What is Interim Ministry?

Some of you have wondered why do we need an Interim Minister? If my company needs a CEO, they hire a head hunter and we have someone in three months. But a church and a business are not parallel organizations. A church is a unique creation of God to call people to faith in Christ, to make disciples,  to serve those in need, provide care and support for one another, and to worship God. For whatever reason God has chosen the church to be the hands, feet, mouth, eyes and ears of Christ to the world. The bottom line for a church is changed lives.

A church is also a unique gathering of believers, fellow travelers and volunteers who have covenanted together to be the “Body of Christ.” Edwin Friedman, who was an expert on the emotional systems of churches and synagogues, said that faith communities are closest to nuclear families in their behavior and functioning than any other organization. We bring with us the best and the worst of our families of origin and develop “emotional patterns” as a congregation.

Consequently, when a faith community is between installed pastors, many members become highly anxious. One reason for the anxiety is at least a perceived loss of stability and continuity. The community has lost a key leader. Another reason for the anxiety is a fear factor. Members are afraid that attendance will drop, contributions will decrease, and no one will join the community while this position is vacant.

A vital key to a faith community’s healthy movement through this anxious time is the engagement of a person specifically trained to lead congregations in transition. Studies show that some of the most vital times for growth, reflection and renewal are between settled pastors. An interim minister does the same things a settled pastor does: preach, teach, lead, worship, visit the sick, weddings, funerals, baptisms, administration, etc. But an Intentional Interim Minister has another set of tasks as well. Intentional Interim Ministry is a congregational process that examines five areas of health:

  • Heritage—what is our history? How does our DNA affect our ministry today? When have we been at our best and when were their times we could have acted differently? What’s unique about our theological tradition and denomination?
  • Mission—what is God calling us to do and to be? What are we uniquely equipped to do?
  • Leadership—how can we develop our leadership? Are their new leaders that God wants to raise up? Is our current infrastructure best suited for the effective operation of our ministry?
  • Connections—who is our neighbor? Where are the hurts and hopes in Milton? How can we better connect to the United Church of Christ and our interfaith community?
  • Future—how do we prepare for new pastoral leadership? What is our vision? Where do we want our new leader to take us? Do we all have the same expectations for our new pastor? Has a fair compensation package, housing, and a job description been worked out?

The methods of working with these five areas of congregational health are distinct for each faith community. There are no cookie cutter approaches. The work of discernment belongs to the congregation. I am not going to come in with a top down approach and say, “Here, eat this. It’s good for you.” I will be more of a coach and consultant, asking probing questions, looking at and suggesting possibilities, and celebrating good work. We will be doing what I call “action/reflection.” The interim time is a time to experiment and to try some new things. We then reflect upon it. What worked, what didn’t? What shall we keep and what shall we discard?

In the months ahead I will be putting together a Transition Team of people who will be my counselors and helpers to suggest the best ways to gather information and promote discussion. We’ll have some all church activities either after worship or at a potluck on a Saturday or Sunday evening. We’ll have small groups, house meetings, and whatever ways we can think of to discern where God is leading us. I guarantee they will be fun, creative, and revealing.

Engaging in this reflective process will help FCCM answer three important questions: Who are we? (Identity, Core Values, Bedrock beliefs), Who is our neighbor? (Discovering the hopes and hurts of Milton and matching those need with our assets), and What is God calling us to be and to do? (Vision for the future, what is our unique calling?)

I invite you to join me in prayer for openness, creativity, wisdom and joy as we prepare for a rich and fruitful time of reflection and discovery!

About Norman Bendroth

Norman Bendroth is a Professional Transition Specialist certified by the Interim Ministry Network. He has served as a settled pastor in two United Church of Christ congregations and as a Sr. Interim pastor in seven other UCC congregations. He was also an executive for three different non-profit agencies. He has had additional training in Mediation Skills for Church Leaders from the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and training in Appreciative Inquiry from the Clergy Leadership Institute. Rev. Bendroth has the M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and his D. Min. from Andover Newton Theological school where he concentrated on theology and systems theory. He is married to Peggy Bendroth and has two adopted Amerasian children.
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