Interim Ministry

A long-loved and highly respected pulpit minister retires. A promising preacher suffers a moral failure and is fired. A poorly equipped evangelist can’t find a way to be effective and changes careers. A good minister finds himself caught in a congregational war, gets discouraged, and resigns.

Congregations lose their preaching ministers all the time for all manner of reasons. It is almost always traumatic. And it almost always conjures up congregational fears about the future: What now? Where now? Who now?

That period between the loss of one pulpit minister and the hiring of another is fraught with both danger and possibilities for the local congregation. It is a time when the church can feel rudderless and without direction. It is a time when factions can arise and wrestle for control. It is a time when churches question who they are and where they want to go. At no other time in a church’s life is leadership so important.

An interim minister can provide such leadership. He works with a church for a limited period of time (usually 6-12 months), helping to facilitate the transition to a new minister. His primary responsibilities are:

  1. To provide a consistent pulpit presence that keeps congregational morale high and ensures the vital work of preaching and teaching goes on.
  2. To help the church evaluate and assess itself.
    • What are the demographics of the church and its surrounding community?
    • What are its strengths and weaknesses, gifts and skills?
    • Where is the church in its life-cycle? What is its growth potential?
    • Is the church spiritually healthy? Are relationships strong? Does it have effective ministries?
    • What is the leadership model followed by the church and how effective has church leadership been?
  3. To help a church develop a vision and direction that is rooted in congregational values and goals.
    • Where does the church want to go? How does the church want to grow?
    • What ministry area is the church best equipped for and most excited about?
    • What difference does the church want to make in its community?
    • How does the church define “success”?
  4. To help a church deal with congregational health issues in preparation for a new minister and a new season of church life.
    • Is there a significant history of conflict that must be addressed?
    • How has the church related to ministers in the past? Are there unrealistic expectations or negative attitudes?
    • Are there “sacred cows” (ineffectual ministries, difficult personalities, theological oddities) that must be dealt with before a new season of church life can begin?
    • How does the church define “leadership” when it comes to a pulpit minister?
    • Does the church have any significant theology of “calling” to frame and validate the work of a minister?
  5. And, finally, to help a church in its search for a new minister.
    • Set up and participate in the Search Committee.
    • What kind of person is the church looking for? What skills and gifts, training and experience?
    • What is the most productive and efficient way to identify ministry candidates?
    • How do we develop honest and significant “conversations” with candidates?
    • On what basis do we identify our top candidates and select the best?

The right man, with the right heart and skills, can be of immense value to churches going through times of transition. He can lead a congregation through the hard but necessary work of assessment, visioning, and course-correction. He can lay a foundation for a successful and sustained work by the new pulpit minister. And he can provide the presence and preaching that church members look to when things are uncertain and the future is unknown.

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.