In September our classis mourned the death of Rev. Al Helder, current pastor of Modesto CRC and former Classical Interim Pastor (CIP) for Classis Central California. When Al took the call to serve Modesto CRC a few years ago classis chose not to immediately recruit a new Classical Interim Pastor while we studied the position and weighed the value verses the cost.
The denomination recognizes the value of intentional interim ministry for churches that are undergoing a senior leadership transition and now have a group of trained interim specialists to serve in this way. Even though I’m told that the number available is insufficient to the current need in the denomination I’m pleased the it has developed this program.
Today I was reflecting on Al Helder’s legacy for our classis with a retired minister and I decided that this would be a good posting for the Network because I think part of what made Al’s ministry so effective as an interim specialist was because he was located within our classis.
Al Helder was a very gifted pastor who had an extraordinary range of churches he could serve. He worked well in large churches and small churches, older established congregations as well as church plants. During Al’s time serving our classis as Interim Pastor he helped numerous congregations position themselves for new chapters of ministry with new point leaders. When I think of where our classis would be today if it had not been for Al’s years of helping established churches navigate their transitions in a healthy way I shudder.
A classis really is an ecosystem and the churches within that ecosystem either contribute to the health of the ecosystem or contribute to its dysfunction. Having the Interim Specialist located WITHIN a classis I think makes a significant difference in terms of what can be accomplished in by interim ministry. I see numerous advantages to having the Interim Pastor located within the system:
- The CIP already has knowledge of the culture of the region and its history.
- The CIP may already have specific knowledge of that local church, their departing pastor and some history of the church prior to entering the position.
- The CIP may already be known to the leadership of a church in transition.
- Churches that enter transition, which is often a traumatic and chaotic time for a congregation, already have some assurance that someone will be there to help. This gives Classis some perceived value at the local level as well.
- The CIP is present to help the next pastor entering the congregation in transition figure out how to approach their new charge.
The last point is the one I was reflecting on today. Not only did “Pastor Al” help a number of congregations in our classis, but many of those churches called candidates or young ministers for whom these congregations were a challenge. Al mentored many of these young ministers and could do so with specific knowledge of their congregations. When I look now at our classis I see that not only were churches served with good transitional ministry by Al, he also helped set up young ministers to succeed which today not only blesses those congregations but also blesses the entire classical ecosystem.
There were periods in Al’s tenure as Interim Pastor when there were no congregations in transition but Al still had plenty to do. He spent his time mentoring younger pastors, assisting classis in areas and with projects that needed extra staff time so it didn’t need to levy that time from other pastors currently serving congregations. These times without a local charge did cost the classis the money from fully supporting Al’s salary, but as I look back over the years of service (our classis is large and these times were brief) the financial investment was not only worth it in terms of ministry “bang for the buck” but also in terms of having established congregations doing well so that they could contribute to support the ministry of classis.
I realize that the Classical Interim Pastor position is probably not right for every classis, but I would recommend that a classis or a group of classes might consider working together to house an interim specialist within their context to dedicate himself or herself to the health of the classical ecosystem.