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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Three Types of Transitional Pastorates

helpOver the past week, I was invited to begin my eighth transitional pastorate here in the state of KY.

Eight.  It is hard to believe.

With each opportunity, I am starting to learn and develop more concrete ideas about this type of ministry and how leaders should approach it.

One of the foundational principles I have gleaned is that there are three (3) different types of interim / transitional pastorates.  Three models or approaches that someone feeling called to this type of ministry should attempt to identify as soon as possible.

Those three types are:  Hold, Help, Heal.

Hold Us Together.
The first model is found when a church needs the transitional pastor to come in and hold things together giving the search committee or denominational structure time to find and/or secure a new lead pastor.

In the “hold us together” model, the transitional pastor is needed to provide stability, maintain positive feelings, and supply the congregation with consistent encouragement that things are going to be alright, they need only trust the process.

In this model, lay leadership and existing church staff are healthy, happy, and willing to pitch-in to do the little extras while the search process is taking place.  Overall, the demeanor of the church is positive and relaxed.

The key in the “hold us together” model is to remember time is of the essence.  With the average lead pastor search process in some denominations taking 18-24 months, the transitional pastor must read the emotions of the congregation and assure them that the search is moving and active.

If you edge close to the two years searching phase, the transitional pastor will need to address the search committee and congregation about their future.  If it is going to take longer than 24 months, a new plan might need to be evaluated.

Help Us Move Forward.
The second model sees the opportunity of a pastoral vacancy to move the church forward toward modernization.  The message of the Gospel is never-changing, but the methods and strategies utilized to convey that message must always change.

In the “help us move forward” model, the transitional pastor enters with a fresh set of eyes.  They don’t know the relationship or history.  They don’t know past successes or failures.  They don’t know which family to avoid or who thinks they runs the place.

With this lack of information and exposure, they can see the church as it is seen to guests, visitors, and to the unchurched.  Their insights are so valuable to exposing the areas of much needed improvement and renovation.

Their work is like that of an outside consultant in business.  They are not an insider, and probably will never become an insider, therefore, they can identify problems, offer solutions, and encourage the established leadership to move forward before the new pastor arrives.

Heal Our Wounds.
The third model deals with healing and wholeness.  No transitional pastor can heal all the hurts and pains a congregation goes through when there is a particularly traumatic event surrounding the exit of the previous pastor.   Events such as the sudden death of a pastor, a moral failure, leaving the ministry entirely, a marital separation or divorce, cause a congregation to deeply grieve and struggle.

Any of these events, among others, can cause the congregation to spiral out of control. There can be a leadership vacuum.  There can be hurt feelings.  There can be a sense of God has left us or we are being punished for something we’ve done.   The congregation is broken and barely hanging on.

The role of the transitional pastor in the “heal our wounds” model is to pour on love and encouragement.  They need extra hugs and inspiration from the Word of God to know that God will never leave them or forsake them (Heb. 13:5).

It is not the time for rapid change or ministry innovation, it is a time for rest, rejuvenation, and drawing together in unity.

If there has been a church-wide conflict, this can also be a time to seek out reconciliation.  Taking time to hear each side and return to recognizing everyone in the room are brothers and sisters in Christ, not enemies on opposing sides of an argument.

Hold. Help. Heal. 
These three models have served me well.  The key is taking the proper steps early on to identify which model the church needs and then actively pursuing that model for the duration of the transitional pastorate.

For more concepts on transitional ministry, check out these posts:

https://shanegarrison.org/2016/08/30/new-lessons-in-transitional-ministry/

https://shanegarrison.org/2015/03/17/assessing-your-resources-in-transitional-ministry/

https://shanegarrison.org/2013/07/06/pros-and-cons-of-interim-transitional-ministry/

 

Interim No. 7 Coming to a Close

Stanford BC FB BannerInterim pastorate no. 7 is coming to a close.  Yesterday, the members of Stanford Baptist Church in Stanford, KY (Lincoln Co.) overwhelmingly affirmed Bro. Nick Manzie to be their new senior pastor.  I am thrilled for Nick and the church.

This journey has been nearly three years in the making.  I was their third interim pastor in as many years.  I knew from the moment I met Bro. Nick that this was going to be a great fit.  He is perfect for this church.  God has shown Himself to be completely faithful to unite the right shepherd with the right flock.

With this being the seventh interim/transitional pastorate in seven years, I believe I am starting to get a small handle on this type of ministry.  I would never admit to “knowing it all” because every church and every situation are uniquely different, but there are some strategic principles that seem to be essential in every place.

This experience, however, offered me some new lessons that I have needed to add to my ministry toolbelt.  Here are a few of those lessons.

1.  How things start are not going to be how things end.  This particular interim began a bit rocky.  I entered into a church struggling with tension and the first few weeks were not the best.  In the minds of some within the church, I was just another preacher they had thrown in the pulpit to manage while the church was searching.  And frankly, most of the members were quite weary of the process already.  So by extension, I was held responsible.

Thank God the end has been nothing like the beginning.  Around the third month, the ice began to melt and people truly began to let me know them and their lives.  There was a warming of heart and a commonality that formed.  I was here to help, not harm.  I was here to walk alongside, not push my agenda on anyone.

We have come to the end of this journey with much love, appreciation, grace, kindness, and genuine affection for one another.

2.  Keep walking the aisles.  Keep shaking hands.  Keep asking “How’s your week?”  Dr. Ken Hemphill, former president of Southwestern Bapt. Theological Seminary, called the 15 minutes before a worship service began “the most important time in ministry.”  This has been so true for me.

Walking up and down the aisles, meeting people in the pews, shaking hands, asking about their week, making an attempt to enter into their personal space has been critical for my ministry success.  Dr. Hemphill would go onto say, “Anyone can get up in the pulpit and preach; it takes personal time to be a shepherd.”   

In interim ministry, your time on-site can be limited.  You are not going to be the permanent pastor, and everyone knows it.  A relational distance can form, and remain, throughout the duration of the transition.  The only way to breach that distance is to meet people where they are.  To walk the room and ask people to let you into their lives.

3.  Lastly, coach, cheer, and champion the Pastor Search Team till the very end.  There have been interims where the Pastor Search Team did not want anything to do with me; others have been very open to the kind of help I can provide.  The reality is that their job is very hard in this day and age.  This work takes time and the ability to understand very complex scenarios.  Making all the pieces fit together is not easy.

The Pastor Search Team need the transitional pastor to coach them, yet do so in a way where the team members still function independently.  At the end of the day, the decision must be theirs and theirs alone.  Your task is to answer questions, give input when asked, and be their greatest cheerleader before the people.

You have something the PST doesn’t: opportunities to communicate.  You have the pulpit, the newsletter, bulletin, website, social media, email, blog, etc.  Your task as the interim is to champion their work and let the congregation know you support them in everything.

I have gained three new lessons that I am sure will enhance my future in this type of itinerant ministry.  My last Sunday at Stanford BC will be February 15.

The next stop has yet to be determined.  God sends – I go.