Your pastor just announced that they’ve accepted a call to another ministry. You know that forming a search committee, calling a new pastor and waiting for them to actually arrive can all take a long time (12 months is about average). What options do you have for an in-between (interim) ministry?
Consider Your Resources
One of the great benefits of belonging to a denomination is that you do not have to navigate transition alone. Your classis and denomination have a wealth of people, programs and resources well-suited to serve churches just like yours at this moment.
Specialized Transitional Minister or Stated Supply?
In the CRC, there are two main options for churches seeking an interim pastor.
Most churches hire a stated supply pastor. A stated supply pastor is an ordained minister (usually retired) who provides basic ministry leadership until a new, settled pastor arrives. Their primary task is to provide ministry stability while the search committee forms and works toward calling a new settled pastor. Ordinarily, the supply pastor will work between half and full time, providing preaching, pastoral care and, sometimes, also participating in council meetings.
Some churches might prefer a Specialized Transitional Minister (STM), a pastor who, in addition to providing basic ministry leadership, also has training to address particular challenges that may be facing a church in transition. Since 1997, the CRC has recruited, trained, endorsed and supported ministers to serve as STMs. STMs are ordained CRC ministers whose call is not to a particular congregation but to specialized transition as a ministry. They receive training through the Interim Ministry Network and meet regularly with other STMs for mentoring and peer support.
This training and support equips them to serve congregations through the unique challenges of a pastoral transition. Some of the unique challenges an STM might help a church navigate include:
A painful ending with a previous pastor
Simmering congregational conflict
Underfunctioning Church Leadership
Dysfunctional leadership culture
An underlying sense that the church cannot maintain the status quo
Avoiding an unintentional interim pastorate
STMs typically agree to 12-month full-time contracts, with an option to extend their stay up to 18- or 24-months. STMs spend the first months getting to know the congregation and defining targeted transitional goals with the council. At the conclusion of their time, the church should be ready to start fresh with their new, settled pastor.
Yet other churches attempt a less pastor-centric approach to their interim ministry. Such churches rely on some combination of internal and external leaders, using the absence of a pastor as an opportunity to reinforce and embody the priesthood of all believers. This approach can be quite rewarding, but also requires significant congregational buy-in.
Whether you opt for an STM or a supply pastor, one of the most important things you can do is to be clear about your expectations for the interim period (with your council, your interim minister and your congregation).
Do You Really Want Transitional Ministry?
For starters, you should be clear about whether you want the interim pastor to attend to the particular challenges and opportunities of transition. Inherent to the STM role is the expectation that the STM will attend to these dynamics. That means you should expect an STM to raise difficult questions, challenge unhealthy relational patterns and push the congregation to address issues they may have been trying to avoid.
But if an interim pastor begins asking these hard questions without the permission or blessing of the council, they will find themselves isolated and their leadership ineffective.
Councils are wise to ask whether they’re prepared to stick with the transitional work even if they experience congregational resistance. If they’d rather not, a supply pastor with a narrowly defined role would be more appropriate.
Is the Supply Pastor Eligible to Become the Settled Pastor?
One advantage of the STM program is that STM pastors are not permitted to serve as the church’s new, settled pastor. STMs sometimes joke that they are “pre-fired,” since they have a fixed term. Without any prospect of long-term employment with the church, they may be more willing and able to raise issues or address dynamics that a settled pastor might be reluctant to bring up.
Church councils are wise to clarify with the congregation and the interim minister whether or not the interim will be allowed to submit their name as the new, settled pastor.
So once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, how do you find an interim pastor?