The Difference Between an Interim and Transitional Pastor

staSeveral weeks ago, I was being interview by a church for a new transitional pastorate. It was an open Q & A format with the entire church on a Wednesday night.

There were many good questions about my ministry philosophy, doctrinal convictions, experience and personal life.

However, one question really stuck out in my mind after the fact.

The question was: What is the difference between an interim pastor and a transitional pastor?  Good question.

I gave a reasonable answer during the session, but have since thought through the question a bit more.

There really is a stark difference between an interim pastor and a transitional pastor.   It is more than merely semantics or changing a title to sound more modern and up-to-date.  It is about the pastors true intentions and ministry aspirations.  Let me try to explain.

An Interim pastor is intrigued, interested, and possibly hoping to do an elongated interview.

They are intrigued about the church and the possibility of serving at the church.  They are intrigued about the community and the mission field the congregation has been placed in.  They are intrigued about their future role at the church, but have not come to a place of security for any number of reasons.

Their intrigue has led to interest in the position.  As they come to be the interim pastor, there is an exploratory mission on their mind.  They  are hoping to explore the ministry opportunity.  Explore the community surroundings.  Explore the congregation’s resources.  Explore if this appears to be a good fit.

In a way, the interim period becomes a really long interview.  It could be 3 months.  It could be a year.

There is no pressure to rush or try and make things happen.  Both the church and the interim pastor are learning from each other and trying to discern if there is a longer future awaiting after the interim period is complete.

A transitional pastorate is different.  A transitional pastor is temporary, on a timetable, and has no interest in taking the permanent role.

A transitional pastor wants to help.  They want to serve.  They want to be a blessing to the local church and help expand God’s kingdom.  Most likely, they are cross-vocational, working full-time in another ministry, business, industry or company.

Their service with the church is not to impede the search process in any way, but support and advance the search.  They truly want the church to secure a new pastor, giving them the chance to easily, smoothly pass the baton without any problems.

While they might not admit it in the beginning, the transitional pastor is on a time-table.  They want the church to find a pastor.  They don’t want the search committee to sit back and become complacent because the pulpit is being filled by someone they like and are growing to love.

The transitional pastor encourages  the search committee to continue in their work and make strides each month to move forward with resumes, candidates, and interviews.

If, over time, the transitional pastor finds themselves interested in the permanent position, they need to make that intention known.  I would suggest removing themselves from the interim/transitional role to let the search committee do due diligence like any other potential candidate.

In summary, interim pastors are interested; transitional pastors are temporary.

If everyone can keep their lines clear and the expectations up front, these two very different roles can serve the congregation well during these critical times in the life of the church.

For more posts on transitional ministry, check these out.

https://shanegarrison.org/2016/11/20/three-types-of-transitional-pastorates/

New Lessons in Transitional Ministry

Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

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Why I Keep Saying “Thank You But No Thank You” to Full-Time Church Ministry

no thank youFor the past 8 years, I have served in cross-vocational ministry.  I have willingly, intentionally, and consistently turned down several gracious invitations to return to “full-time” church-based ministry.  “Why did you say no?” you might ask.  Please let me explain.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with full-time, church-based ministry.  It is a high calling and something I believe firmly in.  As a ministry professor, I am thrilled when I hear that my students have accepted their first FT position on a church staff or in a para-church organization.  I remember well my first FT ministry position and how it changed my life forever.

However, I am seeing some trends in the larger landscape of ministry today that compel me to stay in a cross-vocational role with no plans of making a change in the future.

What are some of those larger landscape trends?

1. Issues with insurance.  While none of us enter into ministry to make the big bucks, the reality that self-employed insurance premiums can  drain our monthly budgets very, very fast.  Even with new government-subsidized insurance plans available, the cost is still significant to a ministry family.

If there are on-going medical needs, monthly prescriptions, or the desire to have a large family full of little ones running around, you could see a fourth of your monthly take-home pay devoted to medical expenses.

Churches are doing their best in trying to help their ministerial staff, but in all honesty, they are only able to provide a small portion of what is actually needed.  Going cross-vocational can assure that a second employer is there to help with medical expenses and possibly even provide medical insurance as a benefit over and above the salary.

2. Access to influence.  Everyone knows that the community influence once held by pastors and ministers is waning in the US.  The church is being pushed further and further to the periphery of society, being displaced from the central position it once held.  A voice once sought after in community affairs is slowing being silenced from the public dialogue.

Yet, by remaining cross-vocational, you’re influence in not tied to your church position. It’s tied to the relationships and networks you’ve built within your community. Because you work in this industry or are a member of that professional group, your voice within community is held much stronger.

3.  Invitation to conversation.   There are two types of people never invited to the party: the pastor and the police.  Yet, Jesus was constantly being invited to gatherings of all sorts.  He was invited because people wanted to hear what he had to say.

When you’re only answer to the most avoided question – “What do you do for a living?” – is pastor or minister, you know the conversation will quickly end as walls go up and stereotypes flood in.  But if your honest answer is teacher, nurse, sales, event planner, web designer, then you have a chance for the conversation to move forward. You will be given the opportunity to build a relationship and engage in a conversation which eventually could lead to the topic of faith.  When your lead is “preacher,” the conversation is pretty much over.

4.  Financial freedom from the finance committee.  Lastly, I continue to say no to opportunities to return to FT ministry because, frankly, I don’t trust a committee or volunteer group to hold my financial future in the palm of their hands.

I am not opposed to churches utilizing finance or stewardship teams in making decisions on salaries and compensation.  I actually applaud congregational leadership and place value in seeking and hearing from wise counsel in decision making.

Yet, I don’t want an argument or disagreement I’ve had with one member of a single committee to become a foothold in my heart, creating fear and anxiety about my next paycheck or raise.   Nothing makes my blood boil more than a volunteer committee using the pastor or church leader’s salary as leverage to get what they want.

“If you don’t bend to my way, you will never see an increase as long as I am on that committee.”   This mentality is the exception to the rule, I assure you, but I have seen it with my own eyes and know it happens all the time.

The FT minister can be stuck between leading with courage and boldness and facing fear about feeding their family all because of a disagreement with someone on a volunteer committee.  When you have an income coming from somewhere other than the church, you can lead far more courageously.

For these reasons, and others, I am happy to say “no thank you” to the gracious invitations to return to FT church-based ministry.

Personally, I see the cross-vocational calling aligning well with the words of the Apostle Paul,

For you remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

 

5 Ministry Modifications for Cross Vocational Pastors

coffeeThe complexity of cross vocational ministry has be to addressed by each and every pastor pulling double-duty.  You have to evaluate time spent at work, at church, with your family, with your church family, in Sabbath and in labor.

No cross vocational pastor will be able to do it all.  They must make strategic modifications to their ministry approach  in order to maximize their time and their efficiency.

Let me offer 5 suggestions which might help you modify ever so slightly.

1.  Use your cell phone as a conference room channel for team meetings.  Get everyone on the phone using the merge call function and have them open up individual laptops.  Once everyone is connected, use a shared church calendar or virtual planning app and let everyone contribute in real-time.  You might not be able to pull off a full, in-person staff meeting because everyone is at their “other” job, but you can plan and connect as a team if you are thinking ahead.

2. Use text messages & social media to connect to people that you won’t see during the week.  With your day-job absorbing the bulk of your time, you might only see your congregation when you are in the actual building.  To make a connection without being present, send a personal text message, post on the church’s social media channels, or write a church wide email.  Each digital touch gives your people a chance to connect with you, even if it is only with a “like” button.

3.  Write stock notes to be delivered when others make hospital visits.  There is no way you will be able to make all the visits and surgery runs.  If you have a team helping you cover the hospitals, give each person a stack of pre-done hand-written notes to take with them sharing your concern and prayers.  You might think it feels impersonal, but I promise the person in the hospital will appreciate a card from their pastor.  It is something tangible that will go a long way.

4.  Record voice memos of sermon ideas, staff meeting plans, and future ministry strategies.  You might not have a chance to come back and write down your ideas while at work.  So pull out your phone and record your idea before it gets away from you. You can even send those memos to various team members as voice messages allowing them to start stewing on the idea.

5.  Choose family outings where your congregation might also show up.   When you go out to your local bowling alley, movie theater, community festivals, farmers markets, or ball games and see people from church, greet them warmly.  You don’t have to neglect your family to be in ministry-mode, but just say hello and show interest.  It is another connection that makes all the difference.

The key to cross vocational ministry is to be intentional and strategic.  You must maximize your time and take advantage of the little things that can make a huge difference.

What ideas or modifications would you suggest?  Leave a comment.