Interim pastors play vital role in pastoral transition process

Michael Smith

Former Converge Content Specialist

  • Church strengthening

When a pastor announces he is leaving or retiring, the church often wants to find his successor as soon as possible. Not so fast, according to Tom Harris, executive director of Interim Pastor Ministries (IPM).

One option is to quickly replace the pastor with someone already on staff, most likely an associate pastor. That can be a mistake, Harris said.

He said it’s beneficial for a church not to immediately go from one well-tenured pastor to a permanent replacement, unless there’s an obvious person, and it’s at a church that has a big enough pool of associates, including one who has been mentored intentionally.

Harris thinks it’s difficult for an associate who has never been the senior leader at a church to be a successful lead pastor.

“They’ve never practiced the leadership of an entire church. They’ve never really managed, hired and fired staff or supervised them, have never displayed that they have the unique gravitas to work with staff by befriending them but also by being their supervisor,” he said.

Harris said churches commonly fear that there will be a lull if they don’t get a new pastor right away. “We don’t want churches to lull; we want them to leap during their transition.”

More than just someone who fills the pulpit on weekends, according to Harris, a successful intentional interim pastor is:

  • Godly. “And I mean godly in prayer, Bible-based and models evangelism, discipleship and core Christian values.”
  • Skilled. “He has studied, learned and been coached in special skills to help a church address the most common issues in transition, but also to help a church that’s going through particular stresses. A lot of times those elephants in the room have been there — they just weren’t dealt with. Transition is a beautiful time to deal with the elephant in the room so that the next person comes into a well-prepared church where that elephant doesn’t come out of the rug and stomp them.”
  • Strategic. “They understand how to steward each month they’re there and what needs to be accomplished to prepare the church for its future.”

Harris points out the differences between a traditional interim pastor and an intentional interim pastor, such as those IPM provides. Interim pastors do all the jobs of a pastor, while intentional interims do all the jobs of a pastor, plus they lead the church in evaluating its health, address any longstanding tasks/issues that haven’t been dealt with and help clarify the church’s mission, vision, values and future. This helps set up the next pastor for success.

“We don’t want the church to drop the baton, and some churches come to the passing of the baton, and they’re running really strong,” Harris said.

“If a church has great momentum, an intentional interim pastor can continue to move the church in that direction and even make it better. If momentum is lagging, the interim pastor will evaluate why it is lagging. Why aren’t people being saved, built up in the faith and sent out? What can the interim pastor do to prepare the church to embrace a new pastor who can lead them in a great gospel ministry?”

One intentional interim pastor is using his godly wisdom, skills and strategic abilities to help a Converge PacWest church come together to move the ministry forward.

“I have a strong partnership with John Strubhar, IPM interim at Kingsburg First Baptist,” said David Yetter, Converge PacWest executive minister. “After doing extensive interviews, John is aggressively pursuing reconciliation where fractured relationships exist. I’m grateful for John’s cooperative and collaborative spirit.”

Interim Pastor Ministries is a Converge partner.

Michael Smith, Former Converge Content Specialist

Michael Smith served as a content specialist for Converge from 2018-2021.

Additional articles by Michael Smith