Over 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: