In a previous essay, the components of a interim transitional period when ministerial changes occur in a congregation were outlined. See my Interim Ministry: An Overview. The purpose of this essay is to identify appropriate goals for the interim process and to help church leaders begin the process of thinking through methods of prioritizing these goals. Finally, some resources for the prioritizing process (self-study) will be suggested.
Ultimately the goals of the interim process can be correlated with the transition stages or phases. However, in the initial identification of the goals, this has not been done. The reason is that some congregations, as they prioritize these goals, will find a particular goal more essential early in the process while another congregation may be able to include the goal as part of a later phase. Some goals suggested in this essay may not apply to some congregations, although it is thought that the majority of the goals identified here will apply to some extent in every congregation. That said, the goals are stated in a general order in which they usually occur, although exceptions may occur based on the specific needs of the local congregation. Many of the goals require ongoing efforts. The completion of the goals is not linear, that is, one does not necessarily finalize one goal before moving to the next.
The Importance of Involving the Congregation in the Process
Failure to involve as many as possible of the congregation in the transition process is a grave mistake. Some of the goals appropriate to the interim period must be accomplished by the congregation. If the congregation fails to act, or if action occurs without the full involvement of the congregation, future difficulties are almost inevitable.
Should we use a Search Committee?
I believe it is wise to charge the group we often call the "search committee" with a larger task of overseeing the transitional or interim period. Alternately, one may choose to empower a transition team to work through the transitional phases before the search committee is identified. I see no particular negative aspects to having the same group function as a transition team and later as a search committee unless it would be that newly surfaced involvement and leadership may not be effectively used.
A list of interim tasks (for the interim minister or consultant) was presented in the previous essay already mentioned. Because some of these tasks directly relate to the goals of the church, some of those tasks are included here while others are not. A church should list as many of the goals to be done as possible. In identifying goals, my desire is to provide a more general description of the unique dynamics at work in the interim period and to provide a beginning point for determining a priority order for addressing the goals. The goals have been stated broadly and limited in number.
1. The church must make every effort to insure that the work of the church continues without interruption. This might involve such simple and common things as meaningful worship, the effective presentation of the word of God, visitation, Bible class structures, evangelism, missions, and stewardship. The goal is to maintain without loss or diminution the life-giving, life-sustaining work of the body of Christ. Usually, this goal must be addressed immediately as the church and its leaders find out that the minister was doing many things that were not in the job description and was involved in many tasks that are taken for granted.
One aspect of the viability of the church is to provide a healthy ending for the previous ministry. This may include such matters are honoring and celebrating the ministry just concluded, confidently anticipating that future ministries will be just as sweet although different.
Another factor in viability is self-esteem or self-perception. If some in the church feel that the programs are suffering, such attitudes may soon permeate the congregation and contribute to inaccurate perceptions of progress. It is essential that the church and its leaders take every opportunity to celebrate and declare the continued work and success of God's kingdom agenda in the church during the interim period. The viability of the church is directly proportional to the confidence the church feels during this period. Usually, churches experience some decline in confidence in an interim period. Often there are feelings of uncertainty and rejection. A part of this goal is to work diligently to help the congregation know confidently that God is still at work among them.
2. The interim period is a time to resolve unhealthy feelings and to establish strong spiritual relationships. There may be feelings focused in the previous minister--whether for or against. Such feelings may include anxiety, grief, or anger. Feelings to be resolved may include attitudes among members--blaming for the events just past, unresolved hurts and conflicts, grudges held and hurts harbored. The interim period is a time to help a congregation work through any such attitudes. An emphasis on fellowship and reconciliation will serve well. (This often occurs in the context of the self-study outlined later.) The reestablishment of working relationships through fellowship, reconciliation, and renewed unity will help with the third goal.
3. Consider the interim as a time to reestablish leadership and ministry infrastructures. Because the interim period is a time of reevaluating leadership and ministry, leadership changes often occur in this period. Churches do well not only to let such occur, but to encourage such with leadership development and selection. An incoming minister deserves to be hired by the leaders to whom he will be accountable. The interim provides a unique opportunity to reinforce the ministry of the church and to reconfirm its leadership. The ministry infrastructures will be strengthened in the process. This may also be an opportune time to evaluate ministry relationships, roles and resources. Methods are often open for reevaluation and change during the interim period.
4. The interim period is a time to clarify the mission and ministry of the church. Despite the tendency to look inward during the interim transitional phase, the need of the church is to renew its outward look and to be reminded afresh of ministry and mission for God. The ministry and mission of the church is integrally connected to the sense of identity. One of the goals of the interim period should be to involve and integrate as many church members as possible in a rethinking of the church's identity.
A primary way in which many churches handle this fourth goal is through a self-study designed to address these issues. Interestingly, the self-study often serves serendipitously in some of the other goals.
5. Prepare for the next phase of the church--the ministry of the next minister and the church's involvement and growth which will come.