Do you have what it takes to be an effective change leader, a skilled interim pastor? For that matter, how do you know if you’ve been called to serve as an interim pastor?
I guess the answer is the same for every variety of vocational ministry. As my favorite Bible college teacher told a group of curious, possibly pre-seminary students, “You know you’re called to ministry when you can’t do anything else.”
When we narrow the question to interim pastors the answer becomes more precise. I can’t give you a yes or no answer to the question but I can tell you the kinds of people that God seems to bless in this line of service. The Lord is free to use whom he wants in any capacity at any time so the best I can offer is a rule-of-thumb.
6 Traits of Interim Pastors
1. You lean into conflict
When you’re in a small boat you’ve got to turn into the weather. Those big waves will crash against the bow, making the hull shudder. If you try to ignore the storm you’re liable to take a roller over the freeboard and capsize. Dittoes with church conflict – you’ve got to turn and head directly into it.
- Interim pastors, perhaps even more so than settled pastors, must be at ease in the midst of conflict.
- You neither fear nor internalize congregational conflict.
- You view conflict as an opportunity to resolve personal and organizational problems.
- You facilitate dialog and resolution by responding to the issues, not the attacks.
2. You have physical and spiritual stamina
Any sort of pastoral ministry will take its toll on you. The endless meetings, problem solving, planning, sermon prep and being there to care for those in need will tax you. Interim ministry amplifies the effect because you’re often in strange surroundings, perhaps enduring a long weekly commute, and trying to get things done through people you don ‘t know well.
- You’re able to sleep well when you’ve away from home.
- You draw vigor and energy from the challenges of interim ministry.
- You have personal care tools the sustain you through the dry spells.
- You’re able to stay faithful through long periods without affirmation.
- You are in good health and maintain good diet and exercise regimens away from home.
3. You have a strong home base
Interim ministry is Got what it takes to be an Interim Pastor?. It’s not unusual to serve a church that’s several hundred miles from home. Your extended absence, need to rest a bit when you’re home and the financial challenge (it’s fairly common for client churches to be in financial trouble) add to the stress at home.
- Your marriage (if you’re in one) is healthy and your spouse supports your ministry.
- You have happy relationships with your children (if you have any at home).
- Your family system is skillful in resolving conflict, disagreements and financial pressures.
4. You continually polish your professional skills
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” –Henry Ford
- Content: You read widely to keep your knowledge base fresh.
- Competence: You work with a coach or mentor to polish your skills.
- Contentment: You know who you are in Christ and you’re content with that identity.
- Character: People learn that they can trust you with authority – any anything else.
5. You understand how churches function as organizations and operate as organisms
Interim pastors need to know the ropes, the ones to skip and the ones to pull. Most of the interim pastors I know have either had extensive training for the specialty, decades of experience in settled ministry, or both.
- You’re a seasoned cleric (interim ministry isn’t for beginners)
- You are relationally and emotionally intelligent (because you’re working with an organism).
- You’re business savvy and know how to get things done through others (because you’re working within an organization).
- You recognize how power is acquired and exercised and you’re comfortable being a leader of leaders.
6. You can think and act strategically
Interim pastors are there for a short period, for a specific purpose. You’ve got to learn what sticks to pick up, which ones to leave alone and to avoid being distracted by your hobby horses.
- You manage people and problems personably while maintaining a bigger picture of the church-as-system.
- You the congregation as a structure of interrelated human and divine relationships.
- You recognize and use the formal and informal structures in a congregation to accomplish the mission.
- When dealing with people, problems and challenges your moves are governed by the big picture.
Are you called to interim ministry?
The Holy Spirit will make that apparent to you in time. But the six road markers may tell you if you’re on the right path. If you don’t line up with any of them then my advice is to keep looking and listening until the Spirit makes it clear. My guess is that he’s leading you, but he’s not leading you into interim ministry.
What have I missed? I’d like to hear from the interim pastors that read this. You can leave your comments below by clicking this link.