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 nine 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 six 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.
If you or someone you know is facing an interim period, I hope these will be helpful. For a fuller explanation of each of these commitments, check out my book The Church During the Search.
Commitment #1: Be Prepared
During the season of transition, there will be certain scenarios that your church will experience. There will be times when you don’t know who will be preaching on Sunday. There will be times when circumstances don’t go as planned. There will be times when the church doesn’t hear any updates from the Pastor Search Committee.
Knowing that you will most likely experience all these scenarios, now is the time to prepare for how you will respond when those moments come.
Commitment #2: Be Informed
Every church member probably has a different opinion regarding the characteristics of a good pastor. While everyone is certainly entitled to their personal list, it is imperative that you and your fellow church members develop a biblical understanding of how God defines pastoral faithfulness.
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.
Commitment #3: Be Humble
Most conflicts in churches take place because one or more members selfishly put their own preferences above others.
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!
However, if the church is unwilling to humbly defer to the interests and needs of fellow church members during this season without a pastor, trouble most certainly lies ahead.
Commitment #4: Be Prayerful
Prayer is essential for the church during the search for a new pastor. Following the example of the Lord Himself, church members must bathe every part of the search process in prayer.
Church members should pray for the church during the search. They should pray for the Pastor Search Committee. They should also pray for the next pastor and his family.
There are so many ways to pray. For more specific prayer suggestions, check out this post.
Churches that pray together stay together (especially during an interim period).
Commitment #5: Be Patient
According to recent research, one of the biggest mistakes that pastor search committees make is rushing the search process. This often happens because the committee feels the pressure of anxious church members who 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.
Commitment #6: Be Productive
Even when the office of pastor is vacant, the church is still the church. Unfortunately, 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 fully functioning during the time the church is without a pastor.
If you’d like to learn more about each of these commitments, check out The Church During the Search: Honoring Christ While You Wait For Your Next Pastor.