by J. Christian Andrews
October 2, 2017
Reflections on interim ministry
Depending on how you count it, we are three months into our second or third interim pastor assignment. It's three if the fifteen months at an LCMC congregation in south central Minnesota count. It's two if only the AFLC congregations where my wife and I have traveled together count.
Interim ministry...now this is a unique beast. Wait, "beast"? I'm not sure what else to call it. It is not really a beast in the sense of terrifying and awful. It is a beast in that it is quite the challenge to explain and maybe even rationalize. So, or but, I'm going to give it a try.
It's a question I've been asked often: Why interim ministry and not full time ministry? Right now the best I've figured out as an answer is it's what God has laid on my heart for this season of my life.
It all started, I suppose, when we decided (or were led--how does that all work anyway?) to resign from the part time pastor position I had in California and take early retirement from full time teaching at a public school also in California to move to central Minnesota to own and operate a bed and breakfast inn. We knew going in that the first few years might be lean, and we would need to subsidize our income somehow. I signed up to sub at a couple local school districts and put my name in with my national church body to do pulpit supply and interim work if a location close enough to home presented itself.
About six months into our life as innkeepers, I got an invitation to take an interim pastor position in a city of 2000 people 150 miles from home. We worked out an agreement where I would be an interim pastor four days a week and could be home Thursday and Friday nights and check in guests on Saturdays. This job stretched itself into fifteen months but more importantly opened to us the whole concept of full time interim ministry. I had a wonderful experience and believe I was able to provide stability and some direction as the congregation went through the call process.As we balanced this very good pastoral experience and the emerging reality that the town in which we had located to own the B&B was not the right place to make a realistic living in the B&B business, we were led to rethink what it was we were really supposed to be doing. We concluded, after considerable prayer and conversation, that we were in a unique spot in life that would lend itself to this also unique kind of ministry. We were not emotionally attached to our house or the town in which we lived. We don't have children in school. We don't have grandchildren. We loved being close to my parents, but it was not critical that we stay close. We don't mind moving, seeing the country, regularly meeting new people, and making new friends. And, maybe more importantly, we discovered that there is a need.
I understand interim pastoral ministry as a two sided coin (is there any other kind?). One side of the ministry is to provide critical pastoral service and stability for a congregation going through pastoral change. The other side of the ministry is to be available as a sort of consultant through the call process. There are other pieces to the puzzle, but they fit mostly under these two categories. A key component of interim ministry is allowing time for a congregation to deal with the departure of the previous pastor. Whether the previous pastorate ended well or in conflict, there is grieving. Sometimes interim ministry requires intervention that will lead to healing. One of my primary goals is to leave a congregation healthier than when I arrived if that is needed and / or possible. I want the conditions for a successful next pastorate to be as ideal as it is possible for them to be.
It is possible, and in fact highly likely, that much of my heart for interim ministry flows from the less than ideal ways some of my ministry assignments ended. I am convinced that there could have been better outcomes had I been preceded by an interim pastor. I do have a heart for pastors and helping in any way I am able to provide a setting in which they can have a meaningful ministry.
We are discovering that this kind of work does require a great deal of flexibility and adaptability from us. We own very little more than will fit in our two vehicles. We have to be ready to uproot and move almost at a moment's notice. We have to be willing to rely completely on God's timing to have openings available to us as we finish one assignment and become ready to another. As this is only the second of these assignments we have taken together (as husband and wife), we are not yet sure how many more we will be able to handle or how long we will be able to continue to live without having roots. We pray only that we will be faithful to this ministry to which we have been called.