I recently received an email from a colleague who has been thinking about a second ministerial career as an intentional interim pastor. I've excised a few of the details to protect my friend's identity, but here's his inquiry:
I have a former church where I was the interim teacher for 7 months before coming to my current locale contact me. They would like me as an interim pastor, but they would also like me to be the settled pastor. Is it ever ok to set a contract as the interim with a time consideration like a year and then determine whether to be the settled. I already know the standard line is interim pastors are not potential settled, but I didn't know if there was ever exceptions.
Interim pastors face enough career danger as is. At Transition Ministries Group we have a settled policy that an interim pastor is never a candidate for the settled position. In fact, it is written into our contract for employment. So, from that perspective I replied.
My initial reaction is that this is not a good idea. In this situation the church leaders are apparently not sure about exactly what they want! Therefore, it will be hard to develop any metrics that you can work against to determine whether or not your interim service has been of value.
Furthermore, an interim pastor and a settled pastor will approach the same church with very different objectives, toolsets, and time frames. On top of that, an interim pastor who has a notion that he may become the settled pastor at some point in the future will be tempted to avoid difficult issues in order to maximize his appeal (or to minimize his loss of capital).
For example, suppose a man on the governing board is found to be a sexual offender. In both cases the pastor will move decisively for the sake of the church. The interim pastor will not give a second thought on how to handle this issue; the offender will be immediately ejected from the board. But the settled pastor, who may wish to be viewed as a peacemaker and as a tender Shepherd may be tempted to soft-pedal the issue in some degree.
As another example, suppose that the women's ministry leader has become a malicious gossip who in private conversations berates the pastor and lay leaders of the church. An interim pastor â€“ once he gets wind of this â€“ will immediately implement church discipline; he may even temporarily suspend this woman from her position until she has made amends. The settled pastor on the other hand may fear dealing with this issue, particularly if she is a powerful woman who has a large following in the church. He recognizes that he may lose his job over this issue. The interim pastor doesn't care; he knows he's only there for a short time anyhow!
Here is what I recommend: have the church hire you to do a thorough assessment. Be sure that they pay you handsomely for this! Then present the full report, including detailed recommendations and a list of who you want on the transition team, to the governing board and the entire church. Be sure that your recommendations are spelled out in detail so that they will have a clear idea of what will change.
Once you have delivered the report tell the congregation that you will not be there interim pastor. If they call you as the settled pastor then they have your first three years' ministry plan before them.
If you want to discuss this further I will suggest that you talk to two of my colleagues, Bill Gray and Mike Albin; they have been down this road before! I will be happy to put you in touch with them. In fact, I'm going to copy them on this email.
In closing let me reaffirm my view: an interim pastor who has the notion that he will become the settled pastor is in a lose-lose situation; he loses and the church loses. I just have never seen anything good come of this.
What are your thoughts on this issue?