Texan volunteers livening up
some struggling British churches
By George Henson
HOUSTON–Texas Baptists are breathing new life into several struggling British Baptist churches, inspired by the calling a retired layman.
Chuck McComb is founder and president of American Interim Pastors Ministries, an organization that connects pastorless British churches with interim pastors from the United States. The interim pastors help grow the congregations to a point of health that allows them once again to hire their own pastors.
The seeds for the ministry were planted about a quarter century ago when Monsanto Chemicals transferred McComb to England. While living there four years, he and his family attended Cambridge Road Baptist Church in Middlesbrough.
Later, as he approached retirement, McComb began to sense a call to ministry and earned a master's degree in religious education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The church in Middlesbrough learned of his graduation, and he was invited back to serve as interim pastor there after a 20-year absence.
While serving the British congregation, McComb noticed many small congregations were without pastors and struggling to survive. He learned there were not enough pastors available to meet the need.
A British Baptist official recently told McComb of 160 pastoral vacancies but only 31 pastoral candidates. Many of those pastorless churches have dwindled to the point they no longer can afford to pay a full-time pastor.
Currently, American Interim Pastors Ministries is working with two churches–Thornaby Baptist Church in northeast England and Milnsbridge Baptist Church in the north central region. Charles Vanderslice, founding pastor The Heights Baptist Church in Richardson, is serving the Thornaby congregation, and Paul McClung, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Ingram, is serving Milnsbridge.
McClung said he has encountered several surprises, including the fact that children under 16 do not stay in the worship service during the sermon. “The plan of salvation is never presented to children under 16 in the United Kingdom,” he said.
McClung also is working to rebuild a fellowship that has been without a building for a year.
“The old building was demolished to rebuild, then the pastor left. That was a year ago. So, for almost a year the church had no building and no pastoral leadership,” he said. Before McClung came, the congregation of about 40 met in a rented community hall each Sunday with one of the members bringing the message.
Since McClung arrived, two midweek Bible studies have begun to meet in the parsonage, and construction work is soon to begin on a new building.
He won't see the new building, at least on this trip, because he comes back to the United States Dec. 2.
Each interim pastor goes for six months, the limitation of a tourist visa. The church supplies round-trip airline tickets, a car, a house and utilities, but the pastor receives no salary.
However, the enthusiastic response to in-depth Bible study and expository preaching has been a reward in itself, McClung said.
Vanderslice also has seen great enthusiasm in the church he serves. Members are especially interested in reaching teenagers, an effort that has been aided when American youth groups on mission trips have visited.
Vanderslice is helping the church discover how to reach teenagers on a consistent basis. He also is helping them upgrade the church facilities.
Luther Scarborough, a member of Sagamore Hill Baptist Church in Fort Worth for more than 40 years, never had been a pastor until he took his turn as an interim at Thornaby. He found it a rewarding experience, however, to offer people the prospect of the assurance of eternal life in heaven after having retired from a career in life insurance.
When Scarborough came to the church, it was averaging below 30 in attendance. Attendance doubled in the six months he served there before his visa required him to return to Texas.
“I don't think they came because of my preaching, but to hear the Texas accent,” he quipped.
Ken Bugh, vice president of American Interim Pastors Ministires and also a former interim pastor of the Thornaby church, said the growth is crucial.
“The British Baptist organization has some money to help these churches, but they want to make sure they invest their money in churches that are going to survive,” he said.
The task is more than one person can accomplish in six months, all agreed.
“You feel like you left some unfinished business, but I guess you feel the same way if you retire from the First Baptist Church after 30 years,” Scarborough said.
Bugh agreed: “It's really hard to leave because you've made lifelong friends and you feel like the work's just begun.”
Scarborough devoted himself to building up the leadership base in the area, leading six men through the book “The Purpose Driven Life.”
McComb said laymen like Scarborough can be effective in this ministry. “They don't need to be dynamic pulpiteers but just willing to work energetically alongside the people there.” The three primary criteria for service, he said, are to love Christ, love people and have a willingness to listen.
For more information about the ministry, contact McComb at (281) 992-1695.