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

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