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A Vision for Interim Ministry

Interim Ministry occurs when a unique period in the life of a congregation is met by acts of ministry especially focused upon the characteristics of that period.

An Interim Minister is a person who knows himself/herself called to ministry and who is also trained to focus the general skills of ministry on the unique leadership needs of a brief interim in congregational life.

Examples of Interim Ministry Opportunities

Most often interim events occur in congregational life in times of pastoral change. It is said that the greatest crisis in the life of a congregation is occasioned by a change of pastoral leadership. Four general types of changes occur:

  1. Choice: The pastor’s decision to retire other than at Annual Conference, accept another position (teach, chaplain, connectional position, etc.) at an untimely moment in the year, or any voluntary decision to remove oneself from that pastoral position.
  2. Circumstances: The pastor’s sudden death, a health crisis requiring that he/she cease functioning as pastor, or other disabling circumstances in the life of the pastor or family.
  3. Crisis: Pastoral misconduct, a decision to surrender credentials, or other sudden or mid-year removal from office.
  4. Conditions within the congregation: Either long-standing unhealthy congregational life, the emergence of a new set of conditions, or the dawning realization that something must be done to address circumstances which impede the ministry of this congregation may prompt actions to bring specialized leadership for an interval of time.

Training Persons to be Interim Ministers

While both lay and clergy leaders may furnish interim leadership in circumstances such as those identified above, the training will focus first upon clergy.

The Intentional Growth Center (IGC) has developed a training opportunity for clergy who have shown an aptitude for and interest in the specialized ministry of Interim Ministers.

The training focuses upon the development of skills useful in interim situations and equips these persons with specific tools that they may find useful in this leadership. These include:

  1. Identification of Interim Ministry as a unique and specialized ministry that United Methodist pastors may undertake.
  2. A period of self-examination of one’s own experiences in ministry to see how this specialized ministry is a natural outgrowth of effective general ministry, now brought to focus upon interim work.
  3. Techniques for identifying the unique history of a congregation for the sake of identifying strengths upon which to build and dimensions of its life which may be working to limit its effectiveness.
  4. Exercises to assist a congregation in learning its identity within the community so that it may own that identity or focus upon reshaping it in light of its mission.
  5. Learning ways to affirm the leadership that already exists in a congregation, empower emerging leaders, and prepare it to appreciate the gift both of experienced and new leadership.
  6. Reminders of the value of United Methodism’s connectional life in times of change and identification of ways to help congregations in transition to capitalize upon this gift.
  7. Claiming the promise of the future as the arena in which all congregational life and ministry will take place and a resolve to live both in and toward that future.
  8. Internalizing the promises of Interim Ministry by personal commitment, the claiming of peer support, and involvement in further training in the skills needed for this specialized ministry.

This training will take place in a three-phase experience. Phases one and three are each 3 or 4 day seminars in residence at the IGC center or selected sites throughout the Church in groups of 15-20 persons. Phase two will be directed work in one’s own ministry setting following goals and guidelines developed during phase one.

Selection and Support of Trainees

While the Intentional Growth Center both develops and conducts training events for persons preparing to become Interim Ministers, it is preferred that candidates for this training be selected by Bishops and Cabinets of the Annual Conferences. This will enable those responsible for the deployment of clergy to identify persons with unique gifts for such specialized leadership and those for whom specialized training may open new doors.

Ideally Bishops and Superintendents will select such persons, support their enrollment in the training events, and help these persons see potential opportunities both within their home Conferences and in the Church in general.

One ideal candidate is the experienced pastor approaching retirement who may be recruited for short-term service, particularly in mid-year openings with the promise of offering transitional leadership that is far more than pulpit supply.

Another ideal candidate is the pastor who has shown a particular gift at shortterm (one or two years) pastoral assignments who may be helped to develop specialized skills to maximize such a natural tendency to move often.

A third ideal candidate is the one whose pastoral skills have become dated due to infrequent real renewal but who may be motivated by the promise of becoming a “specialist” to undertake real renewal and retooling which can transform a ministry that has grown dull.

A fourth ideal candidate is one who desires to continue to reside in an area close to many churches and who by developing skills for short-term service can renew the spirit of itinerancy without a change of residence.

Personal aptitudes and skills should also enter into the process of selection. Adequate ego strength, a love for the challenge of problem-solving, the ability to prepare the congregation for the leadership of another, the ability to connect with a new congregation readily and exit gracefully, and an established comfort with and commitment to United Methodist polity and routines are among the most desired “gifts and graces” of Interim Ministers.

This article is reproduced with permission from the Intentional Growth Center.

The Intentional Growth Center has a 28 year history of providing continuing education experiences in the work of ministry for both lay and clergy leaders of the Church. Its founders chartered IGC to be both ecumenical and national in its focus. IGC is located at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina but conducts training events throughout the nation.

To learn more about Interim Ministry Training Seminars or for further information about Interim Ministry in general, contact Rev. Dr. Jan Hill, Coordinator for Intentional Interim Ministry Training at the Intentional Growth Center at janhill@intentionalgrowthcenter.orgor call 800-482-1442.

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