We have all heard that “people just don’t like change.” Our reputation as Baptists for resisting change is so widespread that the punch line to the How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? joke is “Change???”
A wise man once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Change is inevitable, but I believe that it is not necessarily change that people resent, as much as it is loss that they dread. Getting something new is not as nearly resisted as is losing something familiar. We are suffering a loss in the departure of David and Carol Wheeler. The familiar and comfortable will be no more. Some will have difficulty imagining what the future could possibly look like. Allowing all of our members to grieve this loss and to come to terms with our new reality at their own pace is one of the reasons for the intentional interim period.
Change is a constant. Granted, transitioning to a new Senior Pastor is a really BIG change, and one often fraught with anxiety, but it is not an unusual occurrence. In our regional Baptist convention (of 80 congregations) alone, we currently have over 15 churches engaged in a pastoral transition. Multiply that by the rest of the 5,000 churches in the ABCUSA and you can see why we have entire departments that deal exclusively with helping churches find new pastors. In my office this is a daily part of what we do.
My hope in writing this article is to quell some of the churning in our collective gut. If we know what the process looks like, we can be less apprehensive about what tomorrow holds.
Calling an American Baptist Minister is the resource manual that we provide to congregations going through a Pastoral Transition. It is a comprehensive guide for each and every step of the journey. It outlines for us the “best practices” churches should follow to ensure the greatest likelihood of success for the next Senior Pastor.
In summary, will be moving through an intentional process of transition. After a few weeks of guest preachers we will welcome our Acting or Interim Pastor who will begin the work of helping the congregation prepare for its next chapter. Soon after his or her arrival we will form our Pastoral Search Committee. Once trained, this committee will begin the serious work of discerning who it is that God is leading us to as our next Senior Pastor. We are telling them to be in no rush, as it is critical that they get this right. Typical searches in our ABCUSA family can last upwards of 18 months.
God can, and often does, do remarkable things in a congregation during the transitional period. This is so well documented that there have been books written on the “five developmental tasks of the interim.” For extra credit, see www.interimministries-abc.org/Local/five_tasks.aspx.
If you have any questions or concerns about the transition, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.\
— Rev. Steve Bils
Rev. Bils serves as the Executive Minister of our region, The American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast, and is a member of our congregation.