What is Interim Ministry and How Does It Work?

People frequently ask me what is an interim minister and what do they do? Interim ministry is relatively new in the United Methodist Church and just started aa couple of decades ago.  In the past, in the United Methodist process of appointing pastors, often the successor arrived the very day the departing pastor moved out. Because there was no interval of time between pastors, no interim pastor was needed. 

However, the General Conference of 1996 placed the term Interim Minister in the Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline reads, Par. 338.3: 

Interim appointments may be made to charges that have special transitional needs. 

a) Interim clergy may serve outside the annual conference where membership is held under the provisions of paragraph 337.1, with approval and consent of the bishops involved. 

b) Interim appointments will be for a specified length of time, established in advance following consultation with the district superintendent, the pastor parish relations committee, and the interim pastor. 

So why do we need interim ministers anyway?

The ideal of pastoral transitions in the UMC is similar to running the mile relay race in the Olympic Games. A baton is passed from each runner to the next, in full stride, never missing a beat. So the total race is run more efficiently by multiple runners than could be achieved by any one runner. That’s fine, unless the baton is mishandled—not passed at the right time or within the prescribed space–or dropped. 

And it can happen in pastoral changes, too. The “opening” comes at the wrong time. The “right” successor is not presently available. The church is so wounded by the circumstances creating the opening that healing time will be required before it can fully embrace the leadership of a regularly appointed pastor. 

An interim minister, sometimes called a TIIMS, a Transitional Intentional-Interim Ministry Specialist, is an experienced, mature, United Methodist pastor trained for the specialized ministry of the interim time. He/she is appointed by the bishop “for a specified length of time, established in advance” to lead the congregation in a time of healing and renewal as its wounds heal and it prepares for a new day in its life with a new pastor, yet to be appointed. 

Interim Ministry is a far-cry from simply “pulpit supply!” Supply is akin to just keeping the doors open so the congregation still worships during a transitional time. Interim Ministry is a time of analyzing the wounds and hurts of a church and leading it to face or deal with these with the clearly stated goal of bringing new congregational health and a return to vital ministry in the community. 

Transitional Intentional Interim Ministry Specialists are NOT supply pastors. We are NOT filling a pulpit. We are specialists serving for a specific period of time with specific ministerial tasks.

Our functions are suggested by each of the words in our title:

Transitional– One function is to bring the church from wherever it is to a new, hopeful and creative place in ministry. Part of our job is to move the church to a new place in preparation for its next pastor and to help it through that transition.

Intentional- We enter into a church with four specific formative tasks:

1. Identity: To help the church see its identity realistically.

2. Direction: To guide the church in discerning God’s leading for the church.                                

3. Leadership: To equip the church’s changing leadership.

4. Connection: To strengthen the church’s denominational connection.

The only pressure we allow ourselves is completing these tasks in the allotted time.

Interim- We are here to serve for a limited period of time with a specific beginning and ending date.

Ministry- What we do is every bit as important and essential to the church as the generalist in ministry, the local pastor. However, our tasks are limited, time bounded and specific.

Specialist- What we do is highly specialized ministry. We are very intentional and specialized in our tasks of ministry for a designated period of time, helping churches transition from whatever their situation is now to a new situation.

Probably the most helpful way to think of us is as specialists.  If you needed heart surgery you wouldn’t go to a general practitioner.  You would want a heart specialist with skills in heart surgery.  Sometimes churches need interims who are specially trained to help churches through transitions to come to terms with their history, their identity, their changing leaders during the transition, their connections with the conference and their hopes for the future.  That’s where interims can be helpful.  Part of their effectiveness comes in knowing that they are only temporary and will only be serving in the interim between regular pastors.

Another helpful way of thinking of us is as backup quarterbacks.  When the quarterback is injured or incapacitated in some way a back up quarterback can play a vital role in helping the team to win the game.  A few years ago, the importance of a well trained, capable  backup quarterback was dramatically demonstrated in an Orange Bowl game between Texas and Alabama when Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was injured.  Unfortunately, Texas really didn’t have a well trained, capable backup quarterback in the freshman who was sent in to replace McCoy and the game became a rout by Alabama after that. Interim ministers like backup quarterbacks can play a vital role in helping congregations to become equipped and ready for their new pastor.

I love interim ministry and know God has called me to this specialized area of ministry.  I consider it a privilege to work with you and ask that you pray for me as we work together through the four formative tasks in preparation for your new pastor. 

In Joyful Service,