What is intentional interim ministry?
Intentional interim ministry is normally distinguished from interim ministry. Interim ministry involves providing pastoral coverage for congregations that are temporarily without a pastor. The purpose is to fill a gap and provide pastoral coverage.
Intentional interim ministry has a different goal. Intentional interim ministry sees the interim period as a positive opportunity for the congregation to determine who it is and what its mission is. Typical questions to be addressed are: What is the Holy Spirit calling this congregation to be or to do? What problems need to be addressed? What changes need to be made to prepare the way for the next pastor? The trained intentional interim pastor is well-qualified to guide a congregation through this period and to assist the congregation in determining its mission and making any necessary changes.
In what situations is a trained intentional interim pastor especially useful?
There is general agreement that a trained intentional interim pastor is especially useful in three situations — following the departure of a long-tenured pastor, following pastoral misconduct, and following serious conflict or trauma (for example, death of a pastor). In these difficult situations, a trained intentional interim pastor can help a congregation accomplish a successful transition to their next permanent pastor.
In what other situations could an intentional interim pastor be useful?
Intentional interim pastors can be valuable during almost any pastoral transition. Some ELCA synods make regular use of intentional interim pastors. For example, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod maintains a staff of 15 to 20 trained intentional interim pastors. Several other synods also make extensive use of intentional interim pastors.
How do congregations respond? Don’t congregations resist the idea?
Congregations are normally very supportive of the intentional interim pastor. They view the intentional interim pastor as the temporary replacement for the pastor who has departed. The advantage to the congregation is that it has its own full-time pastor right away, even if for a temporary period of 12 to 18 months. Since most intentional interim pastors are full-time, the congregation’s budget already provides for the compensation of a full-time pastor. Congregations also understand the benefits of having expert guidance during the difficult period without a permanent pastor. The intentional interim pastor thus does double duty. He or she serves as a full-time replacement for the previous pastor, and in addition provides knowledgeable guidance in helping to prepare them for their next permanent pastor.
Congregations that resist an intentional interim pastor normally do so because they perceive that the presence of the interim pastor might delay the process of getting their next permanent pastor. This is a reasonable concern, but the answer is quite simple. No congregation ought to begin a search for a pastor until it has carefully thought about the direction it wants to move and the kind of pastor it needs. Synods have a process for doing a congregational self-study of some sort. However, few congregations are well-equipped to accomplish such a self-study on their own. There are important questions that need to be answered before beginning a search. What are the congregation’s priorities? What type of leadership style does the congregation need? What pastoral skills are most important? The intentional interim process is designed to help a congregation to determine its own vision for the future in order to determine what the Holy Spirit is calling it to be and to do. By going through a structured process, the congregation is better prepared to begin its search.
Where does a synod find intentional interim pastors?
The wisest course for a synod is to develop its own intentional interim pastors. Then the synod has intentional interim pastors it knows and trusts. There are other sources for obtaining intentional interim pastors. The most common sources are from other ELCA synods or from full-communion partners.
What support should a synod provide for intentional interim pastors?
If a synod wishes to have intentional interim pastors available for its needs, it should consider two specific problems faced by such pastors.
First, there is the problem of roster status. If an ELCA pastor does not have a “call” for three years, the pastor normally is removed from the ELCA roster. The usual solution to this problem is for the synod to issue a synod call to the interim pastor for the duration of their time in a particular congregation.
Second, intentional interim pastors face the recurrent threat of “down time,” i.e., time without a call. When an intentional interim pastor completes one interim assignment and does not have another interim assignment, that pastor has no income. While it is not normally the synod’s obligation to find an assignment for an intentional interim pastor, it is important for the synod to understand this fact of interim life and be sensitive to it.
How can a synod evaluate a particular intentional interim pastor?
The synod evaluates an intentional interim pastor in much the same way as it evaluates any other pastor. In general, the synod looks at training, experience and track record.
In order to serve as an intentional interim pastor, a pastor should have the appropriate interim ministry training. The two groups that provide most of the interim training for ELCA pastors are a Lutheran group called National Association of Lutheran Interim Pastors (NALIP) and an ecumenical group, the Interim Ministry Network (IMN) located in Baltimore, Maryland.
However, just completing the training does not automatically mean that a particular pastor would make a good intentional interim pastor. What is the pastor’s track record? What are the pastor’s strengths and weaknesses? What types of experience have they had? For example, some intentional interim pastors may have had particular experience with size transitions or with sexual misconduct or with staff ministries. All of these judgments are similar to the judgments a synod makes in placing any other pastor.
How can a synod staff learn more about intentional interim ministry?
The Interim Ministry Association of the ELCA (IMA-ELCA) is the official affiliate of the ELCA to support intentional interim ministry. As part of its work, it maintains this website which contains a large amount of information and many references to other sources of information. In addition, the IMA will try to respond to any requests for information from ELCA synods. We have qualified members willing to advise synod staff by telephone or email. We also have been able, in some cases, to arrange an on-site presentation for synod staff members. Please feel free to contact us at LutheranTMA@gmail.com with any questions you may have.