I was talking with another minister in my district about his calling into interim ministry. He walked up to me and said, “Jim, you’re an After Pastor, do you mind if I ask you some questions.” I looked at him puzzled and confused. I’m an “After Pastor”? As he went through his explanation I realized, yes I am, although I never heard of that phrase to describe my appointment.
When I received my current appointment I knew that the congregation had an interim minister but my District Superintendent did not remember why (problem in itself for another post). He thought the minister was sick. Come to find out that was the minister up the street. The minister I was following had been removed two days before Christmas because of an infidelity with the music director. Both were removed from their positions. What was left was a congregation in turmoil and confusion but who pulled together to make it through. After an interim minister for 2 months and then another for four, I arrived, the third pastor in 2007.
My colleague asked what some of the lessons I learned from this experience and I thought I would share some of them with you. I am still living in this process but here is what I have learned thus far.
– Normalcy – I did not make any real changes to the congregation, the structure, or worship for a year. I simply brought back a sense of normalcy to the congregation. After all the craziness I sensed they needed things to be normal again in order to process it all. Doing things ‘as they have always been done’ was necessary for survival and healing.
– Listen to everyone – I sat down with all the heads of committees for one on one personal conversations. I asked them to tell me their story and their perspective. Some of them were hurt, some were happy to see that minister leave, and some didn’t know what to think. Having them tell me their story though enabled them to bring me along on their journey. I did nothing but listen, I did not give advice or make corrections to what had happened, I just listened, a whole lot.
– Build Trust – one of the hardest things a congregation has to do after an event like this is to trust a minister again. Their eyes are now skewed and their ability to blindly trust is gone. During that first year I was able to build trust with the church. They saw I could be trusted and that I only had the best intentions for them. I wasn’t coming in to change them but to love them into the church God is calling them to be. They trust me know and I in turn trust them.
– Give them credit – The truth is that in the UM system these congregations were here long before we arrived and will be around long after we leave. We, as clergy, need to give them credit. All along that first year I told them how proud I was of them to pick themselves up and with God, move past this event. I told them not many other congregations could have done what they had done and survived. Giving them credit enables them to have a sense of pride and accomplishment but also strength. A strength that tells them if they were capable of doing this, they can do anything.
Like I said, I am only into this process for a year and a half now. When I learned about the infidelity I was nervous about how the congregation to me as their next long term pastor. I knew of other situations like this that the minister who followed was a like a lamb thrown to the wolves. What I found was an injured congregation who wanted to be held, told everything was going to be alright, and then picked up in order to carry on their work as a church. I wasn’t trained in what an After Pastor was to do. I simply prayed a lot and listened.
For some more info on after-pastors, go here. I am finding a ton of information now that really would have been helpful a year and a half ago. Any other ‘After Pastors’ out there? What did you learn from your experience?