Interim pastors are called by a church in need of help, but they play a very important role in the congregation’s future ministry and the next pastor’s tenure. In addition to Roy Yanke’s excellent counsel on 3 ways an interim pastor sets the next pastor up for success, I’d like to add my two cents’ worth. Specifically, what can an interim pastor do to insure the incoming pastor’s first year goes smoothly?
The new pastor’s first year
In The Pastor as Newcomer Roy Oswald has observed that the first 12 to 18 months of an incoming pastor’s ministry sets the tone for the rest of his tenure. During this phase – honeymoon or not – communication behaviors between pastor and people are established, mutual expectations are clarified and first impressions become settled evaluations.
Serious problems crop up in the first 12 to 18 months if anyone brings lingering issues or unrealistic expectations to the relationship.
At the inauguration of a new ministry the pastor and the church are like a newlywed couple. Husband and wife enter the marriage equipped with behaviors that were reinforced earlier in life. Their coping skills were learned, often by osmosis, by what their parents modeled. Those skills and behaviors may not serve well in the marriage.
The first task for newlyweds is to negotiate new behaviors, acquire new coping skills and shed a few things learned growing up. Couples who seek premarital counseling resolve many of these issues before the wedding.
The intentional interim pastor is like a wise marriage counselor. He prepares both parties for the next chapter of their respective ministries by preparing the church and coaching the new pastor.
Interim pastors prep the church
A skilled interim pastor will guide the church in removing lingering issues or unreasonable expectations that will color their relationship with the incoming pastor.
Transitioning churches often have unresolved problems with the previous pastor’s ministry or the way he departed. If the interim pastor does not address these issues they will be carried forward into the incoming pastor’s ministry.
Craig Satterlee (When God Speaks Through Change) warns that the church’s relationship with its new pastor will be tarnished by residue from the relationship with the departing pastor. If the exit did not end well or if personal issues are unresolved, trouble will be transferred to the incoming pastor. If the congregation greets the departure gladly they may see the incoming pastor as a savior.
For example, aging churches often find hard to attract and retain younger families. These churches call a younger pastor, imagining that he will solve the problem. This generally fails for one of two reasons: (1) the problem is with the congregation, not the pastor’s Birth Certificate and (2) the congregation is unwilling to make the changes needed to attract young families.
Interim pastors prep incoming pastors
In addition to preparing the church for its new minister, the interim pastor prepares the incoming pastor for his new congregation. In a future post I’ll address these at length, but for now I’ll list the issues an incoming pastor should cover with the intentional interim pastor.
- Grief issues
- Current state
- Unfinished transition issues
- Pitfalls and problems
An important aspect of the intentional interim pastor’s job is to prepare the congregation and the incoming pastor so that they deal with issues from their past, adopt excellent communication behaviors and negotiate unspoken expectations.
Pastor, if you’ve followed an interim pastor, what advice would you offer interim pastors – so they can do a better job – and how would you counsel pastors coming into a new position?