An Interim Pastor is someone who helps fill the role of minister at your church while you are on a pastor search. It is a temporary position and the job description varies widely depending on what the church needs.
Do you need a Transitional Pastor?
What jobs will he perform while at your church?
How do you choose one?
There are no "one-size-fits-all" answers to these questions. Use the guidelines below to help your church make the decision.
You can plan on your pastor search taking about 18 months. Some churches call a new minister within weeks. But there are others that go for several years without a permanent pastor...sometimes by choice...other times the long wait is simply out of their control.
The longer you will go without a pastor, the greater your need will be for an interim pastor.
How did the previous pastor leave your church? Was he forced to resign? Did he retire? Were there problems in the church? Was there a split?
The more problems your church encountered during the previous pastor's administration, the greater your need will be for an interim.
In my experience, Congregational churches tend to need interim pastors more than churches that are led by Elders. A congregation needs to have a sense that everything is stable and running smoothly. The work of a Pastor Search Committee is often slow and quiet. Members of a congregation tend to get impatient with a process over which they have little control. So after a few months they begin to assume that the Committee isn't doing or moving quickly enough. This creates unrest in the church. An interim can be a stabilizing force during such a time as this.
The more control the congregation has over the pastor search process, the greater your need will be for an interim pastor.
Pastors often develop deep bonds with people in their churches. The relationships go far beyond the simple Pastor-Lay Person association.
Lasting friendships are developed. The bonds go even deeper with families whom the pastor has walked with through difficult emotional periods such as a death in the family or an extended battle with disease. When a pastor leaves a congregation with which he has deep emotional ties, the church actually endures the same grieving process that a death causes for family members. This process takes time and sometimes a wise transitional pastor is needed to keep the church from getting stuck in their grief.
The deeper the emotional bonds were between your former pastor and the congregation, the greater your need will be for an interim pastor.
That kind of deep emotional bond takes time to develop. Because of this, the length of time your previous pastor was at your church will directly affect your need for an interim.
The longer your previous pastor was at your church, the greater your need will be for an interim pastor.
Mature Christians are better equipped to endure the long pastor search. But younger believers are more likely to struggle with the lack of pastoral leadership.
The more spiritually immature your congregation, the greater your need will be for an interim pastor.
How strongly does a denomination influence your church? If your church is closely monitored by a denomination, you are less likely to need a transitional pastor.
The more independent your church, the greater your need will be for an interim pastor.
Though not as important as the other guidelines, the size of your church congregation does affect your need for a transitional pastor. However, if your church of three dozen people fits the other guidelines you can just ignore the issue of size.
The larger your church, the greater your need will be for an interim.
These statements are only guidelines. Use them to evaluate your need for an interim pastor.
If you decide that you do in fact need one...
The primary job of an interim pastor is: prepare the congregation for the next pastor and the changes that come with him.
This will include processes that build unity, heal hurts, encourage, promote reconciliation, and generate excitement.
It is vital that you understand that an interim pastor is much more than a preacher that fills the pulpit on Sundays. He should be a seasoned pastor who understands the dynamics of congregational life. He needs to have special insight into the moods, grief stages, and pastor search needs of a church. You need more than a warm body!
Before you try to write a detailed job description think about the question in general terms: "How deeply involved in our church do we need our Interim to be?"
Use the guidelines listed above to find your answer. Just reword them a little:
Now you have a better idea of how detailed you want your interim job description to be. Use the list of typical pastoral duties I've written below to create a list of "jobs" you want your interim pastor to perform. You might want to start the job description something like this:
"Our Interim Pastor will serve on an "as-needed" basis for a time period of not more than the duration of our current pastor search. He will be a full time (or part time depending on your circumstances) employee of the church, answering directly to the Church Elders.
So as to maintain the integrity of the pastor search process, our Interim will not be considered for the position of permanent Senior Pastor. He will perform general pastoral duties and assist the Elders with the pastor search."
General Pastoral Duties Include: Preparing and preaching biblical sermons during each regularly scheduled church service; answering correspondence; providing the content for the weekly bulletin; visiting those in the hospital; performing weddings and funerals as requested; counseling as requested; attending the pastor search committee meetings; helping the search committee interview potential candidates; working with the Worship Team to develop and implement excellent Sunday services; praying for and with people in the church; representing the church at denomination (or association) meetings; and other tasks assigned by the Elders.
That was a short list, but it will help you get started.
Now that you know you need an interim...
...and you know what you need him to do...
Your perfect interim might be closer than you think! Do you have an Associate Pastor or Youth Pastor that might be able to fill the position? They already know your church and the congregation has a bond with him.
If you don't need a full-time interim, you could check with other nearby churches to see if they have an associate whom they might "loan" to you for 10 - 20 hours a week.
Check with your denomination or association. They may either have someone on staff that can help or they might have a list of available people.
Use a friend of a friend. Who do you know? Who do your friends know? Ask around.
Is there a seminary or Bible college nearby? Some professors enjoy serving as interim pastors. Students also need experience. However, if you need your interim pastor to get heavily involved in your church students may not be prepared for the task.
Contact the placement and alumni departments of seminaries. You'll want to talk to them about getting information about potential candidates anyway. But while you're at it, find out if there are any of the school's alumni living in your area. There might be a retired pastor or someone in between ministries that can serve your church.
Ask your former pastors for suggestions...especially the one who just left. No one knows the church better than they do.
Once you have your Interim Pastor chosen, it's time to get going on your pastor search!