The Importance of Interim Pastors

Eric Spivey, Pinnacle Associate

I am the grateful recipient of the ministry of two good interim pastors. Their work prepared the congregation for my arrival.  Any progress or ministry success I experience as a Senior Pastor has been built on the work of these two ministers. 

Earlier this year, I arrived at my present church.  During my discernment process of the call, I spoke to the interim pastor of the church.  The pastor gave me relevant and realistic information about the status of the church and its position for walking towards God’s future.  In my first months of service, I found the church excited, prepared, and ready for my leadership and ministry. 

This sense of expectation led me to consider what elements of interim ministry have made the greatest impact on the fruitfulness of my ministry as a Senior Pastor.  Here are my top 5 things a good interim pastor does to prepare for the arrival of the next senior pastor. 

1.      A good interim pastor invests in the members of the church.

When I arrived at my present congregation, person after person mentioned to me the pastoral care they received from the interim minister.  The minister called each member of the church on their birthday.  He listened to their concerns.  He took time to pay attention of their needs and they noticed. 

Interim pastors have a short time to a make large impact.  Investing in the members of the church during the anxiety and uncertainty of pastoral change provides the emotional support the church needs to move to the next season of ministry life. 

2.      A good interim pastor invites the church to address congregational challenges.

Every church faces some challenge during its interim season.  Often, these challenges lie hidden during the ministry of the previous pastor only to rise to the foreground in the transition.  Because someone is actively looking for their replacement, interim pastors have the power to address these challenges.

In my previous church, the interim pastor led the church to address the church debt.  The congregation cut the debt significantly during his time.  In my present church, the interim focused on aligning the church staff with budget realities.  Both were difficult but allowed me to arrive focused on the future. 

3.      A good interim pastor educates congregations on present realities. 

The cultural and congregational environments of the future pastor will be vastly different than those of the past.  The world will only continue to change.  A good interim pastor will spend time educating the church on these present realities.  Interims provide moments in a congregation’s life for the church to face these realities and adjust themselves to what it will take to live into them. 

Because my present church addressed these realities during our interim, I found the congregation open to conversations of adaptive change.  The interim pastor plowed the soil, I get the chance to participate in the new future God develops here. 

4.      A good interim pastor builds excitement for the future.

God’s Spirit is alive in our churches.  A good interim pastor points to the Spirit, invites the church to follow, and builds energy for what is about to happen.  This excitement gives the next Senior Pastor a foundation upon which to build new relationships, initiated new ministries, and establish his or her ministry. 

In both of my churches, excitement greeted me from my very first days as pastor.  This excitement for God’s future provided may wonderful days of ministry together.  It gave me space to become pastor.  I am eternally grateful.

Being a senior pastor remains one of the hardest jobs in or out of ministry.  It is also one of the most fulfilling.  Following a good interim pastor makes the job much easier and even more fulfilling.  

Helen Renew