As an organization that provides interim pastors to churches, we get calls and emails regularly from church leaders asking our advice about their current situation. Typically, the church has lost their lead pastor unexpectedly, and the remaining church leaders have been struggling to fill the gap. They know they need to conduct a pastor search to fill the position, but they also need a short-term solution—someone who can help provide some stability and consistency in the interim period.
Some people assume that the best option would be to raise up someone from within the church to lead on a temporary basis—an associate pastor, an elder, or a retired pastor or missionary who attends the church. While there are definitely some advantages to this approach, there are also some things to consider.
First, let’s talk about the advantages of promoting someone from within your church to the position of interim lead pastor.
If there is someone who is willing and able to step into the lead pastor position, and you have discerned that God is calling them to the role, it can make for a fairly seamless transition. Your congregation already knows this person, and (hopefully) trusts them as a leader. This person will be up to speed on things like the roles and responsibilities of staff, key volunteers, and board members, as well as your church’s culture and its theological distinctives. Ideally, this person can hit the ground running, and there will be minimal disruption to the day-to-day operations of the church.
Now, on to the reasons why you might not want to use someone from within your church as your interim pastor. Or, more accurately, why you might want to bring in an outside interim pastor instead.
Here at VitalChurch Ministry, we believe that a period of transition presents a church with a great opportunity to make some needed changes, and while an internal interim pastor certainly could introduce some new ideas or address lingering issues, in our experience, brining in someone with an outside perspective is much more effective. An outside interim pastor can see things with fresh eyes and is therefore often better able to discern the root causes for a church’s issues. An outside interim pastor also doesn’t have personal loyalties that may cloud his judgement or cause him to not want to rock the boat.
When a VitalChurch interim pastor goes into a church, one of the things he will do is take the congregation through our Focusing the Church process. This process involves a series of “Summits” facilitated by a VitalChurch pastor. During these summits, your congregation will walk through your church’s history and its current realities and discuss what God wants to do through your church in the future. If needed, these Summits will help clearly define your church’s mission and vision and will help determine what pastoral characteristics would be most beneficial for your church as it searches for its next permanent lead pastor.
Speaking of the pastoral search process, when you work with VitalChurch Ministry during your season of transition, our experienced pastors can help your church with the very involved process of searching for and calling your next lead pastor. We don’t take on the process for you. Rather, we guide your church’s designated search committee members through the process. We are there to seek God’s guidance along with them, answer their questions, make suggestions, and help ensure that your congregation understands and trusts the process. (Hint: communication is key to keeping a congregation from becoming restless during the pastoral search!)
The overall goal of the interim pastors at VitalChurch Ministry is to help transform the churches in which they serve into healthier, more vibrant places that are ready to take on their next phase of ministry! Our interim pastors are trained specifically in interim ministry and have a full team behind them for support.
If, after reading this blog post, you still aren’t sure if your church needs an outside interim pastor, contact us anyway! We would be happy to talk through your church’s specific situation and see if we can be helpful in any way.