Assemblies of God SearchSite GuideStoreContact Us

Enrichment Journal - Enriching and Equipping Spirit-filled Ministers

Main image Goes Here
  • Back
  • Table of Contents for this issue.

 

Healthy Pastoral Transitions
Equal Healthy Churches for the Future

By David L. Bittinger

Because a pastor loves his family, he prepares a will, a living will, and a durable power of attorney to make things easier for them should he be first to be with the Lord. A pastor also owes it to his church to design a plan that will ease its transition to a new pastor whether he is suddenly called home or God calls him to minister in another part of His kingdom.

After a pastor leaves, parishioners need opportunities to celebrate the good things from their former pastor’s time with them and to process any pain and sorrow related to his departure. To be healthy, parishioners must also make an orderly transition to a future that will be different from their past, but holds the promise of God’s best for them with their next pastor. To accomplish this, parishioners need a visible, comforting presence from someone who will provide spiritual and emotional support following their pastor’s departure — no matter what precipitated his departure.

Jesus provided an example of this presence in His promise to send a Comforter to help His disciples in His absence. He also spoke with them about what they were to do in His kingdom on earth after He ascended to the right hand of the Father.

Districts and churches can accomplish Jesus’ example in times of pastoral transition in a church’s life cycle. These are the prospective goals of a specialized and much-needed ministry venue: the trained interim pastoral coach.

The Harbor Pilot Is Standing By

One Assemblies of God minister described the role of an interim pastor in the transition process as being similar to that of a harbor pilot. According to David L. Fink, the harbor pilot temporarily stands in the place of a ship’s captain as the vessel enters and exits the unfamiliar waters of a harbor. This person is “trained to pilot ships [congregations] that are passing through the treacherous, narrow water of the harbor [an interim period], then hand the ship [congregation] to the captain [the new pastor] and … go back to help another.”1 Fink’s analogy clearly portrays the valuable role of trained interim pastoral coaches in helping congregations in transition make healthy preparations for a new pastor.

Expanding on this comparison, the official board and other lay leaders of a congregation can be compared to a tugboat working at the harbor pilot’s direction to apply gentle pressure against the side of a ship — helping steer it to a safe depth and away from underwater obstacles in the harbor. Trusted lay leaders of the congregation, working together with an interim pastoral coach, can help shape (or reshape) attitudes and goals during times of transition.

At present, no training program exists to prepare either the interim pastor or the transitional congregation for their unique roles and responsibilities during the interim period.2 The potential for development and success of such a unique ministry resides in the vast experience pool of our retired ministers. We need to harness and direct retired ministers to help bring unity and direction to transitional churches.

Nearly half of the Assemblies of God districts across the United States indicated in a recent survey that although they have developed excellent resources to guide congregations through the pastoral search process, they have no defined systematic training model for interim pastors.3 Furthermore, a significant number of congregations appear to be struggling with unhealthy transitional issues when their new pastor arrives.

Nearly half of the Assemblies of God district officers who responded to this survey believe the primary role of an interim pastor should be twofold: (1) surface and resolve congregational issues, and (2) prepare the congregation for the new pastor.4

With a growing awareness of the need for interim pastoral ministry, the Ohio District has begun to seek out retired pastors to serve as spiritual harbor captains in the temporary capacity of interim pastor to fulfill this twofold role.

While these early years of the 21st century present an increasing number of churches in pastoral transition, they also offer a means to healthier and more positive outcomes if we take advantage of the growing number of retired ministers willing to serve as interim pastoral coaches. They are a valuable source of wisdom and maturity, capable of facilitating church health during the critical time of pastoral transition.

The Buck Starts Here

The challenge for districts is to develop a more thorough approach for congregations in transition than just providing pulpit-supply preachers and materials to guide congregational leaders in the pastoral search process. The health of individual congregations and, by extension, the health of sections and districts, can be improved by developing a well-defined formal training model for interim pastoral coaches. A program based on careful training of retired Assemblies of God ministers to guide congregations in transition will result in a healthier, more positive experience for both congregations and the new pastor.

The Ohio District Presbytery and executive officers have favorably received this concept. Superintendent Doug Clay subsequently:

Let Me Count The Ways

During the 6 to 12 months spent with an interim pastoral coach, the transitional congregation has opportunity to grow and develop into a healthy, vibrant body of believers. This helps everyone’s re-entry into a pastoral relationship — the congregation as well as the new pastor. The skill set of a trained interim pastoral coach includes:

In addition to these many opportunities, the interim pastoral coach must also be aware of clearly defined boundaries for interim ministry:

In recent years, several retired Assemblies of God ministers in the Greater Akron section have served as interim pastors for churches with serious congregational issues. These ministers have piloted troubled congregations through difficult waters in preparation for their new pastor.

During 7 years as sectional presbyter overseeing Assemblies of God churches in the Greater Akron section, I have witnessed the distinct, positive differences these interim pastoral coaches have made in transitional congregations:

These interim pastors have been God-given agents of restoration and growth.

A Better Mousetrap

The primary goal of the Ohio District, relative to the interim pastoral coach program, is to develop a training program to empower retired Ohio Assemblies of God ministers who feel called to minister in pastoral transition churches as agents of congregational health, preparing each church for a new long-term pastor.

The training of these interim pastors during a 2-day seminar will focus on five topics:

The interim ministry period in Assemblies of God churches presents an unprecedented opportunity to experience a time of healing, growth, and preparation for the new pastor under the skilled leadership of an interim pastoral coach.

The End Of The Beginning

When addressing whether World War II had turned a corner and was nearing its end, Sir Winston Churchill told guests at the 1942 London Lord Mayor’s Day luncheon: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Likewise, we are not yet at “the end” regarding how best to minister to transitional congregations. However, when we identify the need and determine to address it constructively, we are at “the end of the beginning.”

As Assemblies of God districts across America recognize the benefit of providing trained interim pastoral coaches for congregations in transition, churches will be healthier, more vibrant, and experience less frequent stress-induced changes in leadership. We owe our parishioners and the future of our Movement our best effort to create a spiritual “Mission: Possible” team of compassionate, skilled, and experienced interim pastoral coaches. To do less is to shortchange everyone’s future.

DAVID L. BITTINGER, senior pastor, Christian Life Center Assembly of God, Kent, Ohio, and presbyter of the Greater Akron section of the Ohio District Council of the Assemblies of God.

Notes

1. David L. Fink, “A Questionnaire for Assemblies of God Pastors Who Have Served as Interims in Pastoral Transition Congregations,” survey by author, Lewisville, Texas, 5 September 2005, e-mail.

2. “A Questionnaire for Assemblies of God Pastors Who Have Served as Interims in Pastoral Transition Churches,” survey by author, December 2004 to May 2005, mail and e-mail.

3. “A Questionnaire for Assemblies of God District Officials and Presbyters Who Have Directed Churches in Pastoral Transition,” survey by author, December 2004 to May 2005, mail and e-mail.

4. Ibid.

5. “A Questionnaire for Assemblies of God Pastors Who Have Served as Interims in Pastoral Transition Churches,” survey by author, December 2004 to May 2005, mail and e-mail.

6. Gene Wood, Leading Turnaround Churches (St. Charles, Ill.: Church Smart Resources, 2001), 87–127.

7. Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree, The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004).

Enrichment
International Editions

Bengali
Albanian
Bengali
Bengali
Croatian
Croatian
Czech
Czech
French
French
German
German
Hindi
Hindi
Hungarian
Hungarian
Malayalam
Malayalam
Hindi
Portuguese
Romanian
Romanian
Russian
Russian
Spanish
Spanish
Tamil
Tamil
Ukranian
Ukrainian
Donate to this project.

Order Paraclete CD

All 29 years of the out-of-print Paraclete magazine. Excellent source of Pentecostal themes and issues, theological articles on the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit, and sermon and Bible study material. Fully searchable subject/author index.

Good News Filing System

Order Advance CD

Long out of print but fondly remembered, Advance magazine blessed thousands of A/G ministers. Now the entire Advance archives — 30 years of information and inspiration, helps, and history — is available on CD.

Visit our Spanish web site
Women in Ministry
Tools of the Trade
Women in Ministry
Enrichment on CD
AGTV