YES! – If the interim pastorate is a traditional interim pastorate – in which the pastor works less than full time, preaches sermons, provides “pastoral care” and gives little or no leadership to a healthy, growing congregation. Without upwardly focused, outwardly focused leadership, most churches turn inward and downward very quickly. It’s sad but true. An army of sheep led by a lion is one thing; an army of sheep which is not led at all will graze and grow old.
However: (1) Very few congregations which are healthy procure an interim pastor, and (2) In my view, the traditional model (above) is fundamentally flawed. A church which has had a paid pastor is structured in such a way as to look to that individual for leadership. It’s not set up for the board chairman, or the board as a group, or anyone else, to lead. (Worst of all is the concept of the congregation leading the congregation.) The church with a traditional (or maintenance model) interim is a ship without a captain; it is a group which needs a leader and has no leader. Interim pastors are needed in board meetings, staff meetings and search committee meetings. Their leadership needs to be offered gently and humbly, but it still needs to be offered. If the church is in a crisis, it needs to be offered with all the confidence and passion of any good long-term pastor/leader. In a crisis, the non-anxious presence of the veteran interim leader must become an assertive, non-anxious presence.
NO! – If the interim pastorate is a traditional interim pastorate – in which the pastor works less than full time, preaches, provides “pastoral care” and gives little or no leadership to an unhealthy congregation. The momentum in such a congregation is downward. Without leadership from the interim pastor, the downward momentum will continue unabated.
YES! – If the interim pastor is a non-traditional, strategic, change-oriented, transitional, redevelopment or transformational interim pastor. Most churches which hire an interim pastor are experiencing downward momentum. A hard-working, change-oriented interim leader will be used by God to bring that downward momentum to a halt and turn it into upward momentum. This change takes at least a few months.
We saw this happen repeatedly – by the grace of God – in our interim years. In our troubled congregations, there was an initial change in attitude from hopelessness to hopefulness, within a few weeks. Another “gear” seemed to be reached after about one year and a third “gear” seemed to be attained at about the eighteen month to two year milestone. Again, by God’s grace, the momentum was upward each time we repacked our belongings and left town. I’ve seen this same pattern in the ministries of many other change-oriented interim pastors.
By all means let’s pray for interim pastorates in which the Big Mo is turned around from downward momentum to upward momentum – for God’s glory.