Interim ministry differs from called ministry in several significant ways. My time is short (relatively speaking), so some urgency exists to help the church prepare for its next pastor. On the other hand, new ministry always carries a good deal of anxiety. The interim minister must tread lightly, while exploring needed change and evaluation.
Key to both ministries, however, are the key questions every minister should ask any congregation:
- Who were we?
- Who are we?
- Who do we want to be?
When looking at who the church was, one should spend time examining why the church was the way it was. Churches nurture some traditions like a garden, carefully pruning and meticulously feeding each plant. But every garden also has weeds – habits that emerge uninvited and unplanned for. Sometimes, those weeds take root and are difficult to eradicate. One task of interim ministry is to help a congregation kill the weeds and help the garden thrive.
One of the greatest gifts the interim minister brings to a church is fresh eyes to answer the question, “Who are we?” Over time, every congregant sees their church through rosier lenses. The interim minister sees the clutter, the cherished decor items no one remembers receiving, the outmoded practices, and the habits ingrained in a community of friends that may not be as welcoming as it thinks. The interim minister can tweak those spots of chaos and territorial boundaries that inhibit healthy change.
Interim ministry is a great time to re-examine the vision of a church. The interim minister can challenge a church to ask, “what if?” in an environment that is perhaps more forgiving and less encumbered with assumptions. If goals already exist, the interim can help the church maintain momentum and keep focused on achieving established objectives.
For me, the key to interim ministry is my lack of agendas or preconceptions. I come to a church with the eyes of a visitor. I have two primary goals – to be present where needed and to help the church best prepare for a long and successful settled minister.