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Churches in between pastors helped by LifeWay-trained transitional pastors

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–W.C. Burns recently celebrated his one-year anniversary at First Baptist Church in Iowa Park, Texas, but he doesn’t expect to be there too much longer. He is the transitional pastor and his goal is simply to help restore the church’s focus.

“I’ve been able to weld together and mend some fences in the time I’ve been here,” Burns said. “It’s like all Baptist churches; it has its problems, but the sweet spirit and love of the people here have engulfed us, and we’ve been able to minister to them.”

As a transitional pastor, Burns’ job is to prepare the church for the next pastor they call.

Paul Strahan, pastoral ministry specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, describes the aim of transitional pastors as helping churches in the adjustment period between pastors.

“Our job is to help churches and pastors find biblical solutions to help them in their ministries,” Strahan said. “Right now, about 10 percent of our churches are in such a time of transition. We’re trying to grow healthy churches, and I think the transitional pastor program fits right into that.”

LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. concurs. “Churches need direction and stability during the interim time between pastors,” he said. “The transitional pastor program is designed to give solid and consistent leadership to the church during this process.”

LifeWay will offer five training events in 2004 for transitional pastors, helping them to be effective as preachers, pastors and consultants as they lead churches through smooth transitions, rough transitions and crisis transitions.

While transitional pastors are not LifeWay employees, Strahan and others help place those who attend the LifeWay training events in churches seeking transitional leadership.

Burns decided to attend one of LifeWay’s training seminars for transitional pastors after serving for 13 years as pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas. He had planned to retire after he had been there 15 years, but after he attended the LifeWay training, he knew that God was calling him to be a transitional pastor right then.

“I was so impressed with God’s spirit at the training,” Burns said. “God began to stir my heart.”

The Iowa Park church elected Burns as their transitional pastor without even meeting him.

“The only people I met were the ones on the search committee,” Burns said. “But the church voted 100 percent to call me. I resigned from my church, and we moved up here.”

Thomas Riggins, chairman of the transitional pastor committee at First Baptist, said they chose Burns based on his personality and his training as a transitional pastor.

“He fit the personality of our church, and we sought him because he had the transitional pastor training,” Riggins said. “We hired him with the intention of him staying for 18 to 24 months to prepare our church for new leadership, and I feel like in the past year, he has restored much of the church’s focus.”

For Burns, who has served in churches in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, his role as a transitional pastor is one of the most fulfilling things he has ever done.

“It’s a wonderful experience, but you have to put your whole heart into it,” Burns said. “It will be hard for us to leave here when the time comes; that’s the hardest part of the program, but that’s what I came to do.”

Certain skills are essential to transitional pastors, such as:

— Spiritual discernment

— Listening

— Relating

— Leading

— Managing

— Caring

— Proclaiming

— Conflict management

Transitional pastors are important, Draper said, in helping churches move ahead instead of growing stagnant in the time between pastors.

“It’s a planned time of transition that allows the church to continue in its ministry without the uncertainties that usually accompany such a time,” Draper said. “The transitional pastor is one who is wise in his counsel, visionary in his leadership and compassionate in his service to the church.”

Riggins said he thinks every church that is between pastors should consider hiring a transitional pastor. “Now that we have a transitional pastor, we have a better idea of what kind of new leadership we’re looking for,” he said. “We’re just beginning the search for a new pastor, but we’ve had great success with the transitional pastor program.”
For more information on the program or training events, visit www.lifeway.com. Click on the “Ministry” tab, then from the dropdown menu choose “Pastor.” From there, click on “The Transitional Pastor Ministry.” For specific questions, contact Strahan at [email protected] or (615) 251-2551.

    About the Author

  • Leslie Ann Shoemake