Interim Ministry Issues
The Intentional Interim Pastor will face one or more major challenges or obstacles in his transitional ministry. How he handles a major obstacle has the potential to determine his success at leading the church through a transition to health and successfully calling a new pastor. In these circumstances of the testing of a church's faith, the Interim Pastor can help turn a major obstacle into an opportunity for the church to experience health and growth. Here are some examples of obstacles that have been found to exist in churches going through a transition with an Intentional Interim Pastor. How would you coach an Interim Pastor in each of these situations?
Former pastor(s) present in body or spirit: Sometimes a former pastor may retire or resign and stay in "his" church. In some other situations, the former pastor may leave the church but continue to influence the church in some ways that hinder your ministry and leadership as the Interim. Dealing with a former pastor with influence can be one of the most challenging experiences in an interim ministry.
Lost vision or vision drift: Churches will often experience mission or vision drift, especially if the most recent pastor has been more of a maintenance or management pastor, or the congregation has plateaued or declined. What is most often needed is a discovery or rediscovery of mission and the development of a new vision. Interims are in a unique position to assist churches in a transition toward a preferred future.
Unresolved conflict: Many churches if not most find themselves in-between pastors and dealing with unresolved or mismanaged conflict. Sometimes the conflict is on a level that is beyond the skill level and emotional intelligence of an Interim Pastor who has been called to that church. Even worse, the conflict or conflicts present may be in the second, third or beyond generation and is therefore firmly set in the DNA of the church. Interims need to learn the biblical basics of conflict management and always be prepared to help the church resolve conflict if possible.
Dysfunctional structure(s): In most churches in need of an Intentional Interim Pastor, the church structures are old, dysfunctional or even non-functional. An Interim may discover this by reading the church's By-laws or talking with the leadership and evaluating the health of the church. There may or may not be opportunity for the Interim to deal with this.
Divided governing board: One of the worst things that a new pastor can experience is to arrive at the church of his dreams after only to discover that the governing board is divided on one or more issues requiring change in the church. The Intentional Interim Pastor is in a unique position to address and resolve a divided-board issue if possible.
Associate pastor who aspires to be the new Lead Pastor: Sometimes an Interim may arrive at a church in transition and discover that one or more of the Associate Pastors may aspire to become the next "permanent pastor." There may even be personally lobbying for the position by the associate. Experience says this seldom works long-term, and it needs to be definitely resolved early in the pastor search stage if not before.
Church history: All churches that have been in existence for one or more years have histories that influence and shape the current condition and future of the church. This is especially true of churches that have been around for many decades or more. In the first two months of transition ministry, an Interim Pastor needs to gain a working knowledge of the church's history and culture so that any obstacle related to church history can become an opportunity for health and growth.
Church culture: The problem with church culture is that it changes, often unnoticed, but the consequences can greatly hinder effective ministry. This is where church and community demographic and psychographic study can be a very helpful resource for the Interim and the church leadership. Interims can become a leadership asset to the church by becoming culturally intelligent and helping the congregation and her leadership to become culturally intelligence.
Power broker(s): Every church has "power brokers" for better or for worse. It is a law of church life that power brokers tend to surface during times of pastoral transition. Many Interims discover that power brokers need individual or group gentle but firm leadership and, if necessary, correction. The wise Interim would do well to discover who the church power brokers are and connect with them within the first month or two of interim ministry. The future of the church may depend on this.
Downward life-cycle slide: Every church experiences an organizational life-cycle and many if not most churches that seek an Intentional Interim Pastor find themselves on the downward slide to eventual old age and death. Intentional Interim Ministry may offer one of the best ways to break out of a downward drift and find new life and vision for what God has for the church. Interim Pastors would be wise to develop a strong working knowledge of the organizational life-cycle and the dynamics of organizational and spiritual change.
Communication deficit: Very few churches have excellent communication to church members and those they are trying to reach who are still outside God's family if believers. One needs to have church leaders take regular audits of communication methods and means if the church is to remain effective in sharing the gospel and making disciples. Churches in transition need to improve and modernize their communication. Interim Pastors do well to find and recruit those in the congregation who understand a variety of communication, especially including social media and a web presence. This need also impacts preaching and communication between and among the different ministry structures and leaders within the church.
Assumption of church health: It is common for most churches to think that they are relatively healthy, but many are also blind to reality. Church and individual ministry health and effectiveness need to be evaluated, beginning in the first two or three months of the tenure of the Interim Pastor. The Interim then stands in a good position of being able to help provide a sense of urgency and lead the church to greater health and effectiveness.
Recent church split: Many churches that call an Intentional Interim Pastor have either recently gone through the major departure of members or are going through a church split at the time. Church splits tend to take the wind out of the sails of the church and even bring organizational discouragement and a loss of hope. Effective Interims can help restore hope and a future for the church by loving and encouraging the church while being a servant-leader to the flock of God.
Prevailing church-wide negative spirit: One of Satan's strategies seems to be to introduce negative comments and criticisms into the life of the church and then help that spirit spread one-by-one and group-by-group. The biblical command to encourage one another too easily gets replaced by criticizing one another. Most of the time the Interim will need to confront the critics and make certain that the leadership of the church is behind this correction.
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