Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why Interim Ministry is Good, Mostly

Though we haven't chosen an interim minister yet, our congregation is going to use the services of an interim minister while we go through our current pastoral transition.  And I think this is a good thing, mostly. 

I think of two situations that illustrate the pitfalls inherent in calling a pastor without a time of interim:

1.  A beloved pastor leaves suddenly for a new call.  The congregation is heartbroken, and angry and confused, and maybe feels betrayed.  There is perhaps a knee-jerk reaction that the church needs to get someone just like the pastor who has left, to replicate the experience which they thought was so good for them.  It's not difficult to imagine the problems this could cause, as no two pastors have exactly the same gifts.  As well, the church which loved the pastor may not have dealt with their feelings of anger and betrayal, and might take them out on the new pastor.

2.  A pastor leaves a pastor call where there has been conflict and dis-ease, or where the congregation is foundering.  A knee-jerk reaction on the part of at least some of the congregation might be for the next pastor to be the EXACT OPPOSITE of the one they just had.  If the congregation has a little more time to think about it, they might realize that this wouldn't be the best idea.

A good interim period forces the congregation to wrestle with the mission God has given them, to consider their own leadership, and not just the leadership of the pastor.  Effective ministry requres a partnership between clergy and lay leadership, and an understanding of the uniqueness each.

HOWEVER, I recently read this post over at the blog 8th Day Planner, and am pondering that there may also be pitfalls in interim ministry.

It seems to me that congregations in interim might get the mistaken impression that there is a Holy Grail of Pastoral Leadership, That Perfect Pastor for them.  Also, a period of interim might be mis-interpreted as a period of internal reflection, and give the mistaken impression that a congregation needs to have Everything Worked Out Internally before they can turn outward to their community and the wider world.

But a healthy congregation is one that is doing what God calls it to do:  loving their neighbors, doing good in their community, doing justice, loving kindness.  You can't get healthy and then reach out.  If you are a congregation, you get healthy (at least in part) BY reaching out. 


Mompriest said...

There are pitfalls to interim ministry - BUT in my experience the pitfalls from no interim or a short poorly managed interim are worse than the pitfalls of an interim. Having a person trained as an interim minister helps.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

That article was good to read, but I didn't think that the differences were due to interim ministry, but to the attitude of the churches. Perhaps various pastors helped influence the people there, or certain types of people were attracted to those churches because of the ministry style. Hard to know which is chicken and egg.

BTW, I thought that interim pastors were placed in the churches in our denomination. Or perhaps that is determined by each synod's philosophy. I know that some call particulars are different in each synod.

I know two pastors who do interim work. One is good at the part about getting the people to work through some issues and start the call process. But after that, he doesn't do much, says he can't start anything because a new pastor might be coming soon, even if the call process is stalled for other reasons.

The other pastor is placed in churches with conflicts and says he is there to say things that can't be said by a called pastor, he can be more blunt.

Diane said...

no, the article just made me realize that interims are not a panacea that will Solve Everything.

The synod strongly encourages interims in times of transition, but each congregation makes its own decision.

8thdayplanner said...

I used to joke that the process of choosing a new pastor at my church took longer than the entire electoral process for choosing a US president. Unfortunately it is no longer a joke as the president has been chosen and well into his term, and my church has still not found anyone suitable to lead their less than 300 member congregation.

I agree that any organization should take the time to prioritize their needs before hiring a new leader. Do they need a good administrator, financial planner, people person, negotiator, fund raiser, etc? It is not rocket science. Pastors have a certain skill set just like any other professional. Their strengths may be preaching, organizing, youth work, community outreach, counseling, or visitation, etc. How hard is it to attract people that have the skill set the church is looking for?

I think when the interim period goes beyond a few months time, the focus is no longer on the needs of the church as a whole but rather on the needs of individual members within the church who are in a power struggle with other members for what they personally want in a pastor. And I feel bad for any pastor who walks into that situation, as they will never be able to be all things to every powerful person in the church.

Countries elect presidents, billion dollar companies select CEOs, hospitals appoint Chiefs of Staff, schools hire teachers and principals - all people with equal or more responsibility for the care of people than an average church pastor. Why churches make it so difficult I will probably never understand.

But a healthy congregation is one that is doing what God calls it to do: loving their neighbors, doing good in their community, doing justice, loving kindness. You can't get healthy and then reach out. If you are a congregation, you get healthy (at least in part) BY reaching out.

I couldn’t agree with you more. The reality is that churches are made up of imperfect, unhealthy people. Which is as it should be. The only way to get beyond that, I believe, is by leaving the self behind and loving others. (kind of like what Christ taught)