- Describing Interim Ministry
- Value of Interim Ministry
- Five Developmental Tasks
- Training and Qualifications
- Options for Interim Assistance
- Related Areas
**See also a comprehensive list of resources on Ministry Transitions
Describing Interim Ministry
When a preacher leaves, either by his or the church’s initiation, it begins a period that is full of opportunity for a church (see Ministry Transitions). The level of energy increases, often with both positive and negative possibilities. There may be enough positive charge to launch the church into an exciting new era of ministry. There may also be enough negative anxiety to trigger destructive conflict. These transitions also present the church with one of the greatest opportunities to learn from their past, define their strengths, and identify and remedy lingering patterns that have hindered their ministry effectiveness. Questions fill the minds of church leaders:
- How can a church capitalize on the unique opportunities presented by ministry transitions?
- How should a church conduct the searching, interviewing, and selecting process to insure the best match between minister and congregation?
- What can be done to maximize the first year or two of a preacher’s new ministry to increase the possibilities of a long and effective relationship?
Interim Ministry is an intentional effort to deal with these important questions and seize the unique opportunities inherent in a period of transition. It may combine preaching, assessments of congregational effectiveness, one-to-one and group consultations, workshops, conflict resolution, team-building sessions, strategic planning, and a host of other methods to help a congregation craft a more productive future.
Value of Interim Ministry
In a landmark book on church transitions, A Change of Pastors…and How It Affects Change in the Congregation, Loren Mead discusses two complementary but distinct issues that are concurrently at work when a church goes through a change of ministers.
- Congregational Development – the set of knowledge, skills, and processes by which a congregation is brought to a better understanding of its ministry and becomes more effective in it and faithful to it.
- Minister Placement – the set of knowledge, skills, and processes by which ministers are matched to positions that most fully challenge their gifts and abilities.
Frequently, the prominent and influential role of the minister in congregational development leads churches to believe they must have a minister before they can move forward. Thus a church devotes most of its energies in the transition period to a minister search, but is not as intentional about congregational development, believing it will resume once the new minister is in place. In reality, the larger issue is congregational development, and the minister search is only one piece of this effort. Mead says:
Congregations need times of reassessment, times in which to rethink their life and direction with some independence of ministerial leadership. Such opportunities, well-used, can bring about a maturity and strength a congregation needs to enter a more productive relationship with a new minister. A congregation that has been through a productive exploration of its program, process, context, and identity and that has rethought and recommitted itself to ministry is a congregation a minister might long to be connected with. (12)
Five Developmental Tasks
To help facilitate more intentional development, Mead outlines five developmental tasks for the transition period.
- Coming to terms with history – Transition is a time to open a church’s story and write new chapters. The losses associated with transition open up the repository of grief and provide an excellent occasion to process unfinished business or heal old wounds. Failure to do this could leave deposits of unresolved grief (anger, bitterness, apathy, avoidance or undeserved distrust of leaders) that could sabotage the work of the new minister. Part of a congregation’s history is the relationship with previous ministers and the implications this has for the new minister’s chances of success, especially for churches who have had a series of short tenures. Interim ministry helps a church become comfortable in its own skin, shape a new identity apart from their relationship with a minister, or perhaps come to grips with unhealthy pattens that have rendered them ineffective in the past.
- Clarifying congregational identity (or church culture) – Identity, or church culture, is the unique personality of a church created by its beliefs, location along the continuum on current issues, history, location, size, leadership, demographics, age groups, and patterns of social interaction. Images for church identity come from a variety of sources such as theological orientation, church size, social location, purpose in ministry, etc. A church’s situation in one of these areas may change, but the church may be slow to adjust to the new reality. For example, the neighborhood around a church may change, or growth may create a shift in member demographics. These factors require forging new identities, but the church may resist needed changes. Identity issues also include congregational orientation toward current topics. While not all churches struggle with issues related to worship assemblies, gender roles, and philosophy of leadership, but many do. It may be helpful to use the interim to achieve greater clarity. A church should avoid being doctrinaire or issue-oriented, but at the same time must convey their orientation with enough clarity to help both them and potential candidates assess fit. One might think that an incoming minister would want to help shape the church’s direction on these issues. It is more likely, however, that the minister would prefer a place where he is already compatible. If a minister candidate perceives significant disagreement among the elders, staff ministers, search committee members or others in the congregation, this is usually unattractive as he considers the prospects of a long-term relationship. For a minister to endure the challenge of moving his entire family into a new situation, he will prefer relative assurance on the eventual outcome of identity issues.
- Allowing needed leadership change – Transitions often signal the need for some stirring among the leadership team or teams. Previous alignments with the departing minister may now be adjusted in anticipation of a new minister. New leaders may also emerge. Within Churches of Christ, there are a number of current issues about leadership functioning. These include: tendency toward collaborative leadership styles, cultural de-emphasis on positional leadership, team organization around administration and shepherding according to gifts, trend toward multiple staff, assigning significant administrative power to deacons, and the role of the preaching minister with staff (lead minister? lead catalyst?). These issues often demand attention during the anxious period after a minister’s departure. They are also intensified when considering how to navigate size transitions and eliminate growth barriers.
- Reaffirming connections to the larger church – The transition period often provides opportunities for a congregation to reaffirm its connection to other congregations. It often involves utilizing the resources of the larger fellowship, perhaps a consultant or key influencers who make minister candidate recommendations. This can expand the church’s awareness of needs and possibilities as they experience how things are done effectively in other places. It can also boost the church’s self-image, as the news of their ministry possibilities spreads among interested parties.
- Commitment to new directions in ministry – This task is one of the ending stages of the transition process, and may be difficult to ascertain while a church is in the midst of a change. It assumes that a church has intentionally gone through the whole process of development, and thus has a new sense of self and a higher degree of confidence and direction. If this is the case, it increases the church’s confidence that the minister chosen fits the needs for the next stage of ministry.
Training and Qualifications
As indicated in my bio, I have been consulting on various aspects of church leadership for over twenty-five years. I am a partner with Hope Network Ministries. Relative to interim ministry, I completed extensive training with The Interim Ministry Network, an international organization that exists solely to equip church leaders to help congregations in transition. They have developed a well-defined three-phase system of training for those interested in church intervention, including supervised practice in interim ministry and/or consultation. I completed all three phases of this training several years ago. This is in addition to twenty years of experience in full-time congregational ministry, extensive graduate education, numerous other certifications, almost three decades of teaching on both undergraduate and graduate levels covering the full range of congregational ministry. These experiences equip me to provide quality interim ministry leadership, empowering congregations to enter into God’s desired future in their time and place.
Options for Interim Assistance
I do interim ministry only among Churches of Christ within a short driving distance (i.e., early Sunday morning) of Nashville, and in situations where I am both the preacher as well as the transitional consultant.
- Interim Preaching – This is a steady pulpit supply. The consistent presence of quality preaching diminishes the perceived need to hire quickly, giving the church time to engage the interim process unhurriedly.
- Transition Consultant – I practice interim ministry and minister search only in situations where I am the regular supply preacher and primary consultant. Through careful conversation and thoughtful process, I work with elders and search teams to address the issues that will help the congregation have the most productive relationship with their next minister.
To request interim ministry services, please contact me.
“I enthusiastically recommend Dr. Carlus Gupton as a consulting interim minister. Our congregation was blessed to begin working with Dr. Gupton in January 2017 and have him preach and work closely with our elders and transition committee in the process until we successfully hired a full time pulpit preacher. He also was instrumental in helping us integrate him into our ministry team. Having served this congregation for over 26 years as an elder, this was my fourteenth hire of a key staff member. This was by far the best hire we have made and was handled most professionally, bathed in prayer and with an engendered spirit of solidarity on the part of the congregation. The success of this hire was due in large part to the godly expertise lent us by Dr.Gupton. HIs experience, expertise and compassion shown to us cannot be overestimated in service to this congregation.” – Dr. Eric P. Dahl, Elder, Oxford Church of Christ, Oxford, MS
“The assistance that Carlus was able to provide our leadership and congregation was extremely valuable. Our congregation was in a transition between preachers and Carlus helped in a multitude of ways. In addition to preaching and teaching, he helped lead the elders through vision and mission statement training to give us better clarity about who we are in our community. He worked very closely with the search committee in helping them create a congregational profile that attracted quality candidates, and advised them along the way in the interview process. I would highly recommend Carlus to any congregation going through a transition or in helping to improve church leadership.” – Dr. Jeffrey McKinley, Elder, Westwood Church of Christ, McMinnville, TN
“For churches who find themselves in some disarray due to loss of a pulpit minister or from other changes in congregational make-up resulting in a loss of purpose and spirit, Dr. Carlus Gupton is uniquely equipped to help. He worked with us for over a year as a consultant, workshop organizer and presenter, and as an interim preacher as we searched for a new permanent minister. With Carlus’ help we secured new minister and a positive, optimistic, and more God-trusting outlook for the future.
At the time Carlus came to help us, the congregation at Lee Acres was certainly in trouble. The commitment to serve God was still present, but we were a small congregation and our numbers were declining. We had just lost the services of our most recent young minister and had experienced an alarming turnover of ministers over the previous several years. Our initial concern was to find a new minister with hopes of a long-term relationship. However, it was readily apparent to all of us that we had multiple congregational problems, many centering around difficulties working with an extremely diverse membership with wide-ranging religious backgrounds and expectations. We were badly in need of some wise counsel as well as encouragement and an infusion of just plain joy and optimism in our plans to bring God’s kingdom into our lives and community.
I feel Carlus helped us in at least three ways. First of all, through a combination of meetings and conferences with the elders and remaining ministerial staff as well as weekend seminars, we reassessed and defined our core beliefs and recommitted ourselves to the unity and loving fellowship which had characterized us in the past. Secondly, Carlus worked seamlessly with the Minister Search Committee. His expertise and contacts as well as his wisdom and advice were of priceless benefit to us. We found a new minister with whom everyone was thrilled. Finally, for our congregation, the continual threat of an empty pulpit and of having to make repeated adjustments and makeshift accommodations in the Sunday morning service was a significant source of anxiety. Carlus endeared himself to the congregation with a steady diet of pertinent, stimulating, entertaining and greatly appreciated Sunday morning sermons and classes. This probably did as much as anything to calm and reassure and unite the congregation. It was nice to know he would be there. Those Sunday morning sermons and classes were a vital part of the progress we were able to make over the past year. For our congregation, the Sunday morning gathering and fellowship still constitutes a core source for a spirit of unity and is a recurring call to recommitment, and forgiveness and charity towards each other. In addition, for many of us, it is the primary stimulus for growth in understanding God’s message and the call of Christ. All of Lee Acres would be glad to recommend Carlus to any other congregation anywhere and anytime.” – Dr. H. Pat Ewing, Elder, Lee Acres Church of Christ, Tupelo, Mississippi
See Other Resources on Ministry Transitions and Interim Ministry:
See Resources in Related Areas:
- Change and Transition
- Church Leadership and Renewal
- Ministry Burnout and Self-Care
- Ministry Ethics
- Ministry Staff, Teams
- Pastoral Theology
- Spiritual Formation