What is an “intentional interim”?

The Council has asked Holy Trinity members to consider whether the church should plan for an intentional interim. To help with this question, here's some key information gleaned from the literature on pastoral transitions. Click on the link to go to that section.

1. What is the difference between an interim and an intentional interim?

2. What are the key differences between a regularly called pastor and an interim pastor?

3. What should happen in an intentional interim?

4. What are key signs that a congregation should consider an intentional interim?

1. What is the difference between an interim and an intentional interim?

  • The interim is the time between two regularly called pastors.
  • “Older View of Interim Ministry—Filling a Gap. In an older view, the Interim Pastor is merely a caretaker—someone who provides necessary pastoral coverage for a congregation which is temporarily without a pastor....
  • “Newer View of Interim Ministry—Interim Period as a Positive Opportunity. A newer view, based on research from the past few decades, sees the Interim Period as a very challenging and productive period of time in the life of a congregation. It is a time when the congregation has the opportunity to re-evaluate who it is. Typical questions to be asked are, “What is God calling this congregation to be and to do?” and “What does the congregation need to do to prepare itself for its next pastor?”
  • Intentional Interim Ministry is distinguished from other interim ministry primarily because it is intentional. Intentional Interim Ministry sees the interim period as a unique opportunity for the congregation to determine who it is and what its mission is. An Intentional Interim Pastor can lead a congregation through a carefully thought-out process that helps the congregation to determine its own mission and identity. This process is designed to lead to the selection of its next regularly-called pastor.”

Taken from the “Introduction” page at Interim Ministry Association of the ELCA.

2. What are the key differences between a regularly called pastor and an interim pastor?

A key difference between interim ministers and [regularly called pastors] is that the former tend to be in a contractual relationship with a congregation while the latter tend to be in a covenantal one. What’s the difference? A contract is more definite, with clear specifications about tasks and timing. A contract spells out the work to be done, the services to be rendered and frames it within a definite time period. A covenant is more open-ended… In that more covenantal relationship the expectations are not—and cannot—be wholly prescribed or defined. Both pastor and congregation will adapt and change, engaging opportunities and challenges that were unforeseen earlier.

From Anthony Robinson, “Rethinking Interim Ministry” (January 9, 2013), the Alban Institute.

3. What should happen in an intentional interim?

A proper intentional interim pastor “has received specialized training in the best use of the Interim Period for the benefit of the congregation.”

While lists vary, that specialized training aims at equipping the intentional interim pastor to undertake at least four key tasks:

  1. To attend to the pastoral basics including worship, preaching, pastoral care, and church administration in a way that suits the congregation and also prepares it for its new regularly called pastor.
  2. To help the congregation at least begin dealing with the emotional issues that an interim often surfaces. This may include facing and dealing with fears, resentments, and conflicts that may have arisen in the congregation during the pastorate that has just ended or that may be generated by contemplating the arrival of a new and different called pastor.
  3. To guide the church thorough a careful self-assessment, including where it is and where it wants to go. Any decisions about the future should rest on a solid understanding of what the current reality looks like, both within the church and in the wider community of which the church is a part.
  4. To manage necessary change in the congregation that smooths the way for the new called pastor. As Anthony Robinson explains, “An interim can help his or her successor, the new pastor, by making…transitions in staffing or similar tough calls with respect to moribund programs or building issues.” Along the way, as pastors.com suggests, the interim pastor may need to confront “strong personalities” when the good of the whole congregation demands it. This will require tact, interpersonal skills, and proper training in change management.

Recent literature suggests the addition of a fifth and relatively new task for an intentional interim:

  1. “[T]o help congregations understand the seismic shifts in American culture that [have been described] as “the ending of North American Christendom,” and “the waning of modernity.” On the ground, the way most congregations experience these shifts is suggested by comments like, “How come when we do what we’ve always done, it doesn’t seem to work anymore?” Or, to invoke the title of a book on cultural change, “Who Moved My Cheese?” Most congregations learned to be and do church in a period when the culture at large was more, even highly, supportive of Christian churches. And most formed their patterns when the ethos and values of modernity, including commitments to reason, tolerance and objectivity, were firmly entrenched. All of this has changed now. While much of this is familiar to the clergy from reading, conferences, and seminary study, often laity with little experience outside their own congregation lack names for these shifts and for the challenges and opportunities they bring. An interim minister is in a good position to raise awareness and create conversation about the shifting context.” From Anthony Robinson, “Rethinking Interim Ministry” (January 9, 2013), the Alban Institute.

4. What are key signs that a congregation should consider an intentional interim?

While lists vary, the literature suggests that a congregation should seriously consider calling an intentional interim pastor if one or more of the following has occurred:

  1. The pastor is leaving after a lengthy tenure (experts differ over “lengthy tenure”, with figures from 7 to 15 years).
  2. The church churns its pastors (a new one is called every few years) or a pastor has resigned after an unexpectedly short tenure.
  3. The pastor leaves under duress (forced out) or due to moral failure.
  4. The church’s leaders can’t identify or agree on the church’s mission.
  5. It has been three years since the last ministry audit (everything is reviewed for “mission fit” and amended as needed).
  6. It is a “commuter church” (members are very different from those who live near the church).
  7. Attendance has plateaued (people coming in offset those who leave).
  8. The church faces significant financial challenges.

Adapted from “9 Signs Your Church Needs an Intentional Interim Pastor” published on pastors.com.

5. What are some additional resources regarding Interim Ministry?