The Role of an Interim Pastor: How to Help a Church Through the Process of Change in Pastoral Leadership

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The Role of an Interim Pastor: How to Help a Church Through the Process of Change in Pastoral Leadership

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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.

James K's picture
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While this is interesting

While this is interesting speculation, there is no such thing in the NT as an interim pastor. The concept is not found. The elders of a church (no such thing as just one) are supposed to be discipling the next generation to be prepared for leadership. The church that does not do that is failing at such an obvious function. There is no such thing as a pastoral search committee or pulpit committee in scripture.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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James K wrote: While this is

James K wrote:
While this is interesting speculation, there is no such thing in the NT as an interim pastor. The concept is not found. The elders of a church (no such thing as just one) are supposed to be discipling the next generation to be prepared for leadership. The church that does not do that is failing at such an obvious function. There is no such thing as a pastoral search committee or pulpit committee in scripture.

The article isn't speculation. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica for a short time of emergency ministry. While elders aren't mentioned in the Thessalonican epistles, it is likely that the church at Thessalonica had elders since ordaining elders was Paul's habit. This means that Paul felt that the needs of the church went beyond what they were capable to manage. Now, maybe you are in a situation where that would never be the case, but that might still be the case of many churches today, even those that do have multiple elders. So do not criticize those churches that may need an interim pastor.

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I am willing to guess that

I am willing to guess that apostolic appointments (never calls Timothy or Titus an elder in the churches) were a one time thing. In fact, it was their duty to appoint elders. Your argument doesn't hold water. It is all speculative.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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You can wave your magic wand

You can wave your magic wand and wish away the biblical evidence, but it is there. Of course, in the first generation of the church, men like Timothy and Titus would have been sent by an apostle. So, since we don't have apostles today to make such appointments, a church today can't get temporary help from someone coming in from the outside? That is a riduculous conclusion to come to, and, again, an unbiblical conclusion to draw since first century churches with elders did receive help from outside men when they were faced with threats and problems they were not spirtually able to handle. You can criticize such churches today that might need outside help. You can say they have failed at something they should have been doing, nevertheless, if they need help, and God has provided a man who can give the temporary help they need then that man should come along side the church to give them the help and guidance they might need. Giving that help is biblical, not speculative!

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"You can wave your magic wand

"You can wave your magic wand and wish away the biblical evidence, but it is there."

And yet you give none.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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The biblical evidence is that

The biblical evidence is that Paul sent Timothy to strengthen a weak church, the church at Thessalonica.

You are talking out of both sides of your mouth. On one hand, you insist that church polity today must be exactly what we find in the first century, nothing more and nothing less. But when an apostle sent someone to serve a church in need, you say that was an apostolic thing and can't be repeated today.

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That isn't both sides

That isn't both sides Jonathan. That recognizes that Paul sending Timothy is not something that even can be duplicated. It was an exceptional event. Hope that clears that up for you.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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I don't need anything cleared

I don't need anything cleared up. What is clear:

1. There was a church in need. It wasn't capable of providing for itself what it needed, spiritually.

2. God brought a man alongside it to help it for a while.

It makes no difference that Paul sent the man in the first century or that a church might reach out to BBC for the similar kind of help today. The essential thing is that it is ok for churches that find themselves in need that are beyond their ability to meet to reach out for someone to come alongside them and help. You can be critical that they shouldn't be in the situation they find themselves in, nevertheless if they need such help, there is biblical precedent for getting it from someone who will have only a short-term ministry.

Hope that clears things up for you.

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Jonathan, it is fine that

Jonathan, it is fine that pragmatism dictates your position on that. If you can't post some actual biblical evidence that an interim pastor exists, this will be my final post. Thanks for the discussion.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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1 Thessalonians 3:2. You can

1 Thessalonians 3:2. You can get your kicks out of denigrating a church that is in desperate need of outside help by calling such help pragmatic. But this kind of help is, as a matter of fact, biblical.

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Fine Jonathan, you have found

Fine Jonathan, you have found an example of an apostolic appointment to help out the Thessalonian church. Since you can't actually post any support for such a thing to happen again today, I will take this as a concession that pragmatism rules your position on this issue.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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James K wrote: While this is

James K wrote:
While this is interesting speculation, there is no such thing in the NT as an interim pastor. The concept is not found. The elders of a church (no such thing as just one) are supposed to be discipling the next generation to be prepared for leadership. The church that does not do that is failing at such an obvious function. There is no such thing as a pastoral search committee or pulpit committee in scripture.

Is it your contention here that because we do not find an interim pastor in the NT that we are not to utilize any such position? Are we not to have any committees at all since committees are not in Scripture? Should we not have Sunday School or Vacation Bible Time either? I'm just wondering how far you take your "no such thing in the NT" position.

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Kevin, our churches are

Kevin, our churches are conditioned to think that when a pastor is "called" to another church, that a committee of some form must be sent out or whatever to find a new pastor. In the meantime, an interim is probably needed.

Where is any of that in the NT? Where is the indication that a church becomes handicapped if one man leaves? The whole notion of interim is failure cleverly disguised. What has the pastor been doing all this time in the church? Has he not been discipling men to be leaders in the church?

So instead of doing the biblical thing, churches mask their failure by hiring a temp preacher.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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James K wrote: Kevin, our

James K wrote:
Kevin, our churches are conditioned to think that when a pastor is "called" to another church, that a committee of some form must be sent out or whatever to find a new pastor. In the meantime, an interim is probably needed.

Where is any of that in the NT? Where is the indication that a church becomes handicapped if one man leaves? The whole notion of interim is failure cleverly disguised. What has the pastor been doing all this time in the church? Has he not been discipling men to be leaders in the church?

So instead of doing the biblical thing, churches mask their failure by hiring a temp preacher.


Not every church is going to have someone in their membership who is in the position to take over the pastorate should the current pastor leave. Is that what you believe to be the only Biblical option for a church? Most of my own church life has been spent in churches with less than 100 members. At my last church, we had less than 40 members. I was Sunday School superintendent, youth leader, Awana commander, and financial secretary all at the same time, so my pastor didn't fail to disciple me to be a leader, but I was not in a position to become the next pastor when that pastor left. I took over the songleading and the Wednesday evening services, but we hired an interim pastor while we searched for a permanent one. I totally disagree that such a situation represented a failure of some kind on the part of my church.

You also failed to answer my previous question regarding whether committees of any kind should not be used by churches since committees do not appear in the New Testament.

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Kevin, instead of coming up

Kevin, instead of coming up with the best solution to a bad problem, what I am talking about removes the problem.

My point isn't for or against committees. It is against the thinking that when the pastor no longer is the pastor for whatever reason, some group needs to go outside the church to hire a temp.

It is better to focus on how to avoid the problem and help people think along those lines.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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stop the arguing!

This thread should be deleted Iif it doesn't begin to show signs of "light" instead of "heat". It's not edifying at all. How many things we do today that may not have "PROOF texts" but do have PRINCIPLE texts. I came to a church that had an interim pastor who was very helpful. Don't have to prove that he should have been asked to come. He, as an older retired pastor shared tons of advice to the church (and to the incoming pastor). We could get into arguing many other church practices-but I'll bet (uh, oh--"betting"?) they'd just end up being preference issues AGAIN!
Right now I'm undergoing some throat treatments. We have an assistant pastor. We have a a retired pastor in the church too. But when we discussed who would preach this Sunday our deacons were scared-but-willing to step up if needed. Could we put together a preacher/teacher training program for our laymen? Sure. Does scripture require that? 2 Tim. 2:2--but is that just "faithful men who will TEACH others..."? Argh!

gdwightlarson

"You can be my brother without being my twin."

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Kevin, You completely fail to

Kevin,

You completely fail to take into account the normal life growth cycles of the local church. Because a qualified pastoral candidate is not immediately available the moment a pulpit vacancy appears, you judge the church and the pastor failures, derelict in their biblical duties.

Perhaps the faithful pastor has faithfully discipled a faithfully growing church. Perhaps they have raised up numerous faithful ministers over the years who are scattered abroad in the body as pastors and missionaries. Perhaps they have just sent out the most recent "success" story in the last 6 months when the pastor is suddenly, and unexpectedly, called home to glory. Perhaps the sudden, Providential circumstances leaves a number of disciples part way through the discipleship process, headed for future vocational ministry but not presently ready to step into that role. Who is the failure here?

This is only one possible scenario that defies your evaluation. What would you have them do? Should they shut the doors? Should they install an unqualified pastor? Or should they seek help from an interim pastor while looking to call another permanent minister? You make no sense brother.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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Chip, I assume your post

Chip, I assume your post meant me instead of Kevin. If so, none of what you are saying or any of your scenarios have anything at all to do with what I am saying.

First, it is a problem for any church to have only one guy who can fill the pulpit, much less the other duties. What a shame and a blight on that church.

The NT never limits a church to single elder, ever. Elders are always spoken of in the plural.

Second, if a church does only have one elder (obvious problem at the start), deacons are supposed to be men full of wisdom. How full of wisdom are they really if they can't open the word to people?

Third, the mentality that the pastor is in some form of professional position is false as well. You don't have to think of him as a CEO after a business model to still think of the pastorate as the presidency.

Even if only one elder is paid, other elders are to be in the church. They might be a lawyer or manager or janitor.

The interim pastor concept is a bandaid. It is the best pragmatic solution for a problem created from a bad model.

The church is supposed to have men who don't fumble the word, who are wise, who have a heart to seek growth in others. If the church lacks such men, then their failure is even more accentuated.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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James K wrote: Chip, I assume

James K wrote:
Chip, I assume your post meant me instead of Kevin. If so, none of what you are saying or any of your scenarios have anything at all to do with what I am saying.

Yup - sorry about that.

James K wrote:
First, it is a problem for any church to have only one guy who can fill the pulpit, much less the other duties. What a shame and a blight on that church.

Why? Because you think there should be multiple elders?

James K wrote:
The NT never limits a church to single elder, ever. Elders are always spoken of in the plural.

True, it doesn't limit the number of elders. You do understand that not everyone agrees (including myself) that the plural use of the word elder in Scripture necessitates an understanding of multiple elders in each church, right? Are you saying the lack of a limit=a command for multiples? So, a church lacking multiple elders is violating Scripture?

James K wrote:
Second, if a church does only have one elder (obvious problem at the start), deacons are supposed to be men full of wisdom. How full of wisdom are they really if they can't open the word to people?

Deacons are vastly different in role and function than pastors. Furthermore, they are not required to be apt to teach. Their presence should help i finding a new pastor, but does not necessarily qualify them to fill in for the pastor.

James K wrote:
Third, the mentality that the pastor is in some form of professional position is false as well. You don't have to think of him as a CEO after a business model to still think of the pastorate as the presidency.

Don't understand the point you are trying to make here regarding the present discussion.

James K wrote:
Even if only one elder is paid, other elders are to be in the church. They might be a lawyer or manager or janitor.

As I said before, not universally accepted.

James K wrote:
The interim pastor concept is a bandaid. It is the best pragmatic solution for a problem created from a bad model.

I don't think you've proven this point yet, just remade previous assertions.

James K wrote:
The church is supposed to have men who don't fumble the word, who are wise, who have a heart to seek growth in others. If the church lacks such men, then their failure is even more accentuated.

Which comes back to the scenario I presented earlier. No failure there. Your supposition is invalid.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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Chip, here is my first point:

Chip, here is my first point: there is no such thing in a NT church as an interim pastor. The reason being is because there was no need for one. Each church did have multiple elders. Elders are not simply spoken of in the plural, but in every example of setting up a church, multiple elders were put in place, never only one. You don't have to agree with that. That is what the NT declares objectively though.

Acts 11:30
And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
(greek word for elder here is presbyteros – a ruling council)

Acts 14:23
When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23 and 16:4
And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue…When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them…The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter…Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, …and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings…Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.

Acts 20:17
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.

Acts 20:28
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Acts 21:18
And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

Philippians 1:1
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons

I Thess 5:12-13
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

I Timothy 5:17
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

Titus 1:5
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you

James 5:14
Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord

1 Peter 5:1-2
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness

Hebrews 13:7
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

In light of 2 Tim 2 and others, you don't find it to be problematic that a church only has one qualified man to teach the scripture? Perhaps that is your problem is seeing the problem with an interim pastor. The shepherd leaves and the sheep are left to wander. How tragic. Unless you can actually demonstrate from the NT that:

a. interim pastors exist
b. a church should only have one qualified guy to teach

I will have to take your objections as merely pragmatic as well and not biblically thought out. I look forward to a thoughtful discussion if you choose demonstrate either of the above.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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James K wrote:Fine Jonathan,

James K wrote:
Fine Jonathan, you have found an example of an apostolic appointment to help out the Thessalonian church. Since you can't actually post any support for such a thing to happen again today, I will take this as a concession that pragmatism rules your position on this issue.

??? Many churches today have multiple elders today because it happened in the first century church. A church today can get temporary pastoral leadership because it also happened in the first century church. 1 Thessalonians 3:2 is clear on what was provided to a church in need. You have not stated any Scriptural reason why the kind of help described in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 shouldn't be given to a church today. Since you cannot give any reason why the help of 1 Thessalonians 3:2 should not be given today, I will take this as a concession that your view on temporary pastoral leadership is not based on the authority of the Scriptures.

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James, I think biblical

James, I think biblical evidence is in favor of the multiple elder position, and serve on staff on a church that has multiple elders (vocational and lay). But the evidence is not so cut and dried as you indicate.

Titus 1:5 is key: "Ordain elders in every city..."

When Paul wrote letters, he wrote them to the "church (singular) in [name of city ]." And yet we also know that Christians met in multiple homes in the city, and each gathering was also called a "church" (singular).

So it's obvious that each city's church had multiple elders, but what is not so clear is whether each house had multiple elders. For someone who argues so strenuously that Paul's instruction to Timothy to assist a church doesn't apply to us because Paul was an apostle, you need to be careful not to read the contemporary church situation back into the NT.

The most we can dogmatically assert is that there should be multiple elders among the churches that meet in each particular city. Whether each individual church in that city MUST have multiple elders is less clear (although HSAT, I think multiple elders is preferable).

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James K's picture
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Greg, this wasn't set up as

Greg, this wasn't set up as an argument for multiple elders. What I am opposed to is an interim pastor. The concept is just not supported anywhere except in pragmatism. See Jonathan's posts for proof of an argument in pragmatism and lacking in any scriptural support.

Timothy was an apostolic emissary. He wasn't sent to be the pastor of a church. He was sent to appoint elders. That is what he went there for.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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Okay, I thought of an

Okay, I thought of an example. John Piper takes a leave of absence and Bethlehem Baptist continued on. The other elders weren't looking around clueless with their finger in their nose. They kept doing what elders are supposed to do.

Where are the other men in these churches that feel like they need to outsource the work? Are they really that immature, weak, and/or inept?

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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James, I think you have a

James, I think you have a point. I don't think interim pastors are sinful or unbiblical, but you do have a point.

I just wish you could make it in a less caustic and argumentative way.

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James K wrote: Timothy was an

James K wrote:
Timothy was an apostolic emissary. He wasn't sent to be the pastor of a church. He was sent to appoint elders. That is what he went there for.

I don't deny that Timothy was an apostolic emissary, but you have not written anything convincing as to why if Paul helped out a church in the first century by providing temporary pastoral leadership why a church today could not get that same help. Such help is clearly biblical, it is not a pragmatic response to a need.

I agree that the ideal situation is that every church be spiritually mature and able to manage its spiritual needs after the loss of any leader, but many N.T. churches failed to live up to what they ideally should have been, and many churches today do as well.

That you take 1 Thessalonians 3:2 and confine it to the first century allowing it to have no timeless application for the church today is, as far as I am concerned, an irresponsible and unedifying way of handling Scripture. What you have written thus far amounts to: "If it was done by an apostle and they did not clearly state that we can follow their example then it isn't for us today."

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Where does 1 Thessalonians 3

Where does 1 Thessalonians 3 say that Timothy went to Thessalonica to appoint elders?????

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Tue, 7/21/09
Posts: 63
Greg Long wrote: I just wish

Greg Long wrote:
I just wish you could make it in a less caustic and argumentative way.

Very wise counsel! I would imagine God is just as concerned with the content and tone of what we post, as He is conserned about whether an Interim Pastor is Biblically allowed.

Serving the Savior, Pastor Wes Helfenbein 2 Cor. 5:17