The Titanic Syndrome: Thirty Reasons Intentional Transitional Interims Can Hurt a Church!

Often referred to as the Titanic Syndrome, when something you think would be the best actually becomes the worse. Sometimes the blog you do not want to write is the one you must write.  This is the case in point for my next series of blogs titled: The Titanic Syndrome: Thirty Reasons Intentional Transitional Interims Can Hurt a Church!

Do you remember the infamous British ship the Titanic? This British craft sunk in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912 sailing from Southampton, England, to New York City. She was a craft built for extravagance and its owners boosted that she was unsinkable. The world’s most known celebrities of wealth and influence flooded to the ship for its initial voyage. Because of their belief that the ship was unsinkable they traveled through a section of the northern Atlantic waters where there was an abundance of icebergs. The cruise line had such pride in the Titanic’s ability that with reckless abandon they ventured into an area where it would have been wise to avoid or wait until daylight.  Arrogance of the ship owners and the crew became the greatest weakness of the ship and the cruse line.

When the Titanic smashed into the iceberg there was a disconcerting jolt. Everyone noticed it on board the ship. Yet, after a few moments of wonderment, everyone returned to the party and enjoyment of the evening’s events. The captain all the way to the passengers who were housed in the third class berths ignored the jolt because no one imagined that in less than a few hours most of these passengers would be facing their peril in the deep shadows of the frigid waters. Such a large craft full of opportunity and yet it faced its demise so quickly.

  • What really sunk the great ocean voyager known as the Titanic?
  • Did the inexperience of the new crew sink the ship?
  • Were the partygoers the reason the ship sunk? Did those at watch for the night cause the ship to sink?

Something less spectacular was the cause. It was complacency or self-contentment on the part of the company, the crew, the crowd and the craft.

There is a lesson for churches in need of revitalization and renewal here and for the church faced with a bad situation as the result of hiring a long term Intentional Transitional Interim. While everything begins well like the great ship if a church and its lay leadership is not careful it can lead to huge challenges. Lay leaders in many churches have spoken to e about things they did wrong during the leaving of one pastor and the calling of another pastor. That is why now some thirty-four years ago I wrote a Pastor Search Committee Manual titled: Looking for a Pastor in a Stack of Preacher Resumes. This is a manual with over 150 pages of helps and tools for the search committees within local churches. The resource has been used by more than a thousand churches to help them avoid the common disasters known as the Titanic Syndrome from Transitional Interims.

You see the great ship known as the Titanic and your wonderful church if it had had wise and decisive leadership both could have prevented the disaster they faced! Like the Titanic the degree of complacency by the leaders on board and in the company’s boardroom was unfathomable.   This was clearly the cause for the ships disaster. The captain of the ship Mr. Smith as well as his entire crew received numerous warnings about the ice flows and fields. They knew they were directly in their path. Yet historically we know they never even slowed down until it was too late. Churches can get that way as well if they are not careful. Often in a race to get a regular pastor in place they will take the easy way out and call an individual who comes as a temporary Band-Aid only to discover later his intent was to manipulate it so he could become the next pastor.

The Titanic’s crew was so sure of the ship that they had never had a lifeboat drill. It was discovered later that they did not possess a strategic plan for moving passengers to lifeboats and lowering the lifeboats into the water. The ships crew had to learn quickly as the boat was sinking. Loss of life was contributed to this lack of a plan. Some of the boats were lowered into the water only with only a dozen individuals aboard the boat. The crewmembers held third class passengers below deck until the wealthy were able to board the boats contributing to the large loss of life. Lessons for the church replacing a pastor and devloping a pastor search committee are large. One lesson is that you must treat everyone fairly in a time of transisition not just the ones who like the temporary guy. When it becomes all about a few prominent individuals wishes over the rest of the churches there is danger of sinking and sinking fast. Many a church has lost key congregants during these times of transisition due to a few wanting their way at all cost.

The ability to survive with the crises of leadership and to take action right away is critical. Did you know that in the area of the Titanicthere were two other boats? One was the Carpathia and the other was the Californian. When you look at these three ships there is a lesson to be learned regarding the best and worse leadership practices during times of transisition.

The vessel Californian had a cautious and guarded captain as its leader. Once he heard about the icebergs in his path he slowed the ship and further when he saw the gigantic icebergs, he stopped the ship completely. The he waited until daylight to proceed. In fact the ships radio operator signaled a caution to all ships in the area to be alert to the danger of icebergs. Around 7:30 in the evening the Titanic received the Californians warning. During this evening in fact Captain Smith of the Titanic would receive six danger signals and disregard every one of them. Indifference was part of this loss of life. For churches in transisition moving from one pastor to the next pastor called of God to serve your church indifference can be so dangerous. Once a church gets accustomed with the temporary preacher it is so easy to settle for something in hand over something, which is designed by God.

The seas of the North Atlantic were quite calm that April 15th, evening as reported during the inquiry. Both of these ships were complacent that evening in the midst of danger. They both rationalized that nothing could hurt the two ships and they were even blind to the danger signals of the flares going off aboard the sinking ship. So here is another lesson for the church making a transisition in spiritual leadership. Rationalization is often a shield used to deflect indecisive actions of those in leadership.

But there was another ship in the area near the sinking Titanic.  It was the ship Carpathiathat was skippered by Arthur Rostron. Captain Rostron was known for the ability to make quick and decisive evaluations when in the midst of trouble. Those crewmembers were energized as well as motivated by his ability to lead boldly. Just after midnight the radio operator awakened the captain and reported that the Titanic had struck an iceberg. His ability to make quick decisions and take decisive action led him to turn the vessel around and race off towards the sinking Titanic. While in route he made preparation for the passengers who would need medical attention by preparing the first class, second class and third class dining rooms. Each one had a specific focus on languages spoken so those in need of medical attention would be taken to the right place where someone would be able to converse with them effectively.  Once the preparations were in place he turned his attention to the iceberg and the ice flows.

Lookouts were charged to the crow’s nest. Watches were placed on the bow as well as the port and starboard sides of the ship. Captain Arthur H. Rostron remained at his post on the helm. Around 2:45 the second officer James Bissett saw the first iceberg and they would dodge six in all before they reached the sinking Titanic a little after 4 in the morning. When the sun rose in the North Atlantic that morning there was an eerie panoramic picture of icebergs all around as far as ones eyes could see. Even with the best plans Rostron had passed so many icebergs they could not count them. Peace governed the gigantic ship of the Carpathia as they pulled people from the frigid seas. Even its passengers sacrificed to help the crew pull people up out of the sea.  The happiest spot in this night or terror was the crew and the crowd aboard Captain Rostron’s ship. They displayed great leadership, were courageous, practiced heroism and possessed daring. Leadership is about these qualities. While others were found asleep when the moment of decision came. When some were unable to pull the trigger and get a plan together. Those aboard the Carpathia did not sleep and did not permit a calm night to fool them into leisure.  They were ready, moved decisively, and most importantly they were prepared.  Many useful lessons can be learned from those aboard this ship when it comes to making correct transisitions through the pastor search committee process. The biggest is perhaps: the right action at the right time is better than no action any time or poor action all of the time.

Recently I encountered a situation where it caused me to reconsider and to investigate the use of Intentional Interims Ministry or its equivalent Intentional Transitional Interim. Picking up the phone I spoke to pastors who were acquainted with and informed about both of these programs designed to put a long-termtemporary pastor in place once a church loses its pastor. I spoke to many which followed these individuals and while they were not proponents of their usage, they did to a man, speak of the destruction caused by these individuals who really wanted to become the next pastor and once they were not selected how they reaped havoc across the church seeking to discredit pastor candidates and search committees all in an effort to secure the church as a place for them to hold on and become their next pastor. This is the Titanic Syndrome at its clearest point. Let it be said I am not talking about Men of God who supply preach and do interim preaching once a week to assist the church, but one who wants to be on staff full time and be treated that way like a full time pastor.

Let’s look at thirty critical reasons these long-term ministries can hurt the church needing to discover and call a new pastor who will lead them successfully into the future:

  • First off it is expensive to hire these transitional preachers. Over and over I heard stories of how a church lost the potential funds which would be required to call the next pastor of the church because they were paying for a guy to be there 2-3 days a week to hang around.  Many spoke of the absorbent salaries of $50,000 - $60,000 for an eight to nine month period where the Intentional Transitional Interim would drain the resources of the church.
  • These monies should be saved for future ministries and ministers. When these funds are used up hiring a guy to hold the staffs hand and preach on Sunday it is an unwise outlay of the Lord’s resources.
  • Present staff will draw unhealthy alliances with the Intentional Transitional Interim, which will often derail the church appointed Pastor Search Committee and its process. These Intentional Transitional Interim will often desire to train the search committee over the local Director of Missions or area denominational leader in an effort to secure his hold on the churches future.
  • Often the Intentional Transitional Interim will begin to utilize phrases such as “If I was Your Pastor…” in less than a month displaying an agenda which had been there all along to become the next pastor through this effort even though he said he would not be a candidate.
  • Intentional Transitional Interim preachers will often begin to work behind the scene to develop a coalition to force the Pastor Search Committees hand to make him the churches next pastor.
  • The lack of church growth displayed during the Intentional Transitional Interim is elevated once he is fully in charge and little can be done about it at this point forward. No growth during his temporary tenure should have been a key about what the future would look like if he cam full-time.
  • It often takes three years of decline plus the initial one-year of the Intentional Transitional Interim for the church to realize the big mistake they made. By then large numbers of committed members have left the church and the decline is becoming more rapid with each passing year.
  • Intentional Transitional Interim’s lead like they are collaborative in public but scheme in private seeking manipulation over ministry.
  • Their public confidence is often a cover for their lack of conviction for the local church.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims have a willingness to throw others under the bus in order to keep their positional authority, though temporary at best, secure.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims will often work against the Pastor Search Committee seeking an appointment to the lead pastor over a calling.
  • Often these ITI’s seek to manipulate the potential candidate pool so they will become the most viable candidate remaining. Some pastors interviewed spoke of other resumes being shredded in order for the Intentional Transitional Interim to have his resume be the best and brightest. Since he was there day in and day out this was not discovered until much later.
  • These temporary preachers will habitually seek to slow things down so their contract might remain in tact and they can work towards discovering who the primary candidate will be. Then they can target only one individual by dropping little comments here and there amongst the laity further creating discord and destroying any chance for future unity.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims frequently do not hold confidences well and seek information, whichthey have no business interfering with the Pastor Search Committee.
  • Often they will posture a sense of concern while cunningly working to disqualify other more qualified candidates.
  • Repeatedly if the Intentional Transitional Interim is not the Pastor Search Committees number one choice than he will work to disqualify the others any way possible. Even having their name in the list is really a display of misunderstanding their role as the temporary preacher.
  • Regularly preaches “feel good” messages for itching ears over messages, which challenge the status quo and prepares them for the future changes needed to turnaround the church.
  • Is more interested in being liked than being the real leader with a plan for change and growth. Popularity is the goal over the hard work of getting the church ready for growth under their next pastor. Works hard at being likeable until he is in place and then reverts to practices which display why he is no longer in the pastorate.
  • Some Intentional Transitional Interims will conspire with remaining staff to circumvent the confidentiality, which is needed. A staff member and an ITI preacher, which is a gossip, ought to be dismissed immediately.
  • Seeks to develop a “Fan Club” rather than developing faithful followers of Christ within the church.
  • Many Intentional Transitional Interims want to remain on the payroll for 30-60 days once the new leader is in place. This weakens the new leaders influence and the churches financial platform for advancement. When it is time to leave, leave and do not put the church in a bind.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims do not know how to leave because they are more interested in acquiring a paycheck than anything else.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims are not happy when laity seeks advice from former well honored and thought of pastors as well as the Director of Missions due to their fear of being discovered.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims allow puppet staff and marionette lay workers to spew venomous un-Christ like letters, phone calls, or emails discrediting anything, which challenges his plan to become the next pastor.
  • They will place a huge emphasis on how much the church needs them during this time when a supply preacher preaching on Sunday would have sufficed.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims want employment and security and will work endlessly towards that end.
  • They will nick-pick at covenants, constitutions, who is in control, and agreements with future candidate’s over working to develop consensus to smooth things out to put the churches best foot forward.  Creating disagreements is a delaying tactic of those, which want another solution.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims who want to become the next pastor must keep the fires of discontent brewing, burning, and blazing in order for him to be needed.
  • They often practice unholy deception, disguised through concern about doing everything in order. I have seen churches argue over a word for hours instead of changing it in a few minutes. This hurts the church which they supposedly care for.
  • Intentional Transitional Interims need the church more individually than the church needs him realistically, and he knows it!

It is best in the final analysis to avoid the The Titanic Syndrome: Thirty Reasons Intentional Transitional Interims Can Hurt a Church! There are people out there who can assist you if you let them. Often churches later discover just why an individuals name was not on the list of potential pulpit supply preachers to begin with. There are people who can help if you let them. Your local Director of Missions is an excellent resource as well as some of the staff at your state convention office. Utilizing a published resource that has been around for some time over an Intentional Transitional Interims personal self publisheddocument designed to foster an easy entrance is advised.

You can connect with Dr. Tom Cheyney and the RENOVATE Church Revitalization Coaching Network additionally via Facebook at RENOVATE Conference. Tom is the co-author of Spin-Off Churches (B&H Publishers), a conference speaker and a frequent writer on church planting, new church health, and church revitalization. Be looking for The Biblical Foundations for Church Revitalization by Tom Cheyney and Terry Rials later this year.  If you or your church would like more information about how to be considered for the next series of RENOVATE Church Revitalization Applicants you may contact him at Tom@renovateconference.org, or tcheyney@goba.org.



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