Podcast Episode 15, 46 min
Intentional Interim Pastors with Tom Harris (EP 15)
Karl Vaters talks with Tom Harris, the co-author of Soaring Between Pastors: 8 Actions to Thrive During a Pastoral Transition. Tom also serves as the president of IPM (Interim Pastor Ministries).

Tom Harris: Intentional disciple-making building into an individual or small group like Jesus did, and then teaching them to do the same.

Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor. And welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church? My guest today is TH and the subject is intentional, interim pastors. Tom is the co-author of Soaring Between Pastors: Eight Actions to Thrive During a Pastoral Transition. He also serves as the president of IPM, Interim Pastor Ministries.

In this conversation, Tom and I talk about the importance of interim pastorates and how an intentional interim can help prepare a church to hit the ground running when they call a new pastor. And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question "can this work in a small church?"

Before we get to the interview, one quick thing. In October, 2021, we're holding our first ever support drive. Listen for more information about it at the break in the middle of the podcast, and now let's get to the content and an answer to the question "can this work in a small church?"

Well, Tom, welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church? I sure appreciate your being with us today. You and I have had several conversations over the last couple of months about the ministry that you're involved with. And then I received your book Soaring Between Pastors: Eight Actions to Thrive During a Pastoral Transition. I read through it and there's so much good stuff in this that I wanted to have a conversation with you.

The first thing I really want to do about this is I don't want to ask, how did you become interested in this idea of intentional interim pastoring? Because it takes a lot of passion to actually write an entire book on the subject and not just a book, but to really come up with an entire process to help churches through interim. How did you become interested in the subject?

TH: I was an interim pastor when I was in college every weekend. I went to enough hours to primarily preach. But even before that in high school, my pastor that discipled me left when I was 16 and an interim pastor came and played a vital role in my continuation of my discipleship. And that was invaluable by that interim.

When I was about 40, I was in between churches, I'm a never married, single, so I have a uniqueness that travel is no problem for me. And I was just thinking in praying and the thought came to me that I would really enjoy a career in intentional interim ministry.

Be able to go from one church. And to bring value in added benefit and improvement. I was fascinated with the idea, but I didn't act. And then a year later I was applying to a church and they brought me to Arizona to interview and they were definitely down in the dumps. They were declined over 25 years from about 800 down to about 130, devastating lawsuit. I said, "You should not call a pastor." I was smart enough to know they needed some kind of interventionists interim, and I volunteered. And that began me on a career of nine interim pastorates over 15 years, crisscrossing America, at least twice. And in that time I was trained in some of the principles in this book.

I eventually became the president of this organization. I took what was here in materials, and I took a manual that was kind of remedial and added meat to it. And eventually I authored this with a second author, George Boehlert. [inaudible] having a passion that if the eagle can soar, and we should be able to soar like an eagle by waiting on God, because of God's infusion. I was pretty convinced that churches should be able to rise on the thermals of God and reach new heights in praise, worship, ministry, expression, and missional engagement. So that's how I am in your day, the author of this book.

KV: Oh, that's [inaudible] rise on the thermals of God. Well, that's a pretty poetic phrase right there. I love that.

So you started this idea because you saw the need. And obviously, I've been in ministry a long time, and I have come to the conclusion that we have not done pastoral transition well. In fact, I would say pastoral transition is maybe the most common, big hazard that churches face. And yet we have not recognized the challenge of that.

It's like when you're in pastoral transition, I always have this picture of one foot on the dock and one foot in a very unstable canoe. And we haven't taught people how to make that transfer well. Is that what you've seen in your experience? That in fact, the pastoral transition is a very risky time and that we haven't done it intentionally at all. Has that been your experience, too?

TH: Karl, I invented with you that same analogy of a small skiff growing up on a, on the water and the east coast. And it truly, when a pastor steps off, he can leave a mighty retraction of weight and the boat can rock and it needs calmness. It needs to come back to stability.

And that's where the stepping on of a pastor who knows how to bring stability and strength to a church. So it is a hazardous time. People can get thrown overboard, people can lose their way, they can lose faith. Sometimes over disappointments, they can just grieve terribly for someone that was so unique whose life affected them, that they can't imagine someone else being the same sort of expression [inaudible] God.

KV: Exactly. And yet, unlike other church hazards such as a church split or a moral failure or whatever, pastoral transition is normal and natural. Nobody is going to live forever. So at some point or another churches are going to transition pastors. It just simply is going to happen. So given that we know what's going to happen, given that we know that it's not a tragedy that it does happen. It seems we should do it better. And thirdly, the average church changes pastors about every five or six years. Do I have that right?

TH: Right

KV: Which means the average church is going to change pastors twice every decade. It's going to happen. We know this, the statistics tell us this. Yet, why have we been so slow to be intentional about something that we know is going to happen?

TH: I agree. Why have we been? This organization I lead was started 31 years ago by some regional district leaders of a denomination who had that same question. We need a better solution for our churches and they birthed Interim Pastor Ministries.

So I feel like I'm the lone voice sometimes in the wilderness crying, you know, we've got something that we'd love to share with you. So it's an education process that has to continue going on. And then willingness for churches to delay the instant gratification of seeking a pastor, as soon as they can get them there, to be able to use the time as fertile soil, to plant some seeds of renewal, regrouping, refocusing and re-engaging with a new pastor with the hopes that there'll be longevity and fruitfulness together.

KV: Yeah, exactly. What I want to do is actually you've got eight, very, very clear steps in Soaring Between Pastors that are the basis of how Interim Pastor Ministries does this. I'd actually like to take like a stone skipping across a clear lake, quick look at all eight, just to give people an idea of what we're talking about here.

Some of them are really obvious when you hear them, you go, "Oh, of course we should be doing that better." And then as we get near the end, there's actually something that is counterintuitive, but it's actually something that I've been talking about for years. I loved it when I read it. So if you don't mind, I want to walk through each of the eight steps and we're going to leave out a whole bunch of information because each one of these eight steps could be its own podcast.

We're going to try to get through all of these. So people have an idea and then we'll give them an idea of how they can go deeper if they're interested. Action step number one is to stabilize the church or search for smooth air. You mentioned it already. Most churches want to jump really quickly, like if we can make the transition as short as possible between pastors, but that's the ideal. You say that's not really the ideal. We should in fact, slow down and use this interim time intentionally and the first step is to stabilize the church or, you know, using the air metaphor was search for smooth air.

Let's talk about that. How can we stabilize the church between pastors?

TH: What happens the first 60 days without a pastor is going to determine probably what happens this next six years with the next pastor. This is when we are making wise decisions or fullest decisions. It's when we need to take care of some elemental things that are very important, though.

The preaching ministry of the church, the shepherding, the. Who's going to sit in that seat until a new pastor's called and there's different options. Let an associate preach. Usually not really a great option. He has a job or she has a job already. This wasn't yet what they've been called to do to be a regular pulpit preacher, teacher, or they'd be pursuing it.

In the last chapter we talk about Sully Sullenberger, that he was able to land that plane in New York on the. [inaudible] Miracle happened that day. And we think we need people that are wise, people that are skilled, people that are strategic. That's what we seek to do is to develop a team like that, that can come into a church and brings instant stability to help them become strengthened. So they start rising like the heat rises up and the thermals rise up and planes can rise up and down based upon their environment. We want God to be the one that's lifting the church toward greater kingdom effectiveness.

KV: Yeah. One of the quotes I love in your first chapter is on page 27. You say, "Good leadership during the pastoral transition tends to attract good pastoral candidates."

When you hear that, for me, it was one of those moments, of course. But until you said it, it didn't occur to me. If we lead well during this transition, then the pastoral candidates who come in and we're going to look at it and go, "Hey, these are people who have their act together. This is a church that I want to be in." This isn't a church that's falling to pieces and angry at each other, or just rushing to the next step. If you can show good pastoral, good leadership during pastoral transition, you can actually have a greater likelihood of people coming who you really want to have lead your church, can't you? You can, you can prepare yourself better for the next step.

I love that.

TH: Absolutely. You know, like in dating, people tend to want to think that they have an equal someone that compliments them and consequently, a church's identity, their self esteem, their picture of themselves. If it's, "We're just average, we couldn't expect very much." Then they're going to get that kind of person, because a high caliber pastor will want to go to a group of people that he mirrors, or they mirror him, so that they can together have comparable goals, objectives, and a vision for the future.

So if a church doesn't interview well, when the candidate is interviewing them, then only the one who is desperate or has low self-esteem will go there and lend us their unique call to be a revitalization pastor. Then sometimes you see the greatest go to churches that externally look like they're struggling greatly.

KV: Yeah. Very, very true. So stabilize the churches. Step action number one. Action step number two is to eliminate challenges to soaring or, I love this, confront the elephants. So what are some of the elephants that we're trying to confront during this.

TH: Well, there's the elephant of unforgiveness, at times. There's the elephant of the abuse of power, where there is an individual or a family in a smaller church or people that seem to always be the one whose opinion matters. There can be poor reconciliation skills. There can be something like too much fellowship. To the exclusion of comparable outreach to those that don't know the Lord.

And these are some of the things that we, we see.

KV: Yeah, I, I love the idea that we can use this interim time intentionally to actually help the church get healthier between pastors to prepare them for the next pastor. And one of the things just for those who have not read your book, or are not aware of this ministry yet, each of these steps is a chapter in your book. Each chapter ends with very practical steps, conversation points, and ways to actually achieve these goals. So it's not just wishful thinking. This is a real design process that walks you through, because I know there are probably some churches out there who may be without a pastor going, "No, we are, we're going to hire a pastor to fix us." Okay, right, but you're saying, ``No, we, there are some things we need to do before we hire that pastor to get ourselves healthier, to prepare ourselves for a more successful pastor."

Isn't that maybe part of the reason why, obviously there are challenges on the pastor side where we've got this transitional idea in our head, but also on the other side, there are some churches that basically set themselves up to have serial pastors, because they are not the kind of place that pastors want to stay in.

So there's there's issues on both sides. Aren't they?

TH: There certainly are. When churches kick the can, or probably many cans, down the road, they typically end up in the front yard of the new pastor. And consequently, there's all this debris, that's at the door of the church that he's expected to somehow or another take care of.

I tell you each time that a new pastor addresses these sometimes sacred cows, or problem people, or problem attitudes. They're going to be experiencing conflict. Now conflict is okay. If both parties are well adapted, how to resolve conflict in a biblical healthy way, but unfortunately, a lot of pastors and a lot of churches aren't skilled at that. Then the problems are insurmountable and consequently pastors, every five or six years leave.

KV: Gotcha. And this is of course one of the advantages of a trained and skilled interim pastor is that they can help guide a church through this process. And one of the advantages of being an interim is you can come in and quote unquote "the bad guy" who comes in and causes a confrontation. You're going to leave as soon as the next guy shows up anyway.

So you can point out the elephant, you can bring some upheaval and expose the stuff under the rock. Because you're only there for a short period of time and for that particular purpose. So I love the idea of using this season to confront those elephants that people don't always confront. So that's action step number two. Action step number three, then strengthen leadership or spend time in the spiritual simulator.

So what is the spiritual simulator? You're obviously using another flight metaphor here. Right?

TH: You know, I did step into a real simulator about four years ago, a $30 million one, and I had a chance to fly it. And I knew how amateurish I was. I crashed it in Hong Kong bay, gave me a heart attack. But everything rises and falls as is well said on leadership. As leadership goes, there goes the church.

The question is, what is the capacity? What actions could an interim take that would help improve unity community among the leaders? We have three booklets that can be found on our website. You can click through to order them. They're on the whole concept of church leadership, church boards, principles, and practice for the interim in this area at interim pastors.com. One of the weaknesses is that very few churches have any kind of system for identifying, training, and developing leaders. So it's like, well, whose turn is it now? Or, oh, there's somebody new in the church that's been here a year and a half and they're the CEO of some oil company. Surely they can help us figure out how to run this church. And there could be nothing more different than running a $3 billion business with secular components and a local church, which is both an organization, but foremost, it's an organism.

KV: Yeah, they are very, very different. Yeah. Strengthening the leadership.

So action step number four, then, ascend through prayer or climb when you are on your knees. Now, obviously, prayer needs to be a part of this. And I want to pause here because for a lot of pastors and churches, they're going to hear that and go, of course, you got to pray. What's the next step, but let's not jump too fast to the next step.

You talk specifically here about something called prayer triplets which is not something I'd ever heard of before. So walk us through that so that people understand there's, there's a process here that you've put in place, even regards to prayer. What are prayer triplets and how do they work?

TH: Well, this is a framework that was developed and I learned it from a mentor, George Bullard, who ends up being the second author in my book.

And it's whereby for a hundred days, a group of three meet for 10 times to be able to pray, share, and to be able to dialogue with some guided discussion questions. And then to be able to feed back to a leader or a team of people, their impressions, their thoughts, what God is telling them as we primarily focus at this point on visioning.

So prayer is extremely important, but these triplets actually give a way that people can pray and seek God's face and his future for the church.

KV: I love that because quite often, when we talk about the importance of prayer, we just simply tell people, you need to pray about this and we don't give them enough guidance to, to really show them the importance of it.

This is very specific. This is relational. This is guided. This has goals. When you do this process, it's not going to be a matter of, am I going to have to sit in a room for half an hour and pray? I'm not good at praying. No, there's, there's real guidance as to how this is done and really to help us listen to the Lord together and give some sense of direction out of it.

To me, it was one of those moments that I was so appreciative of, that it was not just simply mentioned, but that there was a real process of how to do this in the book.

If you appreciate the content and resources we provide at Can This Work in a Small Church and at karlvaters.com, we could use your help. This month, October, 2021. We're having our first ever support drive. Here's why in 2022, we plan to create new resources, including a second podcast, church health assessment resources and more.

So far, we've been able to absorb the cost of these resources ourselves, but we need your help to create this next phase of ministry. Because we're supporting small churches and their pastors, we want to keep offering as many of them for free as possible. Your support will help us keep doing that. To support this month's drive, see the link in the show notes, or go directly to karlvaters.com/support where you can help us monthly or with a one-time gift. Thank you so much for helping to keep these resources coming to those who need them the most.

TH: I would just say that I think people are a little erroneous when they think the vision comes from one person or even from a group of four or five or seven. I believe that God can bubble up his vision. It may be exactly like the pastors concept or the leaders concepts, but I believe God can either conform vision or he can create it from the pew. As we hear what God's saying to his people, and they're able to express it and feedback their sense of God's direction and future for them.

KV: I fully agree. And this segues us now to the next three steps and three chapters. And what I referred to earlier, which is the counter-intuitive part. This is what I actually spent a full, almost a full chapter in small church essentials talking about. The idea that in a healthier church and especially in a healthier small church, vision does not necessarily and quite often isn't the best to simply come from an individual but does bubble up from the body. I use the Acts 2 illustration in my book, but your next three chapters, all of them referenced this idea of vision coming from the congregation during the season.

So let's walk through them one at a time. Action step number five is to become a C3 church or soar into the future. Now C3 is a part of a process and we will put this illustration into the show notes. I'm just going to lay out the framework really quickly because we don't have time to go into it and they can see it in the show notes. You talk about S3, which is the intentional interim pastor. They need to be seasoned, skilled, and strategic. Plus a C3 soaring church. And the C3 has great commission and core values and captured by vision. Plus D3 intentionality: disciple-making, developing leaders, and then dynamic innovation equals a P3 lead pastor, which is passionate, proactive, and personal.

And again, that's a whole bunch of stuff to go into. I'm just laying down for people. And again, that'll be in the show notes. They can take a look at it. This right now is getting into that part there, that, that we just mentioned the C3 church. So what again is a C3 church and how do we start processing that during this interim?

TH: C3 church is a church that has a sense of a God given vision. A sense of confidence that they are hearing from God that they have prayed that read the word of God. They've dialogued with one another. They've looked at their community. They've looked at their giftedness and they have a sense that first of all, they truly are a Great, and here's the C, Commission church, which in my understanding the purpose of the church is to glorify God. I don't put that in the mission statement. The mission is the assignment of God, which is that part of I'm reaching toward those that don't know Christ, building those that come to Christ and know Christ, and then sending them out to do reaching and building themselves.

So that's a great commission focus, our core values. Who are we? Why do we do what we do? It's more than a doctrinal statement or a statement of faith. It's every bit of that, but it's also a sense of in our setting, what's really important? How do we do church? How do we write checks? How do we, what do we value?

And then lastly is simply being captivated by the results of prayer, dialogue, and discernment among the people. Hopefully led by the leadership of the church to be able to bring a process. What is God saying to our church about where we are going to be, if we reach our sense of God's preferred future for us?

I think it's going to be to soar some, if not take off for the stratosphere spiritually in love with God and love with others. In love with those that don't know God, that's a C3 church, commissioned, core values, and captivated by vision.

KV: I love it. So action step number five basically says it helps the congregation understand what kind of a church they are called to be.

Where are we aiming? Which leads to action. Step number six, soar with D3 intentionality or align your ministry with God's empowering vision. So we want to be sure that it's not just what we like, what we prefer, what our traditions are, what our preferences are, but what is it that God is actually calling us to do?

So let's talk through this. What does it mean to have D3 intentionality to align our ministry with God's vision?

TH: Once we know that you're on the mission that God gave his early church and to us, and that we have values that truly are biblical and focused and we're captivated by vision. Then we have to ask the question, how are we going to get there?

And discipleship or disciple-making is the first D. It's more than a sermon. I remember very few sermons. I'm not a nuts and bolts thinker to begin with. I'll remember a story or an impression or an idea. It's more than that. It's an intentional, disciple-making building into an individual, a small group like Jesus did, and then teaching them to do the same.

Leadership development was very weak in that. Everybody has a gift. And consequently, we need to build people to be what God called them and has gifted them to be that's developing leaders. And then to have a church that's not static. Jesus is a creative creator. In Genesis one he was, first of all, revealed as eternal in the beginning. He proceeded at the beginning. Number two, he created. So I think if we're going to be like God, we need to be creative people also. That's a great joy to see what God gives us in an unexpected opportune moment that we better stop and look at and say, is this something that we didn't anticipate? Is this part of what God's doing? So we're talking about discipleship- making, developing leaders and having dynamic innovation.

KV: Yeah. Now I want to pause right now because if a church without a pastor is listening to this and is becoming overwhelmed right now, it's okay. We're going through an awful lot of stuff really quickly. And we got to remember, this is part of a group called Interim Pastor Ministries. We're not saying, "Hey church, you got to figure out how to do all of this yourself."

These are the reasons why a trained and called interim pastor is so important because this is important but complicated stuff. If you're just trying to figure out how to do it as a congregation, by yourselves, without somebody walking you through it, this is complicated, challenging, and could feel overwhelming. Having somebody walk you through this is a big part of what this ministry is all about.

In that chapter you, you say this, I love this, the pastor's passion is clearly present when they preach and teach the good news. A pastor who is proactive is excited to lead a church that is already in the movement instead of at rest. They rejoice when the pastoral search team does not say to them, come help us find vision, but is able to say, this is the vision we believe God has for us. Does that align with God's call upon your ministry? That is so important and so helpful. Here is what God is calling us to do. Let's find a pastor who has an aligned call with that.

I think you're right, when you say that this is what pastors are looking for. Pastors don't want to go to disasters of churches. Three times I've shown up to very, very broken churches in two situations that worked well, in one situation that did not work well. But instead to come into a church that is really on mission with God and that aligns with the pastor's passion, it just sets the church and the pastor up for success and for kingdom success, when that's done. I love the way that set.

Now I'm going to jump to action step number seven, which is to call a P3 lead pastor, or continue to soar far and high. So what is the P3 lead pastor? Who is it that we're looking for?

TH: We of course, want someone that's doctrinally sound, biblically based as we would describe ourselves very important. We do want someone that can give a good sermon, a good message based upon the Bible or verse by verse, if that's what the church wants or topical exposition. So those are givens, but we really need pastors beyond those who are passionate for God, passionate about their walk with the Lord, passionate to preach the gospel. The good news of paradise lost and paradise gained. And how can I be a part of that renewed kingdom? We need proactive pastors that are not content to be in the study 35 hours a week for three or four different preparations. When maybe one preparation, which would free up 20 hours of leadership development, training other skilled people how to teach, how to pray, how to share their faith.

A proactive pastor that's not reactive, but looks out and sees things and get them done. And then someone that's personable. Ministry is all about people and people are generally disappointed if their pastor doesn't have some semblance of easy to hold a conversation with, when they're with me I feel a certain connection.

So it is a personal business. And we think personableness is very [inaudible]. I'm not saying they have to be a flying sanguine, but I'm somebody that can listen. Someone that can converse and show affirmation and also have some vulnerability about their own weaknesses, as well as their strengths.

KV: I love it.

So P3 is passionate, proactive, and personable. I, I, I absolutely agree with those. Those are such a core, especially for smaller congregations. These are extremely important things you can, maybe in a larger congregation, you can get by with someone who maybe is not as personable with people, but can work with the leadership team, those kinds of things in a larger congregation with a multiple staff.

That part of the reason you have multiple staff is because you can entrust some of those things to others. And as long as the entire team has those. In a smaller congregation, those things really have to be in place. And it's really not about having a massive skill set. Passionate, proactive, and personable is not about how much training you've had.

Right? This is more about not personality style, as much as it really is character, I think is what we're really talking about. Passionate, are you called? Proactive, are you going to sit and wait or are you actually going to pursue the mission? And personable, do you know how to work with people to get this done?

That is what ministry is all about. It's it's, it's loving God and serving people. So, that's what we're all about. And then it all leads to action step number eight, which I mentioned earlier in, as it might've started feeling heavy for others. Action step number eight is to engage an S3 intentional interim pastor, or connect with a Sully.

Bring somebody in, who can help you land this plane during a rocky and difficult season. And prepare you through all of this process to get to the next step. So what is it that we're looking for specifically in an intentional interim, or even that you are in interim pastor ministries that you're looking for in the group of pastors that you work with and who are available to be interims?

What are those characters? And that I know they're defined by the S3. So let's walk us through those three.

TH: Yeah, the first S is seasoned. We don't accept anybody into memberships that are under the age of 50. Very few people in their thirties and forties can envision 10 to 30 years of transitional ministry.

I started at 42. My singleness helped me, but we want our pastors to have a good track record. We want to know that there's no skeletons in the closet. We want to know that they have had some longevity in their churches and fruitfulness in their churches. We want to check references. So we want someone that you'd be proud to have as your intentional interim. And that's the seasoned, mature, educated, well prepared person.

Number two, we want someone to be skilled, that's the second S. Pastors that are 50, 60, 70, they bring lifetime learning to the table. They should be able to know how to preach by now. We're not going to give you remedial preaching courses.

You should be able to know how to shepherd. How to, how to lead a, a staff of volunteers or a staff with paid persons. So skilled and we add to them all kinds of skills. We help them think through how to resolve conflict, how to do strategic planning, how to do a church assessment to even see the underbelly of the church. To see what true strengths and challenges are and what to do about our weaknesses or challenges. So they are moved up to not being hindrances to the mission, but helpful to the mission.

And then lastly, strategically, I tried to make this up in my first church when I had no training and I did a poor job of making it up. I just went from one emergency to the next emergency. And finally, I was the one that was in the emergency room because it ate me up. Actually I had to go home to the east coast and get into counseling a little bit because it was kind of brutal. I wasn't prepared. I didn't, I didn't have a way.

We have a roadmap. We have a five stage process. How an interim can take a church through connecting with. Number two is with a group of people assessing the health and coming up with ideas, how we could improve our health, helping them to take whatever actions they are desiring to take and willing to take, to be able to do some elementary strategic planning that gets them out two to five years.

We want them to be able to describe to candidates who they are and where they're going. It doesn't mean the new pastor. Does it have the privilege of learning the turf and in time being able to do the same thing that we did just carrot it further, higher and deeper. And then lastly, We help with the pastor search, if the leadership allows us. We act as coaches and we normally sit in with the search team, give advice when asked and give direction and training and guidance. We have witnessed, I've witnessed the value of having an emotionally healthy, spiritually mature wise person with them, such as this kind of interim pastor.

Those are the three S's.

KV: I love it. It seems to me that there are three particular groups of people that would be particularly benefited by this. And that may be listening to this. You've obviously got the church that's facing an interim. You've got seasoned pastors who might be interested in doing the ministry of interim pastoring. And I think you've got denominational leaders or people who are overseeing a group of churches that are constantly dealing with pastoral transition, who would like to maybe help the churches that they're overseeing do this a little bit better. So let's go through them one at a time. If there are pastors out there who are interested in the idea of becoming an intentional interim, what is the first step that they should do?

TH: They should go to our website. And there's a place on the homepage where you can click and send an email to Todd@interimpastors.com. Todd is a senior director and one of his duties is membership. And so he will direct you to a training event. They're listed on the website. They're by invitation.

Next year we're just going to make them wide open to the public. We don't have to screen, but right now we're making certain that people that come to training would fit in our ministry. So not to disappoint people that came hopeful. Though many, just take it and go home and use it elsewhere. So that would be the thing, email Todd, he will converse with you by emails or phone calls and you do the training.

Then at the end of the training, we submit to you an application process. And if you want to follow up and make an application, that would be grand. We're actually short of pastors right now. We've never had this problem. It's just that we've got 23 churches as of today. And I don't know when the person will be listening to this now, or next year or 10 years, but right now I think there's a wave that's coming up. Baby boomers that are retiring. The pastors that are tired and don't want to care about the church any further. Some are stepping away for various reasons and we have a real need. So I hope God will call some of these people to [inaudible].

KV: Plus we have the whole, I think we're going to have a whole post COVID wave of pastoral departures as well.

So I think the need for interim pastors is only going to be growing in the next little while. So if you are a seasoned pastor who is interested, wondering, and praying about what your next season of ministry might be, you might consider an interim pastor. I really encourage you to check with them. I don't know anybody who does this better.

So if you're a church looking at an interim pastor situation, what should they do?

TH: They should call our 800 number on our website, interimpastors.com, (800) 501-7117 or emails info@interimpastors.com. Just through the website, you'll learn how to reach out to us and we will schedule an intake call with you and then a conference call with your leadership.

And if you're pleased, submit some documents to us and we'll go looking and see if we can find the person you sense would be the right one to serve your church in transition.

KV: Got it. And if you are overseeing a group of churches, a denomination or a region like that, what should they do?

TH: It's interesting.

We have training coming up in a week and we have 10 people going. We do this every month and I asked how many could be prospective pastors, because we really need some pastors. I found out that one person's retaking it, which is fine. It's free. Seven of them are denominational leaders. So my pool is thin for prospective pastors, but great for denominational leaders that are looking at us who may want to start recommending us. We do informal partnerships, simply shake of the hand, explain. Other groups want a signed kind of partnership, whatever it takes to be able to meet the expectations, needs of your denominational leader and your churches all within the purview of who we are and what we do.

KV: Great. So there are real opportunities in all of those three areas. I encourage you, if you are a part of any of that, or if you know anybody who could use this help to get a hold of it. But for now, we're going to jump to our final piece, which is our lightning round questions. The questions that I subject every single guest to whether they like it or not.

So here we go. First of all, what are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years? And how have you adapted to it?

TH: Well, you know, COVID has been a big part of the last year and a half. I guess the biggest change has been helping a church go through retraction in a way that preserves the true church, the people, their walk with the Lord, and then how to bring them together again. It looks like 20, 25% of people and a lot of churches may never return just from what I'm seeing. Maybe it's too early to make the call. I believe we're going to see a sharp decline. And so we've gotta be really good at helping congregations rebuild now. Strengthened into focus on what they truly are, and that is redemptive communities that are stewarding the gospel of Christ.

KV: And that's great. So what free resource like an app or a website has helped you lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?

TH: I would say that right now, if you could just look at our website there's some great materials on there. We have books available, we have three booklets on leadership for a local church, particularly great tools for any church, but specifically interim pastors to use in the area of strengthening. They're very inexpensive, they're booklets. I would highly recommend them on our website.

KV: That's interimpastors.com, right? And we will have that in our show notes. So number three, what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

TH: A senior pastor in Southern California who has a mega church. I heard him speak a couple of times at conventions and he said something that remarkably, I remember now, 15 to 20 years later. Here's what he said, you grow a church to 400 by shepherding. You grow a church past 400 by leadership. Let me tell you 400 is where about 97% of all churches are or under. So we cannot discount the relationship, the piece of the ministry that truly is watching for the sheep, feeding that sheep, leading the sheep, caring for the sheep, rescuing the sheep, developing the sheep so they can do what God made them to do. Shepherding is it's a people business.

If you don't like sheep, don't go into the pen with them. That's what love is. Love is serving and investing in others and sometimes a church that initially you don't feel a lot of affinity to; they're different from you. You start finding out that when you're with them walking through their seasons, how dear and beloved you become to them and they become to you.

KV: Yeah something wonderful about the shepherding pastor, sure is. From that to, what's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

TH: I'm going to go back to my college days. A friend was preaching outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia in a rural church. You can picture a little white building, no air conditioning, the windows are up, it's Sunday night in August.

So it's 80 degrees outside and the windows are open and he's up there preaching the way, some of his finest preaching I'd ever heard. All of a sudden the rumbling of a thunder storm starts in the background and then a little bit of lightning. Well a man in the church had the job during the service of going around to every window in the church, and a large one was right behind the, the pastor where he preached, and lower those windows.

So here he is trying to preach, and this guy is walking across. He got candles out and put them on a table in front of the, the pulpit of the church had them all ready. If he could light them. He's slamming windows. It must've taken seven to 10 minutes and it was completely hilarious. Trying to see my friend in front of 40 people, try to continue preaching with this kind of distraction.

KV: Yeah, that's a, that there's not a small church pastor who has done it for any length of time that hasn't had some similar distraction happening. And it always happens just as you're getting to that really important part of the message. This past Sunday, it actually happened just before the service.

I looked up and on top of one of the housings for our ceiling fans, there was a paper airplane. And I thought if I don't take that down now, it's going to start floating down into the congregation at just the most important part of the service, where everybody's supposed to be quiet and paying attention. And so I had to pull it down to try to remove that distraction, but some of them you cannot help.

TH: You know, San Diego, church of just 70 people, I was preaching in a little humble, little building and right outside the door to my left was my car and I accidentally hit my keys while I was preaching and my alarm went off. And I realized that it sounded like my car. So I walked 12 feet, opened up the side door, got my fob out and hit the, and it stopped. And I came back here and it was pretty, pretty humorous. Might you say.

KV: Yep, there you go. You gotta do what you gotta do. Normally I would ask how people can find you online, but you already walked us through how to do that for three different types of folks who need to get ahold of you. I really, really, really encourage anybody, in those situations, if you are a seasoned pastor, who's interested in past interim pastoral ministry. If you're a church who is facing an interim season, or if you oversee congregations, I really encourage you to get a hold of Tom and Interim Pastor Ministries.

They can really help you, particularly if you're a pastor who is looking, they are looking for pastors and they will train you, they will set you up, they will make sure that you know how to do this. It can be a real blessing to the kingdom of God. At a time where you may be wondering if you've got any value to the kingdom anymore, you can have great value in the kingdom to a bunch of different churches. And this is a group that can really help you do that.

So, Tom, thank you for the work you do. Thanks for being with us today. I really appreciate it.

TH: My pleasure, Karl and thank you.

You know, I want to thank Tom so much for his help. This is an intensely important subject and it is an underserved ministry. I really encourage you to send this podcast to any church that is going through an interim time, to any seasoned pastor who might want to serve in this exceptionally important ministry, and to anyone who may be a denominational official, or who oversees a group of churches that they want to help them to do pastoral transition better.

So the question comes, can this work in a small church? Is there a need in small churches for intentional interim pastors? I gotta say today, this is a huge yes. Yes, for a few reasons. First of all, because we need to be more intentional about this critical time that every single church will go through and most churches will go through twice a decade.

I think if we do this well, then we can lengthen the time of pastorates because we're doing the transitions better. Secondly,it's important for us to use the interim time as a chance to get healthier and to get better and to become a church that pastors want to stay in longer. And then finally, for those of you who have served as a pastor and you may be, are coming into the last season of your pastoral life, and maybe you're wondering, is there anybody who can even use you anymore?

KV: Do you have any value in the kingdom of God? The answer is a huge, yes. You can extend the length of your ministry by a decade or more. I really encourage you to go to the show notes, find the information there, contact Interim Pastor Ministries and get the help that you need. If we do this well, I believe we can serve churches, serve the kingdom, and serve our community so much better than we have.

And don't forget, October 2021 is our first ever support drive. Check out the link in the show notes or go to KarlVaters.com/support to help us keep these resources coming to those who need them the most. And if you want a transcript of this episode, it will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at christianitytoday.com/Karlvaters. Find the link in the show notes.

This episode is directed and produced by Veronica Beaver. The original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of jackwilkinsmusic.com. The podcast logo is by Solomon Joy of joyetic.com. And me? I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

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