In seminary, I was encouraged to consider many different potential ministry paths. The Preaching Pastor was obviously the path that most seminary graduates would take. Some were trained to become an Associate Pastor (Worship Pastor, Student Pastor, Small Groups Pastor, etc.). Others felt called to the mission field or to teach theology in higher education. Some would pursue church planting or replanting.
Let me say that all these potential ministry roles are vital for advancing God’s kingdom. In fact, we need more laborers serving in each of these ways, not less.
However, a couple of roles were never mentioned as potential ministry paths during my seminary education. Not even once.
The first was the role I have served for the past nine years – the ministry of the local associational leader (using any of its various titles). The second was the role of the Interim Pastor.
While the demand for associational leaders is relatively low and specific to my denomination, the need for God-called, biblically-qualified men to assist churches in transition is significantly higher.
Churches in Transition
In my experience, approximately 10% of churches are without a pastor at any given moment. At times, this percentage is even higher. For example, the percentage has hovered around 25% for the past few years in my local association. At other times, the percentage may be lower. Still, a conservative estimate would be around 10%.
With an estimated 350,000 churches in America, that would mean that 35,000 churches are without pastors at any given time. In my Southern Baptist denomination, the number is around 4,750.
And every single church stands at a critical crossroads during the interim season. Unfortunately, many of these congregations face this season without clear guidance and suffer the consequences. As my friend Tony Wolfe wrote, “Sheep without a shepherd have a tendency to wander, to bite, and to lose focus.”
Churches in transition need help. They need guidance. They need direction. They need an Interim Pastor.
The New Testament’s Interim Pastor
Although the Interim Pastor role is often overlooked as a viable ministry option, it is biblical. Prior to writing his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul had completed a journey to the island of Crete, which resulted in the starting of multiple new churches. However, there were no pastors or elders to shepherd these flocks. So, Paul gave Titus an assignment in Titus 1:5: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”
Paul planted the churches in Crete, but he wasn’t going to be their long-term pastor. Neither was Titus. His role was to help these new churches get organized and prepare for the day in the not-so-distant future when local elders would be identified and appointed to serve. Essentially, Titus served in the role that we now know as the Interim Pastor.
Titus’ ministry in Crete was temporary, but it was essential for the spiritual health and development of these churches. Just like the ministry of Interim Pastors today.
With an estimated 35,000 churches in America without pastors at any given time, there’s an urgent need for the ministry of Titus today. We need an army of Interim Pastors to help navigate churches through the uncertain waters of transition.
If you sense a call to ministry leadership, you certainly have many options. God might be calling you to serve as a Lead Pastor. Perhaps your gifts and passions are a great fit for an Associate Pastor role. Maybe the Lord is calling you to the mission field. Perhaps He’s calling you to plant a new church or replant a dying church. Maybe He’s leading you to train the next generation of pastors and missionaries in higher education.
All of these are worthy endeavors, and all are most certainly needed.
But may I challenge you to prayerfully consider if God might be calling you to serve as a modern-day Titus? To help those sheep without a shepherd in their most desperate hour? To guide them to honor the Lord and keep serving Him? To put what remains into order as they wait for their next pastor?
Is God calling you to be an Interim Pastor?
Maybe He is; maybe He isn’t. My goal with this post is not to convince you to become an Interim Pastor but to remind you of a critical ministry role that is often overlooked.
But if God is calling you to serve Him in this way, serve Him with all your heart. And after the church finds their next pastor, find another church and do it all again!
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 interim period.