My Longest Tryout and Smoothest Transition

In the late nineteen eighties, I told Gail, “I’d like to move one more time and do it easier.”

  1. Fresh out of school, I didn’t know what I was doing when I went to my first work and I didn’t know what I was doing when I moved eighteen months later.
  2. The second church fired me.
  3. After eleven years with the next church, I resigned with no idea where I was going to work — a stressful, but educational project.

I wanted to make a smooth transition with plenty of time to think.

In September 1992, I received a phone call from an elder. He asked me to have lunch with him and another elder. We met at Shoney’s in Brentwood.

As we were beginning our salad preceding the main meal, the inviting elder said, “We’re in a mess at our congregation. We have serious problems.”

I replied, “Praise the Lord!”

He asked why I said that.

I told them, “Elders aren’t usually this honest this early. Generally, they recruit a preacher. He sells his house and buys another house in his new location. Six months into his new work, the elders say, ‘We have some serious problems we’d like to discuss with you.’ I’ve just started my salad and you’ve already told me the challenges of this work.”

This lunch was to set up a meeting with the whole eldership — five men.

At this meeting, I learned the eldership was divided: two men on one side, two men on the other side, and one who wouldn’t declare loyalty with either side.

My observation, “You aren’t ready to look for a preacher. Any preacher you would get now, you would destroy him. You’d be recruiting him to be on your side against the other. You need to work on your relationship.”

I was impressed. They agreed and scheduled a workshop to begin that process for Thanksgiving weekend. We met Friday night and all day Saturday. James Jones and I led the workshop.

We continued to talk about how we’d work together. Around the first of the year, 1993, we worked out a job description and contract that was agreeable to everyone. They wanted me to “try out.” In learning more of their past conflict, I told them I didn’t want a try-out sermon. I wanted a try-out workshop. I’d speak Sunday through Wednesday night on improving communication. After each evening service, we’d have questions and answers for Gail and me. If the church didn’t want me, I wanted to know it before I resigned from where I was and came to work with them.

We had written into the agreements that we’d have two weeks to evaluate our impressions of each other and for them to get feedback from the congregation.

On the first of March, we decided I’d begin my work with them in June. I estimated we’d talked about forty hours before we made the final decision. This began my longest stay with a local church. I preached there until we began interim ministry. The last Sunday with them was April 1, 2007.

Observations

  1. When making a major move, forty hours of discussion is much better than an hour on Sunday afternoon.
  2. Talk, then resting, then meeting again on several occasions provides time to pray, sleep, run, think, question, check references, and work through doubts.
  3. Honesty is not only the best policy — it’s the best principle to begin a new relationship.
  4. The elders starting by telling me the condition of the church and their conflicts helped evaluate whether it would be a good fit. I began with more realistic expectations and less disappointment as I learned more of what was happening.
  5. Part of the contract was for James Jones to come every six months and lead a workshop with the elders, deacons, and me. He knew what to say and what to ask to get to the inner workings of the issues. Outside consultants can often be helpful. A skilled and perceptive person can ask questions that others don’t know to ask or are afraid to ask.

After two years, we had the “Fuss of ’95.” On Fathers day, 1995, two of the three remaining elders resigned, dissolving the eldership. Two had resigned about a year after I came. 

We appointed four new elders on November 19, 1995. None of them had ever served before. They had great wisdom in their expectations of themselves and the church. Read: Starting from Scratch

My conclusion: the reason we have many painful divorces with hurt on the side of the church and the preacher is we have too short a courtship. 

Time spent talking, asking, praying, and doubting can pay off with better decisions.

At least, that’s what happened with my longest try-out.

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

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