Or, “How an intentional interim pastor can help your pastor-less church prepare for its future.” Like Moses before him, Episcopal Bishop, Loren Mead received some of the best advice he ever heard from his father-in-law, a skilled and experienced gardener: “It’s better to put a two dollar plant in a ten dollar hole than a ten dollar plant in a two dollar hole.” The father-in-law’s counsel would go on to become foundational to the son-in-law’s extensive thinking and writing on the subject of intentional interim pastoring. Mead would later write that:
“Anything you do requires a lot of hard preparation if it’s going to grow. It’s got to have lots of room for the roots to spread out and get sustenance. That doesn’t happen if you just stick it in the ground. An awful lot of people in churches keep buying ten dollar plants and shoving them into two dollar holes, wondering why they don’t flourish and blossom…” 1
Before we venture further into our “plants and holes” allegory, let me ask you this: When you’ve recovered from the initial shock of hearing that your pastor is moving on, what do you most want for your church’s future? If your desire is that it “flourish and blossom,” not just survive, then read on.
We have a solid Biblical basis for talking about pastors and churches as plants and holes because the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 3:5-9), teaching them that churches are God’s fields and that God-given church leaders are “agricultural workers,” specially gifted by God for various times in the harvest cycle. The conviction which is driving the movement toward intentional interim pastors is that churches are greatly helped by doing careful, hard work in preparation for their next long-term pastors and that intentional interim pastors are field workers who can help churches to do this important work.
Before I expand on how they can help your church, let me explain what I mean by intentional interim pastors. An “intentional interim” is a pastor who specializes in helping churches through their transitions between long-term pastors. He understands that this time is not just a “vacancy” – a hole to be filled as quickly as possible – but is rather what Mead and others have called “a prime time for renewal.” He signs a covenant with the church that he will not be a candidate for the long-term pastoral position, moves to the area (usually) and devotes himself to doing everything he can to help the church to not just “fill it’s vacancy” but to prepare itself for the next phase of it’s ministry. Here are a few specific ways in which an intentional interim pastor can help your church during it’s “in-between” time:
By not being a candidate for the long-term pastorate of your church, the interim is free to be as frank as he needs to be, working to seek to resolve problems which would otherwise greet the new long-term pastor “at the door.” Issues of grief or disunity – weeds in the field – associated with the loss of the former pastor, are dealt with, not left to grow and multiply.
By providing a consistent presence in the pulpit and the lives of the people, the intentional interim brings stability and security during what can otherwise be a turbulent time.
By committing himself to the church for the transition time of a few months to a year or more, the interim allows the church to take its time in finding the “plant that fits the hole,” a long-term pastor who is an excellent match for the church.
Most importantly perhaps, the intentional interim pastor understands and guides a church through a process of coming to understand its history, identity and unique mission in it’s community, helping its people come to the place of joyful recommitment of themselves to future ministry.
In short, intentional interim pastors are gardeners who help churches to put ten dollar pastors into ten dollar holes, where together, they can flourish and blossom.
1. Mead, Loren "The Whole Truth about everything related to the church in twelve pages (if you don't count the introduction and the conclusion." Alban Institute, 1988