During the time when a church is without a pastor, Sunday still comes once a week. The congregation still gathers for worship. And someone still steps behind the pulpit to preach. But churches sometimes have a difficult time determining who that person will be each week.
How to deal with pulpit supply (as it is often referred to) during an interim period is one of the first decisions that churches need to make whenever a pastor resigns. And believe it or not, it can become a source of conflict and division in the church if not handled properly. With that thought in mind, here are 7 recommended guidelines to follow for filling the pulpit during an interim period without splitting your church:
- Determine the persons responsible for securing ongoing pulpit supply and/or an interim pastor. This could be the deacons, personnel committee, or another individual or group who is assigned this responsibility. It is generally not recommended to assign this responsibility to the pastor search committee as they already have a difficult task in finding the church’s next pastor. They certainly don’t need the additional pressure of trying to fill the pulpit each week as well.
- Secure a list of names of available preachers to fill the pulpit. In Southern Baptist circles, a pulpit supply list can usually be obtained from your local Baptist association. In other denominations, there is usually a local organization that can provide a list of qualified names. If no list is available, contact other local pastors for recommendations and begin to create your own list.
- As a general rule, it is recommended that the church call an interim pastor if possible. While this may not be feasible in every situation, it is preferable most of the time. I will discuss more advantages of an interim pastor in a future post, but one is that it provides consistency in the pulpit and eases the burden of trying to schedule a different preacher each week.
- If the church decides to call an interim pastor, try to choose someone who is not also a prospective candidate to become the next pastor. While there are a few exceptions (especially in smaller churches), this often sets the stage for a heightened risk of division in the church between those who want the interim pastor to become their next pastor and those who don’t. It is usually a good idea to confirm with the interim pastor candidate that he has no interest in becoming the next pastor before you call him as your interim pastor. Again, there are exceptions to this, but I have seen this turn scenario sideways more often than not.
- Exercise extreme caution in using a prospective candidate as pulpit supply. If, at any point, someone who fills your pulpit expresses interest in becoming a candidate, don’t use them for pulpit supply any longer and allow them to enter the process like other candidates. Otherwise, you create another possible source of division. Again, there are rare exceptions, but I advise extreme caution most of the time.
- Don’t “parade” candidates before the congregation. A pastor search is not a beauty pageant and should not be treated as such. In other words, don’t bring in different candidates to preach on different Sundays to see who the congregation likes the best. This almost always leads to division. Furthermore, if a candidate is currently serving in another church, this also leads to logistical problems for him as well, especially if you ask him to preach multiple Sundays in your church before making a decision if you will extend a call to him to become your next pastor.
- Practice discernment on the use of other pastoral staff. If your church has other pastoral staff, you may choose to have them fill the pulpit a little or a lot. This can become another source of conflict in the church if not handled wisely. If any of the pastoral staff express an interest in becoming the senior pastor, it’s probably best not to use them as pulpit supply any more often than they would normally preach when the church had a senior pastor. Because it involves those already in the church, this situation calls for an extra dose of godly wisdom and discernment.
Pulpit supply is one of many challenges that a church faces during the interim period between pastors. While these guidelines are no guarantee that you won’t face significant conflict, they do go a long way to reducing the potential for it.