At any given time, about 10 percent of Southern Baptist churches are without a pastor. During the time between pastors, churches may do one of several things. They may have different men preach on Sundays; they may call an interim pastor to be there every Sunday and other times when his schedule permits, or they may call a transitional pastor to actually be the pastor during the transitional period.
“A transitional pastor is someone who will take the church from where it was to the calling of a new pastor,” said Bill Hogue, retired executive director of the California Convention, who helps train transitional pastors.
Hogue was one of five men in Oklahoma recently to train transitional pastors. He was joined by Dan Garland from LifeWay, Roy Edgemon and Henry Webb, both retired from LifeWay, and Ernest Mosley, retired from the SBC Executive Committee.
The average time without a pastor in a Baptist church is nine-18 months, and transitional pastors are committed to staying with a church until it calls a permanent pastor. However, the transitional makes a commitment that he will not become the church’s permanent pastor. He is simply there to make sure the church is in a healthy state when the new pastor comes.
“The transitional minstry is a process that examines everything a church is doing,” said Mosley. “Many churches have not looked at themselves since they started. They still have programs that not relevant to their needs.”
Not just anyone can be a transitional pastor, emphasized Hogue.
“You can’t just pick up a manual and go out and be a transitional pastor,” he said.
Webb said although everyone who completes transitional pastor training is given a certificate of completion, there are certain qualities, skills and competence a transitional pastor must have.
“Churches need to reference their transitional candidates,” he said. “Call the state convention. They know who will do well in different situations.
Scott Phillips, BGCO church and family equipping team leader, said it is a misnomer that only troubled churches need transitional pastors, although transitional pastors are prepared to lead church through smooth, rough and crisis transitions.
“Any church can benefit from the transitional pastor ministry,” he noted. “It is intended to help any church without a pastor.”
The men all agreed that churches without pastors need experienced, sanctified and wise leadership during this critical stage in the life of the church.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all program,” said Mosley. “Every transitional pastor is different. We don’t give them a shoebox and tell them to make everything fit into it.’
“It is customized to meet the unique needs of every congregation,” said Phillips.
Brett Selby, BGCO leadership development specialist, said churches build special relationships with transitional pastors, but there is no awkwardness when the new pastor comes on the field.
“There is no sense of jealousy when a new pastor comes in,” agreed Webb. “The pastor knows the transitional prepared the church, and he doesn’t feel threatened.”
Edgemon said sometimes the transitional can do things a pastor can’t, and it allows leeway to make changes that would be hard for a pastor to make.
Hogue said one of the most important aspects of the transitional minstry is that during the process, the church makes a decision where it wants to go in the future.
“Then, when they call a new pastor, they can say, ‘Will you come lead us where we want to go?'”
“It become easier to discern who the new pastor should be if the church knows where it is going,” said Phillips.
Depending on church needs, transitional pastors will preach the Gospel, coordinate worship, counsel with church ministry leaders, coordinate baptismal services, officiate at weddings and funerals, supervise staff, provide pastoral care, involve others in caring actions and resolve conflict.
The transitional pastor ministry is designed by Southern Baptists specifically for Southern Baptist churches and pastors who understand how Southern Baptist churches operate, their polity and doctrine.
Because of the time commitment, many of those in the transitional ministry are retired pastors or directors of missions.
“It’s another way to keep retiring pastors in the game,” said Garland.
“There is too much wisdom and capability out there to shut it down when men retire from the pastorate,” said Phillips.
Selby said there are more than 100 trained transitional pastors in Oklahoma.
To learn more about the training, the transitional ministry or calling a transitional pastor, contact Selby at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 405/942-3000, ext. 4400 or visit www.lifeway.com/tp.