Archive for October, 2005

Where To Find Help In Time Of Need

PSALM 121: 1 -2

David was in a stressful situation desperate for help. Indications are this Psalm was written when he was confronted by a superior army badly needing reinforcements.

He knew from what direction his help would come. It would come from the people living beyond the mountain range.

The fact he was lifting up his eyes to the hills indicated he was confident it was coming. He was just waiting expectantly for it.

There is here a fuller expression of confidence. Though his help would consist of an army coming from beyond the hills he was fully aware that it was the Lord who was sending them. Therefore, he said, “My help comes from the Lord.”

We like he need help in three primary areas:
PROTECTION, VERSES 5, 6. He is our protector who “keeps” us as noted in verses 3,4, 5, 7,8.
GUIDANCE, VERSE 3. He will not allow His followers foot to slip.
BLESSING, VERSES 5, 6. The language speaks of blessing. In the hot arid desert shade is a blessing. It speaks summarily of all the blessing to follow.

David had need of the blessings of protection and guidance. Our Lord was in the process of giving both. However, from David’s perspective there was no evidence of it. He waited expectantly for it in faith.

In our times of need we can confidently anticipate the timely provisions of our Lord. They may not come as soon as we desire but they never come too late.

Our God is on time, in time, every time.

A Church Interim: Things That Happens During an Interim

The interval between a former pastor leaving and the new one coming, known as the interim, is basically the same in every church. There is a distinct pattern.

First, there is an effort to have the Constitution and By-laws amended.

Next, there are persons who have special ministries they have always wanted the church to provide and they are willing to start and head them.

Third, an impatience develops rapidly in that things “aren’t getting done.”

Fourth, power brokers begin to emerge and assert themselves with increasing zeal.

Fifth, the Pastor Search Committee isn’t realistic and becomes discouraged when the premier pastors aren’t available.

Sixth, efforts are made to establish a pastor oversight committee.

Finally, a critical spirit develops among the members if the interim is longer than a few months and the Pastor Search Committee begins to be disparaged.

Those are some of the basic challenges faced during an interim. Parenthetically, departing pastors should not think the church being left won’t pattern these paths. Many well organized churches that have been led well by competent pastors have fallen into this pattern almost immediately.

The fact these things happen when there is no pastor reveals something of the importance of the role of a pastor, the overseer of the flock. Without his shepherding instincts and gifts the flock rapidly wanders.

Most of the very things some persons want to do during an interim are the very things pastoral leadership is needed to do. There is a Biblical model that defines the role of a pastor. It is not the norm in the minds of many but it is Scriptural. Rather than change the Biblical role to suit the interest of the congregation the congregation would do well to conform to the Biblical role.

The pastor is God’s gift to the church. In Ephesians 4: 11 it is noted “He Himself gave some to be … pastor/teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

For clarity it is stated not just “He” but “He Himself gave….” When God’s will regarding a new pastor is reached that pastor is in essence divinely appointed through the Search Committee.

There is no room for ego by a pastor in that a gift is given for a function. He who receives a gift receives the giver and he who rejects a gift rejects the giver. In receiving Christ’s gift to the church it is Christ who is being honored.

Pastors are admonished to “ …take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

The pastor is the “overseer” charged by God to “shepherd the church.” He will someday have to stand, no kneel, before the Lord and give an account of having done so. Every member will likewise have to give an account as to whether they allowed him to and how they aided him in the task. The “Holy Spirit has made” him “overseer.”

Some pastors abuse the aspect of the office regarding a word used in Scripture related to the office. Congregants are urged to “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you…” (Hebrews 13:7). The pastor must lead as a wise and humble shepherd not an autocratic dictator. Most seek to do so. The fact some do not is not a permission slip for members not to allow him to fulfill what is meant by the word “rule.” It translates the Greek word “hegeomai,” which means “to be over, to govern.”

In light of this consider the things that emerge during an interim starting with a summary. In light of the Biblically defined role of the pastor as leader these are the very things that should not be done without his oversight.

If he is to properly fulfill what is meant by “rule” he needs to have a voice in shaping the document by which he will serve as “overseer,” the by-laws. Leadership styles vary, church needs change, but the Biblical model remains the same. By-laws vary from church to church. That which works for one church may not be well suited for another.

In every congregation there are persons who want the bylaws to serve as a straitjacket rather than well defined guidelines. Because of this it is important that this document be well crafted in a way that will not inhibit his style as long as it conforms to the decorum of the church. It is wise for the pastor to be allowed to come in and study the needs, history, and opportunities of the church in order to lead in the drafting of the by-laws.

The starting of special new ministries by persons willing to lead them should be put on hold. It is likely the former pastor knew of these desires and had a reason for not initiating them. The new pastor will know in what direction he is being lead by the Lord to guide the church and what programs will help him best reach that goal. Starting any new ministry requires time, promotional efforts, personnel, and a budget. Often the person starting a new ministry feels it should be given primary attention and that is hard to do without a pastor.

If things got done in the absence of a pastor as well as they do during the ministry of a pastor that would indicate there is no need for a pastor. Actually, the worse things go during an interim the more the need for a pastor is indicated.

A congregation should interpret an interim as a time in which to develop patience. It is a time of testing. Our Lord allows tests in our lives in order for us to gain and show strength. “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage…” (Psalm 27: 14).

Dominant personalities tend to aggressively assert themselves during an interim. There being a leadership vacuum someone has to step up and give guidance. Often it is good noble capable people who do. Without them the church flounders. However, when a dominant personality that has been held in check by the presence of a pastor emerges as a power broker problems occur.

If such an individual becomes established he or she wants to maintain dominance when the new pastor comes. In doing so the dominator is violating the Scriptural model and assuming authority granted the pastor by the Holy Spirit who has gifted him and the Christ who has given him to the church.

In churches where there is not a staff capable of giving leadership deacons of necessity often assume the role. In doing so they move away from the servant role given the office in Scripture and become administrators by default. Some become so comfortable in this role they are reluctant to relinquish their power when the pastor come.

If this happens two offices are robbed of their royal right, that of the pastor and the deacons. When deacons become administrators the church is deprived of a large corps of servants. Upon the arrival of the new pastor an informal ceremony much like the changing of the guard in the military can be utilized to transfer the leadership role to the new pastor. Most deacons will delight to make the transfer.

The Pastor Search Committee (or Team) starts out with lofty ideals and that is good. Often these ideals are unrealistic. They naturally want the best for their church. An example of excessive ambition relates to giftedness. If the Lord has gifted a pastor with the ability to lead a congregation of 1000 it is unrealistic to think he would lead him to a church of 100. In their search they must learn to rejoice every time the Lord closes a door on a potential pastor knowing God just kept them from going through the wrong door. They should thank God that this it is a part of the process of Him guiding them to the right one. Be encouraged rather than discouraged when a potential pastor declines. “No,” is often as much of an answer from God as “yes.”

Often those who want to amend the by-laws find an interim a grand time to establish a “Pastor Oversight Committee.” The day a verse of Scripture is found authorizing such do it. There is no Biblical right to have a group of overseers over the overseer. Squelch it.

If things don’t progress as rapidly as some desire a negative attitude tends to develop. When that happens there is a tendency to find someone to blame and the Pastor Search Committee is a good target. If the church is praying for them this spirit should not be tolerated. The church wants the Lord to guide them and most often the members of such a body are hungry for the Lord to lead. If He is leading criticism of the committee is in reality criticism of God.

The church should pray earnestly for the search process. They should pray not for God’s permissive will but for His perfect will. There is a difference. When a search results in the committee falling short in following the guidance of the Lord it is as though He says, “OK, if that is the direction you insist on going I permit you to call that person.” On occasion a call is made within God’s will, but it is His permissive will. When God’s perfect will is done it proves to be a good fit and blessings result.

During an interim a church should avoid these pitfalls. Dedication to three elemental things will help a church remain healthy and vital during an interim. They are edification, evangelization, and discipleship.
The Scripture urges believers to edify one another as well as the total body. In the word “edify” can be heard the root for the word “edifice.” An edifice is a building. When we edify a person we build them up. A conscious effort of edification should be promoted. Do and say things that build people up. Pray for each other. Cultivate an atmosphere of optimism and enthusiasm.

Discipleship involves training people for ministry and equipping them to confront life’s daily challenges. Sunday School should be stressed as the means of doing this. Care groups should supplement Bible teaching in well organized classes. With or without a pastor properly functioning groups can provide certain care for members.

Evangelism keeps a congregation focused on reaching people. Churches rarely grow numerically during an interim. Prospects want to wait and see who is the new pastor. However, the outreach must be maintained to conform to the mandate of Scripture. From a practical standpoint it is necessary to keep prospects in the pipeline for response when the new pastor does come.

Emphasis on these three basics will keep the church content and on task. Unfortunately it is these three that often get minimized during an interim. In large part it is true because the above no-nos are allowed to become paramount.

To avoid such an inversion an outgoing pastor would do well to explain these principles to his beloved congregation and get them to vote on their course of conduct during the interim before he leaves. An understanding would be established within the fellowship and guidelines would be provided for an interim pastor related to his role.

Churches That Follow FADS

Change costs more than change. It is often expensive in terms of finances and personnel. The cost in personnel often results from persons feeling uncomfortable with the change and looking for something with which they are comfortable.

Churches in recent years have become big agents of change. Chasing after every new trend causes instability. The cost to churches, as with businesses, is significant. The philosophy of ministry on which a church is started and developed will work regardless of what form it is. However, changing any form to another is demanding on a church body.

Perhaps churches can learn form Disney World of all places. Many industries have observed their model and are being influenced by it.

Disney’s Tomorrowland has been a major challenge for them. By the time they design and develop a new version it is obsolete. The time, effort, and money spent has proven to be too much of a drain. Initially the Disney designers asked, “How do we produce a world of the future that isn’t outdated before it opens?” Disney found that the cost of staying on the cutting age was depleting. Disney, like the world view around it, was operating on the concept that any new idea is better than an old one. They often are but not always. Life on the cusp of culture is risky.

Dizzied by the draining demands Disney dared to ask the unthinkable. They postulated as to whether all the solutions were ahead of them or were some of them potentially behind them. Their query was must we keep pace with all avant guard trends?

When Disney concluded constant change was expensive, unsettling for personnel, and often dramatically inefficient they opted to build a retro-future based on the past.

Many churches are awakening to the same reality. Our unstable world, the failures of many trendy concepts, and a desire for stability has resulted in a new interest in the traditional. Coupled with this is a reaction by a younger generation to the boomer philosophy of change for the sake of change.

Time magazine has noted a developing retro style trend in decor, fashion, and car designs. They concluded people are looking for stability, permanence, and endurance. Having observe people are looking for proven virtues and values Time stated, “…these backward glances aren’t merely escapism. They help to ground us, to sort through the clutter that surrounds us.” A recent Internet survey involving over 2,000 people showed a trend in music. 12% said they preferred contemporary music, 31% preferred blended, and 49% traditional.

All of this means churches are in an ideal position to reevaluate their rich history, customs, and traditions and glean from the past those anchors for souls on the Old Ship of Zion who are sea sick from ever changing tides. A blend of trends and traditions has much to offer. Firms have found what churches need to realize. Neither be married to the past nor totally disregard it. Classified as the biggest commercial goof of the late 20th century was Coke’s discard of its traditional taste. They learned and honored their traditional beverage by not discontinuing it while offering new ones. The technique works in commerce as well as churches.