You Need a TSP.
We’re not talking here about Trisodium Phosphate, Telecommunications Service Provider, or a Touch Screen Panel.
We’re actually talking about a Transitional Senior Pastor.
The following article by my friend Dr. Mark Platt has helped shape my ministry with Poimen Ministries (www.poimenministries.com).
Since I left Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay in 2006, I have been directly or partially involved in this sort of role in four different churches. I have discovered that it’s a hugely important and often unrealized ministry that could save the lives of many churches, and propel them on to greater fruitfulness in God’s kingdom. Other men working alongside of me with Poimen Ministries have done the same thing, with the same outcomes. Glory to God!
After my current TSP role is completed in American Canyon, my wife and I remain open to doing it again (and possibly again and again) in years to come. I love the ongoing blessing of seeing these churches grow and do well after I leave. (Finally! We got rid of the bum!” — LOL)
My hope is that the concepts in Mark Platt’s article will spread to many places. The church needs organic leadership like a TSP can provide.
You Need a TSP!
by Dr. Mark Platt
A few years ago, I met with the chairman of a church where the long-term pastor had just announced that he was leaving. I began to explain to him how important it would be to hire a TSP (transitional senior pastor). This man who was a very successful businessman interrupted me in about my second sentence. Confidently, he told me “we got it covered!” As a denominational worker, I thought I should explain the wisdom of a TSP to him so I tried again. But he interrupted me again: “Our church is different. You don’t understand!” As I left, I politely told him that if they needed any help I would be happy to help.
In the months that followed, it became clear that they didn’t have it covered. They tried get a permanent pastor within a month of the long-term pastor’s leaving. The church voted him down. Then they quickly put one of the associates in as the “interim.” It turned out that he wanted the job but didn’t have enough votes. Some people wanted him and others didn’t, which divided the church. When the interim was done, the church had lost people, lost money for missionaries, and lost a lot more.
Sadly, many churches think just like this man. They think they can just jam a new pastor in right away. Others think all they need is pulpit supply so they recruit a parade of para-church people, retired pastors, and seminary professors in to preach. Then they put an associate in charge of the staff as the “interim” and share the pastoral duties among the staff. Sometimes churches bring in a person who went to seminary but either has been an unsuccessful pastor or never been a pastor. This can be a disaster as the church declines. Once in awhile, churches get someone who is a stealth candidate who gets the inside track on a job that he should not have. The worst scenario is making one of the associates the TSP because this divides the church or insures that the associate will not be able to stay. While these plans might work occasionally and might save the almighty dollar, they are, at the least, ineffective and at worse, do great damage to churches.
After watching some transition tragedies as well as some glorious successes with TSPs for many years now, I have become convinced that churches need to hire a “transitional senior pastor,” (a TSP). In fact, when God led me to leave my denominational post after twenty-six years, He called me to help churches as a transitional senior pastor. I have seen first-hand how a TSP can greatly help churches in the interim time after a lead pastor leaves and until the new permanent pastor arrives.
I call this the work of a “transitional senior pastor.” I use this term and not the old name “interim” on purpose. I think “interim” connotes someone in-between who hold things together and marks time until a new permanent pastor arrives. After years of watching this from a very close vantage point, I can see how a church can either go through the interim time or they can grow through it. That is the difference between whether a church gets an interim or intentionally chooses to get a TSP.
A TSP has all the authority and responsibilities of a senior pastor: teaching the Bible. persuading people to live God’s way, loving, caring, leading, building unity, serving, helping the church reach out to their community with God’s love, mentoring leaders, guiding staff, diagnosing and treating problems, organizing, and getting a church ready for a new pastor. A TSP is part-foster parent, part-coach, part-teddy bear, part-warrior, part designated hitter, part-peacemaker, part-mentor, and a few more things.
When a senior pastor leaves, every church needs a TSP. I know I sound pretty bold and emphatic about this TSP thing. But I have seen enough to be convinced. When your church is without a pastor, you need a TSP! Here are 10 reasons why:
1. A TSP can be a stabilizing force. When a pastor leaves, some people in a church will see this as the time to go church shopping. Vision is very fragile and can dissipate very quickly in the interim time. A TSP can prevent drift and decline. If there is a parade of pulpit supply and no leader, the church will lose people. Seeing the same face in the pulpit gives continuity and comfort to a congregation. In my denominational work, Pastor Glennon Culwell did 14 TSP assignments for us. Several of these churches told me about the steadiness and stability that this veteran brought to their church. If you pick a good TSP, it will quiet the folks down who want a quick pulpit search and a shotgun wedding so the church can make a prayerful and methodical search that will honor God.
2. A TSP can deal with deferred maintenance. Every pastor has a style and a way of doing things. Pastors only have enough time, energy and political capital to deal with certain things. And just like a typical homeowner, most of us can’t see the things that need to be fixed. A good TSP will have “fresh eyes” to see the things that need to be fixed. The Apostle Paul told a TSP named Titus (1:5): “straighten out what was left unfinished.” If a TSP is doing his job, he can marshal the forces to move and improve the neglected ministries of the church.
3. A TSP can minimize conflict. A vacancy in the office of the senior pastor is one of the times when churches often fall into conflict. Frequently, there has been some element of conflict or disagreement as a pastor leaves. Conflicts often center on music, staff, budget, vision, and other issues. These days there are often diverse theological views in churches. The permanent senior pastor may have been the boy in the dike holding back warring factions. So, when the pastor leaves, these opposing points of view often think it is time to get their way. A transitional senior pastor can be the traffic cop who guides the church through this peril.
4. A TSP can preserve the power of the senior pastor. Whenever a senior pastor leaves, lay people, staff, the church board, and others will instinctively work to fill the void left by the departing pastor. This is very dangerous because these same folks will guard their new turf and can prevent a new permanent pastor from leading. That is why it is important to put a TSP in place almost immediately. A good TSP will keep and strengthen the power of the senior pastor. A good TSP will fill the leadership vacuum until the new pastor arrives. This is vital because strong pastoral leadership is a key element in a church’s health and growth. Proverbs 29:2 says: “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order”.
5. A TSP can get the church acclimated to change. When a pastor leads a church for a long time, a church gets accustomed to doing things the certain way. This can be disastrous because every pastor is different. We want pastors to be themselves and be led of the Holy Spirit. So the job of a TSP is to prepare the church for change by making changes so the new permanent pastor can lead in the way God has wired him. If the TSP has made some changes, the new pastor can make needed changes easier.
6. A TSP can deal with hard and dangerous issues. He can be the one who takes the blame. There might be incompetent or disloyal staff members that need to be dismissed. Quite often, the former pastor did not have the political capital to deal with who those who need to go. Since the TSP is there for a short time, it gives him the freedom and even courage that the permanent pastor might not have. A good TSP should have a thick enough skin to deal with systemic and persistent issues of the transitional church so the new pastor won’t have to. This is a crucial ministry a TSP can perform.
7. A TSP can help the search committee. Most people on search committees know precious little about how a church grows, how pastors think and lead, or how to conduct a God-honoring pulpit search. In fact, my experience is that most search committee members have never been on a search committee before. A good TSP will be able to guide them with the mechanics and intricacies of a pulpit search. He can point out the dangers and save them from making tragic mistakes. He can show them how to do background research, due diligence, a congregational survey, demographics, and develop a profile of the pastor that might fit. Many TSPs are well-connected to sources of potential candidates in ways that most search committees are not.
8. A TSP can help them in the grieving process. Grief is often the result of the exit of a long-term pastor or an adulterous pastor. It is vital to make time for healing within the congregation and to put the service of the former pastor in perspective. There must be a time of letting go of the former pastor and for discarding old expectations, wounds, patterns, and baggage of the past. Only when the congregation has let go of the former pastor can a new pastor be fully accepted. If this period is rushed or neglected, the new pastor will be viewed as an intruder and an interloper so that the new pastor will not last.
9. A TSP can help the permanent pastor succeed. I will never forget hearing Lyle Schaller speak at a seminar for denominational executives. This wise consultant to churches said: “Churches need to have an intentional interim pastor. If they don’t they will have an unintentional interim pastor (the Biblical term is ‘sacrificial lamb’).” A TSP can be the buffer after a beloved pastor leaves and whose legacy no one can match. Recently, Chris Collingsworth became the successor to John Madden, the legendary sportscaster who is retiring from Monday Night Football. Collingsworth said something like this: “it’s better to be the person who follows the person who follows the legend, rather than be the person who follows the legend.” A TSP can follow the legend so the new pastor won’t have to and that is critical in the succession process of a church.
10. A TSP can save the church money. I have watched churches try to “go on the cheap” with their transitions and end up paying dearly when 20% or more of their people leave and their tithes with them. Other transition plans may work occasionally and may save a few bucks. But in the long run, not hiring a TSP can be very costly. A veteran TSP can help preserve the church. When Dr. Roy Kraft retired from Twin Lakes Church in Santa Cruz, California after 43 years, he was asked to help Arcade Church in Sacramento in their transition after Dr. Lee Toms retired. Dr. Kraft led Arcade for over a year. This church did well with Pastor Toms but it grew and flourished with Dr. Kraft as the TSP. New believers and new members who began to support Arcade’s budget were the by-products of his TSP ministry. A good TSP will pay for himself and will help the church honor God!
What should you look for in a TSP? Now, a TSP is not a miracle-worker. He will need your prayers, your support, your alliances, your cooperation, and your willingness to follow his leadership. If you pick a godly and gifted TSP, it will greatly benefit your church in transition. So, pick someone who will not allow himself to be considered for your permanent pastor. Pick a veteran who has been a pastor with distinction. Pick someone who promises to be with your church the entire time until the new pastor arrives. Pick someone who can build on the church’s strengths and fix some of the church’s weaknesses. Pick someone who is seeing his ministry as a calling from God to help church through transitions. If you do these things, I believe God will move your church toward growth and blessing as you honor God.
If I have convinced you that you need a TSP, The Goehner Group is a great resource for finding a good TSP to help your church or para-church organization to navigate through your transition. Call them. My last church used The Goehner Group in their pulpit search with great results and satisfaction. I pray that God will help your church in honoring God in your transition.
Dr. Mark Platt is a graduate of Lincoln High School in Seattle and Shoreline College. For 26 years, Mark worked for a denomination helping churches grow, pastoring pastors, and leading a new church ministry. Now Mark helps churches in the interim time between permanent pastors. Mark’s passion is honoring God and helping people know Him personally. Mark is a graduate of California State University in Fresno and Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. For many years, Mark was an adjunct professor at Western Seminary, Bay Area campus. Mark and Margaret like to travel, hike, and drive the back roads. Margaret teaches high school in Cupertino, California.