When it comes to church systems I am an idealist. I think that there are patterns that churches should usually adhere to to get predictable outcomes. For example, there are some prescriptive behaviors I think the church should hold to during leadership transition, especially regarding the behavior and ministry of interim pastors.
The interim pastor should be temporary.
I know, I know — that seems obvious. An interim pastor should be constructively thinking about how to work himself out of a job. An interim should have a timeline. It should be specific. I have heard the rule of thumb for securing a new pastor is that once a committee is in place and trained, the search should take about a month for every year of the previous pastor’s service. Of course there are variables. What is the relative health of the church? Was there a moral crisis in the church? Generally, though, it’s hard to see why an interim would stay more than two years.
An interim pastor should be intentional.
I have attended intentional interim training. This description reminds me of the scene in the movie “A Few Good Men” where Lieutenant Kaffee asks Colonel Jessup if a marine recruit was in “grave danger” and Jessup asks, “Is there any other kind?”
Every interim ought to be intentional. It ought to include things like making sure a pastor search committee gets enlisted, trained, and deployed; helping the church do some critical evaluation of its systems; and maintaining missionary focus and momentum.
There is a certain kind of interim pastor who is decidedly unintentional. Maybe he needs the income. Maybe he is afraid that if he moves the church along deliberately in their search for a pastor he will be out of work (though I am of the opinion that there is plenty of work for capable interims). Maybe he has not been trained. Maybe he is flattered by the expressions of affection from the congregation. Almost everyone who has been an interim knows that large swaths of the church will likely develop an attachment for the temporary pastor. Good ones don’t take it to heart. They will be grateful to be appreciated but also will know that it’s irrelevant to their chief reason for being there.
An interim pastor should be a non-anxious presence.
Leadership transition is a crisis. The interim pastor is there to provide a mature perspective. If he is not wise and seasoned, he may cause the crisis to go, in the words of the funny meme, “from worse to worser.”
One way this routinely happens is when the interim politicks to become the permanent pastor. Another way this can go sideways is when the church is not clear about the specific arrangement they are making with an interim. Generally, I think that churches should preclude the interim from becoming a pastor candidate. But at the minimum the parties should express a clear understanding about these terms, otherwise conflict will follow more often than not.
In a wild-west, anything goes, high turnover context such as exists in the SBC, interim pastors are vitally important to local church ministry. I have great admiration for the ones I know who do it well. They are gifted at moving a church along a continuum and keeping the church focused and flourishing during the season between the former pastor and the future pastor.
This post originally appeared on Braswell’s blog.