Curated Resources

When the News is Good – by Rev. George Martin


St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Il (a Chicago suburb) responded to a free offer from Brick House Security, a company making GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) tracking devices. The church installed GPS devices on each of the figures in its outdoor nativity scene, including the Baby Jesus. The story received attention nationally (i.e. CBS and NBC) as well as in the Chicago media.

According to Rev. George Smith, rector of St. Mark’s, it gave him a great opportunity to talk about the significance of Christmas. “I got a chance to get the message out about the true meaning of the birth of Jesus,” he said. He posed to one reporter a question that he was asking himself, “If Jesus was stolen, and presuming the tracking device worked as it’s suppose to, would we find Jesus in a homeless shelter perhaps?”

At the end of Christmas no one had stolen any of the Nativity figures, but the story lingered on. The members of the church enjoyed the attention from the media. They had also been alerted by their rector through an email about the forthcoming media attention.

Not every story about the church in the wider media, of course, is framed in such a positive light. There are plenty of times when a church fight or conflict gets front-page news. Tragic events like a flood, a fire, or a hurricane can also thrust a church into the limelight of the media.

Most of the time, of course, what happens inside our church walls is ignored by the press. Reporters tend to seek sensational and controversial news stories.

“What’s new?” is actually a basic question that also interests reporters. The same question can apply to ministry in general, and in particular to things that may be happening in a church. To ask “What’s new?” is to frame the discussion about the future direction of the church as it looks at its past while starting to wonder about what God wants for them now. It’s also part of the task of interim ministry as a church considers how it should best frame its story or message to the wider community.

Sometimes an interim pastor comes into a church that is in real trouble, perhaps after some conflict or disaster. In other cases the congregation may have simply run out of gas, and now finds itself adrift. No matter what the situation, there is a basic kind of Public Relations (PR) question that must first be asked internally. “What is the message?” It must be asked again and again.

When those planes flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 everyone in America was forced to confront a new message about our safety and security. Many churches immediately responded by throwing open the doors of their church, and holding services within hours of that event. One Lutheran pastor said, “The church was full that night as we gathered in candlelight.” There was a strong message that church offered to its community by holding that service.

An interim pastor is in a unique position to help a church look at the way it relates to its wider community and particularly what steps it takes to share its story. Often the first step is to send out a press release.

In one interim pastorate I asked the secretary for a list of the local newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations. I had written a press release about the new educational series that was starting. A blank look came across her face. There was no such list. It was a problem easy to solve. Before long we sent out the press release. Even though it was just the local newspaper that ran the story, the church was back in the news, so to speak.

Sometimes a church has really good news to share with the wider community. I was in a church that thought it’s capital fund raising campaign was dead in the waters. Then, out of the blue, a member of the church said his family was willing to make a one million dollar challenge gift. I checked with the donor about announcing this gift. They would remain anonymous, but we could make a public announcement of the gift.

We alerted all in the parish that some major news was coming, and that we’d be holding a press conference on a particular day. We sent press releases to the local media. Follow-up phone calls assured us that reporters with print, radio, and television would come. A “Fact Sheet” was prepared to hand to the reporters. As the pastor of the church I made the announcement about the gift and along with the lay leader of the congregation answered questions. That evening and the next day it was the featured story in the community. It was the story that helped change a great many things about that church, and its visibility in the wider community.

There are also good issues that the media wants to talk about which a church can respond to in a positive way. There were a number of churches, for example, which offered classes discussing the controversy stirred up by the movie The Davinci Code. Another church found itself engaged in a controversy regarding a stone tablet featuring the Ten Commandments located in a public park. The response of the church was its offer to have the monument on its church property.

One of the basic rules in the world of public relations is that you want the members of the organization to know what’s happening as well as your boss. A basic practice rule is to first alert the members of the church about the news story that is being sent out to the media.

The second rule, especially in denominational churches is to inform the synod or diocesan office. Once a story is out in the media, whether it is a good or bad story, we have no control on who might be interviewed. A reporter might call a member of the church or go directly to the Bishop. Whoever gets called ought to be able to say, “I knew about this story.”

In the final analysis the question is “Who tells the story?” The Christian proclamation from day one is that we have a story to tell about the way God is working through our lives. We’ve always needed to use the right words and to frame the story in a way that accomplishes the most good. Many an interim pastor can help a church with this part of its ministry.


Prepping for Growth – by Ideas of Alice Mann

by Ideas of Alice Mann

In her book Raising the Roof and in her recent IMN workshop, keynoter Alice Mann presents a complete program to guide congregations when they are transitioning from a Pastoral (50-150 weekly attendance) church to a Program (150-400) church. This article only deals with her ideas on one aspect of that complex change. That is the creation of the learning team.

For an interim pastor, a year-long commitment to establishing the mechanism of change fits with the visioning work of the interim time. However, growth is not always the answer. For an individual congregation, “growth” means material and psychological commitment to significant change and the willing acceptance of considerable risk. It is possible that a study of the issue will produce a wait-and-see attitude rather than momentum for growth.

A growth plan means taking an advanced risk that increased attendance will provide sufficient additional revenue to cover increased expenditures. The mortgage is due monthly even if the new parking lot is empty. It may mean a cultural shift – if a second service is to be offered, is it the same as or different from the first service? It often means seeking and occupying a different place in the surrounding community. These are issues worthy of respectful attention.

Growth plans contain issues that may be studied in advance of a major financial commitment. Managing the study period should be the assignment for the Learning Team. They will want to ask these types of questions in order to discern if the congregation has a “call to growth.”

Will this church benefit from changing?
There are six key issues to consider:

  • The average weekly attendance at all Sunday services has hit a plateau somewhere between 150-250 people.
  • The church is located in an area that is growing. The surrounding communities are creating greater need but the area churches are not offering expanded services.
  • The congregation regularly attracts first-time visitors.
  • Both the pastor and the lay opinion leaders believe that the church may be “called to growth.”
  • There is basic trust between the minister, lay leaders and the congregation.
  • A small team of leaders can be found with the skills and motivation to guide a learning experience.

Is there sufficient trust?
If these proceeding six issues have favorable answers, the interim pastor should then make an assessment of the trust levels of the governing board.

Some key evaluations are:

  • Do people seem relaxed at meetings?
  • Do they greet each other warmly and take time to catch up with each other?
  • Do the attendees speak up, ask for clarification and offer their thoughts about the agenda and procedures?
  • Does everyone participate?
  • Are people at ease disagreeing with other’s opinions?
  • Do people keep their comments focused on issues and avoid personal attacks?
  • If you were on the board, would you be eager to attend the next session?

If the answer is yes to these seven questions, the interim pastor can proceed to form a learning agreement with the Board. If the answer is no or doubtful, more time will be required to answer questions, provide background, clarify motivations and address concerns about participating in a substantial financial investment in the future.

A Covenant for Learning
The first step is not to form a learning team but to gain the support of the entire board for such a team. To do this, the whole board should be encouraged to do preparatory reading and engage in thought and prayer, assess the readiness of the congregation to engage in a serious discernment process and formally and informally endorse the learning effort. At this point, the congregation should want to learn more but does not yet have to do more.

Including the pastor, the learning team can be made up of 5-7 people. They should be people who:

  • Can listen openly
  • Are familiar with the ups and downs of members, newcomers and visitorsUnderstand the political realities of this particular church
  • Work well with the pastor
  • Have a voice (constituency) in the congregation
  • Are calm and do not project an anxious presence

There is also a list of who the nominees should not be. It will prove best not to invite people who are:

  • Unwilling to learn new things or think new thoughts
  • Unable to consider potential consequences
  • Unwilling to change themselves or the church to
  • accommodate the needs of others
  • Carrying around axes about the church or pastor
  • Too busy to be an effective participant
  • Prone to overreact

The learning team can be selected by the board at a meeting that discusses the role of the team and the criteria for selection. After discussion, the group receives blank index cards. They are told to nominate three people who fit the criteria and the cards are passed in. The group then takes a break while the pastor and board chair evaluate the cards and look for balance. A slate of six is then presented to the board. With their approval, potential team members are asked to participate in supervising the learning process.

Content Delivery
Over the course of perhaps 5-6 months, the learning team will present to a larger circle of leaders accurate information they will need to guide future discernments. The studies should include:

  • A 30-year attendance chart – at least the last 10 years reported by week
  • A current accurate pin map of households – new members, old members, former members
  • Demographic information about the pin map clusters
  • A study that addresses the history of the church as it has operated in the context of the community of its time
  • A summary report on faith and context today
  • An assessment of barriers to growth
  • A report on trends in the wider culture
  • Findings from current community leader interviews

A transitioning church will become over-whelmed if it tries to do everything at once. The congregation will have to wrestle with issues they have been avoiding. One of the great rewards of gathering all this data is to identify the core of the ministry. Jean Morris Trumbauer diagnoses the mainline church this way:

The congregation has no programs or processes to assist members to discover and develop their gifts, to discern their purpose and mission in life, or to learn how to apply their faith to their daily life.A plan for growth cannot successfully be driven solely by a desire for greater revenue. A small focused church living within its means may be far more significant than a larger church preoccupied by debt. The church is not there for itself. “It is there to help all souls sort out their purpose and direction in life,” Trumbauer continues,“to wrestle with issues of self-confidence, meaning and change and to make choices about work, school and volunteer service.”

Preparatory Tasks
While we understand and appreciate the limits on an interim pastorate, there are four preparatory tasks that can lay the foundation for transition. They are:

  • Excavating the religious culture(s) of the congregation
  • Creating a foundation for change from that culture
  • Enriching the congregation’s experience with discernment
  • Assessing the congregation’s ability to experience system changes

Progress in these areas will expand institutional capacity to meet opportunities and needs.

Faithful Commitment
For the particular congregation, “growth” is an abstract good. Its gains have to be balanced against a real commitment of resources today. The practical questions are down to earth considerations:

  • Should we hold a second Sunday morning worship service and should it be the same as or different from the current main service? Can it be done with the same resources or are new ones required?
  • Should (or can) we expand the parking space? Should we hire more or better qualified professional staff? (li)Are we landlocked? Should we sell and move? Should we offer an Internet ministry? Should we develop a satellite campus? Affiliate?

Whatever is decided, the interim pastor has a great experience to teach – discernment is not just decision-making it is an experience in audacious hope.

What does God call us to do now?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE: Learnings and Unlearnings from Colleagues – by Rev. Marshall Linden

After 41 years, 26 as a called and settled pastor in three parishes and then 15 as interim/transition in eight, I retired on June 30th. I was not one of those who counted the months, weeks, and days to retirement. Serving as Transition Senior Minister at West Avon Congregational Church, UCC (CT) proved to be as stimulating and satisfying on my final day there as the first had been. However once the day arrived I discovered retirement quite appropriate and in its own way stimulating and satisfying.

Immediately came surprises and adjustments! To quote an old jazz song (Fats Waller maybe) “The phone forgot how to ring” – for the most part a good thing! For the first time since 1965 I had no “UCC Desk Calendar and Plan Book” to help me organize my life and to keep me current with all the high holy days – perhaps not a good thing. I did feel out of the loop when I went to a Conference Church and Ministry Committee meeting with the old one in hand to discover everyone else had a new one I had not even seen. Maybe I was feeling not so much “out of the loop” but suddenly “put out to pasture!” Perhaps the UCC could do a better job at maintaining the institutional lines of communication!

I have come to realize that most of my reflections have something to do with working and sharing with colleagues, both of the called and settled variety and the interim/transition variety. Even when the subject matter did not at first seem one having to do with colleagues, it quite clearly did as my first reflection on the difficult question of evaluating an interim/transition ministry makes clear.

Looking back over my 15 years personal experience in interim/transition ministry which included much of our institutional history (I’ve attended half of all the Annual Conferences of the Interim Ministry Network which is now approaching its 28th meeting, every meeting of AUCCIIM and one or two of its preceding body, the UCC caucus of IMN), I am stuck with the question I have heard raised over the years but not yet answered as well as we might expect. Here’s the question: How can interim/transition ministry best be evaluated?

How do I evaluate my work? How does a congregation, a denomination, or a professional group focused on training and enriching its members evaluate interim/transition ministry?

Here’s a suggestion. Over the years, in settings that might well be deemed “successful” and a couple that might not, at least at first blush, I have decided that the person who can best evaluate effectiveness and “success” is not I or a colleague group but rather the person who has come after me as the called and settled new pastor. But not at first, and not perhaps for two or three years. Elapsed time is required, more time than I think we have been willing to give the evaluation process. Making a considerable assumption here, it seems to me that he or she is in the best place to fairly evaluate our service in the cause of the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in that particular time and place. My assumptions of course are based in the trust that our successors have an insightful understanding of the nature and purpose of interim ministry and are not prone to fault finding and blame placing on whoever and whatever happened before her/his tenure but rather is open to seeing patterns of gain or loss over several years, open to seeing what difference our service has made once our names are beginning to be forgotten.

Perhaps a foundation might be enticed to fund a systematic study of a statistically significant sample of our successors. I suspect our specialized ministry would well be advanced by that kind of effort. Those who have been called to follow us (after their own on site service of several years) should have some clear understanding of where a congregation was prior to our service, what happened during the time-in-between including fulfillment of stated mission goals and programs, and most importantly how these factors have redounded to the effectiveness or its lack of the life of a particular congregation.

Turning that coin over, I have come to the conclusion that we as interim/transition pastors are too often unfortunately prone to believing the worst of our own predecessors, the called and settled folks we follow. Our congregations have the “developmental task” of “getting in touch with history” but sometimes we personally tend to look for and repeat the negative and ignore or not hear the positive. Our doing so (“the better word is probably can only color discolor”) the church’s going about its work on this particular task. Yes, there are situations which have been disruptive and destructive of caring and competent ministry. They need to be addressed. However, when I hear a fairly newly arrived interim pastor begin to negate the work of a predecessor, particularly when doing so “seems to be in the air” (in a colleague setting where the rest of us begin to do the same), I have to wonder just how fair we are and whether our attitudes get in the way of the effectiveness of our own ministry in that place.

Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, newly available in paperback, includes Killian McDonnell’s The Monks of St. John’s File in for Prayer with the two lines, “Last of all, the Lord Abbot, early old/(shepherding the saints is like herding cats).” “Shepherding the saints IS like herding cats!” We know it! We have discovered it from our own experience in every congregation we have served!

Should that not give us empathy and understanding as we learn the story of the work of the one who went before us? In every place I have served there have been folks (with every good intention, I want to believe) who during my first days or, at most, few weeks dropped by to welcome me or invite me for a cup of coffee or even a meal and to tell me “What the real story around here is.”

More often then not their “real stories” have been rooted in some disappointment in the most recent former pastor. I have learned to listen carefully but also to remind myself that there are probably other (at least one, often many) ways of understanding and evaluating the previous ministry. I have found that a knowledge of personality types (in my case through work with the Myers Briggs Type Inventory) and a grounding in Paul’s New Testament affirmations of the variety of the Spirit’s gifts to each of us (all for the up-building of the church) help me understand, appreciate, and sometimes even value a very different take on things from my own.

A third observation on colleagues and their place in our ministry takes the form of a question: are we losing our sense that as specialized pastors in interim/transition ministry we have a unique connection with others who share with us our calling? Are we losing sight of our a need for on-going relationships with our colleagues for fellowship, support, encouragement, criticism, mutual learning, and the promotion of a wider understanding and appreciation of interim/transition ministry and its possibilities within the churches, the conferences, and the UCC as a whole? When I was young and newly in the ministry and attended programs and meetings where the 60- and 70-year-olds talked (incessantly, as I remember) about how good the good ‘ole days were (the 40s and 30s and even the 20s) I promised myself that when I got old I would do no such thing. Well, here I am at 67 thinking how much more appreciative we seemed of our mutual relationships a mere ten years ago than we do today! I cannot but note that the vital interest in the Committee on Interim Ministry in my state conference has waned, that our ecumenical state support group which used to attract 30 and sometime 40 interims to intriguing presentations and discussions (usually resourced by its own members) now does well when eight to ten attend, and that attendance at AUCCIIM gatherings at the Annual Conference of the Interim Ministry Network seems to have declined considerably and not in any particular relationship to UCC attendance there that I can perceive. I can identify some possible causes of this declining interest. Our local support group too often has settled for watching a DVD featuring some “expert” instead of its members going out of their way to bring the benefits of their own learnings and experience to their colleagues. Or, is that a reflection of an old guy who still prefers books and face-to-face experiences to websites and teleconferencing? I do not think so but may not be in the best place to say! It does seem to me that we are reverting to a “lone ranger” model of ministry so frequently and unfortunately seen in called and settled ministry. Instead of having a vivid sense of being a colleague with our peers, we seem to be competitors, no longer, for example, sharing experiences of being interviewed by the same Transition Search Committee and discussing who has the best gifts for that particular setting but keeping secrets and playing our cards close to our chests. Is that the result of fewer attractive openings being available to a larger pool of candidates? Is that the result of our anxiety about our securing our next position? Perhaps, but if so we have lost something of great value, something which we were building among ourselves, and something that seems well worth modeling for our profession as a whole.

Interim/transition ministry has been good for me and to me. I came in through the back door when I needed to make basic changes in the life I was living. I accepted my first interim position to test out a reclaiming of my call. I did not expect the result to be a call to a new form of ministry and yet during that 14 months, I came to understand that I was not to go back to settled ministry but to move on to working with churches dealing with possibilities for renewal and re-formation and re-energizing and taking the risk of change as I was challenged to do in my life. I’ve served small churches with tight budgets and larger churches with more resources than I would have thought ever would be necessary. I’ve served a church that, the day before I arrived, painted my name on its signboard in letters at least as large as the name of the church in order to announce to the community that there was a new person in the office and pulpit, one that simply left the name of the pastor off, and one that left the name of the former pastor on the marquee as if he was still in place. I’ve served churches that were quite alienated from the conference and the UCC and churches that were wonderfully involved in rich connections. I’ve served churches that wondered how long they could keep the doors open to churches wondering what to do about all the new people. I’ve served a church where I seemed to have no influence on its OCWM support but which took up a long range planning process I recommended with enthusiasm and effect. I’ve served churches where I have had to opportunity to significantly resource the Search Committee and others where the committee simply ignored me. I’ve served a church where contending sides had retained attorneys and threatened lawsuits and entered secret agreements yet eventually was able to move into a new life of effective and faithful mission and ministry with the calling of a new carefully chosen and effective pastor. I’ve served with a fine group of colleagues and support staff members, only once having to ask a support staff member for a resignation, many times marveling at the gifts so many folks brought to our shared calling. It has been an experience I could not have imagined and one almost always rewarding and stimulating. I move on now into retirement knowing full well that I leave our calling to competent and caring folks of the next generations. Blessings to all!

Let me finally note that I have three goals for retirement: travel, avoiding winter, and reading those novels I had to read in high school and college English lit classes to see if I can now understand why we were reading them in the first place. Trips to England (with my daughter Lisa, a high school English teacher of many of those novels), to northern Minnesota (to visit a cousin who is the last member of my mother’s family on that side), and to Arizona (to begin to furnish a condo there Ellie and I brought to be our “Winter Retreat”) got traveling into high gear in all of ten weeks. I’ve said enough about avoiding winter except to add we’ll have room in sunny, warm Arizona for other refugees from winter to visit! I’ve yet to read Silas Marner but it is in the pile of books awaiting my attention. I did read for the first time Jack Kerouac’s On the Road which was published in 1955 when I was 15. Why didn’t we read it as high school seniors or college sophomores? Interim/transition ministry was indeed stimulating and satisfying. I am finding retirement to be the same, if in different but also surprising and renewing ways!

Rev. Linden has been a member of the IMN since 1993 and currently has the PTS designation.

The Third Tier – by Rev. Art Bell

by Rev. Art Bell

John F Keydel, Jr.’s article “Interim Spectrum” in the Autumn, 2007 edition of ReVisions presented a good, helpful review of what he refers to as the “Tiers” of Interim Ministry. Many Intentional Interim Ministry practitioners have become familiar with the situations he describes.

I have a particular interest in the “Third Tier” situations. Twelve of the twenty-one interims I’ve experienced have been with congregations undergoing some unusual transition. They run the gamut from those needing only a denominational presence during the interim period, to one dealing with the aftermath of a Pastor’s leaving the denomination, another experiencing the revelation of a beloved Pastor’s sexual misconduct over a period of several years and one dealing with a beloved Pastor’s seeming abandonment of the congregation.

As an Honorably Retired Presbyterian minister I have been available to travel quickly to churches with the need to restore stability and prepare for the longer-term Interim Pastor. (I limit my term of service to about six months.) The result is that I am asked to consider situations in which a leader is needed very quickly, one who will help to restore a sense of balance within the congregation and start work on the issues that may be “cooking” in that fellowship. These are the kinds of circumstances I have encountered since retiring in 1998. They have led to a process I have found very helpful in preparing myself and the church for a successful brief encounter.

The basic need for any person asked to consider such a church is to know what the real condition of the congregation might be. Having gained a sense of the particular struggle the congregation is experiencing, the proposal for an intervention can be designed. What follows in the methodology that has been extraordinarily helpful in four widely different, but significantly conflicted worshipping bodies.

The initial step is to request that the consultation process included these elements:

The opportunity to interview three sets of people—those who are pleased with the events that led to the current situation, those who are thinking of leaving the church (those “on the fence”) and those who have left because of the recent developments; The opportunity to review notes from those interviews and reflect on what’s been heard, both from the leaders in place and those who have been recently interviewed; Delivering a presentation to the church’s governing board, reviewing and summarizing what’s been heard in the interviews and; Presentation of a possible course of action that the prospective Interim Pastor could help the leadership to follow.

This process takes more time on the scene than some church boards might be willing to finance. None of the four churches that have experienced the use of this plan has protested, and all results of the succeeding ministries have been helpful in guiding the congregations to a more healthful position to move into the future with high expectations for effective future ministry.

Rev. Bell is a PCUSA pastor and has been a member of the IMN since 1989.

Interim Spectrum – by Rev. John Keydel, Jr.

by Rev. John Keydel, Jr.

As diocesan officer for congregational transitions, I usually get one of the first calls that the elected lay leader of a congregation makes when he or she learns that “their” member of the clergy is leaving. And one of the first questions that the leaders and members of congregations usually ask at the beginning of any clerical transition, for any reason, is “Do we (really) need an Interim?” or “Why do we need an Interim?” Among the many assumptions, assertions, and anxieties buried within those few words, there is usually a much more basic question, one that few congregational leaders spend much time thinking about until the need is fully upon them – “What do we actually need an Interim to do?”

While I really do think that the best short answer is “It depends,” this rarely satisfies congregational leaders, so some explanation of the broad range of situations that may characterize congregations in transition is usually necessary. Over the years, I have noted that, as one moves form the most basic to the most involved, there is a clear progression in the complexity of the work, the length of time that it takes, the skills that are necessary, and the costs involved.

First Tier: Basic Church

In the Episcopal Church, all congregational priests are expected “to proclaim the Gospel, love and serve Christ’s people, nourish them, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come” and to do so “By word and action, informed at all times by the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese and the General Convention.” Clergy in charge of congregations are further expected to “lead ___ Church as pastor, priest, and teacher, sharing in the councils of the congregation and of the whole Church, in communion with the Bishop.” This is the sacramental and pastoral foundation, the basis upon which all other personal or corporate practices and proclivities rest. It is, of course, very important, and most clergy do it reasonably well. It is not however, Interim Ministry in any but an eschatological sense. As one retired cleric once phrased it: “you can have some old bird like me come out here and read the service every week, but that won’t do much to help you grow or get to know just who it is that God’s calling you to be …”

Effective and healthy clergy transition can be done without the presence of a trained interim, but it must rely very heavily on the prior formation, discipline and hard work of the congregational leadership, and their willingness to be guided by whatever judicatory or consulting resources are available. This also assumes that there is basically no conflict, that the administrative systems are dynamic and healthy, and that the internal and external contexts are not in a significant state of change. Unfortunately, the temptation/pressure to believe that this really is the case is usually very powerful, and it regularly exerts its allure on both congregational and judicatory leaders, often despite significant evidence to the contrary.

Within the context of congregational transition, this option usually appears as some form of Pulpit Supply, Sunday coverage of Word and Sacrament, maybe even some pastoral support in case of emergency, but not much else. Some refer to it as “congregational babysitting,” someone to watch the kids until a new Father or Mother can be found and persuaded to come home.

The leaders who call for this usually do so under the banner of cost reduction. Of course, how this is done, and with what degree of effectiveness, varies widely from place to place and person to person, yet even this First Tier: “Basic Church” costs some money, and requires years of professional study, practice and experience.

Second Tier: Transition and the Interim

As Loren Mead and his colleagues discovered in their early research on congregations in transition, there is more to congregational/clergy transition than simply finding another pastor who can perform the essential actions of the First Tier. During times of transition, “basic church” is rarely enough; whether we like it or not, change has already crept in. Indeed, healthy congregations are those which find ways to use the inevitable disruption of patterns and expectations to arrive at a greater measure of perspective and self- awareness, gaining insight on themselves and their ministries, listening to who it is that God is calling them to be and what it is that God is calling them to do, in their unique place, at that particular time, choosing the ways that they believe they can best live into their future.

The familiar 5 Interim Stages or Developmental Tasks have been shown to be effective ways of doing this work hundreds of times, in congregations ranging from rural Maine to downtown Los Angeles. But, as anyone who has lived through a congregational transition knows all too well, those 5 stages don’t just happen. They require hard work and a high degree of desire to learn and to grow. Furthermore, the Interim can guide, never actually do that work for the congregation; indeed, it is my belief that almost all of the attention to self-differentiated leadership is simply to prepare the Interim to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to say nothing of the pleading, wheedling, threatening and emotional and financial cutoff that can result when some of the members of any/every congregation actually begin to understand that they are the only ones who can (and must) do the work. The real primary task of a good Interim is to provide a steady hand, a constant self differentiated presence, to guide and encourage the congregation and its leadership as they do the spiritual, emotional, organizational and cultural work summed up in those 5 Developmental Tasks.

The Second Tier is characterized by the management or facilitation of the work of transition, in, through, and in addition to the basic First Tier elements of Blessing, Absolving and Consecrating, “hatching, matching and dispatching,” being faithful through the cycle of the seasons, recognizing that the transition in the congregation is simply another image of the presence of the Promise and its fulfillment in all of the transitions of life.

Needless to say, this Second Tier requires additional training, focused experience, and the appropriate personality and temperament. And “Yes,” the additional layer of expertise that functions at the Second Tier does usually cost a bit more than Sunday supply….

Third Tier: Trauma and its aftereffects,

Unfortunately, there are also those situations in which the particular events resulting in transition violate fundamental values such as appropriate boundaries, trust, and even the basic assumption that we and our loved ones will see tomorrow, better or not. The shock, pain and anger that often result from the violation of these aspects of our humanity make them especially difficult for congregational members to recognize, acknowledge and integrate into their ongoing personal and corporate identities. Echoing the early research of Loren Mead and his colleagues, these can be summed up within several broad categories: Abuse or Misconduct – regardless of whether that Abuse or Misconduct was of: Relationship(s): persons or relationships abused by or for the benefit or gratification of some other person or group, Substance(s): of any of a number of legal, licensed or illegal chemical substances, or Resource(s): misuse of any of the various Resources of the Congregation or its Members. Any Combination of these.

Congregational Conflict – regardless of whether that conflict resulted in or from the departure of the prior cleric and/or important members of the congregation.

Severe Trauma or loss, in any form, regardless of whether that event involves people, property, or personhood.

Barring any of these, two additional situations were identified as critical moments in the transitional life of a congregation:

Clergy Transitions involving a particularly Short Tenure (the definition of this is often a function of local experience and expectation) and those involving a particularly Long Tenure (my initial rule of thumb is anything over 15 years).

Seven years of judicatory level work causes me to add one additional observation to this list: the traumatic effect and emotional potency of any of these traumatic categories is increased by a full order of magnitude any time the transition happens because of or is sufficiently severe as to require the direct involvement of the judicatory or its senior staff.

In Third Tier situations, it is important for everyone to note that even the basic Second Tier Interim Work cannot begin until the emotional turmoil of the traumatic event and its aftershocks (sometimes far more destructive, widespread and enduring than the initial event) have been recognized, acknowledged, and have begun to be dealt with in a constructive, ongoing and systemic way, and the congregation has begun to move toward the restoration of basic trust.

The Third Tier Specialists who deal with these situations must be highly skilled, well trained, experienced specialists, who are functioning at the top of their capacity, both personally and professionally. These folks are often described as “Smoke Jumpers,” “Circuit Breakers” or “First Responders.” All of these images are apt – their immediate task is to deal with the crisis and its repercussions, recognizing that the way that they and the congregations involved do so will have a lasting effect on the culture of the congregation and its members well into the future.

Needless to say, the level of experience and expertise required for Third Tier Ministry requires even more knowledge, more training, more experience, and a combination of gifts and temperament that is even more uncommon. It is no surprise then, that Third Tier Specialists who can provide guidance through the most difficult situations are not inexpensive in financial terms.

So what do we (really) need an interim for? It depends……. It really does.

Rev. Keydel is a member of the IMN Board of Directors.


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