My denomination has no bishops who assign/suggest the new pastor for a congregation. (True confession: sometimes I’d like to be the bishop.)
In Presbyterian Churches, pastors are elected by the elders (for temporary positions) or by the whole congregation (for installed positions) and in between churches hire “interim pastors” – a certain kind of temporary minister who serves between the “permanent ones.”
We have something like a dating app to match churches and congregations. Or sometimes churches and pastors are introduced by mutual friends.
It used to be true that “Interim Pastors” took a week’s worth of training to equip them to help prepare a church for the next pastor.
- Some interim pastors are disasters – causing more trouble than they found when they arrived.
- Some interim pastors see themselves as fixers. They come in, diagnose the problems, fix them, and move on. Or so they think.
- Some interim pastors are place-holders doing not much of anything except the usual preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and administration.
- Some interim pastors do an excellent job “preparing for the new pastor.”
I believe every church needs a Transitional Pastor – not an Interim Pastor. And the difference is not merely semantic.
All our churches are in transition. In every demographic. In every geographic region. In every denomination and non-denomination. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know that . . .
- Rural congregations are transitioning from vibrant farm communities into ghost towns with the children and grandchildren of farmers choosing another path.
- Small town congregations are transitioning from “factory towns” to communities with closed factories and rampant unemployment.
- Suburban congregations are transitioning from full pews and well-attended programs to not-so-full pews and fewer programs/fewer participants.
- Urban congregations are transitioning from large city structures – once the center of public power – to aging buildings renting space to everybody from other congregations to community non-profits just to pay the heating/air conditioning bills.
Fewer people are attending weekly worship. More people are interested in less traditional worship. You know all this.
All our churches are in transition and therefore we need Transitional Pastors and not Interim Pastors.
Here’s the big shift (and once again, thank you Scott Lumsden.)
Healthy “Transitional Pastors” for the 21st Century Church who serve in between “Permanent Pastors” do not prepare the congregation for the new pastor. They prepare the congregation for a new chapter of ministry.
And when “Permanent Pastors” are called, they continue to help the church transition into that new chapter of ministry.
Healthy 21st Century ministry is about the congregation more than the pastor.
Yes – we need faithful, fearless, creative, loving, well-trained pastoral leaders in every congregation. But so much of what determines whether a congregation will thrive or die is based on the congregation not the pastor.
Sometimes church people do not want a new chapter of ministry. And this is sad, because stuck churches die.
And here’s the kicker (again, thank you SL): transitional change is not a tweak. Oh my gosh, I hear church people tell me all the time that things are changing because:
- They got a new sign.
- They changed their church stationery.
- They project their hymns on the wall now.
- They decreased the number of elders on their governing board.
- They agreed to let their pastor preach without a robe.
These are tweaks, not cultural changes. Cultural changes are way harder because our culture is so entrenched, we don’t even know what it is. (And that’s the job of the temporary Transitional Pastor: to help us figure out who we are as a congregation right now.)
- Are we a congregation run by one or two families?
- Are we a congregation afraid of ___ because they might leave if we don’t let them do what they’ve always done?
- Are we a congregation addicted to being a social club rather than an example of God’s reign on earth?
- Are we a congregation who looks down on people without our income or education?
- Are we a congregation that honestly does not want strangers to join us?
Transitional ministry is where all of us are right now. To ignore this is a decision to stop following Jesus. (And it’s also really difficult.)
Image of transitioning leaves. They’re pretty, but they actually die before turning green again.