I will start with the most challenging or provocative description I know and explain further from there. The following statements are based my own experience and on a description given in Faith and Leadership Magazine by someone who helped create the whole specialized field of Transitional Ministry over the last 40 years. He was being interviewed in a kind of retrospective article.
The best way to read my description is to imagine you have auditory access to the STM “locker room” and can hear us talk openly and bluntly about what we do, maybe explaining it to another preacher:
An STM is a preacher who:
By asking questions and holding up mirrors disturbs a congregational system out of complacency into a renewed purpose.
We do that “by living long enough with … a system to ask them the questions that they don’t want to have to answer. Then the system is disturbed, and people have to re-form around what they discover about those answers.” (read the full source interview here if interested)
Next is all the descriptive info I have gathered:
This is the official, somewhat dated, CRC Pastor-Church Resources office description:
A Specialized Transitional Minister (STM) is a pastor who has received special training to help churches during the very important transition time between pastors. This “in-between” time is often a time of change that involves both hazards and opportunities. An STM can help a church make it a time of opportunity by giving the congregation the kind of leadership that maintains the regular ministries of the church while addressing any other issues and concerns the church faces.
There are currently over 17 Christian Reformed Pastors who have received this training. God has used this Specialized Transitional Ministry to enable many churches to turn a time of “vacancy” from “down time” into a unifying, clarifying and fruitful bridge to the future. And that is the ultimate goal, to prepare the congregation for a healthy future with a new pastor who has had the way prepared for a strong ministry.
My own initial elevator “pitch” to any churches that ask me about bringing in an STM goes something like this:
A time without a pastor, especially after a long pastorate, or after a difficult parting of ways, is a great time to stop and reflect as leaders and congregation on who you have been, who you are now (in your context), and then, given that narrative arc, to discern who God is calling you to be. Only with that kind of honest looking in the mirror are you really best able to decide what your future pastoral needs might be so you can begin to accomplish that calling. That is essentially a process an STM, as an “outsider” can best lead you through. With an STM you can have key pastoral responsibilities consistently covered (preaching, worship design and leading, plus crisis pastoral care) while in the in-between reflection time.
For those who want practicalities, well, those are hard to give ahead of time because each situation is different. But I can give the framework of the main questions I usually take a congregation through in the process:
- Who have we been? (a study of history looking for shaping influences)
- Who are we now? (looking at demographics of the congregation and at the general context, especially if those have changed over time)
- Given our answers to the above two, who do we think God is calling us to become? (this is where future focus is identified a.k.a. mission and vision)
- What sort of pastor will we need to help take us there?
For further information, here are some links to various articles and blogs and CRC Network postings related to Transitional Ministry: