bits from bob....

An Interesting Interim Ministry Case Study

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

For those interested in interim ministry, the following interim ministry report may be of interest, perhaps serving as a unique case study. Because of my involvement as interim minister, I have written about some of the events in first person.

A church terminated its minister with a confidentiality agreement concerning details of the termination. Some close friends of the minister were upset, others did not understand, and there was a high level of turmoil within the church immediately following. Over the next three months, the turmoil and concern subsided to some extent, but the conflict resulting from the first stage of the ministry transition remained a major factor in the dynamics of the church, resulting in the resignation of at least two deacons. During this time, the congregation used visiting preachers for its Sunday worship services. The elders decided that in the early stages of the search process, none of the visiting preachers could be considered as candidates. As a result, the visiting preachers who preached during this time had other employment, most were church leaders in other congregation.

Fairly early in the transition process, the church leaders received some good advice from a visiting preacher who was a professor at a Christian university in the area. As a result the church formed a search committee that began a process of determining the desirable characters in an incoming minister. At my first contact with the church's elders, the church had been without a regular minister about 60 days. I wrote a proposal for ministry transition including my presence for two months of interim ministry (with an intervening month between). Unfortunately, I was not immediately available to assist due to other obligations.

As a result, beginning at about the 120-day mark, I spent a month with the church, assisting the search committee in finalizing a meaningful ministry profile and developing a resume timeline, meeting with the elders regularly, preaching and writing for the church bulletin, teaching about the dynamics of ministry transitions, and doing research for a congregational self-study. During this month of onsite interim ministry, I preached twice each Sunday and taught two Bible classes each week. In addition, I met with various groups within the congregation as part of my information collection for the self-study. During this month, I did funerals and counseling, and fulfilled the typical responsibilities of the located minister.

According to the proposal, I then returned home for a month and finished writing a draft of the self-study for congregational input. I continued to write articles for the church bulletin each week, but the pulpit was again filled by visiting preachers.

When I returned to the church for a second interim ministry visit, the church had been without a full-time pulpit minister for six months. During my second ministry visit, I guided the church in working on leadership development and dynamics as well as mission and evangelism. I helped the search committee develop a plan for finalizing the search and in developing effective interview questions, so that they were ready to conclude receiving resumes and ready to begin the interview and hiring process. If you are following the timetable, you know that the church has now been without a minister for seven months.

During the month after my second interim ministry visit, the church identified two likely candidates and invited both to visit the church for an interview and to teach and preach a "tryout" sermon. Shortly thereafter they identified and hired their new minister. The process was completed about 8 months after the previous minister left, about 4 months after I arrived for the first interim ministry visit.

I returned to the church once more to preach and to assist with the installation of the new minister. This two-week visit served to put a finishing touch on the search process and to mark a time of new beginnings for the church. Several observations are interesting. First, despite the initial turmoil, the church experienced almost no change in attendance during the interim period of almost 9 months. In fact, the year-to-year attendance statistics are flat. The bad news is that attendance at the church was not growing; the good news is that it was not decreasing. Second, the church did not have a well-developed, detailed plan for the minister search after the previous minister had been gone for four months. My first interim ministry visit helped get the process moving forward in that it finalized the missing pieces of the puzzle. Third, the use of interim ministry visits of about a month, with an intervening month between visits, apparently served the church well. That schedule allowed me to minister (and monitor) from a distance during the intervening months, insured that the church did not become too attached to me over a longer period of interim ministry, and allowed the church a certain level of independence in the search process. In contrast to some interim ministries I have done previously, it seems that church health was maintained at a higher level with my alternating presence and absence.

This interim ministry model is not suited for every situation, but it provides an interesting case study. It allowed me to provide interim ministry for a church that is over 1000 miles from my home. I served in the interim minister role by making two extended visits and one shorter visit that effectively concluded the search process. This schedule allowed me to be involved in other ministry and consulting tasks during the intervening months, so that my ministry capacity was increased. The use of the model depends on the availability of suitable and effective visiting preachers.

[For more information about interim ministry dynamics or to develop proposals for managing ministry transitions in your church, please contact me.]

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Last updated March 9, 2011