FAQ

What is “interim ministry”?  

“Interim Ministry” occurs during a unique period in a congregation’s life—the time between one minister’s leaving a church and another agreeing to serve. It is a specialized ministry requiring expertise and experience with churches in transition, and most often involves three layers of work:

  • Providing consistent teaching and preaching during the interim period
  • Consulting with church leaders to address matters of church health and function
  • Leading the Search Process to identify the right minister for the next season of a church’s life.

Why should we bring in outside help for the interim process?  

Inviting outside expertise into the interim season allows your church to glean from the experience and skills of someone who has been through transitions dozens of times with a wide variety of churches.

Many members of local churches have never (or only rarely) been through a transition in ministerial leadership. They don’t know what to expect, how to proceed, or realize that the interim season can pose great difficulties and bring great opportunities. Inviting outside expertise into the process allows your church to glean from the experience and skills of someone who has been through transitions dozens of times with a wide variety of churches.

Bringing someone from outside your church provides a fresh perspective on your congregation’s strengths and weaknesses, personalities and problems. The church experiences a higher level of ministerial competence and leadership as the interim minister (a skilled and experienced leader) works with them. Details about how the search process works, the timing and resources needed, questions to ask, the importance of confidentiality—these are the sorts of things that an Interim Minister knows well and brings to a church.

How long should we expect an “interim period” to last? 
Anywhere from 6-18 months is common. There is a certain amount of time required to process the loss of the former minister: grieving the retirement of a much-beloved minister, for instance, or healing from a minister who suffered a moral lapse. It takes time to bring closure to the loss of one minister before churches are able to make good decisions about the next one. Especially when a minister has enjoyed a long tenure, a longer interim should be expected and encouraged.

It also takes time to do the hard work of thinking through what kind of person you are looking for. Who are we? Where are we going? Where is God calling us? What kingdom-mission are we meant to accomplish? Who are our neighbors? What are the needs in our community? How are we going to serve and reach our city? How can we make a real difference? These questions help you define the skills, competencies, experience, and heart of your next minister. Anyone can hire a minister who can write a nice sermon for Sunday mornings. Finding someone who can excite and lead, pick up the church’s vision and carry it forward, work with the needs and people God has gathered around you takes care, effort, and time. 

How much does an interim ministry cost? 

The answer to that question depends on the level of service your church elects to contract and the length of time the search process takes.The “full service” option (one of our partners is preaching every or most weekends during the interim period, providing consulting and coaching with church leaders, and staying directly involved with the search process) is a significant investment for a church. With fees and expenses, a church should anticipate the costs of an interim minister would be about the same as a located minister.

Our “search service” requires less time and travel and is significantly less expensive. This service commits one of our partners to setting up and leading your search committee, educating the committee about the search process and their various responsibilities through it, helping the committee surface viable candidates, and getting the committee to a point that they are confident in recommending a particular candidate to the elders and/or church. Although 2-3 “on site” visits are required, most of the interaction a partner has with the committee is via video conferencing. Both time and expenses are greatly reduced, making this service affordable for even the smallest church.

Our “transition consulting service” is also a more affordable option for churches. One of our partners will meet with your elders (or leadership team) to discuss matters related to ministerial transition: the opportunities and challenges of navigating transition in healthy and helpful ways; developing a clear vision/mission for the church; leadership during times of transition; the search process. Some travel is involved. But the work is time-limited and much can be accomplished via video conferencing.

What are the principle challenges of the interim season? 

Declines in attendance and giving during the interim season can be avoided by good communication, leadership that demonstrates a “non-anxious presence,” and a clear plan for moving ahead.

Churches get nervous in times of uncertainty and change. If members:

  • Don’t understand why the former minister is leaving
  • Don’t know the plan going forward
  • Aren’t informed about next steps and anticipated time-frame
  • Aren’t aware of the process for finding the next minister
  • Feel insecure about the future character and commitments of the church

They can react with doubt, fear, criticism, gossip, anger, and desertion. Many churches struggle with declining attendance and giving (the problem of “butts and bucks”) during times of transition. Most often, this decline can be avoided by good communication, leadership that demonstrates a “non-anxious presence,” and a clear plan for moving ahead.

Sadly, transition times also represent “gaps” in the life of a church into which people with agendas, personal biases, and unhealthy ambitions can insert themselves. While congregational leaders should listen to and love all their members, they should also be aware that some members—smelling transition in the air—will use the interim season to advance agendas and champion causes that, while personally important, may not be in the best interests of the congregation. The interim season is probably not the best time to undertake “doctrinal correction” or settle the women’s role issue or begin a building program.

What are the principle opportunities of the interim season? 

As uncomfortable as a ministerial transition can be for a church, the opportunities that open up are numerous and exciting.- To remember (and celebrate!) who we are, how we got here, and what God has done among us.

  • To once again, and clearly, hear God’s voice and calling for the church.
  • To clarify and affirm the mission of the church.
  • To strengthen and improve church leadership.
  • To address church “culture” issues that hinder growth and interfere with mission.
  • To deal with lingering relationship struggles, conflicts, and festering wounds.
  • To refocus the church on “kingdom” rather than “church.”
  • To examine church systems and effectiveness.
  • To listen with fresh ears to the surrounding community.
  • To find a new minister, with new energy and skills, for a new season of the church’s life.

If there were one mistake you would urge churches to avoid in the interim season, what would it be? 

Communication during transition is a leader’s primary task.Good, helpful, and consistent communication is a constant challenge for any church. But churches in transition are particularly vulnerable to sins of communicational omission. Church leaders, in times of uncertainty and insecurity, often err in the direction of saying nothing rather than saying anything amiss. That’s a mistake.

Churches will forgive leaders many things, so long as they see in their leaders a commitment to communicate fully, honestly, and humbly. Better for leaders to say “I don’t know” than to keep mum. Better to confess “We made a mistake” than cover something up. Better to lay out a plan that misses important details than keep the church in the dark.

When the church is in transition, nothing is more important for church leaders than to communicate … and then communicate again … and then communicate some more. Wear the church out with announcements, emails, letters, congregational meetings, telephone calls, personal pow-wows in the foyer, coffee meetings. When someone takes a leader aside to say, “If I hear one more word about this Interim Season, I’m gonna break out in hives!” you will know you’re doing a good job of communicating.

Then make another announcement and watch closely. That brother or sister won’t really break out in hives. I promise! 

Who are the Interim Ministry Partners? 

Interim Ministry Partners (IMP) was formed by four ministers who bring character, competence, and experience to their work of helping churches transition to a new Senior Minister. Combined, they have over 100 years of preaching experience, serving some of the largest congregations among Churches of Christ. They have written books, pioneered in web-based ministries, key-noted at lectureships, and guided scores of churches through the transition season.

Can we choose the particular Interim Ministry Partner who will be working with us? 

Certainly. But understand that, because an interim ministry can take significant time, not every partner is available for every request. If you are able to wait for a particular partner to finish one commitment before beginning with your congregation, we will honor your desire to work with that partner. If your need is more urgent, however, we will help you match an available partner with the distinctive needs and nature of your congregation. 

How many churches has IMP served in this capacity? 

Interim Ministry Partners has worked directly with dozens of churches experiencing transitions in pulpit leaders. Indirectly (through consulting, resourcing candidates, and coaching the Search Process), we have worked with dozens more.

We know what interim is about. We understand the challenges and the opportunities involved. If there are mistakes to avoid, we’ve seen them (we’ve probably committed them at one point or another!). If churches get nervous, we’ve “been there and done that” and weathered the rough waters of transition. If congregations need a “non-anxious presence” to provide calm, confidence-building leadership, we can provide that … and encourage that kind of leadership in congregational leaders.

Experience doesn’t prevent mistakes. But it can prevent making the same mistakes. Interim Ministry Partners are experienced church leaders who know how to navigate times of transition. (We have the scars to prove it!) If you see the need for experienced leadership during a vulnerable season of your church’s life, you might want to contact us and let us help.

 

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