At one time there were only two types of interim pastoring – or, at least only two types had been identified and labeled. There was intentional interim pastoring, wherein the pastor lets it be known that he is not a candidate for the long-term pastorate of the church, and trial interim pastoring, wherein the pastor is not so sure about the church, the church is not so sure about the pastor, or both; kind of like a trial marriage. (I’ve never actually heard a term used for this so “trial” will have to do for now.)
Intentional interim pastors were usually retired or semi-retired men who did churches a great service by bringing stability, continuity in the pulpit and the gentle touch of a seasoned care-giver to congregations in transition between long-term pastors, often on a part-time basis. I call this traditional or maintenance model interim pastoring.
During the 1970’s and 80’s however, Loren Mead and other mainline denominational pastors began refining traditional or maintenance model interim pastoring into something more vigorous: transitional interim pastoring. Transitional interim pastors do all the good things described above and a whole lot more. In truth, I strongly suspect that many interim pastors were instinctively seeking to engage churches in some of the tasks described below, but had never put a name on it.
In any case, Loren Mead did “put a name on it” when he identified five developmental tasks the interim pastor seeks to take the interim congregation through. (The tasks are not to be confused with the stages that the congregation will invariably pass through on its journey from one long-term pastorate to the next.) In this model, “success” is when a healthy percentage of the congregation embraces the challenge set before them and participates in working through the tasks, in such a way as to result in a congregation which is ready to experience vibrant health under the leadership of its new, long-term pastor.
Here are the tasks and a very brief description of each:
• Coming to terms with our history – The church uses a “journey wall” or other means to face its own history. Does it have a pattern of short pastorates? Are multiple pastors fired or asked to leave? Did several pastors leave in disgust or despair?
• Re-discovering our true identity – How old are we? What kind of church are we? What are our strengths and weaknesses?
• Allowing for leadership changes – The interim pastor can help the church to allow some leaders to step back and new ones to “step up” with as little trauma as possible.
• Re-thinking our denominational affiliation – Would we have been better off if we had gotten more help from our denomination as the former pastor’s ministry was drawing to a close? Are we taking advantage of the help that we could be receiving from our denominational leaders?
• Re-committing ourselves to future ministry – Towards the end of the interim pastorate the interim pastor challenges the church members to get wholeheartedly, “on the bus,” to commit themselves to being part of a “ministry dream team” that is ready to welcome the new long-term pastor and the good future that God has for the church.
On the far end of an intentional interim pastoring continuum (which would have traditional interim pastoring at one end and transitional interim pastoring in the middle) there exists a third development which I call transformational interim pastoring. The difference between transitional and transformational interim pastoring is one of degree; it is a quantitative rather than a qualitative difference. The transformational interim pastor takes churches through the same five tasks mentioned above but the process is more thorough-going, more intense and results in a more fully renewed congregation. Transformational interim pastors boldly challenge Christians to present themselves and their churches to God, to put, as it were, their church on the operating room table and invite God to be the surgeon. Because the process is more thorough than in the transitional interim, those who specialize in transformational ministries sometimes lengthen the five tasks to seven or even ten (yours truly).
If a transitional interim redevelopment process takes about a year, a transformational version of the process takes two to three years – unless the interim pastor and the congregation are prepared to work themselves nearly to death (which I've done but don't recommend).
While not every church in transition between long-term pastors needs a transformational interim pastorate, many, if not most, are candidates for and greatly helped by at least going through a transitional interim process.
Obviously, the willingness of the congregation to experience a great deal of change in a short time is vital if there’s any hope for a true redevelopment process to succeed. I always wish that I could get more people in churches which need interim pastors to talk to more people in churches which have had interim pastors. While many folks in churches in need of interims are skeptical or confused about the concept, most Christians in churches which have been through it understand the process and are enthusiastic about how God used it to change their churches, and in many cases, themselves.
Let’s think about it: Are you a pastor whom God might be leading into the adventure of interim pastoring? If so, what “level” of intentional interim pastoring do you think God has equipped you to do? (David Miles'wonderful three-ring binder resource – “ReTURN: Restoring Churches To The Heart Of God” – includes an inventory to help you answer this. See our Resource page.) Are you a church member with a church that needs a transitional or transformational interim process? Are you willing to “put your church on God’s operating room table? Are you skeptical or confused but willing to talk to someone in a church who has been through a redevelopment process? Are you a pastor who needs to move on so someone else can take your church through a renewal process? (Sometimes the strongest leadership move we can make in our congregation is to move on!)