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Becoming an STM

Are you thinking of applying to become a Specialized Transitional Minister?

We are glad for your interest in this unique and challenging ministry role. We hope this material helps you understand the Specialized Transitional Ministry (STM) program and why the discernment and application process is so important.

First, a little background

The Specialized Transitional Minister (STM) program started in the late 1990’s, and we believe that it has been a blessing to many Christian Reformed Church (CRC) congregations over the last thirty years. In 2013 the CRC synod approved a way for an STM to move from assignment to assignment while retaining a single calling church and receiving oversight and support from Thrive, similar to the way that endorsed chaplains function within the CRC. As the program has grown we have created a robust discernment/application process to ensure that those who become STMs are well-suited for their work, both in terms of temperament and training.

What is an STM?

The STM program is designed for churches that are going through a time of transition, specifically after a long pastorate or after a period of conflict or pain. An STM enters such a setting, and remains in place for 9-24 months, working with the council to ensure that the church can be a healthy place for the next pastor to do ministry.

We have developed a list of Transitional Ministry goals/priorities for the ministry of an STM in a local church setting. Three to five of these priorities are selected by the STM, in cooperation with the council, as guides for the work that the STM and the church council will do together.

It should be noted that alongside the STM program Thrive continues to provide the names of “supply pastors” to churches in transition. These pastors have not gone through the discernment/application process and, therefore, do not have Thrive endorsement. However, they too can assist congregations during times of transition by providing congregations with continuity of preaching, pastoral care etc.

What values shape the STM program?

There are a number of values that Thrive upholds for the STM program, and STMs are expected to join us in these values:

  1. Equip others: STM is all about helping others learn to do the relational, organizational, and spiritual work that they are called to do, from council members to the congregation as a whole.
  2. Love for people: Churches are not merely projects to be accomplished. They are people to be cherished.
  3. Lean on others: STM work is best engaged NOT as a lone ranger, but in partnership with the council, Thrive, the STM mentor, and the STM cohort.
  4. Honor the past: While the past is not the only concern within any assignment, the past cannot be ignored. The present is never just about the present.
  5. Improvisation: STMs are not expected to engage their work in slavish compliance with rules, but should expect to contextualize these values to the unique situations of their assignments. STM work is more jazz than sheet music.
  6. Clarity: The council and the STM should develop deep and wide clarity about their goals and the process that is created to achieve those goals.

What kind of pastor can be an effective STM?

Thrive has learned that there are certain personality traits or characteristics that are useful in an STM setting, things such as the ability to walk towards hard conversations rather than away from them, clear self-differentiation, and deep self-awareness. We also hope that an STM has more than a requisite level of platform skills for parish ministry in the areas of interpersonal relationships, preaching and pastoral care. Skills in self organization and administration are important. Finally, effective STMs have experienced pain themselves. They know how hardship and even failure in ministry feel, and have processed these experiences so that they inform their current ministry without unwittingly undermining what they intend to do.

All of these skills and experiences require time to develop, and so we expect that applicants for the STM program will have had at least ten years in congregational leadership prior to applying.

By now it should be clear that the STM role is not a good fit for every pastor. The discernment/ application process might lead you to discover that you are suited for STM work or it might reveal to you that another role is more suited to the way that God has gifted you. The discernment process is not a matter of “success” or “failure” but a matter of discerning the way in which God has wired us and the work for which he has uniquely prepared us.

Consider, for example, Paul and Barnabas. Although Paul and Barnabas were differently gifted they were both key players in God’s building of his church. As we watch these two individuals live out their callings in the Scripture’s record we sense that Barnabas was more gifted for STM work than Paul. Observing their differences helps us understand the qualities that seem important for effective transitional ministry.

Barnabas was called the “Son of Encouragement”, and he had the reputation for being an encourager. Much of STM work is encouraging congregations and their leaders – helping them have the courage needed to address the needs of today and develop God-filled imaginations for the future. Barnabas was an advocate and mentor. While in Antioch he observed a fledgling congregation and could see that God might use Paul to develop their ministry (Acts 11:19-30). He advocated for Paul among those who were skeptical and mentored Paul so that Paul could flourish in his role as church developer and cross-cultural theologian. It’s important to note that unless we read carefully we would miss the fact that Paul, a center-stage character in the New Testament church, would not have found his way if the lower-profiled Barnabas had not played a key role.

A couple of other dimensions to Barnabas’ situation are worth noting. One is Barnabas’ financial standing. Acts 4:36-37 suggests that Barnabas was relatively wealthy. STMs do not need to be wealthy but this does raise a topic for consideration. STMs often move into situations of financial unevenness and, at times, financial uncertainty.  By situation or temperament or both, effective STMs have the capacity to weather the ebb and flow of an uneven income stream. When the difficulty of this is too persistent, concerns about money in the pastor or pastor spouse can sabotage an STM’s work.

Secondly, Barnabas was also able to be assertive and take a difficult position. When Paul was ready to give up on John Mark Barnabas objected, believing there was more to John Mark than Paul appreciated (Acts 15:36-41). The confrontation was painful and, for a time, the relationship between Paul and Barnabas was very strained. But Barnabas’ capacity to see potential in John Mark as well as stand up to Paul are parts of the rich gospel story and illustrative of the backbone that STM’s need to do their work well.

These reflections on Barnabas illustrate the need for a discernment process for STM ministry. We are not looking simply to say “yes” or “no” to you, relative to the STM ministry. We want to provide you with a process that will help you understand more fully what God’s call on your life might be. You might be called to a work like that of Barnabas. You might be called to a work like that of Paul’s. You might be called to the work of an interim “supply pastor” or, as occasionally happens, some unique combination of interim work and consultation. God’s intention to use each of us in ministry has many and various manifestations.

The discernment/application process

The discernment/application process begins when you reach out to Thrive ([email protected]) to indicate your interest in specialized transitional ministry. A personal or virtual visit with you will be arranged to initiate the process. After that initial conversation you may be invited to fill out the discernment/application form.

The process includes the involvement of five references, the engagement of the Birkman Assessment, a training program, and a number of key conversations with Thrive staff and active STMs. We are convinced that the qualities named in this material are best discerned in community with others. Knowing our blind spots is, by definition, not possible for us to do on our own, so input from third party observers and other forms of assessment are important aspects of this discernment process. Of course, this is not an exact science. However, we believe that our experience allows us to engage effectively with pastors in the discernment process.

As noted above, the STM program is not for all. For the good of the church, the reputation of STM work in the CRC, and for the joyful placement of pastors in the work of the church, we believe a robust discernment process is necessary. We hope that you see this process as both substantive and worthwhile. We are happy to invest in it with you, holding together a humble curiosity about where God is leading you in this season of your life and ministry. 

Again, we are glad for your willingness to give this prayerful consideration.  And we look forward to further interaction as God leads and guides. Please review the links below to explore more detailed information about Specialized Transitional Ministry.

Together in Ministry,

Thrive, [email protected]

Further Resources

Endorsement Benefits
How do STMs and Interim Pastors compare?
STM Reporting Format