reaching a manageable pace. So I have the capacity, I think, to re-focus on this project. Worst case, I'll start up and then slow down again, but we'll see.
- I'm eager to publish this material-- mainly because I really want to see men (and women) helped with their transition into ministry. Like I said above, I have a burdened heart for this.
- Finally, my friend Craig is setting his sights on finishing his (latest) book up this year, too-- and I think it would be cool to go through that together. Maybe we'll covenant to pray for one another in that, or at least be good support; Craig has been a great encourager of my writing in general.
Since this blog has been a great tool for prepping the book up to now, I fully intend to continue using it that way. Watch for me to develop new ideas on different levels over the coming months.