by Rev. Art Bell
John F Keydel, Jr.’s article “Interim Spectrum” in the Autumn, 2007 edition of ReVisions presented a good, helpful review of what he refers to as the “Tiers” of Interim Ministry. Many Intentional Interim Ministry practitioners have become familiar with the situations he describes.
I have a particular interest in the “Third Tier” situations. Twelve of the twenty-one interims I’ve experienced have been with congregations undergoing some unusual transition. They run the gamut from those needing only a denominational presence during the interim period, to one dealing with the aftermath of a Pastor’s leaving the denomination, another experiencing the revelation of a beloved Pastor’s sexual misconduct over a period of several years and one dealing with a beloved Pastor’s seeming abandonment of the congregation.
As an Honorably Retired Presbyterian minister I have been available to travel quickly to churches with the need to restore stability and prepare for the longer-term Interim Pastor. (I limit my term of service to about six months.) The result is that I am asked to consider situations in which a leader is needed very quickly, one who will help to restore a sense of balance within the congregation and start work on the issues that may be “cooking” in that fellowship. These are the kinds of circumstances I have encountered since retiring in 1998. They have led to a process I have found very helpful in preparing myself and the church for a successful brief encounter.
The basic need for any person asked to consider such a church is to know what the real condition of the congregation might be. Having gained a sense of the particular struggle the congregation is experiencing, the proposal for an intervention can be designed. What follows in the methodology that has been extraordinarily helpful in four widely different, but significantly conflicted worshipping bodies.
The initial step is to request that the consultation process included these elements:
The opportunity to interview three sets of people—those who are pleased with the events that led to the current situation, those who are thinking of leaving the church (those “on the fence”) and those who have left because of the recent developments; The opportunity to review notes from those interviews and reflect on what’s been heard, both from the leaders in place and those who have been recently interviewed; Delivering a presentation to the church’s governing board, reviewing and summarizing what’s been heard in the interviews and; Presentation of a possible course of action that the prospective Interim Pastor could help the leadership to follow.
This process takes more time on the scene than some church boards might be willing to finance. None of the four churches that have experienced the use of this plan has protested, and all results of the succeeding ministries have been helpful in guiding the congregations to a more healthful position to move into the future with high expectations for effective future ministry.
Rev. Bell is a PCUSA pastor and has been a member of the IMN since 1989.