Currently Serving First Christian Church of Duncanville, Texas

I concluded my final interim pastorate with First Christian Church of Albany, Texas in March 2016. For now, I am leaving this page in my blog for any value it may be to others (congregations or pastors) engaged in interim ministry between pastors.

I have shifted my attention to addressing the needs of my wife and family as we move into a new phase of our life. I am able to do that while driving funeral cars on a day-to-day on-call basis and being available to conduct funerals for people who do not have a pastor. Information about my Funeral and Memorial Ministry can be found at that link in the Navigate box below.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my interim ministry and am satisfied that I have completed it while I am still able to do it, before anyone has to wonder why I keep trying when I can't do it any longer. I do not want to be like the aging athletes who try to prolong their careers only to stumble and bumble around on the playing field or court. I give thanks to God for the wonderful people who came into our lives through these five interim pastorates on top of my total of 40+ years of pastoral ministry.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Developmental Tasks for a Congregation in Transition - outline

I. Introductory Bible Reflection – Moses Passes Leadership to Joshua

A. Prayer

B. Deuteronomy 31:14-15, 23; 34:9; Joshua 1:1-3

C. God commissions leaders and oversees the transition from one to the next.

D. Leaders are dependent on and accountable to God for the community they lead.

E. Leaders are visually and tangibly recognized in public for the community.

F. New leaders start a new phase of community life with boldness and courage.

1. Moses led and cared for the people of Israel from the Exodus through the forty years in the wilderness.

2. Joshua will lead and care for the people of Israel as they take possession of the land God promised to them.

G. Comments and Questions

II. Come to terms with your history.

A. By understanding how a congregation came to where it is in the present will prepare it to move into its future, avoiding past problems and capitalizing on past successes, resources and people.

B. I recommend enlisting an outside facilitator to guide the congregation through a time-line or other historical exercise.

1. This is usually done by an interim pastor but you could ask your Regional or Area Minister or someone they would recommend to help you with this.

2. In Fellowship Hall, prepare a timeline from 1863 to today on a roll of butcher paper. Ask Denzil Clifton to help locate dates of important events: buildings, changes of pastors, etc.

3. Have fellowship dinner on either a Sunday afternoon or Wednesday evening when people will have relaxed time to work on this together.

4. Start by having people line up in front of the time-line at the year they joined the church. Starting with the earliest and moving to the most recent, ask them to describe the circumstances of their joining in just a sentence or two.

5. Form groups with no more than six in a group with spouses in separate groups. Each group uses markers to add significant events and names of individuals (e.g. other staff, lay leaders, etc.) at appropriate times on the time-line.

a) Remind them that all churches have both positive and negative events in their history and it is important, healthy and healing to acknowledge them by listing them on the time-line.

b) Also remind them that different people place different interpretations on the events and that recognizing those differences is also healthy for coming to terms with how the past has shaped the present and prepared for the future.

c) Since some events will be important to more than one group, they may add comments to things that are already on the time-line.

6. At the agreed upon closing time, tell them that the time-line is a work in progress and will be available in Fellowship Hall or the Hall of Missions for a month, and people are invited to add items and comments. This is also open to those who were not present for this event.

7. After a month, have another fellowship dinner to interpret and process the time-line with the facilitator by considering these questions.

a) What are the major eras of our history? Founding, formative, “glory days,” challenge times, present.

b) In each era, what was the community like? What was happening in the city? In the neighborhood where the church met at that time?

c) In each era, what was the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) like and how did Central Christian Church relate?

d) What were the significant events and who were the significant people in the congregation in each era?

e) In each era, what was the congregation like? Size? Worship style? Mission and ministry? How were decisions made?

f) In each era, how did the congregation understand its distinctive calling and identity? Name, location, ideal size, pastoral role, programs?

g) In each era, what kind of leadership was or was thought to be most effective?

C. Comments and Questions

III. Develop a new identity and a new sense of mission.

A. Calling a pastor who can lead a congregation to an effective future requires both an understanding of whom God has made the congregation to be and a vision of whom God is calling the congregation to serve. Defining and claiming its ministry and mission enables a congregation to find a pastor to fit that identity.

B. The “Vision/Scope” document of 2008 consolidated several years of casting the vision of Central Christian Church as serving the people in the neighborhoods around our campus. Rather than assume it would be continued or discarded, review and update it to incorporate what has been learned about our neighbors in the last 4 years and what can still be learned about our neighbors.

1. The program brainstorming that makes up much of the document is not the point of this updating. That will take shape as a new pastor engages with the mission of the congregation. What is needed here is as clear a picture as possible of the people God has called Central Christian Church to serve.

2. In this process, the congregation can revisit the concept of being a neighborhood church to change, modify or confirm it so that the people of the church can be fully committed to its mission with the coming of the new pastor.

3. Undoubtedly, the neighbors around Central Christian Church cover a wide range of people, probably a wider range than the church can effectively reach. Therefore, a part of this process is to identify as specific a focus as possible on the people God is calling Central Christian Church to reach.

C. The Future of Central Christian Church document of 2009 projected possible scenarios for the future of the congregation, its property and other assets. This, too, can be reviewed and revised to match the expectations that come with calling a new pastor.

D. With the work done on these important existing documents, the congregation can prepare a new definition of its identity that matches the people of the congregation, the people to whom the church will reach out, the vision for mission of the congregation – especially leaders, and the resources of the congregation. While a new pastor may well contribute a lot to the shape of this identity, future effectiveness will depend on having the best possible match. Also, clarity about identity and mission will help unify the congregation and reduce the harmful effects of hidden agendas.

E. Comments and Questions

IV. Help leadership grow and change.

A. A change of pastoral leadership is an opportunity for evaluation and reconfiguration of other congregational leadership. New people can be brought into leadership. Longtime leaders may be ready for a change. Evaluate structure and staff in terms of new identity and mission.

B. While we have done quite a bit of on-the-job one-on-one leadership training, in the past ten years we have not had an effective plan for systematic leadership development. A number of younger people with leadership potential have pulled back and even left the church when they felt overwhelmed or unappreciated as they took on major leadership roles. A pastoral transition is a good time to initiate some intentional leadership education at a time when leadership is fluid.

C. Part of what was identified in both the Vision/Scope and Future of Central Christian Church documents was the need to address the church’s polity. This is a good time to study how other Disciples of Christ congregations are restructuring to be more nimble and attuned to generational changes in church government and decision making. The need for revising the Constitution and Operating Rules has been evident for several years which could begin to be addressed during the transitional time.

D. Closely related, the Future of Central Christian Church document identified that the church needed to gather and organize all of the church’s legal documents. Having this accomplished before a new pastor comes would be healthy for the church and beneficial to the new pastor.

E. Comments and Questions

V. Reaffirm linkages to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the church at large.

A. The North Texas Area, Southwest Region and General Church are all partners in finding a new pastor. They also offer other resources and support not only for the transitional time but for the long term pursuit of the new identity and mission.

B. The Pastoral Search Team is already working with the North Texas Area Minister, Larry Ross. Besides the day to day work of the search, Larry (and/or the Regional Minister, Dani Loving Cartwright) should be visible in the public events of the transition, most especially the installation of the new pastor.

C. The Southwest Region is going through its own transition seeking to be more involved with and accessible to congregations. This convergence is an ideal time to strengthen the ties between Central Christian Church and the region, not only in what the congregation can gain but also in what the congregation can contribute. Making connections between the Guiding Vision for The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Southwest and the identity and vision of Central Christian Church would be valuable.

1. What themes from the Region’s Guiding Vision can inform the shaping of Central Christian Church’s new identity and mission for the future?

2. How might participating in the community of missional communities of the Region benefit Central Christian Church as you make your transition into the future?

3. What is Central Christian Church’s contribution to the Region and what more could be offered of benefit to the Region and its congregations?

D. Comments and Questions

VI. Make a commitment to new leadership and a new future.

A. If the other four developmental tasks have been effectively accomplished, a congregation is ready to commit to pursuing their new identity and mission with the leadership of a new pastor. Enthusiastic commitment is essential to success.

B. Good exits prepare for good entrances.

1. Both farewells and welcomes are celebrated liturgically in worship and socially with a party. Whether a reception or a meal, food is an important ingredient in marking these milestones in relationships.

2. Since it has been so long since Central Christian Church had a happy farewell party for a pastor, holding such a party for Todd, Norm and possibly an interim pastor sets the stage for having a great welcome party for the new pastor, as a precedent for the next pastoral transition (hopefully many years down the road).

3. While expressing gratitude to a departing pastor is appropriate and positive for the pastors and their families, it may be even more important for the congregation. It helps them deal with the feelings of grief and uncertainty. It encourages them to celebrate God’s work in a specific period of time and affirms the faith that God will continue to go with them. It enables both pastor and congregation to invoke God’s blessing on each other for the new futures that lie ahead of them.

4. Even though the farewell and welcome may be close together, celebrating both acknowledges the importance of the whole transition with solemnity and joy.

5. Celebrating the entrance and exit of an interim pastor affirms that the interim period is a time of significant work and progress and not waiting or marking time.

C. Definitive rituals to mark exits and entrances set appropriate boundaries. Once I am no longer the pastor of Central Christian Church, I will no longer perform pastoral roles or tasks for you. I will not do funerals or weddings. I will not visit in the hospital. I will not discuss the decisions being made by leaders. I will not influence the selection of the next pastor nor evaluate or influence the new pastor’s ministry. The only future participation I will consider is appearing for commemorative events such as anniversaries, only at the invitation of the new pastor. I will still care about you and pray for you. As with people from the previous three congregations I have served, some friendships will continue as our paths diverge, but I will always point you to your current pastor for pastoral concerns.

D. Comments and Questions

VII. Resources for the transition

A. I encourage you to purchase several copies of A Change of Pastors by Loren B. Mead (2005, Alban Institute) to circulate for reading by everyone on the search team and Board officers and as many Elders and Board members as possible.

B. If you do have an interim/transitional pastor between me and your next called pastor, I also encourage you to purchase some copies of Temporary Shepherds by Roger S. Nicholson, ed. (1998, Alban Institute) for reading by at least the search team and Board officers. The more Elders and Board members who would read this the better.

VIII. Concluding Bible Reflection – Jesus Says “Good-Bye” to His Disciples

A. John 13:31-36; 14:16-18

B. Transition, even with the wrenching loss of a loved leader, is God’s plan.

C. Transitions are best handled with openness.

D. Departing leaders leave the followers with simple, positive, spiritual instructions.

E. Departing leaders do not abandon the followers but entrust them to God and the next leader.

F. The change of leadership is also a change of mission. While Jesus was present with the disciples, they were learning from him and supporting his ministry. As Jesus leaves and the Holy Spirit comes, the mission of the disciples is now to practice and proclaim what they learned from their time with Jesus.

G. Comments and Questions

H. Prayer

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