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:

Questions:

  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.
[tweetthis]For a good new relationship, there needs to be a time of grieving over the past relationship.[/tweetthis]

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:

[tweetthis]The preacher who quickly follows a long-term preacher will have a short and painful tenure.[/tweetthis]

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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2 thoughts on “Releasing Your Preacher and Quickly Replacing Him

  1. Hi Jerrie. Thank you for the insightful post and the MUCH needed work you are doing. In my ministry of the past 16 years, twelve of those years have been full-time labors with a local congregation. My first work followed not only a long-tenured previous minister (37 years), but he was also the founder of the congregation – a force whose influence still resonates in the eastern Kentucky hills 14 years after his passing. So everything you said above, I have experienced. Of course, there were many, many joys as well. I spent 10 years there, and left on good terms, and had a smooth transition with a preacher in place before I departed. I left because I ultimately felt they could do better, could find a better match, and that eventually, they probably would. I gave my resignation 9 months in advance (I can tell you that story sometime else), once the Lord had opened another door for me. I felt that 90 days (60-90 seems to be the “best practice” theory of the past century or so) wasn’t fair to anyone, if we had the chance to do better. It takes more than 90 days just to grieve it. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but today is the first time I really realized that I always was, and would have always been, the “interim.” As much as I’ve followed your work here and on Barber Clippings, I had never thought of it in those terms, though I realized it in practice and application, in many ways, from the start. In fact, I think that I connect with you so well and appreciate what you do because it is a role in which I am very comfortable. In my current work, I am also following a long-tenured preacher. He is now part-time, but has been here since 1975. It is a role for which I am especially adapted, apparently, as God has put me in it twice. Our transition here took place over the course of a full year after I arrived. The previous minister wanted he and his family to stay and be part of this congregation, and after my first year here, he and I swapped responsibilities. He now has more time to take care of his health and family and do some other things he enjoys, while still playing a vital role both in the work here, and has given me more encouragement than I deserve. Perhaps one day, as He has with you, the Lord will also use my experiences to give aid to others in this much misunderstood, much ignored, and consequently, very painful area of our work. This matter of transition simply CANNOT be swept under the rug. It is the source of some of the most emotionally damaging circumstances in our brotherhood. And the default attitude has been that our bad transitions are just a necessary evil, the “ugly but necessary by-product” of God’s plan for the local congregation. It has allowed many to settle for good enough, and our good enough ain’t good enough. Many families, not just preachers’, are torn apart by our generally unhealthy approach to the preacher search model, transitions, departures/firings, etc. We need more exposure to these realities, to wake us up from these hurtful, unnecessary, and self-inflicted wounds. Thank you for what you do, and sorry for the belabored length.

  2. Rick,

    You are doing well in your thinking and understanding. In intentional interim ministry, I face the same issues: temporary, never be the “real” preacher, don’t have the close connections of the previous preacher (one who has been here 30 years). But since the church and I accepted that on the front end, it’s normal. I don’t mind being weird if I know weird is normal.

    You have experience that has served you and the church well. I hope you continue to share it.

    Consider the Interim Ministry Workshop in September. I’ll have more details later.