When is a pastor like Nanny McPhee?

April 15, 2017 | by Brian Thorstad

In an earlier post, I wrote about some of the analogies I use to help people understand the new varieties of transitional (or interim) pastoral ministry.  I explained in “Three analogies for understanding the redevelopment transitional pastor”that these proactive interim specialists are like This Old Housecrew members, dog or horse whisperers or special forces units.

The following are three additional analogies which you might find helpful:

Nanny McPhee 

Nanny McPhee is the unusual caregiver with supernatural powers in the movie of the same name. Think Mary Poppins on steroids. She is hired by a desperate widower with a houseful of nasty children. 

Initially, she looks extremely ugly to them, but as their attitude toward her changes, her appearance is transformed. By the end of the movie, the kids don’t want her to leave. The key line of the film is Nanny McPhee’s statement: “When you need me but don’t want me I must stay; When you want me but no longer need me I must go.”

This is exactly how some of our transitional pastorates work out: people think I’m pretty ugly when I’m confronting their sins and dysfunction. After God has worked wonders and things have changed, they want me to stick around, so I call what we do “Nanny McPhee pastoring.”

The surgeon

A surgeon is not your normal, long-term physician. At a time of special need, your primary care physician “hands you over” to this specialist who makes significant, sometimes violent, changes in your body and then hands you back to your long-term physician when he or she is through. 

I call one of the three major stages of a transitional pastorate the “surgical stage,” because most churches need at least some minor surgery – and some churches need major surgery—to be ready for a great future with a new long-term pastor. It is better for everyone if things which need repairing can be taken care of before the new long-term pastor begins his ministry.

The harbor pilot

The harbor pilot is not a ship’s captain, though he could be. Instead, he chooses to make himself an expert on the hazards of a particular, dangerous, harbor (often a river mouth). 

When a ship reaches the harbor entrance, the pilot uses a launch to reach the vessel, climbs on board, exchanges pleasantries with the captain and then temporarily takes command of the ship, guiding her through a perilous channel. He does the same when the ship leaves the port a few hours or days later, joyfully handing the vessel back to the captain.

The transitional pastor seeks to be an expert on the dangerous waters of pastoral transitions. Doing it repeatedly enables him to sharpen his skills to a fine point. Everybody wins when the harbor pilot/transitional pastor is allowed to use his expertise.

The emergency room physician

Some transitional pastorates require decisive, drastic action taken immediately to save the church. The ER physician doesn’t need a sparkling bedside manner: he or she needs to be knowledgeable, confident and decisive.

Fortunately, most of us transitional pastors don’t have to act like ER physicians in most churches – but we do in some. Happy is the church that has an ER physician type of pastor when it needs one!

Do you know of a pastorless church that needs a Nanny McPhee, a surgeon, a harbor pilot or an emergency room physician? Is God possibly calling you to such an adventurous ministry?


Topics: Consulting, Leadership, Ministry, Pastoral Care, Personnel & HR, Turnaround, Vision



Brian Thorstad

Brian Thorstad is a Redevelopment Transitional Pastor. He is the author of Heaven Help Our Church! (A Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches) and Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches.

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