Thursday
May312012

Interim Ministry

Interim Ministry

**See also a comprehensive list of resources on Ministry Transitions

Describing Interim Ministry

When a preacher leaves, either by his or the church’s initiation, it begins a period that is full of opportunity for a church (see Ministry Transitions). The level of energy increases, often with both positive and negative possibilities. There may be enough positive charge to launch the church into an exciting new era of ministry. There may also be enough negative anxiety to catapult the church into a spiral of destructive conflict. These transitions also present the church with one of the greatest opportunities to learn from their past, define their strengths, and identify and remedy lingering patterns that have hindered their ministry effectiveness. Questions fill the minds of church leaders:

  • How can a church capitalize on the unique opportunities presented by ministry transitions?
  • How should a church conduct the searching, interviewing, and selecting process to insure the best match between minister and congregation?
  • What can be done to maximize the first year or two of a preacher’s new ministry to increase the possibilities of a long and effective relationship?

Interim Ministry is an intentional effort to deal with these important questions and seize the unique opportunities inherent in a period of transition. It may combine preaching, assessments of congregational effectiveness, one-to-one and group consultations, workshops, conflict resolution, team-building sessions, strategic planning, and a host of other methods to help a congregation craft a more productive future.

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Value of Interim Ministry

In a landmark book on church transitions, A Change of Pastors…and How It Affects Change in the Congregation, Loren Mead discusses two complementary but distinct issues that are concurrently at work when a church goes through a change of ministers.

  1. Congregational Development - the set of knowledge, skills, and processes by which a congregation is brought to a better understanding of its ministry and becomes more effective in it and faithful to it.
  2. Minister Placement - the set of knowledge, skills, and processes by which ministers are matched to positions that most fully challenge their gifts and abilities.

Frequently, the prominent and influential role of the minister in congregational development leads churches to believe they must have a minister before they can move forward. Thus a church devotes most of its energies in the transition period to a minister search, but is not as intentional about congregational development, believing it will resume once the new minister is in place. In reality, the larger issue is congregational development, and the minister search is only one piece of this effort. Mead says:

Congregations need times of reassessment, times in which to rethink their life and direction with some independence of ministerial leadership. Such opportunities, well-used, can bring about a maturity and strength a congregation needs to enter a more productive relationship with a new minister. A congregation that has been through a productive exploration of its program, process, context, and identity and that has rethought and recommitted itself to ministry is a congregation a minister might long to be connected with. (12)

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Five Developmental Tasks

To help facilitate more intentional development, Mead outlines five developmental tasks for the transition period.

  1. Coming to terms with history - Congregational history includes the events and issues of our past, both the creative and useful, as well as the debilitating and destructive. History does not fully limit the future, but it profoundly shapes the possibilities, either as blockage or as fuel. Transition is a time to open a church’s story and write new chapters. The losses associated with transition open up the repository of grief and provide an excellent occasion to process unfinished business of previous losses. It also allows for the healing of old wounds and dealing with the lingering issues that have plagued the church for a long time. Failure to do this leaves deposits of unresolved grief (anger, bitterness, apathy, avoidance or undeserved distrust of leaders) which often become obstacles for the new minister. Part of a congregation’s history is the relationship with previous ministers, and there is no situation healthy enough to preclude the need for an intentional interim. Even after the long tenure of a beloved minister, a quick hire often results in a short ministry for the next person, the proverbial “sacrifical lamb.” This is true even if the outgoing minister is perceived as ineffective or is staying with the church in a different role. It is also important for churches who seem unable to keep ministers for longer than a few years at a time. Intentional interims provide a church time to become comfortable in its own skin, shape a new identity apart from their relationship with a minister, or perhaps even come to grips with unhealthy pattens that have rendered them ineffective in the past and may sabotage their future. In many of these situations, the best wisdom is that you are likely to have an interim, whether intentional or not.
  2. Clarifying congregational identity (or church culture) - Identity, or church culture, is the unique personality of a church created by its beliefs, location along the continuum on current issues, history, location, size, leadership, demographics, age groups, and patterns of social interaction. Images for church identity come from a variety of sources such as theological orientation, church size, social location, purpose in ministry, etc. A church’s situation in one of these areas may change, but the church may be slow to adjust to the new reality. For example, a neighborhood around a church may change, or growth may create a shift in member demographics, bringing new sociological realities, but the church resists letting go of the previous identity based on the old demographics. Identity issues also include congregational orientation toward current topics. While not all churches struggle with issues such as worship styles, gender roles, and their place along the continuum of conservative and progressive, many do. It may be helpful to use the interim to achieve greater clarity. A church should avoid being doctrinnaire or issue-oriented, but at the same time must convey their orientation with enough clarity to help both them and potential candidates assess fit. One might think that an incoming minister would want to help shape the church’s direction on these issues. It is more likely, however, that the minister would prefer a place where he is already compatible. If a minister candidate perceives significant disagreement among the elders, staff ministers, search committee members or others in the congregation, this is usually unattractive as he considers the prospects of a long-term relationship. For a minister to endure the challenge of moving his entire family into a new situation, he will prefer relative assurance on the eventual outcome of identity issues.
  3. Allowing needed leadership change - Transitions often signal the need for some stirring among the leadership team or teams. Previous alignments with the departing minister may now be adjusted in anticipation of a new minister. New leaders may also emerge. Within Churches of Christ, there are a number of current issues about leadership functioning. These include: tendency toward collaborative leadership styles, cultural de-emphasis on positional leadership, shift from administrative oversight to relational shepherding as the dominant biblical metaphor for elders, trend toward multiple staff, assigning significant administrative power to deacons, and the role of the preaching minister with staff (senior minister? lead catalyst?). These issues will often demand attention during the anxious period after a minister’s departure. They are also intensified when considering how to navigate size transitions and eliminate growth barriers.
  4. Reaffirming connection to faith heritage - The transition period often provides opportunities for a congregation to redefine or reaffirm its connection to a faith heritage. It often involves utilizing the resources of the larger fellowship, perhaps a consultant from a church-associated college or university or a visit to/from a model church for benchmarking important ministry efforts. This can expand the church’s awareness of needs and possibilities as they experience how things are done effectively in other places. It can also boost the church’s self-image, as the news of their ministry possibilities spreads among interested parties.
  5. Commitment to new directions in ministry - This task is one of the ending stages of the transition process, and may be difficult to ascertain while a church is in the midst of a change. It assumes that a church has intentionally gone through the whole process of development, and thus has a new sense of self and a higher degree of confidence and direction. If this is the case, it increases the church’s confidence that the minister chosen fits the needs for the next stage of ministry.

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Training and Qualifications

As indicated in my bio, I have been consulting on various aspects of church leadership for almost twenty years. I am a founding member of Hope Network Ministries, and a charter member of the Society for Church Consulting. Relative to interim ministry, I have completed extensive training with The Interim Ministry Network, a 1,500 member international organization that exists solely to equip church leaders to help congregations in transition. They have developed a well-defined three-phase system of training for those interested in church intervention, including supervised practice in interim ministry and/or consultation. I completed all three phases of this training several years ago. This is in addition to twenty years of experience in full-time congregational ministry, extensive graduate education, numerous other certifications, almost two decades of teaching on both undergraduate and graduate levels covering the full range of congregational ministry. These experiences equip me to provide quality interim ministry leadership, empowering congregations to enter into God’s desired future in their time and place.

Options for Interim Assistance

In recent years, Churches of Christ have become better educated on interim ministry. Four models have emerged, listed here from least to most comprehensive and expensive. I offer the first two types, usually combined.

  • Interim Preaching - This is a steady pulpit supply. The excellent delivery and consistent presence helps lessen the perceived need to hire quickly, giving the church time to engage the interim process unhurriedly. This is the least expensive model, often alongside the on-call consult. I enthusiastically maintain a full schedule of interim preaching.
  • On-call Primary Consult - The church contracts with one primary consultant to help them through various phases of the interim process. Consultations are scheduled as needed. This may be in conjunction with supply preaching. I enjoy conducting these consultations.
  • Weekend Intensive - The interim minister is both supply preacher and primary consultant, with a weekly or bi-weekly interventional program of preaching and consultations, supplemented by frequent contact during the week through phone or other media. For this approach, I recommend my Hope Network colleagues, Interim Ministry Partners.
  • Located Interim - The interim minister moves into the community and works full time with the church, helping them transition into a healthy relationship with a new minister. For this level of service, I recommend Jerrie Barber.

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Geographic Areas

I offer these services to Churches of Christ anywhere in the United States, with an emphasis on Tennessee and bordering states. Memphis, Tennessee serves as the home base. The amount of Sunday preaching appointments in a given month may be limited if long distances are involved.

Cost

For consulting, I follow the standard fee schedule established by Hope Network Ministries. Costs vary depending on congregational size and the actual number of days required for the activities. Travel, meals, and lodging must also be taken into account. Churches may also be asked to photocopy materials for participant use. In some cases, services involve a brief written agreement that clarifies these items.  Payment for services is generally due before departure from each intervention day or weekend. Phone consultation or conference calls are available for an hourly fee. Every effort is put forth to make these interventions worth the costs involved.

Scheduling

Interim ministry services vary considerably depending upon congregational need. These are not necessarily on a first-come-first-served basis, but are limited to situations where there is a good match between congregation and consultant. 

Contact

To request interim ministry services, please email, cgupton@harding.edu

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Related Areas

See Other Resources on Ministry Transitions and Interim Ministry:

See Resources in Related Areas:

See Resource Guides on Over 100 Areas of Ministry Leadership:

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