Intentional interim ministry is like sushi. Some love it. Some want nothing to do with it. Some are willing to try it.

But it’s not for everyone.

It’s the third group – pastors willing try interim ministry – who end up in trouble. This is due to a few common misconceptions about interim ministry and interim pastors.

Misconceptions about interim pastors

In the next few years thousands of Baby Boomer pastors will enter retirement. Many will consider becoming an interim pastor. It seems like a great way to cut the workload but stay in ministry.

They think the interim pastor is like a chaplain.

They don’t understand that interim ministry is different than the settled pastor’s ministry. It is more intense, more focused and often more trying. Thirty or forty years in the pulpit doesn’t prepare anyone to serve as an Intentional Interim Pastor (aka Transition Pastor).

Intentional interim ministry requires skills not oft acquired by serving as a permanent pastor. These skills aren’t taught in Bible colleges or graduate seminaries. Interim ministry isn’t confined to any one gift mix or personality type but some are more likely to succeed.

Intentional interim pastors are also unique in that they never fly solo. Our affiliated interim pastors work with a coach. This follows the biblical model of Jesus’ disciples going out to minister in pairs.

Pastors rotating off of a lengthy career may find it hard to work closely with a coach, but the breadth of skills required and the myriad ways in which the same few basic problems present themselves make a coach a necessity.

The interim pastor’s unique focus

An intentional interim pastor has one focus: position the church to resume its mission of making disciples. In pursuit of this goal the interim pastor has several important tasks to carry out.

  • Remove obstacles that hinder the fulfillment of the mission. These obstacles may be in the church’s constitution or by-laws, they may be power players who block the church, budgetary issues that need to be revised, once productive programs that have outlived their usefulness, deep-seated divisions and conflicts that need to be resolved… the list of potential obstacles is almost endless!
  • Renew the church’s passion for service, their commitment to the Lord and their willingness to work and sacrifice for the Lord.
  • Restore relationships broken by sinful behavior
  • Refocus the congregation on God’s mission in the world and their role in that mission
  • Regroup around a fresh statement of the mission and a vision of what the church will do to fulfill that mission
  • Ready the church to begin its search

The interim pastor focuses all skills, resources and training on the task at hand to meet the goal in a very short time.

There won’t be time for the intentional interim pastor to ride favorite theological hobby horses, to engage in the denomination’s theological dispute de jour, or to work on sermon prep and nothing else.

Metaphors of interim ministry

At times an interim pastor is a physician who diagnoses the patient’s illness, applies the necessary treatment and stays with the patient thru recover. At other times he is a fireman who runs in to douse the flames of conflict that have smoldered for years. Sometimes an interim pastor wears the judge’s robes to settle disputes – we need Solomon’s wisdom when that happens. And at times the interim pastor is a Force Recon Marine, scoping out the path forward.

Interim pastors in spiritual conflict

Regardless of your eschatology and your take on the kingdom of God, the Church is the channel of his work in this world at this time. The intentional interim pastor intent on restoring the church to its mission will be embroiled in this conflict.

I’m not minimizing the spiritual conflict that a settled pastor will meet, but the conflict will be more intense when anyone tries to move a congregation from the “out of commission” to the “back in action” category.

Prayer. Fasting. Humbling yourself before the Lord. Being immersed in the scriptures. Taking counsel from a wise coach. Holding the ministry loosely.

Get the proper training before setting out on a second career as an intentional interim pastor. We recommend our friends and colleagues at Interim Pastor Ministries as a great place to get thorough training.

How have you experienced spiritual warfare / conflict in your ministry as an intentional interim?

Discuss among yourselves in the comments. I’ll be back later.