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Not long ago I was asked to become interim pastor for a pastorless church. A gifted but somewhat erratic pastor had gravely divided the congregation and been asked to resign. Thus began my fourth experience in an interim role.
I have learned that as an interim pastor, I serve as comforter, preparer, facilitator, intercessor, encourager, and, if need be, admonisher and exhorter. I'm not there just to fill a space or hold the line. I'm supposed to see that the interim becomes a time of growth.
The difficulty is that each congregation is unique and has particular needs during the transition between pastors. What works in one church during this period cannot necessarily be transplanted to another church in a similar situation. And as interim pastor, I have limited time to observe the church, determine its needs, and provide appropriate care.
I learned this the hard way after I served a church where things ran smoothly. Every Tuesday at lunch, a steering committee met with me to review the past week and plan the week ahead. An efficient lay leadership program kept us in touch with every home connected with our church.
When I was called to a similar church and tried the same methods, they didn't work. It took time for me to realize those fine procedures could not simply be imposed on a new situation.
The first thing I do as an interim pastor, then, is observe carefully what the church's needs are and what my role should be. In my new charge, where the former pastor had been asked to resign, I knew my work would be quite different from my other interim assignments, which followed the retirement of effective ministers. Churches, like individuals, can have sad memories, and these call for tender care.
Gradually I discerned several groups within this congregation: a loyal core, who would stay no matter what; a group who enjoyed the power they held and wanted the former pastor to return so they could retain that power; and a third group who had moved out because ...