When a church leadership team first considers bringing in an interim pastor, at some point they will wrestle with the question of value or worth. What value will an interim pastor bring to the table? Is it worth having an interim pastor during this season of transition?
What should the leadership team look for? What expectations are appropriate for how an interim will fulfill his role in the life of the church during the strategic transition season?
Last Fall, Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, president of Compassion International spoke in a chapel service to his staff at the Colorado Springs headquarters. He mentioned that several years earlier, when he had been selected to lead Compassion, he asked the Lord how he should enter into his new role as president and CEO. In answer to his prayer the Lord laid on his heart 4 things, all of which began with the letter ‘L’.
He felt compelled by the Spirit to begin his new job by listening…learning…loving…and then to lead from his giftedness. That is not only a great strategy for starting almost any new job, it also highlights the value an intentional interim brings to a church in pastoral transition.
There is no substitute for asking questions, lots of questions. At the front end, an experienced and trained intentional interim pastor is slow about making declarative statements. Rather, they seek to cultivate an inquisitive and curious mindset about the church. Sakichi Toyoda, one of the fathers of the Japanese industrial revolution, believed you didn’t really understand a problem until you had asked the question “why?” at least 5 times. The Gospels reveal how Jesus was a master at asking questions that probed the heart and unearthed core issues.
Listening, and listening well, leads to learning. Asking the right questions helps the interim pastor understand why this body of believers “does” church in a certain way. He begins to see how the history of the church has shaped their current mindset, ministry philosophy, and praxis. The interim pastor comes to appreciate the unique culture among the staff, and in the church as a whole. He discovers where they are tender, and why. What makes them defensive, and what are their fondest dreams.
As the interim listens and learns, he develops a deep love for the people of the church. I believe an intentional interim pastor should fall in love with the flock he serves. For when people sense a sincere heart connection from their interim pastor, powerful things happen! Trust is the by-product. Most churches in pastoral transition have deep unspoken questions in this area: “Did our former pastor really love us? After all, if he loved us wouldn’t he have stayed or made different decisions? Are we a loveable church? Will I trust another pastor to love me?” Most of those questions are fear-based, and 1 John 4:18 says that love is the antidote.
What is true for a settled pastor, is also true for an intentional pastor; he cannot be all things to the church. But he can richly bless by leading the church through the use of his spiritual gifts. Typically, he has strong communication gifts so the church can experience stability and edification through his pulpit ministry. But his other gifts can come into play which will help the church not groan but grow through the interim season. And if he has listened, and learned, and loved well….then the flock usually has no problem in letting him lead.
So, it doesn’t matter whether the pastoral transition was a surprise or planned…whether it burst on the scene or agonizingly oozed forward -it still creates uncertainty in a body of believers. A listening, learning, loving, and gift-leading interim brings incredible value to the table.