By Doug Harris
One of the essential objectives of Transitional Pastoral Ministry is the provision of loving pastoral care during the local church senior leadership transition.
In addition to the other goals of relevant preaching, effective short-term administration, closure, relationship renewal, vision renewal, structural renewals, and the successful search process, it is necessary that the effective transitional pastor makes sure that the congregation in transition is receiving the pastoral care it needs and deserves.
The church family in transition not only requires warm, relevant preaching that can serve to communicate the voice and message of God, but it also needs extra special nurture and care at a time when its major caregiver is now gone. This is not only true for the members, but for the leadership and staff of the church, as well.
In many ways the transitional leader becomes a paraclete to the organization. Like the Holy Spirit, whom our Lord designated in John 14:16 as the Comforter (AV) or “Counselor” (NIV), the transitional leader comes along side people to be a comforter, counselor, helper,and advocate.
The Greek term is parakletos from kletos, meaning “called”, and “para” meaning “along side”. God gave our Lord’s disciples the Holy Spirit to come along side them to impart wisdom and aid in a similar manner as He did when He was physically present with them. It became the role of the Holy Spirit to take the place of our Lord in administering comfort, encouragement, wisdom, instruction, correction, and discipline. This is very much the ministry committed by God into the hands of compassionate transitional leaders. We have the unspeakable privilege of following in our Lord’s footsteps by becoming the instrument of God to exercise this ministry in the life of a church in transition.
The church family needs extra care at this time for the following reasons:
- Individuals are experiencing loss. Some are experiencing a grief similar to bereavement. Others (especially those who came to faith through the work of the former pastor) are feeling alone and insecure. There may be a high level of stress among the members because of the circumstances related to the former pastor’s leaving.
- The resources are greatly diminished. The loss of a shepherd is disconcerting to any flock. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered,...” says Zechariah 13:7. Right from the word “go” the transitional pastor needs to be seen as a deeply caring shepherd who possesses wisdom and a heart of love for the flock of God.
- The time is unusually short. The transitional pastor does not have years to get to know the church family. The bonding process must be speeded up if significant pastoral care ministry is to be extended during a twelve month transitional period.
The transitional pastor fulfills this paracletos ministry through a caring public ministry and through caring private relationships. The preaching event, itself, provides a significant opportunity for the sensitive transitional pastor. By providing a preaching ministry that is designed to encourage rather than afflict, warm relationships can be fostered. By setting our affection upon the flock and embracing them to our hearts, we color our preaching and verbally and non-verbally communicate genuine love and care. It helps to warm the chilled hearts of grieving or discouraged members when they are reminded and assured through the preaching of both the love of God for them and the love of the preacher.
The same is true in the leading of services. The way people are welcomed to worship can powerfully communicate positive affections. The way people are introduced can spawn love at the horizontal level. When the transitional pastor is deeply and consciously reveling in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ and reflecting that love back to Him, the overflow spills out in his deep affection for the people. As he recognizes and expresses appreciation for people while leading services, this spawns feelings of appreciation and affection in the lives of the members of the congregation. Again, this love flows upwards to God and outwards to the other members and to the transitional pastor. The morning pastoral prayer provides a momentous opportunity to minister pastoral care. Even the announcements can be used as mini-care moments.
In the area of private relationships, the transitional pastor can fulfill his paracletos responsibilities:
· by being available to the people who need and want to spend private time with the transitional pastor
· by practicing therapeutic listening
· by being sensitive to people in their times of crises
· by appropriate sick and hospital visitation
· by practicing consistent intercessory prayer for the members, leadership and staff
· by appropriate pastoral counseling
· by providing usual pastoral services in such areas as weddings and funerals.
For reasons of time management and long term pastoral care, it is wise to delegate aspects of pastoral care as resources are available.
- The staff team. It is good for the members and good for the staff to involve them in the pastoral care process whenever possible, as they know them better than you do.
- The board. Both in the church context and the para-church context, board members have a unique opportunity to become care givers to the people involved in the ministry. We often appoint elders and deacons with the understanding that their primary role is to serve as members of the church Board of Directors. In reality, they are called to minister grace, comfort, encouragement, and correction to people.
- Qualified and available members. Often there are capable people in the organization (both male and female) who are uniquely qualified to extend shepherding care. In the church context there are often retired people in good health who can become volunteer assistants in helping to care for the congregation.
- External resources. We need access to competent and qualified people in the community who can assist in meeting special needs. We need the phone numbers of doctors, counselors, lawyers, community leaders, social service workers, and others to whom we can refer people who require specialized care
- Body care. We often overlook the potential of loving pastoral care that can be enjoyed among the members of the organization. If allowed to do so, the body is capable of healing itself and offering amazing comfort and care to weak, sick, injured, and hurting members.
One of the great privileges and pleasures of transitional pastoral ministry is the opportunity it provides to be the human vehicles through which the Holy Spirit exercises His own paracletos ministry in and through us.
May God help all of us in transitional ministry to effectively fulfill this critically important goal of transitional pastoral ministry.
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