EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Jimmie Sheffield, Assistant to the Executive Director at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
“Well, our pastor has resigned to go to another church. I wonder what we will do without him.”
“Oh, we will elect a search committee and probably have a pastor in a month or two.”
Variations of this conversation have taken place in many churches. The truth is that churches often move to find a new pastor without taking time to consider what kind of pastor is needed. Also, the church may be experiencing some internal issues of conflict that need to be resolved before calling a new pastor.
In addition, the anxiety level rises greatly when a pastor resigns. Questions arise concerning who will do the “day to day” ministry. Many will not know how decisions are to be made during the interim time. The issue of who is going to fill the pulpit until the church calls an interim or a pastor must be determined. Another important issue is the selection and training of the Pastor Search Committee.
One of the prevalent attitudes in a church family when a pastor resigns finds expression in statements like: “Well, there’s not much we can do until we call a new pastor. I hope our finances do not suffer during this interim time.”
Have hope! A new ministry is now available to help churches when the current pastor resigns. It is called SmartStart Interim (SSI). This approach to the interim time involves calling a SmartStart Interim pastor to help your church in the first eight weeks of the interim time.
The primary purpose of the SSI involves preparing the church for leadership options during the duration of the interim time. Most of the time it concludes with the calling of an interim pastor to lead the church through the months involved in a pastor search process.
The SSI has certain goals including the following:
· Helping the church prepare spiritually for the search process.
· Discovering areas of church life that need attention before a new pastor arrives.
· Helping the church clarify how ministry continues during the interim.
· Helping the church understand options and choosing direction for the long-term interim leadership.
· Forming and training a Pastor Search Committee.
The SSI is designed to take place in eight weeks. To help facilitate the process, the SSI
has three major elements. The most important element centers around Sunday worship themes. These themes give guidance to important phases of church ministry that help the congregation prepare for a long-term interim. The themes are as follows:
· Seeking God’s Direction
· Finding God’s Purpose
· The Church as the Body of Christ.
· The Mission of the Church
· What Is a Healthy Church?
· Who Are Our Ministry Partners?
· Committing Our Future to God
The second element of the SSI process involves the use of a leadership team. This team uses existing leaders to help the interim pastor plan the eight-week process. This team usually meets weekly with the SSI pastor.
The third element in the process is congregational involvement. The church gets involved through prayer, training of volunteer leaders, and other activities designed by the leadership team and the interim pastor. The SSI process concludes with a celebration fellowship and a commitment time for the next phase of the interim time.
The obvious question that may arise is “Does it work?” Dr. Sam Roberts recently served as the SSI in First Baptist Church in Warren. He said this about the process:
“One of the most immediate benefits experienced by a church that chooses the SmartStart Interim process is a decrease in the level of anxiety that typically accompanies the loss of a pastor.” Dr. Roberts also said, “As a SmartStart Interim, I had the opportunity to assist the church’s leadership in identifying potential areas of concern and developing a plan of action to address those concerns prior to the arrival of a new pastor.”
A deacon and chairman of the finance committee at FBC, Warren, said, “I think SmartStart coupled with the intentional interim process is about the smartest thing I’ve seen Baptist churches do in my lifetime.”
Another deacon at FBC, Warren said: “Our church recently lost our pastor of several years. The state of our church was one of dissension and separation to put it mildly. We were in dire need of direction and stability. Dr. Sam Roberts stepped in and became our SmartStart Interim, guiding us as we determined which path we needed to follow.”
You might be asking how a church can get started in the SSI process. Just call your associational missionary or the ABSC (501-376-4791, Ext. 5103 or 1-800-838-2272, Ext. 5103). If you would like additional information, ask for Jimmie Sheffield or Marcus Brown. They would be happy to help you know more about the process and how you can get involved.