FAQs for Congregations

What happens when a pastor resigns?
In most ways, the congregation continues to function in its normal way. Worship services will usually continue on the same schedule as in the past. Provision will be made for pastoral care to visit the sick or shut-ins and perform funerals, weddings, and other normal pastoral services.

What should a congregation’s leaders do when a pastor resigns?
The congregation should immediately contact the synod office to determine what to do. There is a need to provide for coverage of pastoral needs during the interim period, including the selection of an Interim Pastor.

Who will preach and lead worship during the interim period?
Worship services will normally continue on the same schedule as in the past, using a “supply preacher” if necessary.

What does an Interim Pastor do?
The Interim Pastor does everything a regularly-called pastor would do. The ELCA Model Congregational Constitution specifies in *C9.07: “During the period of service, an interim pastor shall have the rights and duties in the congregation of a regularly called pastor and may delegate the same in part to a supply pastor with the consent of the bishop of the synod and this congregation or Congregation Council. The interim pastor and any ordained pastor providing assistance shall refrain from exerting influence in the selection of a pastor.”

Typical duties of an interim pastor include visiting the sick and homebound, performing weddings and funerals, supervising the church office as needed, keeping official records of baptisms, weddings and funerals, and attending church council meetings. Some of the duties, such as the number of hours, the compensation, or the teaching of confirmation classes, must be negotiated between the congregation and the interim pastor.

Each synod may have its own policies and procedures for the selection of an Interim Pastor. Some synods may use retired pastors or pastors serving as chaplains or in other types of positions. Other synods may use a pastor from a nearby parish, assisted by supply preachers. Another option may be the appointment of an Intentional Interim Pastor.

What is an Intentional Interim Pastor?
An Intentional Interim Pastor is an interim pastor with specialized training in helping a congregation during the interim period–in effect a “professional interim pastor.”

What happens after an Interim Pastor arrives?
After an Interim Pastor is present, the congregation enters a period of congregational discernment. The congregation must prepare itself to search for its next pastor. This involves a process of self-study and preparation.

Why can’t the congregation simply appoint a call committee and start interviewing pastoral candidates?
In most cases, a congregation is not ready to begin a search for a pastoral candidate. Research has shown that a congregation needs to first discern the direction in which God is calling it to move and the characteristics of the type of pastor it needs. Only after it has completed this preliminary work should it attempt to search for its next pastor.

So what should a congregation do?
An ELCA congregation should begin its search for its next pastor by completing a congregational self-study. This means that the congregation should take time to look at itself without the departed pastor, examine its ministry situation and the demographics of the area it serves, set up its goals and priorities, and determine what God is calling it to do. Then it should determine the characteristics of the type of pastor it needs to accomplish its goals and priorities. Only after doing this congregational self-study should the congregation normally proceed to the next step, which includes establishing a Call Committee and beginning the process of assessing pastoral candidates..

What is the end product?
The result of the congregational self-study is a 14-page computerized form called the Ministry Site Profile (MSP). (A copy may be found at www.elca.org/call and then selecting “Call Process Forms”). This is what the congregation submits to the synod. It is sometimes referred to as the “Congregational Profile.” In addition, other materials may be required by particular synods.

Does the Ministry Site Profile take work to complete?
Yes, preparing the profile is complicated and time-consuming. However, it is also very important. The profile functions as the congregation’s “resume” in the call process. It is the information that may be made available by the synod to qualified pastoral candidates in order to determine if they are willing to consider the particular congregation. The time invested in the Profile will make entire search process work better for the Call Committee, the synod, and the pastoral candidates.

So, how do we get a new pastor?
After the congregation has completed its self-study, the congregation appoints a Call Committee and begins the search process. Each synod may have its own procedures. Generally, the Call Committee interviews a pastoral candidate or candidates in a highly confidential process and eventually recommends a candidate. Any potential pastoral candidate will need to be approved by a congregational meeting before receiving a regular call to be pastor of that congregation.

When should we consider an Intentional Interim Pastor?
Within the ELCA, there are many “Intentional Interim Pastors” – pastors who have received specialized training in interim ministry. These Intentional Interim Pastors are normally full-time pastors who specialize in doing interim ministry. They might be called “professional interim pastors.” When available, they are often used by synods or congregations in particularly difficult circumstances, such as the loss of a pastor due to misconduct, death, or the transition after a long-term pastorate. A few synods attempt to use Intentional Interim Pastors in most transitional situations. Congregations that are interested in this possibility should contact their synod to see if this is a possible option.

As these steps toward calling a pastor are progressing, an intentional interim pastor can help a congregation to address five Developmental Tasks. Working on these Developmental Tasks can strengthen the congregation and set up a foundation for the best possible beginning with their next pastor. Each congregation is different. There is no precise formula for the amount of time to spend on each task, nor for the order in which to work on the tasks. The intentional interim pastor works in partnership with lay leadership of the congregation to address these Developmental Tasks.

What are the Five Developmental Tasks for any congregation during the Interim Period?

  1. Coming to Terms with its History
  2. Enabling Leadership Changes
  3. Developing a Vision for the Future
  4. Renewing Synod Linkages
  5. Commitment to New Directions in Ministry

Isn’t that rather complicated?
Not really. It’s mostly common sense. Congregational leaders should keep in mind that there are unusual emotional dynamics at work during the interim period. The departure of a pastor creates a difficult situation for almost any congregation. There is a sense of loss that may result in a grief process similar in many respect to what happens to an individual who has suffered a loss. The congregation needs time to adjust to the loss of its pastor and to establish its own identity, separate and apart from the departed pastor. This is part of a process referred to as “Coming to Terms with its History” (Developmental Task #1) The departure of a pastor may result in other staff changes or leadership changes within the Council or Committees. This is normal, although it may seem a bit unsettling (Task #2). Then the congregation must discern the direction in which God is calling it to move. God has a plan for every congregation. The congregation needs to give attention to God’s will and develop a Vision for the future (Task #3). There is an obvious need to work closely with the synod, both in the selection of an interim pastor and in the search for a new pastor (Task #4). And, finally, there is the need to establish a Call Committee and go through the search process, which may vary by synod (Task #5). So, these Five Developmental Tasks are a matter of common sense.

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