The interim ministry was different than those I had previously done. Most of the time, interim ministry involves a continuing pulpit presence (although there may be guest speakers periodically) until the new minister arrives. In this case, the interim ministry unfolded on a different schedule.
Background and my initial contact. Due to the resignation and departure of the preaching minister, the church was forced to change pulpit preachers. The position was filled by the minister who had previously been serving the church as family counseling minister. Within three months after the transition, problems began to surface. There were complaints about the preaching, interpersonal problems with the elders, and also with the congregation. The elders asked me to spend a week with the church, preaching a special series and presenting a special series focused on evangelism. They also asked me during this week to analyze congregational dynamics. I met with the preacher. I also met with the elders several times during the week. Due to what appeared to be irreconcilable differences and irremediable conflicts, my recommendation to both the elders and the preacher was that they consider the best way to terminate the ministry relationship and that each move on.
Second step. About eight months later, the elders contacted me to advise that the minister had resigned and left. His departure was almost exactly six months after my visit. The elders asked me to outline an interim ministry proposal, including my presence as much as possible. During this contact, I learned that the elders had done some research concerning ministry transitions and also received good advice from a visiting professor from an area Christian university. The church was using fill-in preachers from week to week, not using any who might eventually be candidates for the preaching job. A search committee had been formed and given the task of identifying the most desirable characteristics of the next preacher. They were functioning and seeking input from the church.
First ministry intervention. Due to other ministry and mission obligations, my first opportunity to be visit the church in person was four months after the preacher had left. I was able to spend a month with the church, doing the things typically associated with ministry. I met with the elders weekly. I also met with the search committee several times and assisted them in sharpening their list of desired ministry characteristics and the job description. Ads were written and placed. Phone interview questions were developed.
Second ministry intervention. After the first interim ministry intervention, I spent a month fulfilling other ministry commitments. After that month, I returned to the church and spent most of another month with the church, this time focusing on leadership workshops and leadership development, sharpening the mission of the church, and assisting with two Mission Emphasis Sundays. I again met with the elders and the search committee, this time assisting in the development of interview questions. A hiring timetable was developed-when resumes would no longer be received, the process for identifying the best two or three candidates, and other details.
Next step. After this second month of onsite ministry, the church, led by the elders and search committee, identified two candidates for personal interviews with the congregation. The visits were arranged, and about a month later the new minister had been hired. He could begin his ministry with the church in about six weeks. The church continued to use guest speakers and internal speakers during this time.
Third (last) ministry intervention. The elders asked me to visit the church one more time, to help the church review the transitional process and to prepare for the coming of the new minister. This visit was to precede the minister's arrival and also to continue into the first week or two of the new minister's presence to provide orientation and insights. In an interesting approach, the elders asked me to preach on the first Sunday the minister was present with the congregation. As a result, I was able to outline and lead a Day of Commitment on that Sunday, and that evening I interviewed the new minister during the evening worship. While the elders and many search committee members had heard similar questions and responses, the congregation was delighted to hear more of the story and life of their new minister. On the following Sunday the new minister preached the morning assembly and I preached the evening assembly.
Conclusion. On the Sunday evening of the interview (the first Sunday the new minister was present), one of the search committee members spoke to me at length after the service. Her comments focused on how effective the interview had been and how well it had been received by the congregations. She observed that she had not previously realized the value of having a public interview with a new minister. Finally, she made several thoughtful observations about how well the transition had been scripted in preparing the church to move on after a difficult time in its history. Her phrase has stuck with me. Regardless of the specifics involved, and each situation is different, interim ministry is a "scripted transition."