First Baptist Church

I understand very well your situation and empathize with your church members who question the need for and the value of the Intentional Interim Ministry process. I had never heard of the IIM until it was recommended to our church by a couple of members and by our D.O.M.

A little background may be worth knowing about FBC. Ours has been a stable, flagship church for our town and for our association for many years. It is over 160 years old, and has been characterized by fairly long-term pastorates. Following our last long-term pastorate of 15 years, however, we had two short term pastors. One left after three years with some ethics questions, and the second left after two years to return to the mission field. Both tenures included some controversy. Our church had ceased to be the largest Baptist church in town, though it was still quite influential in the Christian community as well as in the larger community. Our numbers were dropping, we had some hurt feelings over the change to more contemporary music, and there was a pervasive sense of drift and uncertainty. I don’t know whether our congregation was shell-shocked, but there was a definite sense of “what’s next?”
The IIM was, I think, a good idea at the right time for us. We needed to step back, look at what we had been through recently, and sort of “collect” ourselves before plunging quickly back into the task of calling a replacement pastor.

I will give you my best shot at the questions you asked:

  1. Was your experience with IIM one that you would repeat if you had it to do over again? Why? Both personally, and for the church, I would do the IIM again because it gave our congregation not only some breathing room, it allowed us to decide, congregationally, who we are. It also let us look at what we actually expect from—and what we should realistically expect from— our pastor (and all our staff members). Because we have taken the time and allowed our congregation to come to grips with who we are and who we want to be as a church, our pastor search committee can communicate in a concrete way to our prospective pastor. We will not bring a pastor on board and ask him to tell us what we need to do or what we should become; we have worked through that, already. The Search Committee can say to our prospective pastor, “This is who we are and where we believe we must go. Can you help us get there, or is that not the direction you feel for your ministry?”
  2. What did you gain from the process? We gained some healing, but mostly we gained a clearer understanding of who our church is and who we must be serving in the future. By looking at our history, we could see how we attained the successes of the “glory years” and how the mission of the church in those days fit the society and “target” of those days. Given dramatic cultural shifts, this process has equipped us to be better able to design the future of our church to work in the 21st century society in which we live. There was nothing particularly magical about the IIM in this portion of its program; but the process afforded us a chance to stop and examine what worked “back then” and what has changed around us since then. You didn’t ask, but we also lost some things in the process. There were some members who did not want to wait. There were some, especially some who were marginally involved, who saw the “lull” as a chance to move to another church. And then there were those who moved or quit coming for all the reasons that people usually have for moving or quitting. It is undeniable that we lost members during the IIM process and some of those who moved were not “marginal” but were active and contributing members.
  3. What was an advantage to using the IIM? I have not seen another process that encourages the church to do a thorough, systematic review of itself. It is important to identify who we really are, now, and what we want to accomplish. Are we going to encourage our members to approach FBC membership from the “consumer” viewpoint of “what is in it for me—do I get a good youth program, can I hear the music I like, will they have plenty of activities for my kids?, etc.” (None of these things is bad, by the way, but the emphasis has maybe become skewed toward “me first.”) Or, are we going to offer the community a place where the emphasis is on serving, witnessing, and activities that carry out the first century mission of the Church? The IIM gave us a chance to spend some time deciding those issues as a congregation—and examining what would be required of us in adopting this “new” old direction.
  4. What was a disadvantage? Some members did not think we needed to reflect and be intentional about our purpose and future. “We have been doing this for 160 years; we know how to have church.” Some thought we were losing ground while we engaged in navel-gazing. There is some validity to both those objections.
  5. What advice would you give a church considering the IIM? A) Talk to those who have been through it, and try to find a church that is similar to yours in size and experience; B) If you elect to use IIM, the person you choose as Intentional Interim Pastor is absolutely
    crucial. Be extremely careful whom you call, and only call him after you have checked every reference and spoken to a variety of people in the churches where he has served as IIM Pastor. Being a good pastor does not necessarily mean he will be a good IIM Pastor. Be ridiculous in how far you go to check him out, because he is the key.
  6. Is the Transition Team necessary? It is more than necessary, it is absolutely essential. No one else has the credibility, representation, and “permission” to do the uncomfortable things the TT will do. In our situation, we wanted to ensure full representation, so we had each adult, high school, and college SS department elect two representatives and then we elected several at-large members. We had 21 TT members. Seldom did we have less than 90% attendance at any meeting. We met every Sunday, 2 hours, for a year. Obviously, the whole congregation could not do that, so there was much the TT learned and did that the congregation was not involved with. As chairman, I gave periodic reports on what was going on, and we had many activities to involve the congregation in the exercises and tasks. As the TT invented ways to include the congregation in each of the steps, the team not only insured that we were “reading” the congregation accurately, it also kept the congregation from feeling that we had this “assigned task” that was only be accomplished by 21 people; the larger congregation had a part and we made it abundantly clear that the TT job would be of no value if the congregation were not actively involved. We did surveys, had interviews, held a history fair, had numerous round-table discussions, and regular reports to the congregation. We served meals, had music, and did everything else we could think of to get people present and involved. We did have open discussion town-hall type meetings, but we also used many other methods to gather opinions and ideas. In addition, we assigned to standing committees of the church the tasks of updating various policies, and had a special non-TT committee which rewrote our badly out-of-date bylaws. At the end, we made several recommendations, such as the formation of a broad-based church council and other changes
    including an oversight committee to ensure that our work would not just be a report on a shelf, but would be an impetus for re-forming our church to meet the overall objectives established by the congregation (not by the TT).

That is not to say we didn’t issue a report, we did. That report is, we hope, being used by our pastor search committee and the prospective pastor, to see whether we are a match and whether he feels comfortable in serving in a church that can tell him—up front—who we are and what we feel God is calling us to do.

I doubt the IIM would help in every situation; I am convinced it helped us. If nothing else, it gave us a chance to reflect, take a deep breath, and make sure we didn’t jump right back into a situation where we’d have another problem of the same making. We also cleaned up a lot of “loose ends” and looked seriously a tour structure,decision making, denominational relationships, and other things that had not been thoughtfully examined and intentionally decided in a very, very long time. It was good for us.

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