An Interview with Leaders from Transitional Interim Pastor Services
By Shawn McMullen
Recently Christian Standard met with three leaders who serve with Transitional Interim Pastor Services, a ministry of NXTStep Church Services (yourncs.org), to learn about their unique approach to interim ministry.
John Cutshall, a graduate of Cincinnati Christian University, has been in ministry for more than 40 years. He spent his first 20 years in youth ministry before serving in senior ministry positions.
Greg Comp, also a graduate of CCU, is a second-generation minister. Following his graduation from Bible college, Comp served as an associate minister. At age 30 he entered the preaching ministry and has been engaged in that work ever since.
Lonnie Bullock, a first-generation Christian, served in ministry with the Nazarene church as both a youth minister and preaching minister. For the past 24 years, Bullock has been involved with NXTStep Church Services, serving as executive director for the past 15 years.
_ _ _
What is the history behind NXTStep Church Services and Transitional Interim Pastor Services?
Bullock: A friend and I started the ministry 24 years ago. We were both involved in church planting and starting new churches and had a passion to equip and coach church pastor-planters. In 2005 we felt called to launch Transitional Interim Pastor Services, or TIPS.
We spent two years engaged in a research project that looked at interim ministry within several religious groups. We wanted to understand what worked and what didn’t. Based on our research, we developed a training and assessment process for interim ministers, recruited our first two TIPS pastors, led them through our training and assessment, and sent them to churches. Today we have 40 interim pastors serving all around the country. We’ve worked in all 50 states now.
_ _ _
Why would a congregation choose to go this route, rather than simply hiring a supply preacher as they look for their next leader?
Bullock: Our research showed that in the 1990s a typical interim ministry lasted 3 to 4 months. Today interim ministries are lasting 9 to 12 months. The church often loses momentum during this extended time. We also learned that when the previous minister had been with a church 10 years or longer, the minister that followed stayed less than 2 years. That was true 72 percent of the time, and the breakup was usually painful. The pastor suffered and the congregation suffered. There had to be a different way to do interim ministry.
So, we asked, “What would happen if we became more intentional about the interim process and really helped the local church prepare for the future?”
Comp: Many churches think all they need is a personnel change. Their attitude is, “Let’s just get our next minister and keep going.” What they really need is a paradigm shift. And until they make that paradigm shift, they really shouldn’t hire the next guy because there’s going to be all sorts of comparisons. An experienced interim minister can help a congregation walk through that process. The assessment we do on the front end provides an accurate picture of the church as well as a road map for going forward. It’s a great system.
Cutshall: One thing I’ve learned is that church growth doesn’t always produce church health, but church health always produces church growth. The thing that TIPS does very well is help a church become healthy. It gives a church an opportunity to examine itself and figure out who they are so they can bring someone alongside them to help them move forward.
_ _ _
What is the overall process or strategy of an intentional interim ministry?
Bullock: Our approach to interim ministry is built on four pillars drawn from the book of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. We begin with assessment, helping the local church understand its current reality and the issues that need to be addressed. From there we move to spiritual renewal, challenging the congregation to focus on prayer and on listening to the heart of God for their future. Next, a transition team is selected to develop a plan based on the assessment. The final pillar is implementation. We assist here by coaching and providing resources to help the congregation put its plan into action.
_ _ _
What kind of training does a TIPS ministry candidate receive?
Bullock: We start by vetting the candidates. Then we take the candidates through a four-day training process. At the end of the training, we make a final decision on the candidate, and we ask the candidate to make a decision about TIPS.
We assign a coach to each new TIPS pastor. [The coach] will walk them through their first assignment. At the end of that first assignment, we do an analysis review. We ask the pastor, the church they served, and their coach about their performance and the outcomes.
_ _ _
How does an intentional interim ministry benefit the church’s next minister?
Cutshall: A church that takes nine months or more to evaluate itself and create an action plan is going to be in a much better position to work with their new leader and move into the future. The next minister comes in and doesn’t have to deal with the difficult issues they’ve worked through. So they can hit the ground running.
Comp: NCS doesn’t come in and say, “OK, we’re going to assess you.” Instead, we say, “We would like for you to assess yourselves.” So, when we share our report based on the church assessment, we’re able to say, “This is what you told us about yourself.”
Cutshall: A few months into this ministry, a man in a local church we were working with came up to me and said, “Man, we should have done this three ministers ago!”
Bullock: When a church calls a new minister following a TIPS ministry, we give the new leader a New Pastor’s Handbook. It contains detailed information about what happened during the interim time and updated information about the church’s current reality. We identify key influencers as well as situations and circumstances they will need to pay attention to.
_ _ _
How large does a congregation have to be to have a TIPS pastor?
Bullock: Each agreement is uniquely crafted for the individual church. We’ve served churches as small as 20 and as large as 3,500.
_ _ _
How long does a typical interim ministry last?
Bullock: Our agreements are for nine months. If a church finds its next leader sooner than that, we simply end the agreement with 60 days’ notice. We’re also able to extend the agreement as needed.
_ _ _
Does the local church have a say in who their TIPS minister is?
Bullock: We do the pre-assessment work with both the church and the potential interim and we make a single recommendation to the church. From there, we schedule a virtual meeting so the leadership of the church can get acquainted with the interim. Everyone must agree that this is a good fit before we move forward.
_ _ _
Does NCS help a church find their next minister?
Bullock: We can be as involved as a church wants us to be in the process. When asked, a TIPS pastor will provide interview training to the search team. If the search team would like for us to provide names of candidates, we go to our resources and provide that. If a church chooses to go through the process by themselves, we honor their wishes.
_ _ _
What’s the cost of having an intentional interim?
Bullock: The key phrase here is “budget neutral.” We don’t want TIPS to cost more than what the current church budget provides. So, we work within the current salary package of the last minister.
Cutshall: I’ve known cases where a minister leaves and the leaders think, “Oh, this will allow us to bank some cash because we’re not paying the minister’s salary right now.” What they find out in the long run is they should have made the investment.
Comp: This may be a good time to point out that the church also provides housing for the interim minister.
Bullock: If a church doesn’t have a parsonage, they will be asked to rent an apartment or home for the TIPS pastor. We take this into consideration when we make our agreement budget neutral. We determine the average cost of an apartment in that region and reduce the cost they pay by that amount.
_ _ _
Does TIPS support the heritage and principles of Restoration Movement churches?
Bullock: Absolutely. A key principle from the beginning of our ministry has been loyalty to the group that you’re a part of.
Cutshall: I was raised in a Restoration church. I love the Restoration church. That’s why I’m excited about TIPS. As I grew up in the Christian church and even now, I see that many of our churches are hurting. Many know they can do more and better, but they just don’t know how. TIPS can help. That’s why we’re so invested in bringing this type of ministry to Restoration churches.
_ _ _
Someone might ask, “After years of ministry, I still feel like I have a lot to give. Could serving as an interim minister with TIPS be right for me?”
Comp: NCS does a great job of vetting people. So, if you think you might want to pursue this ministry, they will help you make that decision. TIPS gives you the opportunity to lay a foundation for other people’s success.
_ _ _
Do TIPS ministers get time off during and between assignments?
Bullock: Yes. We’ve found churches to be incredibly generous toward their interims, going above and beyond to make them comfortable. As far as breaks between assignments, that’s totally up to the TIPS pastor. Some interims will complete an assignment and take three or four months off because they want to go hang with grandkids or take a vacation. It’s totally up to them.
_ _ _
Do you have any expectations for the interim minister’s spouse?
Bullock: Simply put, there are no expectations for a TIPS minister’s spouse. They can be involved as much or as little as they desire.
_ _ _
Any final comments?
Cutshall: Most churches want help. Once the surveys are completed and the assessments compiled, Lonnie presents the findings to the entire congregation, not just to the leadership. Through this process the congregation understands that they shoulder as much responsibility as the leadership.
Comp: I’m grieved when new ministers go into a situation with enthusiasm but soon run into a wall and get beat up and burned out. Some not only leave that church; they leave the ministry. And the church gets in a cycle of hiring and firing ministers routinely. We need to stop repeating a cycle that pushes our younger and next-generation leaders away from the church.
As John and I have discussed, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ can really benefit from this ministry. That’s why we want to promote this among retired pastors and even younger guys who have the aptitude and vision to help. Many of our churches are hurting and struggling with viability, and that’s precisely where NCS can help—with assessment and a plan for the future.
_ _ _
Recently retired, Shawn McMullen serves part-time as minister of the Vevay Church of Christ in Vevay, Indiana, while pursuing a writing ministry.