The interim pastor has a tremendous opportunity to work with church leaders to address many of the issues that can be hazardous for the next permanent pastor. One of the most important questions an interim pastor can ask is, “How can I set the next guy up for success?”
Several key areas will create an environment conducive to long term ministry. The idea is to prevent burnout for the pastor who follows.
Negotiate the pastor’s Sabbath rest
Very few pastors schedule regular time away from church work in their ministry plan. They can easily neglect to set time aside for rest and renewal. Interim pastors perform an invaluable service by negotiating Sabbaticals for the pastor.
Some churches have begun to see the value of this. Others still believe it is nothing more than a glorified vacation. They find it difficult to swallow paying for it.
Help the church board understand that pastors have a hard time caring for themselves. Explain that there is a huge return on investment. When a pastor is directed to spend extended, focused time with the Lord, without the pull of ministry demands, he is set up to sustain his ministry for many years. A pastor who is regularly given protected time to restore his own soul will be more resistant to burnout. He will serve with more energy and compassion.
Clarify expectations and roles
Interim pastors must accomplish a second task. In addition to negotiating the pastor’s Sabbath rest, you must work through the church’s stated and unstated expectations for its pastor. This goes beyond the bullet points of a job description.
Many pastors arrive at their new church only to find themselves caught in the buzz saw of unwritten expectations – roles he is expected to fill because the previous pastor did. Guiding church leaders to talk about the full scope of the new pastor’s tasks opens the door for honest evaluation. Are these realistic and biblical expectations? Are they appropriate for this incoming pastor?
We acknowledge that no two persons are alike, but we unthinkingly expect that the things we have become used to and comfortable with will continue when a new leader arrives on the scene.
Identify potential vision and leadership conflicts
Many new pastors will set out to cast their own vision for the church. This can lead to serious conflict with leaders and congregants. Often, churches simply want to get back to the “glory days,” when everyone felt good about who they were as a church body. Getting these feelings and unspoken goals on the table prior to a new pastor coming on board can prevent a host of problems, such as disappointment, anger, and suspicion.
The interim can pave the way to a smoother transition by helping the church leaders identify the things they believe the church stands for and should be doing. This should be conveyed to the new pastor when he is presented as a candidate for the position.
There are three things an intentional interim pastor can do to set the stage for the next pastor’s success. Interim pastors have the unique privilege of bringing healing to hurting congregations. They also have the unique opportunity to be like Jonathan, for David, by preparing the way for the one who comes next.