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.
Interim ministry can provide such leadership. He works with a church for a limited period of time (usually 6-9 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.
Specific themes are addressed (the importance of vision, the “call” of God in the life of a congregation and a minister, an affirmation of the core gospel) to prepare the church for a healthy season of ministry in the future.
2. To work with the church’s leadership in a consulting capacity in order to ensure congregational health and effectiveness.
- In assessing the church and its community: demographics; strengths and weaknesses; gifts and skills; spiritual health and maturity; relationships; effectiveness of ministries; leadership model and effectiveness.
- Does the church have a vision and direction that is rooted in congregational values and goals? If not, let’s develop one rooted in the congregation’s calling and giftedness.
- To help a church deal with congregational health issues in preparation for a new minister and a new season of church life: conflict resolution; personality issues; “sacred cows”;
3. And, finally, to help a church in its search for a new minister.
- Set up and participate in the Search Committee.
- Defining what kind of person is the church looking for: skills and gifts, training and experience
- Identifying the most productive and efficient way to assess ministry candidates?
- How to develop honest and significant “conversations” with candidates.
- How to identify our top candidates and select the best fit for our church.
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.