Excited and Growing Church in Washington State

6th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop

The sixth New Shepherds Orientation Workshop was with the Puyallup Church of Christ in Puyallup, Washington. We had the training sessions in the Holiday Inn Express in Seattle, Washington.

I was touched and encouraged. Although two of the elders were involved in deaths close to them, they were present for most of the training. One was preaching the funeral for a close friend of many years. The other’s brother had died.

Their building fund is increasing each week. Children are bringing their change for the new building and had donated $135.00+ the previous two weeks. We saw crowded seating and an overflowing parking lot. They are looking for more property where they can relocate.

Their building fund is increasing each week. Children are bringing their change for the new building and had donated $135.00+ the previous two weeks. We saw crowded seating and an overflowing parking lot. They are looking for more property where they can relocate.

Mark Jamieson, their preacher, told me they are within 1% of having the national average of age groups and generations. Yes, they have millennials.

Not only are they present, but they are also excited about doing the Lord’s work. Gail and I were there on potluck Sunday and were able to talk with many of the Christians.

The church has recently appointed seven new deacons. I was asked to lead opening prayer of the first elders and deacons meeting for the new group.

This workshop is the second one I’ve led where everyone stayed together in the same building. Although Puyallup is only a twenty-minute drive from the Hotel, they decided to stay on site. It worked well.

The elders, preacher, and wives are Chris and Jolene Bartlett, Mark and Suzy Jamieson, Gene and Carolyn McCaul, Bob and Diane Sallee, Ken and Sandy Wilson.

I am scheduling workshops for 2018.

Some of the topics we discuss are:

  • What are guidelines to help us have a better discussion and workshop?
  • How can elders shepherd each other?
  • How will we grow together as a group?
  • How will we handle criticism?
  • What is a good plan to be sure we are caring adequately for all the sheep?
  • How can we deal with deacons and encourage them?
  • How will we develop as overseers as well as shepherds?
  • How will we oversee each other?
  • What can we do to keep important things from falling through the cracks?
  • Will we function as deacons and be called elders?
  • How can we prevent the development of a toxic “head elder”?
  • What is one thing we can do to prevent conflict and promote peace?
  • How will we evaluate the deacons, the ministers, and each other?
  • What are some ways we can have good communication with the congregation?
  • What are different kinds of meetings we should have to lead this church?
  • Who should select additional leaders in this congregation?
  • What is a good way to facilitate selection?

The workshop should:

  • Include all shepherds, preachers, and wives.
  • Meet offsite — away from the building.
  • Include twelve hours of working time.

The usual schedule:

Friday — 6:00-10:00 p.m.
Saturday — 8:00-12:00 a.m.; 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Bible class: When Leadership Is a Gift Instead of a Grind
Sermon at worship: What Do You Say at Your Last Elders’ Meeting?

Dates I have available today for 2018: a weekend (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday morning) in March, April, May, September, October, November.

What questions or observations do you have about New Shepherds Orientation Workshops?

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I Don’t Respond to Anonymous Letters…

…unless they have money in them

When a new eldership was ordained at Berry’s Chapel November 19, 1995, none of them had ever served before. Every issue was new. They couldn’t ask, “How have you usually handled this?” to the older elders because there weren’t any. Read: Starting from Scratch

On April 27 the following year, the elders, five members, and I received a stinging anonymous letter. This eldership had never dealt with that. One of the elders called. He asked me to meet with them and discuss the best way to respond.

We met and discussed options. After a good discussion, looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each possibility, they decided to do nothing.

They followed the plan, doing nothing. Threats and prophecies in the letter never materialized.

I have a similar, but a slightly modified rule. I don’t respond to anonymous letters…unless they have money in them.

About this time, in the early 1990’s, I was driving to speak in Lewisburg, Tennessee. Gail paged me. I called. She told me about an unusual letter we received. Inside an envelope was a postal money order for $200.00. A sticky note was attached with the message, “For all you do in Him,” signed, Anon E. Mous. There was a return address on the envelope: Anon E. Mouse, with a street address in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I’d never received this type of letter. I went to the bank with the money order and asked if it were worth anything. The teller replied, “It’s a postal money order. It’s worth $200.00.” I deposited it. I wrote a thank-you note to Anon E. Mous in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A few months went by. I received a similar letter with a $200.00 money order. This time it was from East Ellijay, Georgia. I wrote a thank-you note.

After some more months had passed, I received an envelope with a $100.00 money order from California. I wrote a thank-you note.

More time passed, and I received the fourth, and final, money order for $200.00 with a return address at David Lipscomb University. I wrote a thank-you note.

Of all the anonymous letters I’ve received, those are the only ones to whom I’ve written a response.

The general rule: anonymous letters aren’t a good way to communicate. If you want to write an anonymous letter without getting caught, let somebody else write it. People usually write the way they talk. The night of the discussion about how to handle anonymous letters, every elder and I came to the same conclusion about the letter we received. It sounded just like _____ ______ .

However, if anyone reading this post would like me to respond to an anonymous letter: write a letter, place money in the envelope, give a return address, and I’ll write a thank-you note.

How have you dealt with anonymous communication?

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Our Hope Is in our Pain

when pain is productive

James Jones, a counselor and teacher, said it more than I wanted to hear: “Our hope is in our pain.” My internal response was, “Bologna.” I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to believe it. I dreamed of a day when my work and life would be easy, comfortable.

He kept saying it. I kept listening. Where did he get that idea?

Romans 5:3-5:

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (NKJV).

It’s my observation many would-be shepherds return to deacon-work because of the pain of being a true shepherd — 7 Ways to Deal with the Pain of Being a Shepherd

Jesus told His disciples the path to following Him involved carrying a cross (Luke 9:23, 24). His example was one of suffering.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

But pain hurts. It gets old. I get exhausted. I want to get comfortable again.

How was Jesus, our Leader, our Good Shepherd, able to deal with the excruciating pain He endured in carrying and hanging on His cross?

1. Jesus anticipated His pain. He knew the plan for Him. He repeated it over and over again to prepare His apostles for coming danger and disappointment.

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day (Matthew 16.:21).

When I know pain is coming, I don’t feel weird. It’s expected. It’s normal. Often I’ve visited people in the hospital and asked how they were feeling. After a groan or two, they answered, “I’ve had a pretty rough day. But it’s the third day after surgery and they say that’s the worst day.” They are hurting, but not in despair. They understand pain is expected and relief will be coming.

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy (1 Peter 4:12, 13).

2. Jesus chose His pain. Jesus made it clear. He was not forced to suffer and die. He decided to do it because it was the will of His Father.

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17, 18).

3. Jesus managed His pain. His preference was not to go the way of pain. He prayed three times to remove the cup (Matthew 26:39-44). Jesus did not enjoy pain. He endured pain (Hebrews 12:1, 2

When He learned there was no other way, He chose obedience rather than comfort (Matthew 26:53, 54).

The pain of service brings hope when it is

  1. Anticipated.
  2. Chosen.
  3. Managed.

How do you manage your pain in serving the Lord?

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New Shepherds Orientation Workshop, Smyrna, Tennessee

5th NSO Workshop

The fifth New Shepherds Orientation Workshop was conducted with the elders, ministers, and spouses of the Smyrna Church of Christ, Smyrna, Tennessee, February 23-25. We met at NHC in Murfreesboro Friday night and Saturday. We enjoyed a delicious meal together at The Chop House Saturday night after closing the workshop at 5:00.

I stayed over Saturday night, taught the Bible class and preached at worship on Sunday.

Thanks to Chad Landman for his work in the layout and design of the workshop book.

The topics:
Bible class: Leadership in the Lord’s Church Is a Gift — Not a Grind
Worship: What Do You Say in Your Last Elders’ Meeting? This is graduation from the workshop for the shepherds.

I was encouraged by the training these leaders had in the past, the focus they maintained wanting to improve in being shepherds, and their enthusiastic participation during the entire workshop.

The elders, ministers, and spouses of the Smyrna Church of Christ: Bill and Shirley Cato, Todd and Nina Foutch, David and Lynette Henderson, Gary and Lisa Hickerson, Bill and Pam Jordan, Tim and Sally Lavender, Paul and Pam Lewis, Rob and Jen Hartman, Bill and Sue Townes, Aaron and Chelsea Tremblay, Kristie and Jason Waldron, James and Jane Watson.

The Trash Can is always available for any suggestion you don’t want to take home.

Topics we discussed:

  • How can elders shepherd each other?
  • How will we grow together as a group?
  • How will we handle criticism?
  • What is a good plan to be sure we’re caring for all sheep?
  • How can we relate to deacons and encourage them?
  • How will we develop as overseers as well as shepherds?
  • How will we oversee each other?
  • What can we do to keep important things from falling through the cracks?
  • Will we function as deacons and be called elders?
  • When there isn’t unanimous consent on an issue, will we have minority or majority rule?
  • How can we prevent the development of a toxic “head elder”?
  • What’s one thing we can do to prevent conflict and promote peace?
  • How will we evaluate, encourage, and build up deacons, preachers, and each other?
  • How should an elder’s wife respond to criticism of her husband?
  • What should she do when people want her to deliver messages to her husband?
  • How can the shepherd’s wife and other Christians minimize gossip in the congregation?
  • What will we do to develop dedicated disciples of Jesus who will serve as shepherds and deacons in the future?
  • What are some ways we can have good communication with the congregation?
  • What are different kinds of meetings we should have to lead and shepherd this church?
  • Who should select additional leaders in this congregation?
  • What’s a good way to facilitate selection?
  • How will we encourage and express gratitude to members of the congregation?

Eating together adds a dimenstion we don’t get in our regular meetings.

My Recommendations for a New Shepherds Orientation Workshop

  1. Involve all elders, preachers, and wives.
  2. Meet offsite — away from the church building.
  3. Work twelve hours together.
  4. Sunday morning Bible study.
  5. Sunday sermon.

I have time for a limited number of workshops in 2018. If you have an interest or would like to ask questions, please contact me:

Cell: (615) 584-0512

Email: jerrie@barberclippings.com

What would you like to see included in an orientation workshop for new shepherds and encouragement for seasoned shepherds?

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One Way to Recruit and Train More Shepherds

a plan for encouraging and maturing deacons

People often ask, “How can we encourage more men to become elders?”. For several years, I saw something at the Central Church of Christ in Dalton, Georgia, that was effective.

We had a good group of elders and deacons. Elders delegated, empowered, and let deacons deak. They were also good at showing appreciation. One of the parties I anticipated each year was the Deacons’ Appreciation Banquet.

This was usually on a Thursday night at a good restaurant in Dalton. Elders, deacons, preachers, and spouses were invited.

We had a speaker who expressed appreciation to the good servants. He shared teaching, and encouragement to everyone to be effective in serving others.

Then came the highlight of the night. Each year, the elders presented a plaque to the Deacon of the Year. This outstanding deacon was selected by his fellow deacons. They voted for the man who most exhibited the heart of a special servant during the preceding year.

He came forward and received the plaque from the elders with words of recognition and appreciation. Then the elders took the plaque back from the recipient.

On Sunday morning, they called this Deacon of the Year to the podium and again presented him with the plaque, recognizing him for his outstanding service. This time he was able to keep it, take it home, display it, and let it be a reminder to his family, him, and all visitors who came to his home of the great service he had given.

That was the beginning of the recognition, encouragement, and training. The shepherds invited this Deacon of the Year to elders’ meeting for the next twelve months. Unless the shepherds were discussing confidential information, this deacon attended all meetings. He was able to place items on the agenda, comment, ask questions, and provide input about everything in the meeting. He wasn’t an elder. He didn’t get a vote. But he was able to observe this part of being an overseer and a shepherd. He watched, prayed, and shared concerns in many aspects of congregational life.

I’ve enjoyed noticing who became shepherds of that congregation during the past thirty-five years. Many of them were Deacons of the Year three decades ago.

Their good service was recognized, appreciated, and cultivated. They were invited into the “inner sanctum” and permitted to get a better idea of what it meant to be an elder of the Central Church of Christ in Dalton, Georgia. After time and growth, several became what they had observed.

What are ways you have seen to encourage and prepare men to become elders?

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7 Ways to Deal with the Pain of Being a Shepherd

dealing with dependent, dirty, and disoriented sheep isn’t always fun

I’ve worked with many shepherds who start with a great vision of their work. “We want to get out of management, details of the business, caring for the building, controlling finances, and become shepherds. We want to know the sheep, lead them, help them, and encourage them.”

Often within three months the shepherding goal is abandoned, forgotten, and the group is back to being busy deacons, exhausting themselves with various tasks of keeping the organization going. They’re doing good things. They do a good job of doing good things. But they’ve forgotten the great goal they had of being shepherds.

Why does that happen?

My observations:

  1. Shepherding takes a lot of time. When shepherds decide to know and be known by sheep, it doesn’t happen quickly (John 10:3, 4). It takes hours, days, weeks, months, and years to know people by name and disclose yourself appropriately so you can be known by the sheep. I haven’t found a formula for developing instant trust. Often the presenting question doesn’t reveal the real problem. The first approach is your try-out. They want to see how you’ll handle a small problem to decide if they’ll share the devastating problem with you.
  2. Shepherding is confusing and embarrassing. Shepherds don’t have all the answers. Many men have told me, “I never knew all the problems people have and the seriousness of their difficulties. I don’t have answers to tell them how to solve their problems.” When people relate things others have done to hurt them, sometimes they’re things I’ve done or may still be doing I never realized was a problem. I’m like the ones they want me to fix. When I get lost in my pain and guilt, I haven’t listened to the last five minutes of their conversation.
  3. Frustrated sheep can attack. It must be disappointing to start a work that takes time, effort, and energy — then be bombarded with criticism. It will happen. Some sheep want you to fix other sheep to solve problems they need to address. When you don’t do what they ask, they’ll complain or leave. Members will accuse, blame, and withhold their contribution. You’ll be criticized to your face and behind your back. Best friends can become cold, absent, and sometimes enemies.

How can you deal with the pain of shepherding?

  1. Count the cost before agreeing to the work. Most good tasks and roles involve some discomfort and messiness. Imagine a young man who says, “I want to play high school and college football, but I don’t ever want to get hurt.” Football is a contact sport. Expect sore muscles, bruises, bloody noses, and maybe broken bones. That’s the nature of football. If you want to avoid all physical pain, sign up for the chess team. Ask and answer the question, “Is the reward I’ll receive worth the price I’m paying” (1 Peter 5:4)?
  2. Many new tasks become easier with training and experience. When I first started working with a computer, it was frustrating and confusing. I had a friend who started the same time I did. He went back to a pencil and legal pad. Now, much of what I do with my computer is muscle memory. I work without conscious thought and enjoy it.
  3. Plan how you’ll continue your education, training, and personal growth. There are classes, books, newsletters, workshops, and podcasts that can improve your effectiveness as a shepherd. I’ve found going to a competent counselor is helpful. Unless I work on my issues, they’ll get confused with people I’m trying to help.
  4. Learn from the sheep you’re leading. We are more alike than different. When I see myself in others, I can avoid consequences of bad decisions others are making before I get that far down the road. Also, because they’re having problems in one area, doesn’t mean they aren’t excellent in other sectors. One of the ways to serve others is to permit them to serve me (Luke 7:36-50).
  5. Build a list of available and competent resources to help in working with sheep. Doctors don’t usually develop their medicines. They find what helps and prescribe the same one for the same symptoms. I don’t know of a doctor who treats every illness — sinus infections, heart bypass surgery, and transplanting kidneys. Each general practitioner has a list of specialists who can treat what he or she is unprepared to address. It’s good to know Christian counselors, accountants, alcoholics — even someone who “was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13, NIV). People with different training and experience can relate to others who need their training or their past for instruction and hope.
  6. Your hope comes from pain (Romans 5:1-5). Very few rewards come without painful effort and persistence.
  7. Follow your leader — Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11; 1 Peter 2:15-25). Jesus is the perfect model of Someone who understood that creative, helpful, beneficial pain precedes blessing. Resurrection is great, glorious, and victorious. However, crucifixion comes before resurrection (Matthew 16:21, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

For those who follow the Good Shepherd, the reward is worth the risk, “and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1Peter 5:4, NKJV).

How have you dealt with the pain of shepherding?

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Leaders Who Last: sustaining yourself and your ministry (New York, New York: Seabury Books, 2009)


Leaders Who Last is a good introduction to Family Systems or Bowen Theory. It’s easily understood. I’ve read it with the staffs of two congregations where I’ve done interim ministry. Family Systems is the best explanation I know of how groups work. For my summary of Family Systems, read this post and the five that follow: What (Who) Is the Problem? can we fix it quickly?

Here are some “mustard seeds” from this book, Leaders Who Last:

Lasting as a leader does not mean finding an easy way to do it: there is no easy way. We will always face setbacks and discouragements, and at times we will throw up our hands in despair. But as we persevere, we will also find times for satisfaction faction and celebration. (Kindle Locations 69-71).

Human systems, too, both families and larger groups, achieve a certain balance over time. There is an interdependency among the parts.When one part makes a change, even a positive change, it upsets the balance. The other parts will try to restore the balance. If a leader charts a substantive course forward, parts of the system automatically push back, attempting to restore the balance. To make real progress, one must stay on course in the face of reactions that amount to unintentional sabotage. (Kindle Locations 146-149).

It is important to remember “the presence of the past,” as scientist Rupert Sheldrake calls it. Patterns are established over time, and old problems (and old solutions) of a congregation are likely to crop up again. The past need not determine the future, but if we ignore it, we are more likely to be tripped up by it, as powerful patterns persist without our awareness. Better to be curious, to look for the threads that continue and experiment with ways we might claim and use them without being governed by them. (Kindle Locations 265-268).

Change is evolutionary, not revolutionary. As a pastor, I developed oped a mantra: “Everything takes five years.” Substantial developments in congregational life, the kind that will last, take even longer. (Kindle Locations 341-342).

When we unconsciously act from our family script, our choices are limited. It tells us how to be angry, or how to hide, or how to protect others. We learned our lines as soon as we learned to talk. (Kindle Locations 375-376).

When you are more motivated for people to change than they are, then you have a problem-and they have all the power. The more they resist, the more you get sucked in. The more energy you spend trying to change them, the more things stay the same. This is equally true in a marriage, in parenting, or in leading a choir, a church, a judicatory, or a denomination. (Kindle Locations 603-605).

Churches, like families, can view money as a weapon, as evil, as emotionally fraught, as dangerous, as scarce, as a possession. A more neutral, open view of money sees it as a resource, a tool, an opportunity, a gift. This neutrality makes it easier to make decisions that can benefit the future of the family and its members-and the church and its members. (Kindle Locations 1003-1006).

We simply have to tough it out sometimes, and remember that things will settle down if we can keep our heads. Courage does not mean we are not anxious or afraid, but that we can act in spite of our fear. Instead of being surprised by crisis, we can simply be prepared for the fact that we have a hard job, and crises are going to arise. (Kindle Locations 1201-1203).

If You Appoint a New Elder, I’ll Quit!

and that transition will happen whether I do it or not

I’ve been resigning since 1988. I’d been in Dalton, Georgia, eleven years. I was looking for another place to preach. I talked with sixteen congregations. Eight of the sixteen churches had released their preachers. In each of the eight congregations where the preacher was moving without being self-motivated, they had appointed new elders within two years or less.

I reflected. That’s not the first time I’d heard of that.

Sometimes the older elders had been considering it. When new shepherds come on board, the seasoned overseers communicate their burden with the new men, “Brethren, we want to share something that’s heavy on our hearts. We’ve been thinking for some time a change of preachers may be just what this church needs to get it going again. What do you all think?”

Generally, the newly ordained bishops are apprehensive about their responsibilities and reply, “Brethren, you certainly know better than us. We’ll cooperate with whatever you think.”

One of the interesting twists to this discussion was when one of the brothers who introduced the topic continued, “We’ll write the letter. We’ll all sign it. We’ll let one of the new men read it to the church Sunday morning because you read better than we do.”

I talked to the man who read the letter on more than one occasion about his learning experience.

They weren’t happy.

Often there is non-verbal communication at first:

  1. The elders begin to exclude the preacher from their meetings.
  2. There is a salary reduction, no raise, or less of a raise than in the past.
  3. New requirements are instituted such as keeping a log of all activities, new items on the job description, and a more negative evaluation than in the past.

When these changes come to a seasoned, astute preacher, he sees the handwriting on the wall and hears the Lord calling him to a different work. That process often takes about two years of misery to complete its cycle.

During my move in 1988, I was enjoying my first computer. I decided to take notes and record observations. My “mustard seed” from this process was a decision to resign each time one or more elders were added in the congregation where I was preaching.

The opportunity came in 1995. On Father’s Day, two of the three elders resigned. We were without an eldership. We appointed four new elders November 19. None of them had ever served before. On the Wednesday night before they were ordained on Sunday, I talked with them: “I appreciate your willingness to accept leadership of this church at this critical time. One of the first decisions I want you to make is who’s going to be the preacher for this church. I’m resigning. It wouldn’t be right to impose myself on you. None of you were elders when I came. Different elderships have different ideas of who and what a preacher should be. I’ll bring you a letter of resignation.

“I would like to apply to be the next preacher for Berry’s Chapel. I love the church and like the people. But, you have my resignation. It was my idea — not yours. If you think in two or three years you want to change preachers but don’t want to upset the people now, let’s do it now. They’re already upset. Please let me know when you decide.”

Not long after they were appointed, we met and they asked me to be the preacher for Berry’s Chapel. We discussed my job description, contract, and our relationship. We recorded our agreements, signed them, and distributed copies to each person in the group.

Three years later, another elder was added to the group. I resigned again.

A few years later, we added three more elders. The first leadership meeting with the new elders, someone said, “This is Jerrie’s night to resign.” He was correct. I meant each resignation.

During one of my interims, a new elder was added. The next meeting of the elders and preachers I turned in my written resignation along with a request to finish the interim. They asked me to stay. The new group of elders and I discussed our relationship and how we would work with each other.

In every situation, I would have cooperated in every way if they had wanted to change preachers. If that is the wisdom of the elders, there is no point in aggravating each other two years, ending in anger and frustration.

We can acknowledge it, discuss it, and consider how we can or cannot work together and proceed according to the wisdom God gives us from those prayers and discussions. Or we can silently watch the group change three or four times over several years assuming everything is the same because I have a contract with a group of men who are no longer here and wonder what happened.

Here is the substance of the resignation letter:

Since we have a new eldership, I submit my resignation as the interim preacher for this congregation. This is a different eldership from the one that selected me a year ago. I think each eldership should select a preacher that works best with them. Should you choose to accept this resignation, I will cooperate with you in every way. This is my idea.

I would like to apply for the position of interim minister working with the new eldership. Gail and I have enjoyed our time here and we have learned to love and appreciate you. I have never worked with a more cooperative eldership and congregation.

Please let me know when you decide. I will cooperate either way.

The general rule is that family rules are unconscious, unspoken, but understood. I think it’s better to think about our rules and relationships, discuss them, and know what to expect of each other.

My choice to encourage that discussion has been to resign as the preacher, apply for the new relationship, and respect the choice of the eldership.

How have you handled transitions in elder-preacher relationships?

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Releasing Your Preacher and Quickly Replacing Him

how often do you want to enjoy a preacher search?

A few months ago, within a short time, I received two emails from good elder friends. One had, and the other was about to release his preacher and start the selection process. Each asked for men to contact for their next preacher. Here’s the email I sent:


  1. When will your preacher be informed of his dismissal?
  2. Will Sunday be his goodbye sermon?
  3. Have you considered that quickly getting a new preacher gives you a high probability of having an unintentional interim?

Here’s what I’ve observed in fifty-five years of ministry, by following a long-tenured preacher, and working with congregations in intentional interim ministry for nine years:

The general rule is after a long ministry (five years or more) a church will have an interim minister — either an intentional or unintentional minister. The next preacher will stay a short time. If he is an unintentional interim (he thought he was coming for a settled ministry), it will be a time of misery. He’ll be compared to the previous preacher. He’ll not be like the previous preacher. It’ll be an impossible job description.

I’ve served both as an intentional and an unintentional interim. I can assure you intentional is much preferred. The five most depressing years of my fifty-five years of preaching were following a preacher who stayed a long time and was released by the elders — not to his desire and a large part of the congregation. The congregation was stuck in grief, confusion, and resentment. I bore the brunt of something I had nothing to do with except I happened to be the next preacher. It’s now worth it. I had an opportunity to experience what I’d read in books about being a preacher following a long ministry. But the pain was real and sustained while I was learning the lesson.

People are often concerned about the widow or widower who starts dating after the sudden death of a spouse. People aren’t machines.

See two blog posts relating to the interim concept:

  1. How Long Will it Take?
  2. How Can We Improve Without Changing?

The rule of thumb is there should be one month of interim ministry for each year of ministry of the previous preacher.

My advice for preacher friends who follow a long-term preacher with no intentional interim period: “You need to understand part of your job description is being unfavorably compared to the previous preacher in preaching, teaching, dress, visitation, name memory, and the way he related to people. It’ll be done repeatedly for ten years. If you can endure that for ten years, it’ll get slightly better during the next five years.”

There are exceptions to the rule. But from my experience, it’s the rule:

One of my most productive interims in the past nine years was with a congregation who tried the immediate replacement plan with two preachers following the retirement of their long-term preacher. After much pain, and a split, they decided an interim was worth the time and money. I worked with them twenty-three months. They now have a good preacher. They are at peace and reaching their community.

When you get ready to look for a preacher, Don Viar has the best material I’ve read on the preacher search. Note this post on his website: Sometimes an Interim Is Better Than a Hire.

Don has other resources that can be helpful: www.ministermatch.com.

When you get ready for the search, his book has a good plan: The Search Committee Handbook.

Please pray, think, and look at options before you immediately do what you’ve always done.

Here’s more information on the interim concept and process: Between Preachers Blog.

What have you found helpful during a preacher transition?

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1 Reason People Act the Way They Do

effective, persuasive talking is preceded by passionate, detailed, and focused listening

Anybody ought to know better than that!” But they don’t. The reason people do what they do is because they believe for today and for them this is the best and wisest thing for them to do. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the hearts (Proverbs 21:2, NKJV).

When I don’t believe that, I approach people with the attitude — they knew better and they did it anyway. I judge them to be malignant, dishonest and acting with evil intent. And, even though I don’t say it, the distrust and one-upness come out the pores of my skin.

But surely people know when they’re doing something clearly wrong — they know better than to do it.

Jesus didn’t think so. I don’t know anything worse than killing the Son of God. Did they know better? Jesus said they didn’t:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34).

Peter agreed with Jesus about the same people committing the same act:

Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers (Acts 3:17).

Paul said the same as Jesus and Peter:

which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).

If Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the Holy Spirit are right, people do wrong things because they believe wrong things. If I’m going to help them, I need to know what they believe and why.

We are both, he and I, doing what we’re doing for exactly the same reason: we believe we’re doing the right thing for us today.

If you don’t read Seth Godin’s blog, you’re missing one to three classics every month — sometimes that many in a week. He blogs every day, 365 times a year, 366 in leap years. They’re short, some unusual, but many are right on target and thought-provoking. You can subscribe by clicking on the link and typing your email address on the upper left-hand side of his blog: Seth Godin Blog

Here are two of his comments on the principle in Proverbs 21:2:

No one is unreasonable

by Seth Godin

No one says, “I’m going to be unfair to this person today, brutal in fact, even though they don’t deserve it or it’s not helpful.”

Few people say, “I know that this person signed the contract and did what they promised, but I’m going to rip them off, just because I can.”

And it’s quite rare to have someone say, “I’m a selfish narcissist, and everyone should revolve around me merely because I said so.”

In fact, all of us have a narrative. It’s the story we tell ourselves about how we got here, what we’re building, what our urgencies are.

And within that narrative, we act in a way that seems reasonable.

To be clear, the narrative isn’t true. It’s merely our version, our self-talk about what’s going on. It’s the excuses, perceptions and history we’ve woven together to get through the world. It’s our grievances and our perception of privilege, our grudges and our loves.

No one is unreasonable. Or to be more accurate, no one thinks that they are being unreasonable.

That’s why we almost never respond well when someone points out how unreasonable we’re being. We don’t see it, because our narrative of the world around us won’t allow us to. Our worldview makes it really difficult to be empathetic, because seeing the world through the eyes of someone else takes so much effort.

It’s certainly possible to change someone’s narrative, but it takes time and patience and leverage. Teaching a new narrative is hard work, essential work, but something that is difficult to do at scale.

In the short run, our ability to treat different people differently means that we can seek out people who have a narrative that causes them to engage with us in reasonable ways. When we open the door for these folks, we’re far more likely to create the impact that we seek. No one thinks they’re unreasonable, but you certainly don’t have to work with the people who are.

And, if you’re someone who finds that your narrative isn’t helping you make the impact you seek, best to look hard at your narrative, the way you justify your unreasonableness, not the world outside.

The other person is always right

by Seth Godin

Always right about feelings.

About the day he just experienced.

About the fears (appropriate and ill-founded) in his life.

About the narrative going on, unspoken, in his head.

About what he likes and what he dislikes.

You’ll need to travel to this place of ‘right’ before you have any chance at all of actual communication.

Why do people think wrong things are right? That’s where listening comes in. If I don’t get there, I fail to find the lost sheep where they are. I want them to be where I am, and we don’t meet.

I might learn something about him or me, why we do what we do, and how we need to do some things differently.

What have you found effective in dealing with unreasonable people?

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