If there is anything on which a church or organization can depend, it is change. Though God is unchanging, every area of life is constantly in flux. As pastor of a congregation that experienced over 100 years of conflict, seeing pastors fired or leaving under clouds of suspicion, there was general unrest. After serving for five years God brought healing and growth in ministry. Which was about when things usually fell apart under previous leaders. Numerous times I was asked, “You’re not leaving are you?” The looks of hurt and shock were obvious when I responded, “Yes, of course I am leaving.” Why leave when things were going so well?
The reactions calmed when I continued, “Eventually I’ll leave because of moving on in life or God calls me home. Actually you will leave too at some point in time. No one and nothing here will remain the same.” My response was meant to offer perspective to a tired church yearning to have the relative calm continue for many years. I remained with that church, a group who is still family to me, for over 11 years, their longest pastorate for a century. My successor remains having served more than 15 years. Of course, he also will leave when it is time.
We at UCA have also experienced God working in so many ways to refocus our ministry and help us see His horizon of hope. It is anticipated that questions might arise regarding my time and role. UCA has experienced some unsettling years, and the wonderfully dedicated Board and faculty certainly hope for stability. When asked about my time here, my answer is similar to my response years ago: “While I have a one-year contract, much of that decision will come as we experience progress and search for a new Head of School.”
The answer revolves around the role of an Interim Pastor or Interim HOS. An interim provides time, offers renewed hope, and rekindles a relationship with God that is essential for a ministry to move forward. It is an important task whether there have been many positive years or groups have ridden through some storms. Following the resignation of a leader, schools usually enter a holding pattern, drift in ministry focus, divide into factions as a power-vacuum occur, call a leader too quickly, miss opportunities for ministry, and lose momentum. This occurs in a healthy organization or one in turmoil. One of UCA’s founding churches experienced an intentional interim, and the results were so positive that the UCA Board thought it would be a positive move forward. I thought I’d be in an interim pastorate, but it soon became clear that serving UCA was God’s intention. What an amazing experience it has been; this school is blessed with some exceptional people. So what is my role as interim? How long will I remain? A short answer is not adequate, so I’ll be sharing information about the interim process during the months ahead to keep all informed.
The role of an interim is essentially to “HELP” the school clarify God’s intended future and secure God’s leader for the next period of the school’s ministry. The interim process can take anywhere from 6 months (rarely); to more than two years. A formal search seldom occurs before one-third of the way through the interim period when key ingredients for a successful search have been assembled. I will speak more on methods of “HELP” (yes, it is an acronym) and offer a brief assessment of the time-line during the February 4, “Save Your Seat Night.”
Acts 13-18 describes Paul’s work in the early church as “episterizo.” It means to support, make stable, place firmly, set fast; to make something structurally correct so it can withstand pressure and not break, much like a pillar which can bear a load and not break. Paul’s journeys were spent strengthening individuals and churches so they could stand on their own as he left. “He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (15:41). The result of Paul’s efforts is described in Acts 16:5, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”
Paul is a model of intentional interim ministry, offering a time to be encouraged and strengthened as God moves His ministry forward daily. The future is His, and my role is to “HELP” the UCA community discern it as we teach and mentor students He has given us today. Join us for “Save Your Seat Night” and learn more of where God is leading.
PS: Next week, stay tuned for more details on “Save Your Seat Night” coming February 4 at 7:00 PM. It will be a great chance to invite others to learn about UCA , learn how to save on early enrollment, and be entered to win a tuition voucher.
Rev. J. Loring Carpenter, Interim Head of School