BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF JOHN H. PARKER
John H. Parker was born in 1946 to Howard and Mamie Parker, a minister and his wife. He attended Freed-Hardeman University, Henderson, Tennessee 1964-66, where he was editor of the yearbook and graduated first in his class. Subsequently he attended Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tennessee, where he was editor of the yearbook and graduated second in his class. He did graduate work at the University of Tennessee (M.A. 1969, Ph.D. 1978) and Harding Graduate School of Religion (M.A. in Religion 1981).
John taught in the Department of English at Freed-Hardeman 1969-82 and served as chair of the institutional self-study, advisor for the yearbook and, in 1981-82, chair of the department. Since 1982 he has taught in the Department of English at Lipscomb University, where he has served as director of the institutional self-study and advisor of the student newspaper and yearbook. John and his wife Jill have also served as faculty for Lipscomb’s Study Abroad program, two semesters in Vienna and one in London. He served as president of the Tennessee Philological Association 2005.
John is an elder for the Granny White church in Nashville, Tennessee. He has also taught Bible courses at Freed-Hardeman and Lipscomb and has published religious materials for the Gospel Advocate Company and Twenty-first Century Christian, both of Nashville. He has preached for several congregations in Tennessee and spoken on Bible lectureships at Lipscomb University, Freed-Hardeman University, and Abilene Christian University. He has served as interim pulpit minister for the Bellevue church in Nashville (1993-94, 2000, 2002), the Mt. Juliet church (1999); the Berry’s Chapel church in Franklin (2000), the Jefferson Avenue church in Cookeville (2000-2001), the Sycamore church in Cookeville (2004), the South Harpeth church in Nashville (2007), the Fairview church (2009)and Crittenden Drive in Russellville, KY (2012).
WHAT IS INTERIM MINISTRY?
FROM ADDRESS GIVEN AT FREED-HARDEMAN BIBLE LECTURES, 2001
Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another (Romans 14:19).
When the Preacher Leaves
A preacher’s departure from a church, especially after an extended tenure there, creates stress. While most congregations face this event with Christian maturity and love, even the most stable find this time difficult, and some find it a time of crisis.
If the work of the minister has gone well and a bond of affection, trust, and love has developed between him and the members, perhaps over a period of many years, his leaving can affect them almost as would a death: they feel a sense of loss and grief, and a fear of what will happen to them in his absence. If, on the other hand, he leaves during a time of unrest or conflict, especially conflict involving him, then the congregation may experience division, with some members feeling loyalty for the departing preacher and resentment toward others who, they believe, have caused him to leave.
Whatever the circumstances, the weeks and months following the preacher’s departure are also stressful. The comfortable routine of the church is upset, and the leadership of the congregation feels the pressure of filling the void. “Who will occupy the pulpit and do the evangelist’s work until a replacement can be found? And how much time will we need to find the next preacher?” Speculation and rumors spread. “Whom are the elders considering? How long will it be until they find a new man? Who will he be, and what will he be like?”
Sometimes this situation results in a rush by the elders to find a replacement. They hurriedly conduct tryouts and searches, and within a few weeks they announce with relief that they have employed another preacher. But when he and his family arrive, further problems may arise. If the former minister was especially beloved, inevitably the new one is compared with him. Most members are of good will and try to make every effort to welcome and help him, but some, grieving over the loss of their former preacher, are programmed not to like him. “No one will ever be able to take brother Smith’s place” may be the attitude.
If, on the other hand, the previous minister left as a result of conflict, then the succeeding minister may find himself caught in the middle between conflicting forces. Welcomed by some, he is resented by those loyal to his predecessor who feel that to accept this “new man” would constitute disloyalty to the former preacher and surrender to the other side. He may also find himself dealing with hidden, long-standing problems—problems that in fact may have contributed to his predecessor’s leaving.
Whichever of these scenarios occurs, the new preacher may encounter problems from the start. With patience and perseverance, and with the support of the elders and other leaders in the congregation, he likely will survive them, but too often a man in one of these situations, brought quickly into a church very soon after his predecessor’s departure, never gets a footing. In the one case, he fails to win over those longing for their former beloved minister; in the other, he becomes a target for conflicts and frustrations in the church. Unable to cope, he is soon leaving too.
One Solution: the Intentional Interim Minister
To deal with these challenges, some congregations may benefit from adopting a method that will give them both the time and the means to make a deliberate and careful decision about their future: securing the services of an interim minister.
An interim minister, preferably one trained specifically for the role, is specifically engaged to work with the church during the time between the departure of the last long-term minister and the coming of the next one, a period of perhaps six to eighteen months. Usually, he and the elders expressly explain to the church that he is not a candidate for a permanent position. His task is two-fold: to carry on the work of the minister of the congregation, and to help it adjust and prepare for the new era that it is now entering. He is not a “fill-in” pulpit preacher, but a full-time, salaried minister for the church during this period of readjustment. Once the next regular minister is secured, he will leave, perhaps going on to a similar task with another congregation.
Ideally, such an arrangement can turn a difficult time into one of opportunity. Relieved of the pressure to find and employ immediately a regular, long-term minister, the church can go through a period of healing from the loss of the former preacher, face problems that may have needed addressing for some time, study both its history and its current situation and needs, and determine in an unhurried and deliberate manner the course that it now needs to take. A major part of this latter decision will be determining what kind of qualifications they should look for in their next minister.