by Thom S. Rainer
“Interim” sounds like a pregnant pause anticipating something down the road.
So when you put the adjective in front of “pastor” or “church,” it just feels like less than ideal.
It does not have to be that way. The interim period between two pastors can be a time of great benefit for churches. It is for that reason I encourage churches not to make mistakes common during this interim time. Here are seven of them:
- The church moves into a maintenance mode. To be sure, there are decisions and actions that need to be postponed until the new pastor gets on board. But neither the Great Commission nor the Great Commandment takes a vacation. There is still much work to be done.
- The church allows the interim pastor to be a candidate for pastor. I know. I will get some pushback here. But I have seen so many disasters befall a church when the person in the interim pulpit gets favored status. The downside outweighs the benefits.
- The process of finding a pastor becomes a “beauty contest.” Several candidates are paraded before the church or key groups in the church. Factions decide their favorite candidate. Tensions grow. Consider instead dealing with one or a very few candidates at a time.
- The search process is handled poorly. To be fair, most church members and leaders have never been a part of a search process. They are doing the best they know how. Over the past several years, I have become a strong proponent of getting outside expertise and help. As William Vanderbloemen said on one of our podcasts, “The worst hire a church can make is the wrong hire.”
- The church leaves personnel problems for the next pastor to handle. Don’t neglect making the tough decisions. If you delay these decisions, you are already setting up your next pastor to have problems and enemies at the onset.
- The church fails to deal with sacred cows. Like the personnel issues noted above, don’t set up the next pastor for failure. If there are some sensitive issues to handle, do it during the interim period. Don’t wait.
- The church fills key staff positions in the interim period. If at all possible, let the next pastor have an influential role in choosing staff members who will be a part of the leadership team. It is a much better alternative than moving forward and leaving the pastor with no say in one of the most important aspects of ministry.
Simply stated, the interim period is a time of opportunity, not just a time of waiting. Make the right decisions and the church will be stronger in the near term and for years to come.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.