Reprinted with permission from Paraklesis Fall 2010.
When I came to BBS in 1998, after 20 years in pastoral ministry, I had no doubt God was leading me here. I was looking forward to being part of a team shaping a new generation of men to be servant-leaders for the church.
I enjoyed the ministry God gave me as a pastor, especially opportunities to get close to people, be involved in discipleship, and see a body of believers grow in their walk with and service to God. So when I approached the time for a change in ministry and focus I wondered: Would I miss being a pastor? The answer was “yes,” but God answered the longing in my heart with a great opportunity to combine my new role with continuing involvement in local church pastoral ministry: the role of being an interim pastor to churches going through the process of a change in pastoral leadership.
Soon after coming to BBS I learned a church I had previously served was losing their pastor. The deacons asked me to serve as interim pastor and assist them in the coming search process.
What a fantastic opportunity. I was able to go back to a church body I loved and assist them for nine months in areas that would help the church grow and prepare for their next pastor. Once this church cleared that process, which culminated in the calling of a new pastor, I found there were many churches going through similar circumstances.
Through the Church Relations Department at BBC&S and assistance from church fellowship leaders in various states, other contacts were made with churches needing similar assistance.
I studied to see how the early New Testament church developed leaders to serve during times of change. This led me to develop Paraklesis Interim Pastoral Ministries, a program assisting churches going through this unique period. The ministry provides Bible-believing churches without a lead pastor with an intentional interim pastor. The intent is to provide a temporary undershepherd for the church who can “comfort, exhort, and come alongside” in a paraklesis ministry, as Paul did in Acts 9:31.
Over the last 12 years, I have had the privilege of serving nine different churches in an interim role. It has been a joy to connect with believers in these churches, see God use this time to deepen their commitment, and learn many lessons, some of which I’ve included here.
Benefits of an Interim Pastor
- Regular, consistent expository preaching every Sunday, allowing consistent feeding of the flock. This also “unburdens” the church leadership of the extra time needed to secure speakers.
- Consulting services as an advisor/mentor to the deacons/search committee in the process, protocol, and resources needed for a successful search.
- Outside, impartial perspective for church health and growth through a godly, experienced pastor.
The Role of an Interim Pastor
Each church may have differing needs and situations, so the actual functions should be discussed and agreed upon with the church leadership during an initial Consultation Appointment.
- Plan for preaching each week at the morning and/ or evening services. The interim pastor can also take responsibility for securing a qualified speaker for any Sunday he is unavailable.
- Meet as an advisor/mentor with the church staff and/or deacons, on a monthly basis, or as otherwise needed.
- Serve as a consultant with the search committee, on a monthly basis or as needed, to assist in the process, protocol, and resources needed to successfully secure a new lead pastor.
- Help develop congregational trust and confidence in the church leadership team during the interim period.
- Assist in refining church mission, organization, and vision, as well as with conflict resolution and emergency counseling situations as these needs arise and as desired by leadership. This can also involve working with the church through change by helping it to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and preparing for any needed changes.
- Attend or give leadership to meetings on Sundays and/or as desired by the church.
What Functions Does an Interim Pastor Usually Not Cover?
In some cases, the interim pastor may not be able to provide functions or leadership in the following areas:
- Leading a mid-week service. This time can be a good opportunity for other church staff and/or deacons to lead times of informal Bible study and/or prayer.
- Teaching a regular Sunday school class.
- Long term counseling relationships, including pre-marital counseling.
The interim pastor should enter into a service agreement with the church through the written invitation/contract of the Deacons or other authorized officers. The appointment should be announced publicly to the congregation to provide consistent communication.
The beginning of the term of the interim pastor should be clearly understood and designated at the time of the initial Consultation Appointment, and his term will continue until such time as the church secures a new lead pastor.
Making it Work
Even during a time when a church is without a pastor, God should be glorified through a unified, edified, and serving body of believers.
When I begin a new ministry, I often include some teaching on the subjects of priorities of a local church from Christ’s perspective (Revelation 2-3); God’s blueprint for a pastor and his combined role of episkopos-bishop; presbuteros-elder; poimen-shepherd (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5; John 10)); one-anothering passages from the New Testament that emphasize our responsibilities in our relationships to each other in the body of Christ; pursuing lost people for Christ (personal and corporate evangelism); and a theology of biblical change for churches. I also continue to remind the church of some great promises that Jesus Christ, the head of the church, made directly to the church: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16); “…Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it…” (Ephesians 5); “He (Christ) is the head of the church…” (Colossians 1); “I am the good shepherd (pastor), and I know my sheep…” (John 10).
Churches enter a time after their pastor has gone with uncertainty, confusion, and even fear. They need someone to model the love of the Good Shepherd and Head of the Church, reminding them He will never let them down and, in fact, He already knows who their next undershepherd will be.
Dr. Lee Kliewer is Assistant Seminary Dean, Registrar and Director of the DMin program at Baptist Bible Seminary. He joined the administrative team of Baptist Bible Seminary in July, 1998, after serving in pastoral ministry for 20 years. Contact information here.