Last month I received an opportunity, once again, to fill a pastoral transition role for a church in Alberta. This one is with the Alliance Church in Innisfail, just south of Red Deer. Sometimes called, Intentional Interim, the whole idea of serving as a transition pastor is to help the church through a process of spiritual renewal by which, in the end, it may determine what kind of pastor is needed for the future. It ends by conducting a pastoral search with the elders for the church’s next phase of ministry.
Usually such a service for a church extends over months and sometimes even more than a year. It begins with proper attention on appropriate closure on the previous pastor’s ministry which may entail everything from grieving to healing, depending on how that ministry ended. But in the beginning stages of a transitional ministry, there also is a need for hope and anticipation of what God may want to do in the church in the future. Another aspect of the work entails ensuring that the on-going ministries of the church proceed with strength and vigour. The transition pastor is there to ensure that the leaders of the various ministries are encouraged and equipped for what they need to do.
The first week or so, which I have just finished, is usually a time of getting acquainted with one another as well as building trust and confidence in the process. It is an intense time for the transition pastor because he is seeking to learn how the church functions, who the staff and elders are, and who is part of the church. A good deal of time in the first week is spent learning to know who is who and listening to congregants tell their stories of how they came to the community, how they came to faith, and how they came to participate in the life of the church. The days are long, but enjoyable as one has the privilege of delving into the heart of the church through listening and learning.
My practice has been to spend a couple of weeks each month on-site, speaking in the worship services on a couple of consecutive Sundays and then sharing in the life of the congregation during the week between, as well as a couple of days before and after. Much of the time is spent with staff and Elders Board members getting set up and establishing terms of reference for the nature of the transition ministry. The Services themselves focus on themes that take people back to some of the most basic elements of the Christina faith — the glory of God as revealed in the Scriptures, God’s awesome plan in Christ and in the establishment of the church, the story and central theme of the Bible, and the very nature of the Gospel itself. As the transition progresses we move on to important elements of Christian living — meditation in Scripture, prayer, the nature of faith, role of the Holy Spirit, and witnessing to the truth and power of the Gospel.
After such a period of on-site service, I head back home to Prince George to be with my wife and to catch up on all the things that have to be done there, including various opportunities to serve. Usually, I fly from home to the place of service, renting a car for my time there, and living in a suite that is quiet enough for personal refreshment and independent enough to maintain some measure of objectivity during the transition period. However, In this most recent time away, I drove from my home which gave me the advantage of transporting things I needed for my time of service there.
The reason I posted the picture above in this article was to hi-light the beauty of my drive back to Prince George last Tuesday. Following a regular Tuesday morning staff meeting at the church I set out on the long journey by way of Banff National Park. Because it was a beautiful fall, sunny day, the colours of the season were blazing forth the glory of God in a more magnificent way than usual. The trip took longer, not only because of various construction projects, but mostly because of the stops I felt compelled to make in order to photograph some of the beauty that emerged before my eyes. At one point, as I traveled through the Robson Valley near McBride, I found myself overwhelmed by the glory of God in what He had created. It was almost more than I could take. It was so beautiful.
And so it is that transition pastoral ministry affords these kinds of experiences of God’s goodness and grace — the wonderful experience of working with God’s people in a church reminding them of God’s plan in order for them to prepare for more effectiveness in the future, and then also coming to appreciate a community in its geographical setting in another part of the world. Though each experience of transition is a faith-building and stretching experience, it is spiritually, mentally, and even physically exhilarating to live and walk in this path.
If you want to follow my experience in transition at the Innisfail Alliance Church, you may get some sense of how things proceed by viewing, from time to time, the church’s website. And if you can pray for the church and my work there for a successful outcome, that would be very commendable and much appreciated.