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Love the preacher who left? You won’t like the new one

Instead of hiring a ‘sacrificial lamb,’ interim ministry advocates urge a process of reflection and discernment.

WICHITA, Kan. — Mark Frost drives a Ford Focus.

His other vehicle, he quips, is a Cessna.

“So I feel like I’m coming home,” Frost jokes as he introduces himself to the RiverWalk Church of Christ — in the home city of Cessna Aircraft Co.

The Detroit-area resident flies his Cessna Skyhawk mostly for recreation.

But for the next six to 18 months, he’ll commute each weekend via Delta Airlines — a 1,600-mile round trip — and fill the pulpit of this downtown church.

Frost is one of a growing contingent of “interim ministers” who help Churches of Christ make the transition from one preacher to the next.

Interim minister Mark Frost introduces himself to the RiverWalk Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan., on a recent Sunday morning. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)

Too often, congregations grieve the departure of one minister by making the next a “sacrificial lamb,” Frost said.

“What happens,” said Jerrie Barber, interim minister for the Northside Christ of Christ in Jeffersonville, Ind., “is we keep a preacher for 15 to 20 years.

Then we want to have a going-away party one Sunday and the new preacher in place the next Sunday.”

But in many cases, Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul could go as co-ministers, and the church still would reject them, said Barber, a preacher for 54 years.

“Everybody wonders, ‘Why doesn’t anybody like the new guy?’” he said. “The reason they don’t like him is because he’s not like the one who left.”
GIVE IT TIME
In the Wichita church’s case, pulpit minister Rick Cline served the congregation — formerly known as the Central Church of Christ — for 35 years. He retired May 31.

For many of RiverWalk’s 250 members, Cline is the only preacher they’ve ever known.

“He’s just a fabulous guy, and we are going to miss him enormously,” Julie Scherz said of Cline, who encouraged the church’s focus on serving the homeless and underprivileged in inner-city Wichita. “He won’t be replaced.”

Members greet each other at the RiverWalk Church of Christ. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Scherz, a RiverWalk member for 25 years, leads the congregation’s 10-person minister search committee.

“We definitely need time,” she said. “But I also know we can’t take too long because people are already a little bit antsy.”

RiverWalk church leaders feared “that if we just went and hired someone else, (that person) wouldn’t make it because people would be comparing him to Rick,” elder Scott Ramsey said.

Instead, the elders turned to Interim Ministry Partners, a division of Texas-based Hope Network Ministries, which is associated with Churches of Christ.

Interim Ministry Partners’ Tim Woodroof spent a quarter-century in full-time ministry with congregations in Nebraska, Oregon and Tennessee. Woodroof said he began researching interim ministry after being asked to fill that role with the Palo Alto Church of Christ in Panama City, Fla., in 2009.

“I discovered that Baptists, Methodists and pretty much everybody except for us had understood and recognized the importance of the interim season,” Woodroof said of Churches of Christ.

Tim WoodroofWoodroof, Frost and two other veteran preachers — Greg Anderson and Phil Ware — formed Interim Ministry Partners in 2012. The partners have helped nearly three-dozen churches engage in a process of spiritual reflection and discernment before hiring a new minister.

“The interest is just going through the roof,” Woodroof said.

Barber — who is not affiliated with Interim Ministry Partners — said he, too, is seeing more interest in interim ministry.

He and his wife, Gail, have moved temporarily to a half-dozen locations, working with churches ranging in size from 65 to 1,400.

“It is like a long gospel meeting,” said Barber, who retired from permanent work in 2007 after 14 years with the Berry’s Chapel Church of Christ in Franklin, Tenn. “You’re living in somebody else’s house and preaching your favorite sermons.

Jerrie Barber“All you’ve got to do is mess it up so bad that they’ll be glad to get anybody after I leave,” he joked. Seriously, he said, “One of the goals is to put enough time in there that the last preacher is not the standard for the next preacher.”

The interim season provokes questions and soul searching that don’t happen when churches are “in a routine,” Woodroof said. “Instead of rushing through the interim to get to the comfort of a new minister and a new routine, churches should value the interim as a defining moment and a time when listening to God is more likely to happen.”
MODERN-DAY ISRAELITES
When Frost starts an interim work, he encourages the congregation to “find hope in the wilderness.”

Using Deuteronomy 8 as his text, he likens the “in-between time” to the wilderness experience of the Israelites. He promises to walk alongside the congregation in seeking God’s will and direction.

“We will wait on the Lord to reveal his choice,” he tells the RiverWalk church. “We believe God already knows who God is calling.”

From the moment he arrives Saturday until he flies out Sunday, Frost expects to be running.

“I’m meeting with the search committee, meeting with the elders, meeting with the significant individuals in the congregation,” he said. “Then during the week, I go back home. But I’m still working, prepping for the next weekend.”

Singing this morning at the RiverWalk Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan. Video by Bobby Ross Jr.

Posted by The Christian Chronicle on Sunday, June 7, 2015

Two weeks before flying to Wichita, Frost finished an interim assignment with the Sonoma Avenue Church of Christ in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Before retiring in 2012, Frost preached for the Trenton Church of Christ in Michigan for 34 years. That same year, Cheryl Frost — his wife of 40 years — died of pancreatic cancer.

He relates his personal experience to churches who lose a minister.

“I am remarried now, but I needed a time to grieve the loss of my wife, to come to terms with who I am,” said Frost, whose new wife, Niki, lost her husband to brain cancer.

Mark Frost preaches at the RiverWalk church. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)In the interim, RiverWalk leaders must answer important questions, he said: “Who are we as a group of people separate and apart from Rick Cline? What is God doing here? Where is God leading us? How has he shaped us? What gifts has he put here? What is his call on us?”

While leaders and staff — including minister to adults Jay Plank, worship and children’s minister Eric Manlove and youth and family minister Jonathan
Reynolds — grapple with such questions, Frost provides a consistent pulpit presence.

“It acquaints the church with the idea that the word of God can come through a voice other than Rick’s,” Frost said. “Whether they think I’m great and wonderful, or whether they just think I’m so-so, it’s OK. They know I’m temporary.”


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