Wise Transitions

How not to be an unintentional interim pastor

When people typically think of an interim pastor they imagine someone who is filling a temporary role until the next full-time pastor comes. Few consider the fact that every pastor is an interim pastor. The truth is, someone has gone before them, and there will always be someone who comes after.

Pastors need to take measures throughout their time in ministry to keep from becoming an unintentional interim pastor. By following and remembering these helpful steps, you will be able to create a church culture that is able to transition well both for you and the pastor who comes after you.

UNEXPECTED CHALLENGES

New pastors often face a set timeline upon entering a church. In the beginning, the new pastor can do no wrong. Typically, they are welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, it is not long after that when the new pastor enters a phase where they can do nothing right. Ultimately, this timeline leads the new pastor to leave. For many new pastors, this unintentional interim period lasts anywhere from three months to three years.

“Putting the church ahead of yourself will help you build the connections and respect you’ll need to succeed as a long-term pastor.”

There are numerous reasons why a pastor may unintentionally become an interim: toxic situations; creating change too quickly; ignoring transition dynamics and lacking self-awareness; a bad fit with cultural, personality of gift; inability to connect with the church’s opinion leaders; not enough allies; lack of confidence or certain of call; a clergy-killer congregation.

PRACTICAL STEPS

Fortunately, being an unintentional interim pastor is avoidable. If you are an incoming pastor, you can follow these practical steps to help your congregation during this time of transition:

Earn the trust of your predecessor. Having the support of your predecessor will help ensure that you have the support of your congregation. After building a supportive and trusting relationship, have your predecessor endorse you so your congregation understands and believes that the church is in good hands.

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Honor your predecessor. Explaining to the congregation that you understand why this is a difficult transition for them and that their previous pastor played a vital role in the church will encourage them to offer you support as you enter into this new role.

Listen to counsel. As an entering pastor, you do not know everything about your new church, and that is OK, but be sure to listen to those who do. Ask your predecessor about the congregation. Listen to the advice of church leaders and trusted advisors.

Demonstrating that you’re aware of their concerns shows that you’re invested in their well-being and willing to put them ahead of your own feelings. Leading as Jesus did by putting the church ahead of yourself will help you build the connections and respect you’ll need to succeed as a long-term pastor.

Every arriving pastor will one day be a departing pastor. By following and remembering these helpful steps, you will be able to create a church culture that is able to transition well both for you and the pastor who comes after you.

For information regarding succession, be sure to check out the updated and expanded edition of NEXT: Pastoral Succession That Works by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird.