Consistency in the Midst of Transition

“Consistency, thou art a jewel,” is attributed to William Shakespeare. Consistency certainly plays an important role within the ministry of the local church.

Don’t get me wrong. We humans enjoy being pleasantly surprised. We like an occasional adventure or an unexpected gift or compliment. This is even true for communities of faith. There are times when a guest speaker brings a new perspective or skill set. We typically enjoy learning a new song, gaining new insights, and welcoming new people into fellowship. Such occasional surprises are easy to digest. They do not throw us into an unrecoverable tailspin. Instead, they keep things interesting and contribute, at least in small part, to keeping us engaged while anticipating, “What’s next?”

There are times, however, when surprises are not as enjoyable … when a preaching minister stands before a church and announces an impending transition, for example. Obviously, such announcements vary in degree of difficulty for the church depending on context. A church that has been preparing for transition may actually celebrate with the preacher when the time of transition is official. A church that has had a minister for a short period of time may feel a sense of abandonment or even anger. A church that is caught completely off guard due to moral failure or death may be in shock. Regardless of the reason for a minister’s departure, the church finds itself in an interim season … a time of uncertainty and change.

During the interim season, church leaders have an opportunity to speak and model consistent direction, remind the church to remain in prayer, and invite the body to exercise discernment regarding the church’s mission and vision. In the absence of such leadership, lacking a clear plan for transitioning, the church will feel directionless, confused, and anxious.

One of the best means of providing specific direction is partnering with an interim preaching minister. Partnering with an interim minister not only allows church leaders and staff members to stay focused on prayer, shepherding, and ministry responsibilities, it also allows the church to process life-changing possibilities associated with the interim season. Sermons devoted to spiritual formation, clear expectations, re-visioning and re-missioning, etc.—sermons that complement other aspects of the interim process—can provide a solid foundation for the church’s next preaching minister to build upon.

When Interim Minister Partners uses the word “consistency” in relationship to the interim season, we are actually advocating “strategic consistency.” Strategic consistency involves purposeful planning and thoughtful processes as a means to a God-ordained end. It is not just about making sure that weekly preaching duties are handled. Rather, strategic consistency provides an opportunity for a qualified interim minister to enter the life of the congregation and prayerfully coach the church and its leadership through healthy transition.

The adjective “qualified” is purposeful. Those who assume such duties must possess a skill set that involves preaching ability, deep-level listening and rapport-building skills, knowledge of spiritual formation processes and insights related to church systems. In addition, qualified interim ministers must be able to demonstrate knowledge of God’s Word as well as a proven track record of church leadership.

Such attributes allow an interim minister to serve as an objective conduit of dialogue between the church body and leadership. The interim minister is in conversation with the entire body and does can advocate for that which is in the best spiritual interest of the church as a whole.

Additionally, the interim minister is positioned to see and hear unhealthy roles, rules, rituals, and goals that the church may no longer be consciously aware of. He is in position to encourage healthy system elements that enhance the church’s ability to live out the kingdom. His presence allows the church an opportunity to grieve the loss of a beloved minister … or work through anger or disappointment about a minister who left poorly. Pain, unhealthy patterns, and a lack of vision will ultimately manifest themselves. It is better to deal with such matters purposefully—in the interim–than reactively after the arrival of the new preaching minister.

There are many additional bonuses associated with interim ministry but one of the most rewarding is relationship beyond the interim. Since the interim minister has deep insights related to the church’s pain and joy, history and desired future, strengths and weaknesses, etc., he is in position to coach the new minister for an agreed upon timeframe. Additionally, the interim will be able to return on occasion and encourage the church leaders, staff, and members.