The longer I serve in ministry, the more I am convinced of the validity and necessity of interim ministry. Contrary to popular opinion, interim ministry is not about keeping the pulpit filled or sustaining whatever ministerial momentum a church might have. Rather interim ministry is all about church health. Much more could be offered in this short blog article, but here’s a start.
In most cases, there is some shadowy unpleasantness about a pastor’s departure. Sometimes the departure is rancorous and outright painful for the congregation. A primary task of the interim minister is to help the church come to terms with its past, especially its recent past. A church may be justified in pressuring its former pastor to leave, but even in the best of circumstances, such actions—justified as they may be—creates baggage that needs unpacked and sorted.
The church that goes through a long period of serious conflict with its previous pastor is especially vulnerable to dysfunction. A recently divorced individual is likely to project dysfunctionality into the next relationship if there is no intervention between the previous marriage and the new relationship. A specially trained interim minister helps restore health into the church’s ministerial and decision-making culture so that church and newly called pastor can bond without the baggage of the previous conflict.
A congregation’s or a congregant’s general skepticism or lack of faith in church leaders can be restored when the interim minister is seen working well with leaders. The interim minister can compassionately hear a congregant’s complaints about the way the previous pastor was forced to resign, weigh the complaint, and address the issue with the church leadership as appropriate. This promotes not only good process, but also the restoration of trust between congregants and leaders. The interim minister is prone to encourage such trust.
The interim ministry can promote financial health in the church. In protracted conflict, congregants are less enthusiastic about attending services and prone to absenteeism. This adversely affects offering. A good interim minister makes alienated members feel safe about returning to church and fosters enthusiasm for worship attendance, and offerings are likely to stabilize.
A major problem with not calling an interim minister during a pastoral vacancy is that a church is prone to self-deception about its financial situation. It gets accustomed to having a financial windfall from paying minimal honorariums rather than full salaries. Calling an interim minister establishes that the church can sustain a called pastor’s salary. Besides, givers may get out of the habit of giving when a church reduces such expenditures.
Much more could be said. Churches that fail to utilize the interim minister very, very often make their next called pastor a de facto interim.