Recently, I began serving as an Interim Pastor for one of the churches in my association, a role that I have become quite familiar in fulfilling over the past 5 years. During that time, 70% of the churches in the association have faced a pastoral vacancy. Whenever a vacancy occurs, some churches handle the interim period better than others. For some churches, an interim period is a time of great conflict and difficulty. But it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, an interim time can be a time of great opportunity for a church. It can be an opportunity for the church to build a greater sense of unity and fellowship. It can be an opportunity for the church to conduct a spiritual checkup to see what is going well and not so well. It can be an opportunity to recommit to the Great Commission. And the list could go on and on.
However, in my experience, these opportunities can only be seized if the church takes intentional steps to do so. In my current interim pastorate, I recently completed a series of messages that discussed five commitments every church member needs to make to ensure that the interim period is a time of great opportunity rather than a time of great difficulty.
I will explain each commitment in greater detail in future posts, but here is a quick summary of the five commitments. If you or someone you know is facing an interim period, I hope these will be helpful.
- “I will be aware.” Every church member probably has a different opinion regarding the characteristics of a good pastor. While everyone is certainly entitled to their personal list, church members need to commit to being aware of the characteristics on God’s list. The Greek word used for “pastor” in Ephesians 4:11 is usually translated as “shepherd”. And from Psalm 23, we see that the 4 primary roles of a shepherd are to (1) feed the sheep, (2) lead the sheep, (3) protect the sheep, and (4) comfort the sheep. If church members will make the commitment to define faithfulness for their pastor the same way that God defines it, they will be much better off.
- “I will be humble.” In Philippians 2:1-4, the Apostle Paul tells the church he had started earlier in his ministry to “complete his joy” (or, “bless his heart” using eastern Kentucky language!). The way that they are to do so is by being unified and putting the interests (or preferences) of others above their own. If church members will commit to being humble and not demanding the search committee look for a pastor that fits all of their preferences, but rather fits God’s preferences, there will be much less difficulty and conflict. And the church will bless the search committee and hopefully bless their next pastor as well!
- “I will be prayerful.” One of the things that is often mentioned, but also often overlooked during an interim period is intentional times of prayer. Church members need to make sure they don’t fall into this temptation by committing to frequent and fervent times of prayer. They can pray for the unity and humility of the church (see Commitment #2). They can pray for wisdom and discernment for the search committee. And they can pray for their next pastor and his family. Churches that pray together stay together (especially during an interim period).
- “I will be patient.” According to the Pastor Search survey conducted earlier this year, one of the biggest mistakes that pastor search committees make is rushing the search process. One of the reasons they may be tempted to do so is because they constantly feel the pressure of impatient church members who often pepper them with questions or complaints about the length of the process. Given the fact that the average search process takes 12-18 months, church members must commit to being patient and allowing the search committee to do their work without constantly feeling rushed by the congregation.
- “I will be productive.” The church is still the church even when the office of pastor is vacant. However, church members are often tempted to slack off in their church commitments during an interim. Church attendance sometimes wanes. However, every member is still part of the body of Christ and has a role to fill. If they fail to do so, the whole body suffers (1 Corinthians 12). Therefore, church members must commit to being a fully committed and functioning member during the time the church is without a pastor.
In the coming days, I will expand on each of these commitments in greater detail. What commitments would you add to the list? Comment below to share your thoughts!