Posts Tagged ‘Church Revitalization’

Transitional1Just a couple of weeks ago, someone asked me, “So how do you like being an interim pastor?” I responded, “I am not an interim pastor. I am a transitional pastor.” He gave me a look of incredulity and drilled down, “What’s the difference?”

While the two terms appear to be interchangeable, the differences lie in the intentionality of the transitional pastor. An interim pastor fills the gap or vacancy caused by the departure of the previous pastor by generally preaching on Sundays and leading the Wednesday prayer meeting or service. He may provide some additional leadership, but generally he has no specific charge for him to lead the congregation. He may even be considered as the permanent pastor.

With Transitional Pastoral Ministry, the congregation and the transitional pastor enter into a covenant relationship whereby the transitional pastor agrees to provide spiritual leadership to the church and lead the church throughout the transitional period. The church agrees to be loving and gracious to the transitional pastor and his family and to pray for spiritual power in his life and work. The church further promises to relate to him as a God’s anointed leader for the task, to support his leadership, and to talk with him about personal concerns instead of talking about him to others.

Therefore, the transitional pastor becomes the lead pastor for the congregation. He leads the church through the spiritual, situational, and psychological stages of the transition that concludes with the church calling a permanent pastor. The transitional pastor helps the church to view the church’s history through the eyes of Christ and assess the church’s current reality redemptively. By affirming biblical principles for church growth, he will lead the church to focus on kingdom results. He will guide the church in a complete review of its documents, procedures, and ministries. He will also train the pastor search committee and assist the committee as a resource; however, he will not be available for a call as the permanent pastor.

In June the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Hammond, Louisiana, called me to serve as its Transitional Pastor. Since that time, I have come to love it and appreciate the value of a transitional pastor in a local church. I believe that through the transitional pastoral process, the church I serve can become more effective as it learns from past experiences, frees itself from hindering traditions, and replaces discord with harmony. As a result of the transition, the church will come to understand its mission and will develop church practices that should enable the church to fulfill its mission. Too often misunderstandings exist about the pastor’s role and his responsibilities which preclude his effectiveness in serving as pastor. The transition period allows for the transitional pastor to reset the expectations for both the pastor and the congregation. This will likely mean that energy previously spent addressing conflict will be redirected so that the church enjoys an increased participation in ministry and mission.

The other evening while meeting with some men from our church, the subject somehow moved to the “Dollar Shave Club.” Surprisingly, I found the idea quite fascinating, so I have looked into a bit. Here’s the premise for the company (tongue in cheek!):

A man goes into a store to buy some razor blades, but they are locked up. He tries to get in, but it’s like robbing Fort Knox. No one is around to help, so he tries harder, which sets off alarms that lead to him being assaulted by the staff. Blow darts, punches to the stomach, and so forth. Then the tag line: “It’s like they don’t want you to buy razor blades.”

So when someone came along and offered a different way to buy razor blades, it struck a chord. According to the Wall Street Journal, web sales of razor blades though such companies as Dollar Shave Club, have doubled in the last twelve months alone. They have gone from no slice of the market to nearly ten percent, with little sign of slowing down. Through the first six of 2015, salves have already doubled over all of last year’s totals.

So how did a company like Dollar Shave Club, which did not even exist three years ago, storm onto the scene and take such a big bite out of a company like Gillette that has been in existence since 1901? That’s easy. Gillette and its distributors looked at things from their perspective and not the consumer’s. They made the experience of buying blades negative for shoppers. So when someone came along and listened to the consumer and then thought like a buyer and not a seller, they got a lot of buyers lining up to buy from them. You can only imagine the Dollar Shave Club people thinking, “Okay, people hate the way razors are sold, but stores don’t want them stolen. Let’s just rethink how to get them in people’s hands!” And they did.

In an article entitled “The Church Shave Club” in Church and Culture last month, Pastor James Emery White argues, “Too many churches look at things from the perspective from the inside.” But we need to take the time to look at things from the perspective of those who don’t know Christ. If we will make a forever difference in people, then we must learn to see things — not as seasoned church members and attenders — but as people who do not know Christ. After all, we don’t want to make it hard for people to come to know our Savior.

imagesWhat I’m offering today may not set well with many, but I believe it must be said. I’m a pastor who is becoming increasingly frustrated. I’m not frustrated in my ministry. In fact, God has privileged me to serve in a gracious fellowship of believers that affords me the opportunities to preach and to lead the congregation to fulfill its particular mission in our community and beyond.

So why am I frustrated? I am frustrated because all around me I hear of the increasing number of declining and dying churches that represent only a portion of the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention have stopped growing. To be sure, some churches will decline because the communities in which they are have declined in population. However, this is not the case for most of the ones I know. And if something does not change within these churches that they will continue to decline and will eventually cease to exist. This grieves our Lord, and it should grieve all believers.

Recently our denomination has focused much attention on church revitalization, and I am glad that we have done so. However, some have the mistaken idea that if we can infuse a declining church with some financial aid, some minor adjustments in their programming, and maybe even sending some people to them, then they will experience a turnaround. Generally when this method is used, the church might survive a bit longer while sometimes a spike may indeed occur. However, without significant changes in the way the church carries out its work, the infusion only serves to prop up a congregation for a short period. Often a declining church needs more than an adjustment, but rather a complete shift from the way church functions.

My bigger frustration comes from a pervading attitude that implicitly says, “We’d rather die than change.” Whether this viewpoint comes from the pastor or from the congregation, it often will serve as the church’s own death sentence.

For the past several years, I sensed the need to prepare our congregation for a strategy that would maximize our giftedness to reach more people. We sensed that the Lord wanted us to plant another church in our area. The experiences we gained from the planting a Hispanic congregation, which meets simultaneously on our campus, guided our preparations. As we sought the Spirit’s guidance on strategies for church planting, we were drawn to the multisite church strategy. We identified several reasons for moving to such a strategy.

    1. Multiplying the resources of God had entrusted to our church. God had equipped our staff and congregation to carry out Great Commission ministry. We had committed every aspect of our ministries to developing maturing follower of Jesus Christ.
    2. Being able to utilize people resources within our congregation. Not only had our pastoral staff grown to take on greater responsibilities, but God showed us people from within the church to consider calls to ministry positions. In the last four years, two laymen have been added to our pastoral staff. We see this as a trend for the future and one that can be further developed as God adds ministry locations.
    3. A perception that the unreached want a personal touch. Building a larger auditorium to accommodate a larger number of people did not make sense when people kept telling us that they chose our church because they sought after a “smaller church.” Having multiple locations made more sense because we could take the church closer to where they lived, while providing a “full menu” of ministry offerings through centralized administration.
    4. The possibility of coming alongside struggling congregation and reinvigorating them for kingdom ministry. Admittedly, this reason came about as a result of how the Lord has equipped and shaped me for ministry. Throughout my ministry, I have reached out to pastors within our convention and beyond to help them lead their congregations. But now I sense that by engaging these congregations by including them in a multisite approach, we could utilize kingdom resources and do an even better job in reinvigorating them. We have since learned that more than one in three multisite churches began a new campus as the result of a merger.

In anticipation of what we sensed the Lord wanted us to do with regard to church planting and specifically, with developing a multisite church mentality, I led our pastoral staff and congregation to alter the way we approach the weekend services. In particular, I knew that our staff had to prepare for carrying out multisite church model at a single-site so that we could transition more readily when the time came to multiply the ministry.

For years, I knew that one of the most effective ways to lead the church comes through better planned Sunday morning experiences which translates to more meaningful experiences for everyone. Throughout my pastoral ministry, I had developed the habit of planning my preaching either weeks or a few months at a time. However, now I knew that we needed to shift to a more elaborate planning model. This would make it possible for our creative team (which also had to be developed) to formulate the creative elements for each sermon series such as this music, set design, graphic design, promotional materials, drama skits, and videos. The shift also necessitated forming a teaching team to share the preaching responsibilities. For years we had utilized the giftedness of others on our staff to fill the pulpit in my absence. But with the teaching team approach, we have more consistency in preaching the sermon series. Not only does this permit us to develop and preach better sermons, we have grown together in our ministry while developing a strategy for growing campus pastors.

Having personally observed and studied other multisite mergers in Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana, I know that extending the kingdom reach and maximizing our mission efforts can be accomplished by utilizing such a strategy. I have witnessed how the Spirit of God has infused new life, and the church now reaches new people.

Yet I also realize the heart wrenching difficulty that declining churches have in coming to terms with their futures. I know that no one readily wants to admit, “We need help” or “Our church is dying.” These congregations have made sacrifices for the cause of Christ in ministry and missions; however, they now come to the critical crossroads of the future. Therefore, I urge the leaders in these congregations to consider prayerfully seeking out a strong congregation in their area help them to breathe new life and to continue the legacy of their church’s contribution to the spread of the gospel. After all, it’s really not about you and your church. It’s about our great God receiving all the praise that He is due.