What does it cost to NOT hire an interim pastor?

Eventually every church will wrestle with the interim pastor salary. It happens when the pastor leaves. Suddenly, an untrained congregation has to figure out how to move to the next chapter in the church’s story.

Sometimes they are told to get busy and form a pastor search committee.

This is the last thing that they should do.

The period between settled pastors is vital to the well-being, effective ministry, and vigorous future of the church. Decisions made at this time effect the church for decades. Thus, it is vital that the church secures a trained intentional interim pastor.

This leads to the question: “what is an interim pastor’s salary supposed to be? How much does it cost?” In another article we tackled the question and suggested a formula for calculating an appropriate salary for an interim minister.

Let’s turn the question inside out: “What will it cost if we don’t hire an interim pastor?

There are at least five expense categories you can count on if you don’t hire an interim pastor. Not hiring an interim pastor will cost you:

  1. The loss of needed skills
  2. The loss of an experienced change agent
  3. The loss of integrated training
  4. The loss of a quality search
  5. The loss of congregational well-being

(Note: at the bottom of this article is a link to a no strings attached freebie)

1. The loss of needed skills

If you don’t hire an attentional interim pastor you will sacrifice vital leadership skills.

One skill set you lose is assessment. The interim minister knows how to pick the right assessment tool. He will analyze the results to derive the proper conclusions. He will know the appropriate recommendations. This insures that the church avoids a dead-end trail.

Very few permanent pastors have the time or the inclination to receive training in or gain mastery of assessment tools. Who imagines that the church can do this for itself?

Another skill set you will lose is change management and change leadership.

Often–but not always–a settled pastor leaves a church because he does not have the tools, the experience, or the know-how to guide the church through difficult changes.

You know how difficult it is to introduce change, even when people are willing. An intentional interim will follow a proven  process for guiding the church through the necessary changes.

There are other skill sets you will loseif you do not hire an intentional interim pastor. Among them are:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Facilitating mission discovery
  • Strategic planning
  • Grief recovery

A trained and skilled interim pastor brings skill sets that are vital to the well-being of the church for decades to come.

2. The loss of an experienced change agent

changeaheadIf you fail to hire a skilled interim pastor you incur the loss of an experienced change agent to guide the church through  challenges and upheavals that go with change.

An experienced change agent knows how to manage the change process. This includes not surprising the congregation, training and empowering church leadership and maintaining a steady stream of information about the process and the destination.

Change must be managed proactively. The change manager has to get ahead of conflict to avoid serious problems. A good change manager normalizes the fear people naturally feel; then unknown is a scary place for most! An intentional interim pastor speaks directly to that fear, leads the congregation so they know what they will feel, and tells them what their natural reactions will be.

This is like the doctor speaking to a patient, talking through  a medical procedure. By briefing the patient I had of time and explaining what’s going to happen the patient will feel less apprehension (notice that I did not say no apprehensions!).

The intentional interim pastor will tell the congregation they’ll feel fearful and anxious as change begins to take hold. He will tell them that the natural reaction will be to gossip and voice negative feelings. He normalizes this but warns that pessimism spreads more quickly than optimism.

It is very hard to overstate the importance of having a skilled change agent in charge! It is very costly if you make a mistake at this point.

3. The loss of integrated training

If you do not hire a trained interim pastor you lose an integrated and strategically designed training program. A good training program prepares current and future leaders by mentoring them in important leadership tasks.

  • How to discover God’s mission and vision for the church
  • How to develop a strategic plan that fits the envisioned mission and the congregation
  • How to audit all the church to make sure that programs and activities fit into to the strategic plan
  • How to train future leaders so that the church always has a pool of people ready to step into leadership

4. The loss of a quality search

A 4th cost incurred for not hiring an interim pastor is be the most expensive of all.

A skilled interim pastor will coach your search team on how to conduct a quality search and find the best candidate for the position. He teaches four important search skills.

1st, the search team will learn to proactively find candidates. Rather than posting the job opening with a few selected seminaries and perhaps a denominational office and then waiting, they will learn to think like a skilled head hunter. Like a successful corporate recruiter, the pastor search team will go out to find good candidates. Being proactive is important because often the ideal candidate doesn’t know that God is preparing to move him.

2nd, the interim will train the pastor search team how to quickly scan and sort resumes, eliminating those of no interest. This drastically reduces time wasted with resumes that don’t fit. The search team will learn to discern important information about the candidate by what is included in the resume, how it is formatted, its attention (or lack thereof) to detail and how to screen out fluff and buzzwords from real-world accomplishments that show skill and experience.

3rd, the interim pastor trains the search team how to drill down into references. They learn simple techniques that lead to 2nd and 3rd generation referrals. Often the next layer of referrals give more candid information about the candidate than the initial referrals.

4th, the pastor search team will learn to conduct a meaningful interview. The behavioral interview, one that discloses whether or not the candidate has the desired experiences and skills, is an important part of the training for the pastor search team.

In addition to these 4 skills the pastor search team will learn other important tasks. They will learn how to listen to sermons to decide if the candidate’s preaching fits the church. They will learn the importance of visiting the candidate in his own environment so they can get a sense of what he’s really like in unguarded moments.

We have seen this sad and sometimes tragic consequences of a poorly conducted search.

5. The loss of congregational well-being

The last cost–at least the last one covered in this article–is the loss of congregational well-being.

Churches are fragile during the interim. If the pastor’s departure was preceded by conflict, if there are divisions and factions in the church, or if there is no clear sense of mission and vision the church could easily fracture. Without a skilled hand on the steering wheel the church’s well-being could be driven off into any number of ditches, ruts or potholes.

The loss of well-being may come in the form of poor morale. The energy and enthusiasm from the weekend worship gatherings has drained away. People look to the future with a sense of doubt and dread. It’s hard to come up with volunteers because people don’t want to sacrifice for a losing cause.

The loss of well-being is often seen in the loss of momentum. Programs that were growing and vigorous suddenly plateau or begin to hold back. The sense that the church is moving forward and having a positive influence on the community evaporates.

Often the loss of well-being is seeing in declining attendance, irregular attendance by once faithful stalwarts, and by a decrease in revenues.

Unless you have a skilled interim pastor guiding the congregation this loss of well-being could well turn into a death spiral. The next permanent pastor that you call could end up becoming an unintentional interim.

An interim pastor is an investment, not a cost

When you add up everything you stand to lose by “going cheap”, the losses incurred by not hiring an intentional interim pastor could be more than your church could bear.

But there is a better way to look at this question. Rather than looking at costs, you would be far wiser to look at the interim pastor’s salary as an investment in the future. Here is what you’re going to get for your return on investment:

  • A fresh sense of purpose (from rediscovering the mission)
  • A compelling picture of the future (from defining the vision)
  • A manageable plan for the future of the church
  • Renewed Congregational enthusiasm (often seen in increased attendance and new revenue)
  • And most important, a great fit with the new pastor

This is a pivotal time in the life of any church. It is a well-known fact how the church chooses to use this transitional moment will decide the churches well-being for decades to come.

Use this critical time to deal with problems that have hindered the church. Use it to refocus on the mission. Develop a vision that reconnects the church to God’s mission and to the community. Create unanimity. Align ministries and program’s so everything fits together.

This is the time when you want to prepare the church to surge ahead when your next pastor arrives.

How could any church not invest in the skills and ability of an intentional interim pastor for the well-being of the congregation?

Another Free Resource

We have prepared a PowerPoint presentation that accompanies this article. You can download it here, no strings attached.

Just our way of saying thanks for visiting our website.

About Bud Brown

Bud Brown is the president of Transition Ministries Group. He has served churches in a variety of settings, from small rural congregations to mid-sized urban churches to one of the fastest growing megachurches in the U.S. Bud is a graduate of Dallas Seminary (Th. M., 1986) and Western Seminary (D. Min., 1995). He and his wife, Lea, live in Tucson, Arizona where Bud spends most of his days lounging by the pool in their back yard. You can catch him via email or check out his personal resume.

Comments

  1. kleimoladmk says:

    MUCH higher than any dysfunctional congregation can comprehend. Putting the need for an IIP in disease language can help. If a person is diagnosed with cancer in a pre-cancerous stage, treatment and cure are easy and (almost) 100% of the time permanent. Let the malignancy grow without any treatment the result is (most of the time) 100% fatal.

    I provided a congregation with pulpit supply the Sunday after their pastor of 33 years retired. Knowing what I do about congregation emotional and organizational dysfunction in times of emotional distress, I asked to meet briefly with congregational leaders after the service to see what they planned for the in between time. They already decided they did not want an IIP. Rather, they went the way of a traditional vacancy pastor.

    I preached in the congregation 3 or 4 times before the vacancy pastor was in place. I noted several disturbing trends. First, I could feel the anxiety level of the congregation increase from one week to the next. Second, members of the congregation felt it important that they let me know how I diverted from “this is how we do it” tradition. Third, their excitement about the vacancy pastor they contracted. He is a former member of the congregation, so he knows them (this is how we do ‘it’) and they know him (therefore he is now their emotional sponge).

    A pastoral colleague from the same community and denominational cluster told me he met the vacancy pastor. It seems he lacks certain pastoral competencies. The question is, how long will he last before falling prey to the hungry mutated congregational DNA?

    Knowing what I know, I suspect the congregation may not live through this vacancy period.

    How sad to see this happen and to be powerless to offer assistance.

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