So you’ve answered the question.

A decision is made.

After prayer, discussion, consultation and considerable discussion – and conducting a brief assessment – the church‘s leaders agree: we need an interim pastor.

They turn to you and ask, “Will you take the lead in helping us find an interim pastor?”

Now what - truck stalled in desert

Now what?

Choosing a skilled interim pastor is an important step to a new future for your church. It‘s not something you can do out of a box; you‘re venturing into some strange, new territory!

In this article series I‘ll suggest a step-by-step method to finding the right interim pastor for your congregation. Today‘s offering covers:

  • What kind of interim pastor does your church need?
  • What does it cost to retain an interim pastor?
  • Your first major developmental task: a congregational change in attitude

What kind of interim pastor?

Interim pastors are like coffee drinks at Starbucks. They come in different flavors, colors and sizes. Some are simple, bold and straightforward. Others are nuanced, intriguing and fun to be seen with. But all of Starbucks‘ drinks are variations on one of three roasts: dark, medium and light.

When you‘re ordering up an interim pastor it helps to know what strength you need brewed up.

  1. Pulpit supply pastors hold down the fort on Sunday mornings while the Pastor Search committee busies itself with the task of finding the next settled pastor. Interims in this flavor may participate in worship planning and a few other light activities but not much else.
  2. Interim pastors not only fill the pulpit on Sundays, they carry some of the administrative load, participate as needed in leadership meetings and may even provide pastoral care and counseling.
  3. Interventionists are the strongest brew, perhaps a bit too strong for some churches. But if your church meets any of the 12 criteria this is probably what you‘ll need to order. Interventionists are problem solvers. They will help your church identify what ails it, identify the two to four biggest problems that need solving, and then they guide your church through the solutions. (Note: the “industry” hasn‘t really settled on a term for this flavor. Some simply call them interim pastors, some call them intentional interim pastors and some call them transition pastors – my favorite term)

How do you decide which you need? If your pastor hasn‘t left yet, and if the relationship is good, ask him or her to help you think through the answer to that question. Discuss what pastoral duties can be put on hold for a bit. Identify likely hindrances to the church‘s future ministry – if any. Also, as I‘ve already mentioned, if your church meets several of the criteria mentioned in this article, you‘ll definitely want an interventionist.

What does it cost to retain an interim pastor?

Money may be a concern, especially if your church needs an interventionist. The conditions that brought you to this decision are probably accompanied to a decline in revenue due to loss of members, economic travail, or as a leading indicator that more people may be on their way out (assuming that people stop giving before they actually leave).

Fortunately, interim pastors, especially the interventionists, typically charge far less than what they‘re worth.

A bigger, far more important question is the cost to the church of not hiring an interim pastor. If you by-pass the interim pastor and proceed directly to a search for the next settled pastor you forfeit a great deal:

  1. The loss of specialized skills in conflict resolution, mission discovery, strategic planning and grief recovery.
  2. The loss of an experienced change agent.
  3. The loss of integrated, strategic training for the leadership team.
  4. The increased likelihood of an unsatisfactory search process results. The hard costs of a bad hire could devastate the church.

As a general rule of thumb an interventionist should receive a full-time salary, something in line with what your departing pastor received. In addition, if significant travel is involved, you‘ll need to compensate for travel and lodging.

An interim pastor who commutes several hundred miles – making it difficult to travel home during the week – should receive special consideration. Colleagues and I have entered into agreements where we are on the ground 3 weeks per month and away, at home, 1 week per month. It is draining but it is doable.

If you are unable to pay a full-time salary you may be able to arrane some sort of deferred compensation (e.g., retain the interim pastor for a year at full salary, but the salary is paid out in small chunks over a two-year period). Some interim pastors are fortunate enough to have other means of income and are able to offer their services at reduced rates to churches in serious financial peril.

But remember, whatever you do, don‘t ever think it‘s a good idea to go cheap during this period to “put the pastor‘s salary in the bank.” It never works out well.

Your first task: a shift in attitude

A successful transition won‘t happen overnight. Depending on the developmental challenges before the church this process could extend as much as 24 months. Churches in relatively good shape may wrap up the entire process in 8 to 12 months, but 15 to 18 months is fairly typical.

The church leaders will have to, well, lead. Some of the leaders will feel internal pressure to hurry along to the pastor search process. A few congregants here and there may also wonder “Why is this taking so long?”

The church‘s leaders need to frame this as an opportunity to set the stage for the next ten years of the church‘s life. The congregation needs to be continually informed that the interim process will move steadily forward, but at times they may not see much happening (because a lot of the real work happens underground).

Continue to counsel patience. Continue to re-emphasize the fact that you‘re not slapping up high density condos on zero lot lines, you‘re building something to last.

The interim pastor will deliver regular updates to the congregation, probably on a monthly basis. In between times the church leaders need to talk it up – we‘re moving carefully, deliberately and skillfully toward the next phase in this church‘s life.

And let me forewarn you: people get really frayed when the search process starts. The members of the pastor search team pay a high personal price, the progress can seem directionless, and some churches make a crucial mistake – because they are tired, they settle instead of waiting for the right pastor.

Upcoming articles

In upcoming articles in this series we‘ll be touching on several additional steps involved in retaining an interim pastor.

  • Where do you look for interim pastors?
  • What kind of training or certification should you watch for?
  • How do you screen interim pastors?
  • Avoiding the “paycheck interim pastors”
  • Negotiating terms of employment and writing a Memorandum of Understanding.

If additional good ideas pop into my head while working through this series, I‘ll be sure to include them.


If you‘re an interim pastor, what kind of advice would you offer to a church considering the services of an interim pastor? Enter you comments below by clicking this link.