“I wish you would become our next pastor.”
Over the past nine years, I have heard these words from at least one member of each of the six churches I have served as an Interim Pastor.
Before you begin to think I’m trying to give myself a public pat on the back, my experience is certainly not unique. I’ve heard several other Interim Pastors make the same observation.
In fact, it’s quite common for church members (and Pastor Search Committees as well) to approach their Interim Pastor about removing the “Interim” tag. After all, he’s still in the honeymoon phase. The congregation enjoys his sermons, and they laugh at his jokes. He hasn’t had to make any complex or controversial leadership decisions. He’s a hero!
But the question I want to pose is this: should a church allow their Interim Pastor to become a candidate for their vacant pastor position?
If your church secures an Interim Pastor, I can assure you that you will have to deal with this question. It’s not a question of if, but only of when.
My personal philosophy is to communicate upfront that I will not submit my name as a candidate. I just want to help the church experience a healthy transition from their previous pastor to their next pastor. Many others feel the same way.
However, some Interim Pastors are open to the possibility. For those who fall into this latter category, the question remains. Should they be allowed to become a candidate?
The short answer is, “It depends.”
Every church context is unique, and every church will ultimately need to make that decision for themselves. To help your church think through this question, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons for both positions.
Reasons For Allowing the Interim to Become a Candidate
There are several reasons why a church might allow the Interim Pastor to become a candidate. Here are five that come to my mind.
#1: Allows the Church to Determine if the Interim Pastor is a Good Fit
Some pastors remain at their church for only a short time because they discover it’s not a good fit. There’s no moral failure. There’s no one to blame. It’s just not a good fit.
Unfortunately, it’s challenging to make that determination until the pastor has served at the church for a little while. There are some things you simply can’t discover during an interview.
However, when the church secures an Interim Pastor, it allows them time to get to know him. As they interact with him every week, they may discover that he’s a good match for their church. The Search Committee may then invite him to submit his resume for consideration.
On the other hand, the Interim Pastor may not be a good fit. In that case, the Search Committee can continue their search without any significant collateral damage to the church.
#2: Allows the Interim Pastor to Determine if the Church is a Good Fit
This observation is also applicable from the opposite perspective. An interim period allows the Interim Pastor to get to know the church before making a long-term commitment. He may take several months before making a decision about his potential candidacy.
#3: Ensures Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s Prompting
Some suggest that establishing a rule that the Interim Pastor cannot become a potential candidate places God in a box. It leaves no room for the Holy Spirit to interrupt the church’s plans.
However, being open to the possibility allows the Spirit to work freely in the heart of the Interim Pastor, the Pastor Search Committee, and the congregation. If God makes it clear that He has chosen the Interim Pastor to become the next pastor, who are you to say no?
#4: Doesn’t Require Relocation (Usually)
Except for a few instances, most Interim Pastors live within a reasonable driving distance to the church. If he were to become the next pastor, he probably wouldn’t need to go through the pain of moving.
#5: Minimizes Other Logistical Details
In addition to avoiding the pain of relocation, allowing the Interim Pastor to become a candidate also minimizes other logistical details.
Since everyone already knows him, there’s no need to schedule a “get to know you” social event. There’s also no need to provide tours of the community since he already knows how to find the closest grocery store! There’s also no need to secure hotel arrangements during his “trial weekend.” He can sleep in his own bed!
Reasons Against Allowing the Interim to Become a Candidate
While there are several reasons why you might consider allowing your Interim Pastor to become a candidate, there are just as many reasons why you might choose not to do so. Here are five that come to mind.
#1: Potential “Unfair” Advantage
Some might claim that allowing the Interim Pastor to become a candidate gives him an unfair advantage.
While other candidates are only heard by the Pastor Search Committee, the whole congregation gets to listen to his sermons. While he gets to know the congregation, other candidates aren’t afforded the same luxury. Similarly, he can gain supporters within the church while other candidates are just a name on a resume.
For these and other reasons, some may claim that the Interim Pastor should not become a candidate while still serving as the Interim Pastor.
#2: Potential Source of Division
Allowing the Interim Pastor to become a candidate may create unnecessary division within the congregation. As he gets to know the congregation, some church members may conclude that he fits their church. Unfortunately, others may reach a different conclusion.
This potential scenario could place the church in a difficult predicament. If the difference of opinions is strong enough, the church might suffer a split.
#3: Potential Search Committee Negligence
In some churches, the Pastor Search Committee may intentionally drag their feet, hoping that the Interim Pastor will eventually submit his name for consideration. If the Interim Pastor doesn’t sense that the Lord is leading him to apply, the Search Committee’s “waiting game” could end up delaying the search process for months.
To avoid such a scenario, some would argue that the church should simply make it clear at the beginning that the Interim Pastor will not be considered for the position.
#4: Potential Campaign Effort
It’s possible that if the Interim Pastor knows he is permitted to become a candidate, he might attempt to campaign for the position – both publicly and privately. While one would hope that the Interim Pastor would never intentionally manipulate the church, you can’t rule out the possibility.
Establishing that he cannot become a candidate at the outset would go a long way to avoid this potential scenario.
#5: Prevents False Hope
Every Interim Pastor will be encouraged to submit their resume by at least a few well-meaning church members. While these dear saints may believe the Interim Pastor would be a good candidate, the Pastor Search Committee may not share that sentiment.
If the Interim Pastor subsequently submits his resume, there might be hurt feelings when he learns that the Pastor Search Committee will not pursue him.
Again, the church could have avoided this awkward situation if it had established that the Interim Pastor would not be considered a candidate.
Tips for Moving Forward
As you can see, there is not an easy answer to this question. There are valid reasons for and against allowing your Interim Pastor to become a candidate for your vacant pastor position. To assist your church in making the right decision in your context, here are six tips for how to move forward.
#1: Define the Role of Your Interim Pastor
What role(s) do you want your Interim Pastor to fill precisely? Do you want him to prepare your church for your next pastor? Do you want him to function as your pastor during the interim, or do you just want him to preach each Sunday?
Your answers to these questions will help you determine if he should be considered for the vacant pastor position.
#2: Your Church Should Weigh the Pros and Cons
No one knows your church better than you and your fellow church members. That’s why each church will need to make the best decision in your context.
Share this article with your church leaders and fellow church members. Carefully and prayerfully consider the pros and cons.
#3: Make a Decision Before Securing an Interim Pastor
Once your church weighs the pros and cons, those entrusted with decision-making responsibilities will need to make a choice. Once the decision is made, consider putting it in writing – especially if the decision is to bar your Interim Pastor from becoming a candidate.
#4: Communicate to All Parties Involved
Share the church’s position with anyone interested in becoming your Interim Pastor. If they choose to move forward, make sure that they are willing to abide by it. Also, remind your congregation about the decision whenever a relevant question arises.
#5: Ask Interim Pastor to Step Down if He Becomes a Candidate
If your Interim Pastor becomes a candidate (either by his initiation or the church/Pastor Search Committee), consider requesting him to step down while he is under consideration.
This tip allows everyone involved to avoid the accusation that he has an unfair advantage. Although it doesn’t eliminate the possibility, it reduces the likelihood of a potential public campaign for the position.
#6: Always Be Sensitive to the Holy Spirit
No matter what decision you make, always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. He reserves the right to change your plans. If He does so, be willing to make the necessary adjustments to be obedient to the Lord.
The Certainty of the Question
If your church secures an Interim Pastor, I can assure you that you will have to deal with this question. It’s not a question of if, but only a question of when. I hope this article will be helpful as you consider the answer to the question in your church’s context!
If you found this post helpful, check out my book The Church During the Search, which explains six commitments every church member needs to make to honor the Lord during the pastor search process.