Has your church thought about using the Intentional Interim Ministry? This process is designed to help a church prepare for the coming of a new pastor. A church that enters the IIM process will concentrate on five focus points that will enable them to develop a profile of their church and a profile of a potential pastor who can lead the church to be the kind of church that God wants it to be. A church will spend six to eight months working on these focus points in preparation for a new pastor.
What are the primary reasons for considering the Intentional Interim Ministry when a church has lost its pastor?
1. Departure of a long-term pastor. In the original development of the IIM process, the primary question that motivated the preparation of the process involved how to help a church not to have an interim pastor following a long-term pastor. In other words, studies had shown that a person called to pastor a church following a long-term pastor often ended up leaving after a short-period of time; thus, he became, in essence, an interim pastor.
After a pastor remains in a church a long-time, the church takes on the personality of the pastor. Time is needed for this to change. In addition, members need time to get over a long-term pastor. He has performed marriage ceremonies for many of the members. He has spoken at funerals for many family members. He has visited a large number of the members in the hospital. All of this means that the members are emotionally tied to this pastor. It takes time to get beyond those emotional ties and give allegiance to a new pastor.
2. Recognition of the need for new direction and meaning for the church. Often when a pastor leaves, lay people recognize the need for a new direction of the church’s ministry. The pastor that left may have focused on missions. The church may need to face the need to focus on new ministries to reach a growing population of young adults. Thus, marriage enrichment and parenting issues may need to be the focus of the church for the future.
3. Loss of average attendance in worship and/or Sunday School. Over time, a church may experience a drastic decrease in attendance. If so, the church needs to take the time necessary to discover the reasons for this decrease. The time spent on the focus points of the IIM process will help a church really examine the problems associated with the decrease in attendance and determine the kind of pastor and ministries needed to change this trend.
4. Misbehavior by the former pastor. Unfortunately and all too often, pastors make wrong decisions and get involved in behavior that can really hurt the church. If a church calls another pastor too quickly before time is given for healing the hurts and frustrations of the members over the misbehavior, members may project their anger and frustration on the new pastor.
By taking the time to work through the five focus points of the IIM process, church members can work through their anger and hurt to the point that they will be able to trust the new pastor. If the new pastor arrives too quickly, he will spend most of his energy dealing with hurts and anger of the members and not on the ministries of the church that need his attention.
5. Destructive conflict in the church. Every church has conflict and some conflict may actually result in very positive change in the church. But keep in mind destructive conflict has the potential to destroy a church.
If a church does not take the time to deal with destructive conflict, the pastor will inherit the problems associated with the conflict. He might never be able to get beyond all the conflict and help the church with a new vision and ministries.
Working through the IIM process may not guarantee that the conflict can be resolved but the potential to deal with the conflict is very high if the church takes seriously the focus points of the IIM process.
It’s easy to think of reasons why a church shouldn’t engage in the IIM process. These five reasons will hopefully provide “food for thought” for any church that has lost its pastor. The five focus points will enable a church to be really prepared for the coming of a new pastor.
Jimmie Sheffield is the retired associate executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC). He currently serves as Executive Administrator and works with churches through the Intentional Interim Ministry. Jimmie and his wife, Annette, live in North Little Rock.