Six Reasons the Role of Interim Pastor Is Changing Dramatically

In the recent past, the role of the interim pastor was simple and straightforward: Find someone who can preach for six to nine months until the new pastor comes on board.

Today, the role of interim pastor is changing, becoming more complex, and carrying higher expectations. Why is this dramatic change taking place? Here are six major reasons:

  1. Churches want and need more help than preaching in an interim period. Depending on how you define revitalization, somewhere between 65% and 90% of all North American congregations need some type of revitalization efforts and strategy. More churches want and expect that of their interim pastors.
  2. Churches want to know if an interim pastor has specific qualifications for the job. Related to the first reason, this new reality is growing. More and more churches want to know if the prospective interim is truly trained and qualified for the role. That is one of the major reasons we created Interim Pastor University: to train and provide high-level certification for this unique ministry.
  3. Interim periods are growing in length. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon we have addressed elsewhere. But we know the time between pastors is growing. Churches, therefore, want more than the traditional pastor during this period.
  4. Churches need interim pastors to make tough decisions. Many churches now look for interim pastors who can lead major changes and clean the slate for the next pastor. This type of leadership requires both experience and specific training.
  5. The role of interim pastor is becoming a retirement vocation for many Boomer church leaders. A number of these leaders may do 20 or more interim pastorates as a retirement ministry. Boomer church leaders will not fade gently into the sunset. This reality is a new phenomenon that is changing the way people look at interim pastors.
  6. Church life in general is more complex. The consequence is the need for an interim pastor who can adjust to these complexities. That interim pastor is different than those of the recent past.

As church practices change and church challenges grow, the role of interim pastor will grow with it. If you are interested in receiving additional training and certification as an interim pastor, join as at Interim Pastor University during our open enrollment period.

Keep your eye on these dynamics. The interim pastor of 2019 and beyond will look dramatically different than the interim pastor of 2015.

Posted on November 5, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I read the article mainly because it brought to mind a particular situation that I doubt anyone else can match! I was ordained on July 8, 2018 – and turned 68 a few days later. I have been and interim only once, but done long stints of supply preaching–and before my ordination in the SBC I pastored a couple churches.

    No matter what a Pastor Search Committee claims they all want someone in their 30’s-40’s with 50 years of preaching experience–even if GOD Himself attended a meeting and told them to not be so hung up on age!

    So I wonder if Thom has ever thought this possibility a good idea? In some larger churches they have Senior Adult pastors- who also can fill in and preach and in many cases help the Senior Pastor with a lot of church business. My contention is that many older pastors could fill that role in even smaller churches and act as a mentor and support person for not just the pastor but others on the staff.

    I’d drop everything to be a bi-vocational associate pastor – and this position wouldn’t have to cost the church much– if might even pay for itself in many ways.

    Anyway, I realize this response fits some of the other articles better, but to serve in a support role – one that would certainly benefit the congregation and the community would be a blessing!

    In the meantime, don’t give up on us older preachers– John Piper is 73, David Jeremiah is 77, and John MacArthur is, like, 120 and still going strong (actually 79)!

  • After a year of great turbulence, our church has been blessed by an experienced interim pastor. Intially, several members left when the pastor left, however, the church remained in a state of distrust of one another and hurt. Needless to say the congregation was very divided. She has helped us move through the healing process. Members who in the past were not involved in the life of the church have become involved. After 18 months of her leadership, we have just formed a pastor search committee.

  • Howard Burke says on

    Have been in the ministry for 50 years and am serving as Interim/Transitional Pastor presently after completing 24 years in a GBC church in So. GA. How does this differ from the GBC/Lifeway “Transitional Pastor” training? Will this certification be valuable, beyond practical insight, regardless of State of residence?

    Thanks for all you do and the tremendous research you conduct and make available to pastors and Christian leaders.

    • Howard –

      I am not familiar with the content of other training. Yes, this certification has no geographical limitations.

      • Howard Burke says on

        Thank you your certification sounds interesting. The fellows with the Georgia Baptist Church Ministries Office use the “Transitional Pastor Ministry Training Manual.” A service to Southern Baptist Churches (provided by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention). Trainers are: Marcus Merritt, Marty Youngblood, Bryan Alexander and others. The Pastor Search Committee Handbook is the primary instrument used at the training along with scores of other scenarios and documents & recommended readings.

  • David Betzner says on

    Truth be known there is no one size fits all even in the church.

    No one is saying anyone else is ill equipped or less faithful but there are some critical differences in Intentional Interim Ministry and Traditional or even ongoing longer term ministry settings. I have done both and there is a place for everyone at the table and certainly there are crossover gifts.

    The problem I often see is that Church leadership often downplays the need for an IIM and there are not enough trained folks to do it. Often the next pastor is trying to do the work of a trained or qualified IIM and that in hindsight painfully proved the need for an IIM. Better coordination of these efforts and understanding of how they work and who will do them can only bless the church and congregations. I that was the intention of our Lord.david

  • Pastor John Matson says on

    You missed the biggest reason for Transition Pastoring. I have been doing Transition Pastoring for a number of years since retiring. I have taken several training workshops and read through much of the literature available on the work of Transition Pastoring. I would present this description and make this observation: I begin the work by doing a compliance audit regarding relevant known laws (Biblical and governmental) and drill down into actual discipleship/mentoring productivity. Numerous interviews usually reveal a kind of institutional amnesia in key areas. A culture devoted to artifact preservation lock steps the church into recovering the glory days and not devoted to being clever and creative in these difficult times. And I am not talking about worship music or youth ministry or altar calls. It’s about a culture change in the fundamentals like actual ongoing shepherding training, adequate visionary prayer, obeying the local laws and keeping a well-ordered membership role (required by many states to qualify for 501c3 status). Culture change is hard work but it produces good fruit.

  • David Troublefield says on

    Senior pastor called by God to a new ministry role elsewhere, and 20 years of work experience exits the building with him–leaving 40+ years’ ministry experience still inside the building in the persons of the Worship Minister, Minister of Ed, and/or Yourh Pastor. Remember those guys, too (who often made the exiting Senior Pastor look better than he really was while serving with them).

  • Dr Mike Reynolds says on

    Normally I find your insights a great help but this time I have to say – did I miss something? I have never had training for Transitional pastor, or interim Pastors and I have looked at the material and see that most of the guys I know would be insulted to sit through this kind of training. I served interims when I worked for the HMB and when I served with Injoy Stewardship and I always served there as I would any pastorate. I took the leadership role and did my best to help them make decisions to keep the new pastor from having to come in an fight battles. After 43 years of pastoral ministry I am not sure how anyone would face an interim with less intensity than he would a full time pastorate. You are just as responsible to God for your role and you are still the shepherd. We do NOT have to reinvent the wheel here we just have to be faithful to the task at hand. These are just my thoughts

    • James Donahue says on

      Mike (if I may leave off your title)-

      I am unclear what you are saying. I am not sure if you are dissing Thom or saying you know all there is to know on the topic. Really confusing . . .

  • Mark Smith says on

    Historically the interim period is the time that new preachers get a chance to practice their profession. If interim pastorates become professional jobs for retired preachers, when do new guys get a chance? Any thoughts?

    • Hi Mark,

      I am serving as a transitional pastor currently. I pastored full time for 30 years and at 59 I am seeing all that seasoning come to bear on a very needy church. Yet, I will not be a candidate for their permanent role and that is what frees me to say and do what is needed. Frankly, its a complex role and quite challenging. I am not certain that a young, less experienced man should be expected to bring to the table what he could not have had time to develop. The best way for him to develop is to serve in a role that fits his readiness and grow! I treasure that journey!

    • I appreciate this question, because we were without a pastor for 7 months. In that period, I was ordained, and my first opportunity to preach came during that interim time. If we had had an interim pastor, I might not have had that chance.

      At the same time, we saw our lay leadership involvement increase, and people take more responsibility and ownership of the church. It was definitely a time of member growth without a specific interim pastor. Maybe it depends on the health of the church when a pastor leaves as to whether an interim is the best option or not.

  • S. Ray Crews says on

    Been retired for 20 years. Had 9 interms. All were 1 1/2 years full time except one. My wife and I feel we did “more for the kingdom” than we did in some of our churches. Churches grew and were strengthened. We were blessed. My goal was to preach the Word and love the people. Often the churches were suffering from the pastor having too many keys and not loving the people.
    My training was in mid 1990’s before state conventions tried to get involved in training!

    • Minister of Music says on

      Why doesn’t this surprise me ! I’ve wondered what ever happen to
      churches recognizing God ordained men being used and leading in the church so as to administer a call upon them anymore.. It seems it’s even in our administration.

  • I am part of a group that does interim ministry — Interim Ministry Partners. This is what we are seeing, as well. We have found that in addition to these 6 realities you mention, Thom, that there are two absolutely essential roles as well: coaching eldership or board level leaders and helping equip and mentor search teams. We work with independent churches and these latter two areas the most important pieces of our work even though the congregation expects good preaching because that is the public face of our work.

  • Mark Arnold says on

    Just wondering what is different about the Interim Pastor University training and the Transitional Pastor Training that has been part of Lifeway and State Conventions for several years?

  • This is pretty interesting. Interested in the certification. Does certification come from a Seminary? The SBC? Or who does the certification / credentialing? I checked website and couldn’t find a quick answer to this. From what I am seeing in churches, the description is spot on. I believe that this is a good opportunity for those of us who are looking to transition in ministry. Thanks for your ministry!

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