Rick Floyd has posted a wonderfully-provocative and long-overdue discussion starter on ‘interim’ ministry. It begs reposting:
1. The chief purpose of long interim ministries is to provide a regular supply of jobs for ministers who are unwilling or unable to take a settled pastorate. This is not a good thing. Although a good interim minister can be a gift to a congregation, he or she is no substitute for a settled pastor. Interims work to contract, they often don’t live in the communities they serve, and they are not going to stay. It is a different kind of ministry, and the longer a church has an interim minister the longer it is deprived of the covenantal relationship that comes with having a called and settled minister.
2. During my 30 years in the ministry the length of interim ministries has expanded from a few months to two or three years (or more.) Meanwhile settled ministries are getting shorter, so the only difference seems to be less accountability on the part of the interim minister. Many seem to prefer it that way.
3. Interim ministers were once typically retired experienced pastors who preached, did pastoral care, and kept a light hand on the organization while the congregation sought a new settled pastor.
4. Today, interim ministers lead elaborate congregational self-studies, change the structures, rewrite the by-laws, and generally move the furniture around in ways that were once considered to be the job of a settled leader.
5. The reason that the extended length and the frenetic re-shuffling of interim ministry is justified as necessary is because the leave-taking of a pastor is considered to be such a trauma that only expert interim leadership can help the congregation heal from it and prepare for new leadership. It is true that there are such traumatic situations, such the death of a pastor, cases of clergy abuse or misconduct, or where there has been profound conflict. These situations may well call for extended interims. But the new model for interim ministry assumes that every transition needs such a long and intense interim. They do not. Why then are all interims expected to be so long? See #1.
6. The model for much interim ministry is a family system model where congregations are seen as dysfunctional systems and the former pastor (actually called the BFP “beloved former pastor” in some interim training) is seen as the problem. Sometimes this is true. Usually it is not, but the one-size-fits all template is demeaning to former pastors who have served faithfully. One must wonder if it can be possible that every pastor’s predecessor was incompetent, lazy, controlling or evil.
7. Long interims frequently dissipate the momentum of many church programs, make the congregation feel adrift, lose the allegiance of many long-term members, and often leave the new settled pastor with a much-diminished congregation. This scorched-earth policy allows for little continuity between pastorates, and means the new pastor often must “re-invent the wheel” in a new setting.
8. Interim ministers have their own networks, and often work outside the existing judicatory processes. They can and often do function as a free-floating class of paladins for hire that raises fundamental questions about the meaning of ordination and the accountability of the ordained. Ordaining someone to interim ministry is a (new) practice that needs serious scrutiny.
9. Because the models of interim ministry are derived largely from psycho-social systems theory and/or corporate management models they have little regard for the church’s own grammar of how to be church. These interim models are very thin on the ground when it comes to theology. This mirrors a general trend in ministry toward professional identity over the ancient churchly arts of soul-craft and ministry of the Word of God.
10. Lay persons in leadership during a time of pastoral transition are well-advised to carefully query potential interim ministers about their model of interim ministry. Question the assumption that every church needs a two or three year interim. Maybe you do, but ask why? Ask if the interim is planning on doing a lot of restructuring, and if so, why? The congregation should decide what it needs from an interim, and not hire an interim to tell it what it needs from him or her. An interim is just that, an interim who gets you through a period to allow the “search and call” process to take place. The rule of an interim should be like a doctor: “Do no harm.” A good interim will leave a small footprint.