Last week's post was a sermon by Stuart Bond; click below to read.
Where do you serve as an interim pastor and what drew you there?
Stuart: I serve First Presbyterian Church in Corinth, New York. They seemed to appear on my radar at just the time when I was considering a new call. My sense of them on our phone interview was that they were a faithful bunch who had a sense of humor — an indispensable element if we are going to be able to enjoy life together and move forward.
How do you approach the preaching task during a season of anxiety?
Stuart: In some ways, I think we overstate the anxiety. Perhaps a third of the congregation’s anxiety is losing the former pastor. Or how he or she left. But two-thirds is about how it might be as they move forward. In that sense, we are guarantors of the thesis that, “The future just might be great!” So my intention is to live out the sense that the Lord is alive and well and present. That positive view is infectious. And once they discover that the sermons aren’t terrible and that the elder board is able to function, they relax.
Describe how "Here Is Your Key" came together for you.
Stuart: I often experience a coincidence of text and moment when I preach and I try to be in tune with that. The text gave me the wonderful image of Epaphroditus and I ran with it. The idea is that he is empowered to lead. That allowed me to speak to the interim mindset where people take a “wait and see” attitude. That attitude is deadly. Our goal is to get the church up and running, to expand involvement and encourage people to fulfill their ministry. It is the very thing that will attract a candidate to the church. And, as I point out, there is no guarantee that the future will be perfect. Why wait for that uncertain future to (perhaps) dive in?
It so happened that we were re-keying the building. And that brought up the question: then who should get a new key? It served as a great metaphor for how God wants each of them to have a key and, more importantly, provide a key to others.
What is one of the most challenging (or surprising) elements of serving as an interim pastor ?
Stuart: I can think of two things:
First, the idea that this ministry is “transitional” or “interim” is really no different than every ministry I have ever been part of. The Bible certainly appreciates that all of this life is transitory. Job laments: "For we are only of yesterday and know nothing, because our days on earth are as a shadow.” This kind of ministry is just as present and real in the lives of our people as any permanent pastor, and perhaps the very reality of the brevity reminds us to be humble and to trust the Lord a bit more.
Another element I have expanded is to appreciating the beauty of where I am. Each setting is unique and the congregation appreciates it when you can tell them how beautiful their region is and how much you enjoy being there. Take some time and smell the flowers!
Any advice for people who are anxious about interim ministry?
Stuart: There is a long spiritual tradition of allowing oneself to be humbled by God. Brother Lawrence was practicing the presence of God as he scrubbed the kitchen floor. It might make you anxious to think you are serving in a “lesser” role, but you are nevertheless serving a glorious God. Any service to him is an honor to us.
Then there is the practical truth that most of their frustration and hostility will have nothing to do with you. There are issues that are long-standing, perhaps. You will do what you can to bring those to light, but it is their issue, not yours. It really is a great place from which to minister.
Stuart: Love the people. Most of them are just great. They are trying to do what God wants them to do. And they are in a stressful time in terms of their church’s future. Love them. Enjoy their company. Point them towards the Lord. The rest will work out.
About Stuart: Rev. Dr. Stuart Bond received his D. Min from Fuller Theological Seminary (2004), an M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Palmer School (1984) and an M. Div from Princeton Theological Seminary (1979). He has served churches on the West Coast (California, Oregon and Washington) and now serves in Upstate New York. He served with Rev. Shari Jackson Monson for twelve years and had the privilege of preaching her ordination. He is a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. He and his wife, Cindy, have four adult children and two (soon to be three) grandchildren.