During my 20 years of pastoral work, I’ve often wondered why God called me into vocational ministry. I never felt general pastoral ministry suited me very well. Now, I understand my prior years of service prepared me for my current work as a transitional restoration pastor.
To best understand this role, here are some definitions:
1. Pastors are committed to the local church. They believe God can best use them from the inside, as participants, rather than from the outside as consultants. Pastors don’t come as experts who have the answers and know the way; they come as people who have also experienced pain and discovered God in the midst of it.
2. Transitional pastors help congregations during a change in leadership. Following the departure of a lead pastor, churches often need to analyze their situation – to assess where they’ve come from and where they’re going. Transitional pastors provide counsel in this process, usually staying for 6–18 months.
3. Sometimes churches go through a crisis and departure of a lead pastor that leaves pain, disillusionment, confusion, and loss. In this situation, they need more than a transitional pastor. They need someone who will also help them heal and restore the church’s foundations (not merely rediscover them), so fruitful, future ministry will be possible. The work of a restoration pastor requires patience, observation, engagement, counsel, and gentle leading, helping foster new vision and purpose. Such work is best done from within the church community, as a fellow community member on a journey of discovery and healing. It may take a church 12–24 months (or more) before they’re ready to call a new, long-term lead pastor.
When God called me into transitional restoration pastoring last summer, it was a welcome surprise. Before arriving at Armstrong (B.C.) Bible Chapel in 2007, I had been a youth pastor, church education director, associate pastor of education and discipleship, and sole pastor of a small MB church in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C.
A few years prior to my arrival, Armstrong Bible Chapel had experienced internal conflict that resulted in two-thirds of the congregation leaving, and the remnant hurting, anxious, and under financial stress. Over four years, I worked with the lead team to help restore the church to health. The final piece of my task was to lead the congregation through a prayer of repentance (see “We’re sorry,” Letters to the editor, June 2011). We collectively confessed and repented of a multitude of sins from the church’s past.
In summer 2011, God made two things clear to me: 1) I had accomplished what he called me to do at Armstrong Bible Chapel; and 2) he was calling me to continue the specialized ministry of helping churches become healthy again.
Two significant encounters affirmed this calling. The first was a phone call from Al Quiring, chair of Highland MB Church’s leadership team in Calgary. Al and his wife were in the Fraser Valley and wanted to meet with me on their way back to Calgary. I agreed, and we had lunch together.
They had seen the letter in the MB Herald and wanted to hear how Armstrong Bible Chapel had journeyed from pain to repentance. Highland MB Church had recently gone through some distressing events, and they wanted to know restoration was possible. As I shared my experiences, God kept whispering to me, “This is the kind of work to which I’m calling you.”
The second significant encounter was with Alan Simpson, who works with Outreach Canada coaching churches in conflict. Some months earlier, he had approached me about renting a room at Armstrong Bible Chapel as a temporary office. We came to an agreement and began to get to know each other.
When I discovered that Outreach Canada was working in the area of transitional leadership ministry, I sought Alan’s advice about whether this ministry would be a good fit for me. Alan affirmed my gifts.
Phases of recovery
Over time, I learned about the different phases in transitional restoration pastoring, and honed them for my own ministry. These are the four I have identified, with some overlap and fluidity when moving from one phase to the next:
1. Stabilization. Initially, the pastor must focus on keeping church ministry going, so deeper restorative work can eventually be done. A pastor’s typical work – preaching, administration, pastoral care – continues, while he or she also conducts an in-depth analysis of the church’s situation. This may include interviewing congregants, reading documents (minutes, correspondence, histories), and conducting surveys. Such analysis provides a broad-based understanding of the church’s current problems, caused by recent or distant-past issues.
2. Restoration. This is the longest and most intense phase. While basic pastoral functions continue, the work of restoration begins, based on earlier analysis. Congregations may need to address several issues, including learning how to effectively deal with conflict; understanding and extending forgiveness; restoring trust and confidence; reviewing and implementing sound governance structure and policies; healing from past hurts; receiving spiritual renewal; ReFocusing.
3. Motivation. The two main components of this phase are: 1) embracing a common and compelling vision for the future that provides renewed hope and energy for the church’s kingdom work; and 2) discerning the qualities needed in the next pastor, and then finding and calling a suitable candidate to lead the church into that vision.
4. Culmination. The transitional restoration work concludes when a new lead pastor, who will love and shepherd the congregation into the future, is in place. Then it’s time to celebrate.
As I refined my approach to transitional restoration pastoring, I searched for churches in need of this type of leadership. One possibility was the position at Highland MB Church. I submitted my resume and, following consultations, interviews, and a formal candidating weekend, they called me as transitional restoration pastor for an 18- to 24-month term. I started November 2011.
It’s been a long and often difficult journey to where I am now. Over the years, I’ve learned the significance of God’s words to the apostle Paul, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a, CEB). I don’t step into a church as an expert who has it all together. Rather, I come as a compassionate facilitator to help the congregation connect with God’s renewing, restoring work.
Therefore, like Paul, I gladly “brag about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9b, CEB). Christ’s desire is to the see his church renewed so it can ever more clearly and effectively reflect the glory of God found in him. To have even a small part in this is a rich blessing and great reward.
—Ken Dueck is transitional restoration pastor at Highland MB Church, Calgary