A Love Letter to Transitional Pastors

Dear Transitional Pastors,

I have strong feelings about your ministry.

Some of you call yourselves Interim Ministers but that sounds like you’re a place holder until the real pastor shows up. Pastors who are serious about this work of serving a congregation between settled or “permanent” pastors are not place holders. You are Transitional Pastors.

Keep in mind that the hardest and last part of active childbirth is called “Transition.” It’s going to hurt but at the end there’s new life.

Some denominations don’t have Transitional Pastor positions, and I believe that’s a mistake, but this post is not for you. It’s for denominations who recognize that – between pastorates – there are some messy things that need to happen to prepare for a congregation’s next chapter. How wonderful that you – Transitional Ministers – have signed up to do these messy things for the sake of the Gospel. Thank you.

And yet, I hear over and over again about Transitional Pastors who are leaving their temporary positions in worse shape than they found them, meaning the newly installed (“permanent”) pastor has to start their ministry doing hard things. No honeymoon. No hearty welcome.

I am not breaking up with you, Transitional Minister colleagues, but please consider not being a Transitional Pastor if any of the following are true:

  • You haven’t been a successful pastor in called and installed positions, and so you’re trying this out as a Plan B.
  • You are conflict averse and find it incapacitating to consider helping the 85 year organist retire because she can’t read music anymore. Everybody in the church knows she needs to step down but they love her and nobody wants to do it. It’s your job to do it.
  • You’ve always wanted to live in The Big City, The Mountains, The Resort Town and it would be fun to live there for a year or two. Oh right – you also will have a hard job to do six days a week.
  • You consider Transitional Ministry a great post-retirement income even though you’re exhausted and seriously kicked back for the last five years before retirement.
  • You believe this will be the way to maneuver yourself into a permanent call. If they fall in love with you, they might keep you. Colleague: this is devious and unhealthy.

Great reasons to serve as a Transitional Pastor:

  • You still have energy for professional ministry but it’s time to leave your current position after 15+ years. You are too close to retirement to seek another called and installed position, but you have so much to give and find working intensively with a church in transition to be interesting.
  • You get that all congregations are in transition right now, and you welcome the opportunity to set the stage for continuing transition even after the new pastor is called.
  • You don’t aspire to fix a church, heal a church, or dramatically change a church that doesn’t need to be fixed, healed or dramatically changed. In other words, you don’t have a savior complex and you get that some congregations are quite healthy.
  • You travel lightly. (i.e. You don’t carry unnecessary baggage from previous pastoral roles.)
  • You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. It’s offensive to have a pastor come in assuming that nobody else knows how to do church.
  • You have excellent emotional intelligence. You read rooms quickly.

I have strong opinions of where people should and should not take Transitional Leadership training. Message me if you’d like suggestions. For the record, really excellent Transitional Leadership Education is a worthwhile continuing education experience for all pastors whether you plan to serve in a specific Transitional role or not. But don’t take just any class. Again – some are better than others.

A great Transitional Pastor is like gold and we need more of you. The Church of Jesus Christ continues to evolve and reform, and it didn’t start with the pandemic. It’s been happening for decades and it will only continue. Thanks to all who find this exciting.

You are an essential part of 21st Century ministry. Much love to all who accept this call which requires sacrifice and flexibility beyond the usual pastoral role. I’m trying to get more benefits for you.

Bless you, Jan

4 responses to “A Love Letter to Transitional Pastors

  1. Thanks Jan! Having been a transitional pastor in eight congregations in seven stated for over 17 years and taught it for the past 12 years, I agree on every point.


  2. Thanks, Jan – you’ve said this so well. Prior to retirement I spent the last decade of my ministry as a transitional pastor. In my interviews with churches seeking an “interim” I always asked “What needs to be done that you don’t want the next pastor to be blamed for?” That’s what a transitional pastor needs to tackle.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Leigh Campbell-Taylor

    Hi, Jan, and thank you for your posts! Especially as a solo pastor, I am deeply grateful for all the online colleagueship I manage to cobble together. And I’d really appreciate your thoughts re the best training for Transitional Pastors. Thanks and peace, Leigh


  4. Pingback: Transitional Ministry Reprise | A Church for Starving Artists

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