Intentional interim ministry: How is it different?

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“Things will fall apart if we don’t call another pastor soon. An intentional interim takes too long. We can’t afford to wait.”

“Only bad churches need an intentional interim. We don’t want people to think we’re a problem.”

These are common misperceptions about intentional interim ministry.

Intentional interim ministry, however, is designed to enable churches to assess themselves while continuing their ministries without losing ground. In reality, most churches can’t afford not to engage an intentional interim.

How is an intentional interim different from a traditional interim?

Many churches are familiar with a traditional interim, a person whose main responsibility is to preach sermons on Sunday mornings while the church seeks a full-time pastor. With a traditional interim, pastoral care and progress toward a church’s mission often take a back seat.

In contrast to the traditional interim, intentional interim ministry encompasses the total life of the church to ensure ongoing congregational needs are met at the same time that the church positions itself for a stronger future.

Karl Fickling, the coordinator of interim ministry for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, describes the intentional interim as a “‘bottom-up’ model, where the process starts with the congregation, rather than a ‘top-down’ model that calls on the pastor to dominate church vision.”

When should a church engage an intentional interim?

Fickling says there are three situations for which an intentional interim is helpful: when a long-tenured or beloved pastor leaves the church, when a church is stalled or when a church is reeling from conflict.

“After 10 years [or possibly shorter tenure] of the last pastor, the next pastor is often an ‘unintentional interim,” Fickling said. “The departing pastor sets an emotional high mark that is hard for the next pastor to reach. The new pastor does things differently or wants to help the church make some needed changes, and this threatens the status quo.”

An intentional interim can help bring closure to a long pastorate while preparing the church for a new pastor.

The vast majority of churches are plateaued or declining, and most of those churches want a pastor to reverse that trend. For success, a church first needs to face its own issues. Intentional interims are trained to help a church do so honestly. After that struggle, a church can call a pastor who best fits the situation and desires of the church.

Conflict “needs to be addressed before calling a new pastor into a no-win situation,” Fickling said. If the previous pastor was forced out, an intentional interim can restore calm to the church.

“Some people think [conflict] is the most common—or only—reason for an intentional interim,” Fickling noted. “It’s actually the least common reason of these three.”

The intentional interim is a “‘bottom-up’ model, where the process starts with the congregation.” – Karl Fickling

What are the benefits of intentional interim ministry?

An intentional interim provides a “pastor during the interim.” An intentional interim makes hospital visits, leads Bible studies, participates in committee meetings and is engaged in other functions of the church while also leading the church through the intentional interim process.

The intentional interim is an appropriate person to lead a church to address prickly issues that otherwise might disturb a church’s fellowship or jeopardize a full-time pastor’s employment. Without such fear, an intentional interim creates a safe environment for difficult conversations.

Churches with intentional interims tend to be much calmer, feeling less anxious about rushing to fill a vacant position.

“The intentional interim period is one of the few places I’ve seen Baptists truly practice the ‘priesthood of the believer,’” Fickling said. “Even without an installed pastor, the congregation dreams, listens to God together and builds vision together.”

At the conclusion of the intentional interim process, a church comes away with a clear understanding of itself, what kind of pastor it needs and a clear profile to present pastoral candidates.

“It’s been my experience that churches almost always wish the [intentional interim] could stay and be their pastor,” Fickling said.

A caution about the intentional interim process

Jack Warren, deacon chair for First Baptist Church in Crowley, described his church’s experience with the intentional interim positively and cautiously.

“One positive aspect of the process is that the intentional [interim] is not setting himself up for a job,” Warren stated. “He can speak freely and honestly to the church.” Likewise, in the beginning, the process helped pull the church together.

Warren indicated more information about the process would have been helpful, as well as learning from others who had been through the process before.

While First Baptist in Crowley and the majority of churches have a positive experience with the intentional interim process, not all churches report the same. When churches report a negative experience, the reason usually is because the interim was not credentialed and sufficiently trained or because the interim did not complete the process.

What do churches need to know about the intentional interim process?

The process entails 16 purposeful steps beginning with an introduction to intentional interim ministry and ending with the installation of a new pastor. Steps between include a presentation of intentional interim candidates, a vote by the church to covenant with one of the candidates, and the formation of a transition team for the process.

The self-study is the heart of the process and includes examining a church’s heritage, leadership, connections to others, mission and future. When the self-study concludes and the church is ready, a search committee is formed and seeks a new pastor who fits the church’s profile.

From start to finish, the process ranges from 15 months to two years, depending on the complexity of the church. A traditional interim lasts about 12 months on average and may not position a church for greater success with a new pastor.

Intentional interims credentialed by the BGCT must abide by a set of accountability measures, which include intentional interim training, professional membership, continuing education and covenants with the BGCT and churches served. In addition, intentional interims undergo required peer review following each intentional interim pastorate.

For more information, visit the Interim Church Services webpage or the Intentional Interim Ministry website.

*******

How does a church know when the intentional interim period has succeeded? Who becomes an intentional interim? How have churches and pastors benefited from intentional interim ministry?

These questions will be answered in Part 2.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP.


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