Interim Ministry at the Speed of Change


By Anne Fisher

The interim ministry chose me. It was never my intention to become an interim pastor, but twenty-five years and fourteen interims later, I continue to love the work I have been called to do.

Many people don’t understand interim ministry; inevitably someone will ask why I don’t want a church of my own. Colleagues feel obligated to tell me what a nightmare the interim was before they came to the church they are serving. But as I fell into this work, I discovered an exciting ministry that never becomes routine. Here are some of the reasons interim ministry benefits the Church and why I love my work—and how interim ministry can be a model and inspiration for all kinds of ministry in the “church that is becoming”:

Interim ministry is fast paced and dynamic. The church is not stagnant when we begin the interim period. If ministry was a footrace, then the interim time would be a sprint. There is a finite time for a church to articulate their vision, select a Pastoral Nominating Committee to work and prepare to welcome a new pastor, and clean up some bad habits and rejuvenate some neglected aspects. All the while they carry on with the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. The interim process means hitting the ground running, and that does not stop until the last person leaves at the good-bye party.

In the interim time, churches are more open to make changes. I feel that the leadership in a church can be at its best during the interim time. The attendance and participation at meetings is very good because the leaders cannot fall back on the pastor to get things done.  Things get put in perspective, because they realize things could get worse. At one church, members complained that the former pastor wore a white robe rather than the black academic robe. No one mentioned it when I innocently showed up wearing a white robe.

The interim time is a time for the church to come of age. Some churches define themselves through their pastors: “Those were the John Brown Years,” or “I was baptized during the Mary Smith time.” For a brief yet vital moment in their history—the interim time—it is not about the pastor. The church leadership and members of the church can set the course. This characteristic has made each of my interims unique. One church started a garden in the front of their beautifully manicured lawn as a combined mission/education/evangelism endeavor. Another church had 1/3 of their members attend a church sponsored Mardi Gras party. They said they had not had this much fun in years! Churches surprise themselves with what new things they try and do successfully during the interim time.

There is a bit of whimsy and reckless abandon that happens in the interim. When a church gets the courage to try something different, they know that they can take a risk because if it doesn’t work, it is not set in stone for the next 50 years.

In most of the churches I served, attendance and giving remained stable or increased during the interim. When I arrive, I assure them that things will most likely not get worse; perhaps they will even get better, and we will enjoy the journey.

As we rethink how we do church, perhaps all pastors need to consider themselves as an interim. Mark Devries wrote in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry that youth ministers should consider themselves as interims: “Think about the role of interims: they proactively prepare the way for the future that does not include them. Interims are midwives, not mothers, Interims help a congregation recognize, celebrate and stand guard over its core, momentum-building traditions.” [1] 

At times I fancy that I am an ecclesiastical Mary Poppins. I come into a setting, produce new ways to look at things, have some fun, and try to leave them a stronger and healthier church. It is a privilege to serve in this ministry that chose me.

Annefisher-231x300The Rev. Dr. Anne E. Fisher has served congregations in Illinois for 25 years. She currently serves as interim pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Barrington, IL.

[1] DeVries, Mark Sustainable Youth Ministry. Intervarsity Press 2008 p.92.

Photo Credit: Multiverse, installed by artist Leo Villareal in a 200-foot-long tunnel connecting the East building of the National Gallery of Art to the West building. Photo by romanlily via photopin cc

Pastors Standing in the Surf of Change

By Steve Lindsley

It’s around 11am, and our family is at the beach. It rained the first few days here, but now the sun is shining bright and the place is packed.  We’ve carved out a few square feet of sand for our two folding chairs.  We won’t need much room, though, because the majority of the Lindsleys will be out in the water, out in the waves. I’ve always loved the body surfing/boogie-boarding thing, and I’m proud to have passed that same love on to my sons.

It’s different being out there as a father, though.  It’s a bit of a juggling act between satisfying your own desires to enjoy the waves while owning up to your parental obligations.  I have to shelve my desire to plunge headfirst into the oncoming wave to make sure my kids are safe.  And “safe” in the ocean is always a tricky thing – that huge wave that doesn’t materialize until its right on you, undercurrents and rip currents, and all the unforeseen marine life that – as I’ve had personal experience with – can cause, ahem, severe complications.

What makes it even more of a challenge is the difference between my two boys.  My oldest shares my tendency to throw himself into something with reckless abandon.  I want to go out to the big waves, he tells me.   We can’t, the lifeguard says there are rip currents out there, I answer.  What does he know, he’s way back there in the lifeguard chair!  And so it goes.  My younger son, though, is much more tentative.  Or “smart,” as his mother would say.  He may want to follow his Dad and older brother, but for him, the threat overrides the potential thrill.  But he’s not going to sit up in the beach chair, either.  So in his mind he’s determined the parameters of how far he’ll go into the surf, and he’s not about to exceed it.

It’s a lot to manage.  In fact, it actually feels a lot like being a pastor.

The waves of change are swirling around the church in a big way these days, and in many ways it’s been going on for years.  Much of this change – all of it, perhaps – has come from the outside: civil rights movement, women’s liberation, postmodernism, gay marriage and stances on homosexuality, the equalizing of the human experience via mass technology and social media.  I could go on and on.

The point is, the church is facing change whether we like it or not. And we differ greatly on how we respond to and cultivate that change, even within a single congregation.

Some folks are like my older son, feeling the urge to plunge head-first into the waves of change.  Why delay the inevitable?  Things like the emergent church, contemporary worship, congregations that look more like coffee houses and even NEXT Church in my denomination are signs of those who recognize that the wave is coming – so why not go and meet it?  We know we can’t “change the change” any more than my son or I can alter the direction of the wave that’s heading straight for us – as my friend and fellow songster David Lamotte sings, “The water’s gonna win.”  As does change.  Why fight something that is going to happen with you or without you?

Hold on, say people like my younger son.  For these, change – like the waves – are not just a sign of something different, but the essence of the difference itself.  And the very fact that “it” can’t be stopped elicits fear – or, as writer Diana Butler Bass suggests in her recent book, grief over the loss of what was familiar and comfortable.  There are degrees to this category of folks.  Some remain stubbornly on the shore, plopped down in the beach chair and observing the change from a safe distance.  Others, like my younger son, may wade in the surf, but only up to a point.  They engage change in the church with conditions and qualifiers: contemporary music… but only at the early service.  Women in positions of leadership… but not the lead pastor.  Acceptance of gays and lesbians for church membership… but not for ordination.

And there’s the pastor in the middle of it all.  They’re standing in the surf, calling out to one group of folks to come back, not so fast, wait up for everyone else.  And they’re calling out to others: come on in, it’s not so bad, you’ll be alright.  They’re well aware of the threats that can be seen – all those undercurrents and rip currents swirling around them – as well as the threats no one can see yet.   They’re trying to care for people and help them meet their needs, while also caring for the church and meeting God’s needs.

Like I said, a lot to manage.

I got to thinking about this while scanning my Facebook feed this morning and coming upon this from The 70 Sent Project:

The church is a paradoxical mixture between the desire to transform a world that clings to old forms and prejudices, and the desire to find stability and peace in a world that is changing too rapidly. Often this paradox is found within the same person.  The role of the church leader is to stand in the middle of this paradox, facilitating the flow of the Holy Spirit between the transforming and stabilizing impulses. (emphasis mine)

That’s the huge task facing pastors and all church leaders in today’s church: not trying to be everything to everyone, a common misconception (and the cause of clergy burnout for anyone who tries it).  No, the task of those in ministry in the 21st century is trying to bring everyone together into some sense of cohesion and mission when people are different (thanks be to God for that, by the way) and when people respond to change differently.  That along with facing the fact that the change, like that big wave, is coming.  In fact, in a sense it’s already here.

It’s a challenge, to be sure. But it’s also a wonderful opportunity and privilege, to stand there.  Change means that God is in the midst of doing some pretty amazing stuff. Here’s hoping that, wherever we are standing in the surf – right at the breaking point or a little further up shore – that we all eventually get swept up in the wave of God’s change together.

In other words, time to get our sea legs under us.

 LindsleySteve Lindsley is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Mount Airy, NC. He blogs regularly at

Upcoming Regional Gatherings! Are They On Your Calendar?


Watch this space in the next couple of weeks for an article from the co-chairs of our national gathering, Chad Herring and Reggie Weaver. They’ll share thoughts and plans for our time in Minnesota, March 31-April 2, 2014. (Get it on your calendar now!)

In the meantime, the season for regional gatherings is heating up. There are a number of events planned for the next several months; at press time, here is what we have from the coordinators. As you can see, events are still taking shape, but mark your calendars and share the word with colleagues in these regions:

Southern California is planning a regional NEXT gathering for the last weekend in September.  Plans are still coming together, so if you are in the region and have some ideas, please contact Karen Sapio at

North Carolina: Andrew Taylor-Troutman writes: “Our gathering is at First Presbyterian in Mount Airy on October 5th. Rev. Betty Meadows, Transitional Presbyter for Charlotte Presbytery will be our keynote speaker, encouraging us to explore the processes of positive transitions in both churches and presbytery levels. I think she is terrific, as well as important for NEXT to work directly with presbyteries. We are structuring the whole day along the lines of our order of worship. Steve Lindsley is leading music. In addition, there will be discussion groups, both formal and informal, designed around the main topic and presentation of the keynote, rather than a series of workshops. A very, very good lunch too! The cost is looking like $30 and we are going to have online registration, hopefully by the end of the month. Right now, we have a Facebook page: ” Coordinating team includes Andrew and Ginny Taylor-Troutman, Eleanor Norman, Cathy Mooney, and Steve Lindsley.

Texas and Oklahoma: What’s next for Presbyterians in the Southwest?  How about church revitalization, hospitality houses for  young adults, innovative worship and creative models for campus ministry? Join Presbyterian leaders from Texas and Oklahoma October 18-19 in Austin as we collaborate to consider what God has in store for our tomorrows. Contact Joe Clifford:

Nashville: Nov 2. Contact Chris Adams for details <>

Northeast: Monday, Nov 11th at Stony Point Center. Want to get involved? Share ideas? We’re starting a Facebook group. Contact: Rev. Frances Wattman Rosenau of Westminster in Albany, NY:

Washington DC/Baltimore: February 22, 2014, Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, Rockville, MD. Tentative theme is “The Way: Creating a Learning Community” and will feature three basic pieces:

– modeling how to be a learning community throughout the day
– providing examples of how to transform congregations into learning communities
– creating community for learning across congregations in our region

For more information: Jessica Tate,

Would you like to plan an event in your area? We can help you make that happen! Leave a comment here or contact our director, Jessica Tate, at


photo credit: Marxchivist via photopin cc

Beyond Arm Twisting: Calling and Recruiting Officers and Volunteers

Maybe get Mr. Incredible to serve on your nominating committee...

Maybe get Mr. Incredible to serve on your nominating committee…

Some time ago we saw a Facebook conversation about different approaches to calling officers in the church. Here were a few of the responses…

I don’t have any great ideas here….but I know of a Presbyterian church that is doing their recruiting seasonally rather than by task. So, they have Advent/Christmas, Lent/Easter, etc. teams that work across the whole life of the church, from Education to Mission, to Worship to Stewardship. They have found that folks are able to commit to a season (working a few months ahead and then the season of) and then being “off” for a while. Don’t know if that addresses the panicky thumbing part….but it allows for people to self identify which season they would like to work. (also posting selfishly so that I can see what others have to say! )

During my second year in a congregation, the Nominations Committee and I devised a survey for members of the congregation. Rather than asking what specitic position in the church they might be interested in, we had a list of tasks for people to check. We then took the returned surveys and matched desired activities to various committees, etc. That way we had people who were elected to jobs they would like. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it did help.

I like that idea…The challenge always is “knowing your people” and getting folks on the nominating committee who know the people well enough to know their gifts. I am not sure why we treat nominating as so “secret”. We should probably survey folks and get it from them. What WE think they like to do if different than when they think.

At our church, some years ago one of our ministers adapted Marcus Buckingham’s “Now Discover Your Strengths” (currently called “Strengthsfinder”) into what we called the Strengths Ministry. Many members of the church went through the Strengths Ministry workshop, and individuals’ top 5 strengths were recorded in a database at the church. Then, people could be identified by their strengths (reducing burnout) and the appropriate balance could be created on committees and the like. We are not perfect in our use of this and we haven’t had a workshop for a while, so newer members aren’t in the database, but it has overall been a great (long-term) strategy for us in identifying people for various roles in the church.

We’ve done away with a formal board structure. We now have just a leadership board and other teams. Our teams don’t have any terms. We can serve on a team that we love forever. So now more people are doing what they are passionate about for as long as they want. There is still some arm twisting for nursery volunteers and such, but I’m a do-er and I hate formal board meetings. But I’m perfectly happy to work on mission projects, lead huge fundraising efforts for mission trips, etc. Also happy to direct a youth choir, plays, etc. So the new system really appeals to me.

We switched to a call process a few years ago. The first meeting of Nominating we do a lectio on call (e.g. Eph. 4). Then we talk through qualities we need for elders, and for deacons. Then we look at specific leadership roles that need to be called (e.g. head of Worship or Mission or Children’s Ministries committee). we pray over names for a couple of weeks. We come to consensus about a person to approach, then invite them to meet with two nominating committee members to issue the call. We ask them to think & pray on it for a week or two. It takes time, but after a few years of this our Session is really strong, and people know it’s a real call – not a desperate last minute ‘need a warm body’ phone call. We have left positions empty if we cannot find the right person to fill the position – which leads to conversations about the position itself.

How do you all call, recruit and train leaders? What has changed about your approach?

And how will these ministries change even further in “the church that is becoming?”


photo credit: timaoutloud via photopin cc

Mission Shift in Christian Education

children_youth_1By Jen James

In the conversations about what is next for the Church, I hear a lot of talk about new ways of worship, different methods to engage the community in mission, how to reach young adults, and ways to build new worshipping communities.  What I don’t hear a lot about is how this conversation affects Christian Education.  Some pastors wish their over-zealous educators would take it down a notch and just dissolve their dwindling Church School ministry that seems to be draining energy and resources.  Some churches long for the days when education classes were bursting at the seams – a time when people were “serious” about their faith and were committed to reading the Bible.  For those of us who work in Children, Youth, and Adult Ministries, it can sometimes feel like the Church is on the move and we are grasping for a seat on the train.

The reality is this area of ministry can be the very catalyst for change within a church and its community. Educational ministries are geared to reach the very heartbeat of our communities – its children, youth, and young adults. But, authentic outreach is not going to happen with the best Vacation Bible School in town, or a flashy Sunday night Youth Group complete with a band and a super hip Youth Director, or by purchasing the next great curriculum that guarantees children and youth will love learning about God by bringing the fun back to Sunday School. While these ministry tools aren’t bad, the problem is we tend to think these will attract flocks of people to our diminishing churches. At best, these programs serve those in our churches.  At worst, they are attracting Christians from neighboring churches where the programs aren’t as grand in a twisted sort of membership poaching.  If we are honest, these attractional tools aren’t making authentic and lasting connections with the community.

One place I have witnessed the most authentic community partnership is with local schools. Christian Education is built on a foundation of loving and caring for children, youth, and young adults. Our very DNA is built to be in this kind of partnership. In my current ministry context, the church I serve has embraced that part of our ministry with children and youth is to reach out to local schools. This is not just a once a year partnership like providing food baskets at Christmas. This is an ongoing relationship that takes years to build. It is continuing to support the needs of the schools until the school community recognizes that the church genuinely cares about its students, staff, and families.  It means loving families for the sake of the community and not for the sake of church membership.  There is no better place to reach every child in your community — regardless of race, religion, or socio-economic status — than in a local school.  Perhaps if we allow ourselves to be transformed by those relationships, the transformation of our churches will follow.

Intrigued? Here are some ideas to get you started partnering with a local school:

  • Sign up for the school e-newsletter to read about upcoming events, needs, and volunteer opportunities
  • Have a member of your church join the PTA
  • Tithe your Christian Education budget and set aside that money for the needs of local schools
  • Volunteer at the school either for an ongoing need or for a special event
  • Support school fundraisers (our church buys our mulch each year from the booster mulch sale)
  • Sponsor a Booster Ad in in the Drama Club program or a seasonal sports program
  • Attend sporting events, concerts, and shows as a church
  • Send a note of appreciation from your church on Teacher/Principal Appreciation Week
  • Schedule a time to meet the Principal, just to say hello and let them know the church is there if they ever have a need
  • Advertise for upcoming school events in your church newsletter and bulletin
  • Donate grocery gift cards for school counselors to keep on hand for when families are in crisis
  • Become a sponsor for school programs
  • Get involved in a high school Baccalaureate – if they don’t have one, offer to host and help organize one
  • Volunteer at the All Night Grad Party
  • Offer to purchase yearbooks for those students whose families can’t afford one.

jen_jamesJen James is the Director of Family and Adult Ministries at Bush Hill Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, VA. She just completed her M. Div. at Wesley Theological Seminary.


MaryAnn McKibben Dana — Church as Improv

Taking a cue from Stacy Johnson (Dallas 2012), MaryAnn begins to reimagine the gospel through the lens of improv. She traces the “rules” of improv and notes the ways in which church communities might begin to live by these rules of engagement.

MaryAnn is pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, VA and a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Team. This keynote presentation was given at the Rochester, NY regional gathering on November 5, 2012.

Esta Jarrett — The Great Leavening

Just as yeast makes space for the bread to rise, the work of the kingdom is making space for others. Listen to Esta’s sermon reflection on ministry in Western North Carolina.

Esta is pastor of Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, NC and part of the For Such a Time as This program of the PC(USA). This sermon was given at the Durham regional gathering on August 18, 2012.

Amanda Diekman and Panel from Durham Church

Amanda Diekman leads a panel of the “heroes” of the Durham Church community: Angel (from Immanuel Church), Angie (Worship leader), and Charlene (Durham Church member and candidate for ministry). They share poignant reflections on the joy and difficulty of being a multi-racial, multi-ethnic community.

Amanda is the Co-Pastor of Durham Church in Durham, NC. This testimony panel took place on August 18, 2012, at the Durham, NC regional gathering.

Franklin Golden — The Gospel Explosion (Testimony)

Franklin Golden tells the story of the Gospel exploding in the creative and reconciling work of creating community out of three distinct, yet unified, worshipping communities.

Franklin is the Co-Pastor of Durham Church in Durham, NC. This testimony was given at the Durham, NC regional gathering on August 18, 2012.

Lori Raible — Wilderness (Sermon)

Using the image of wilderness, Lori reflects on the difficulties of living in community at the regional gathering in Durham on August 18, 2012.

Lori is the Associate Pastor of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.