As our team travels the country working with churches, we’ve found that not everyone has the same idea of what an interim pastor is and does. Of course, they have a general idea, just based on the name, but there are some variations on the types of pastors who serve in churches without a permanent lead pastor.
We thought we’d take some time in this blog post to clear up some of the confusion surrounding phrases such as “interim pastor,” “intentional interim pastor,” “transitional pastor,” and “church consultant.” Of course, not everyone will have the same definitions of these phrases, and some people use several of them interchangeably, but we wanted to give you VitalChurch Ministry’s take on these phrases and explain which one applies to the pastors we send out to churches.
A Standard Interim Pastor
A standard interim pastor (sometimes called an interim teaching pastor) is what most people tend to think of when they talk about interim pastors. This is a person who will come to a church mainly to preach on Sundays. He will provide the church with some consistency and stability as they search for their next lead pastor, but will likely not make any substantial changes to the church’s staff, ministries, values, or mission. In other words, he will maintain the status quo. He may or may not help with the search process for the next pastor.
A standard interim pastor could be someone from the congregation with some level of pastoral or biblical teaching experience, or it could be a former pastor who agrees to come out of retirement for a short season to help out a church in need. This type of pastor can be effective in a stable, well-established church with otherwise strong leadership and an established mission and vision. A standard interim pastor could also work well in a denominational church with good support.
A Church Consultant
Sometimes, struggling churches without a lead pastor in place will think the best thing to do is to bring in a church consultant. They want an outside person who can look objectively at their church, point out their issues, and help them work through those issues. A church consultant won’t preach on Sundays, but will typically work closely with church leadership and offer advice and guidance. Whether or not their advice is followed and the suggested changes are implemented depends on the buy-in from church leadership and the congregation. A consultant or consulting group may also be brought in to lead and guide the pastoral search process.
Church consultants could be a viable option for churches that are ready to make a change and have the leadership in place to help facilitate it, and also for churches that have someone (or a team of people) readily available to preach on Sundays.
An Intentional Interim Pastor
An intentional interim pastor (sometimes called a transitional pastor) is the type of pastor VitalChurch Ministry provides for churches in transition or crisis. An intentional interim pastor goes to a church with the express purpose of leading them through a time of transition as a pastor, in the full sense of the word. He isn’t just there to “fill the pulpit,” but to serve as a gospel-centered agent of change. He will help the church discover where God is leading them and prepare themselves for their next permanent lead pastor. An intentional interim pastor isn’t there to maintain the status quo, but to guide the church in addressing their issues and making changes where they are needed.
VitalChurch Pastor Gregg Caruso says it this way, “An intentional interim pastor does not arrive at a church with predetermined prescriptions or sermons, but with a sincere desire to hear, with the congregation, what the Holy Spirit is saying to that church at that moment in time.”
VitalChurch Pastor Tom Wilkens adds, “An intentional interim pastor promotes church revitalization by implementing prayer initiatives, equipping leaders, reconciling relationships, navigating change, and facilitating agreed-upon transition season upgrades to prepare for recruiting the next lead pastor and moving into God’s preferred future for the church.”
Some churches have a well-established mission, but others rely on their lead pastor to provide this type of guidance. At VitalChurch, we believe every church should have an agreed-upon mission statement in place before they call a lead pastor. That way, they will be more likely to attract, and ultimately call, a pastor who will be a good fit and who will help lead the congregation where they believe God is telling them to go. During the time our intentional interim pastors spend at churches, they go through the process of helping churches prayerfully discover and embrace their mission.
Practically speaking, an intentional interim pastor can help churches with things like leadership and staff development, and clarifying and implementing biblical eldership and church governance, if there isn’t already an effective system in place.
At VitalChurch, our intentional interim pastors are dedicated to this unique type of ministry. They have a heart for struggling churches and see their great potential and capacity for effective gospel ministry. Our pastors receive extensive training in our biblically based process of church reconciliation. We believe in effective collaboration and teamwork, so when we come, we come as a team in a manner tailored to the needs of the church. The process begins with a thorough diagnostic assessment. This allows our pastors to show up on day one with a clear understanding of the church—its strengths and its weaknesses—and agreed-upon transition season objectives.
You can learn more about our approach to interim ministry on our Intentional Interim Pastorate page, which includes some helpful FAQs.
If you think your church could benefit from an intentional interim pastor, contact us at VitalChurch. We would love to hear your church’s story and see how we can help.