An Intentional Interim Concept

Developmental Tasks for a Transition

The mythical Roman god Janus was said to have been “two faced.” The god had one face with which to look backward and another face with which to look forward. When a congregation moves from one pastor to another it’s a “prime time” for reflecting on the chapter of its history just concluded and to seek to understand where God is calling it to go in the future.

Loren Mead in his concept of intentional interim ministry pointed out that the time of change in pastors is a “critical moment” in the life of a congregation. It is a time to reflect on the past, good and bad. Mead says congregations are both “heir and victim of their history” (Critical Moment of Ministry: A Change of Pastors, Alban Institute,1986, p. 37). It is also a critical moment to make decisions that will determine the future of a congregation, shaping its identity and mission for years.

An intentional interim period — that God-given “in between time” — is an excellent opportunity for a congregation to reflect and re-view its past for the meanings of its heritage and history and a time to project its future in a pro-active way.

The basic concept of an intentional interim ministry has two major elements. First, the congregation is intentional about the way in which it intends to move through the period of time from the leaving of one pastor to the start-up of the ministry partnership with the new pastor. Second, the person who is contracted to provide interim ministry leadership is intentional about being an interim minister and conducting that ministry during the crucial time between installed/ called pastors.

The major agenda of an interim ministry period centers on five developmental tasks first spelled out by Loren Mead in a monograph entitled “The Developmental Tasks of the Congregation in Search of a Pastor” and then elaborated on in his book Critical Moment of Ministry: A Change of Pastors.

Coming to Terms with History
It is important for congregations to know their history so that they can appreciate their heritage and at the same time be aware of the issues and concerns that need to be resolved in order to move freely into the future.

Discovering a New Identity
Identity is the task of understanding “who we are now in our present context and what it is we understand God is calling us to be.” It is the task of developing the vision to which a congregation is being called.

Shifts of Power/Leadership Changes
In most congregations over a period of time the leadership begins to take on much of the style and values of the previous pastor. When that pastor leaves, there is often a time when persons who have been in leadership rethink their commitment and determine whether or not they want to continue in leadership positions. Other persons often find the interim time an opportunity to take leadership roles. This is an opportune time to empower those who are out of power and to welcome leadership gifts from all parts of the congregation. It is also a time to confront “informal leadership” or special interest groups.

Rethinking Denominational Linkages
Congregations often are not aware of the support and resources they receive from their middle judicatory and national denominational structures. That relationship is normally more visible while the structures of the church beyond the congregation are engaged in working with the congregation in moving through the interim period and seeking to find the right pastor to call. The transition time helps raise the awareness of a congregation to its denominational heritage, ministries, and resources.

Commitment to New Leadership and to a New Future
When a congregation has developed a shared vision of its future and has sought to call a pastor to help lead it in moving into that future, there will probably be a new commitment both to that new leader and to that new future.

These five developmental tasks have been at the heart of basic training for persons interested in doing interim ministry in an intentional way. Are there additional tasks that have been identified since Loren first discovered those in the mid-1970’s? Here are a few possible additions for consideration.

  1. Reduce the Level of Anxiety – Fear of the Unknown
    It has been my experience that there is a great mixture of grief, loss, and despair early in a transition period. The task is to rebuild trust and reaffirm that there is life after “whoever went before” or “whatever happened before.” I call this the task of “this too will pass.” There will be a new day ahead.
  2. Rebuilding the Infrastructures
    Nearly always toward the end of a ministry, “infrastructures” of a congregation such as procedures, policies, structural organization, and building maintenance will have been neglected and will need some revision and restructuring. The interim period is a good time to review and revise the internal organizational trappings that are essential for implementing ministries and mission of the church.
  3. Attention to Stewardship/Financial Matters
    The interim period is an opportune time to review assumptions about stewardship and financial support for the church. At such a time there is probably more openness to new understanding of Christian stewardship as more than simply underwriting the budget. The interim pastor can teach basic Christian stewardship principles without people thinking he or she simply wants more money in order to have a higher salary. It is also a good time to examine the procedures for handling finances. Any problems are better handled by an interim pastor than the next pastor who is called and who will want to be there over a long period of time.
  4. Training in Leadership Skills
    The congregation faces the specific task of learning how to recruit, train, and orient volunteers so that their gifts and skills may contribute to the ministry and mission of the church. It is also a time to help people understand the dynamics of change and conflict resolution skills so that they are better able to deal with change and conflict in the future.
  5. Focus on Spiritual Needs of Membership
    Congregations today have taken on much of the milieu and structure of secular institutions. There is a hunger for recapturing the spiritual power that comes from Bible study and prayer engaged in to discern God’s will for the congregation and for individual members. Such a developmental task can easily dovetail with the search for understanding the congregation’s identity, vision, and mission.