I have had the joy of serving as an interim pastor in fourteen churches. Each church is different, but each has certain common needs during the interim period.
Whether a pastor has left the church on good terms or on good grounds or not, the transition time between pastors can be difficult and stressful for churches. The length of the transition period varies as well. Interims can be a short as a few months to as long as two or three years. I’m currently coming up on my second year as an interim.
I’ve learned five important lessons to help me be a good interim pastor.
- Learn the needs. Often, a church will not recognize what she really needs during an interim time. A good interim pastor needs to evaluate the church’s needs, diagnose any problems, and helping the church move toward solutions before the new pastor arrives on the scene. This may be the greatest gift you can give a church during an interim pastorate. It will also be the greatest gift you can give the next pastor!
- Love the people. During an interim, people need to know they are not pastorless. Even if you are contracted to be only an interim preacher who preaches on Sunday morning, do your best to get to know the people. Learn their names. Talk to them before and after church. There is simply no substitute for loving the people. When people know you love them, they will listen to what you have to say.
- Feed the sheep. Preach the Word! People need the Word of God whether the church is in transition or not. Your preaching will need to be sensitive to the needs of the congregations. What problems are they experiencing? Is there a need for forgiveness? Unity? Evangelism? Service? Organization? Your preaching should be designed to meet the specific needs of the congregation. An interim pastor can say things a church needs to hear and get away with it! Remember to keep a good balance in your preaching. There is a place for exhortation and a place for encouragement; a place for correction and a place for consolation. Stay balanced in your preaching.
- Solve the problems. No matter the size of the church or the spiritual condition of the church, there will always be problems that need attention. Problems may range from minor things like improving the greeter team’s ministry on Sunday morning to reconciling problems between staff members or church members. Not all problems can be solved in the interim, but some of them can.
- Make your exit. When your role as an interim is concluded, graciously and gracefully bow out. When the new pastor comes on the scene, you want him to be able to lead the church without any unnecessary involvement on your part. Some people will grow to love you as their interim, and may find it hard to let go of you. Your job is to prepare the people for their new pastor. You are like a father who walks the bride down the aisle, places her hand in the hand of the groom, and then you step aside. Walk the church to their new pastor, and then step aside and let him take over.
More than anything, remember . . . an interim pastor is still a pastor.
David L. Allen is Distinguished Professor of Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, and Director of Southwestern Center for Text-Driven Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.