Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Ecclesiastical Time-Out

Today I concluded a two and one-half year intentional interim. In every way you choose to measure, it has been a good experience, both for the congregation and for me.

The interim process is designed to provide a congregation in transition with something of an “ecclesiastical time-out.” Too many churches believe that the primary purpose of an interim period is to collapse the distance between the departure of the former pastor and the arrival of the new pastor to as brief a time as possible. That is almost never a wise strategy. When a church loses a pastor for any reason, the congregation gains a valuable opportunity to re-think its identity and mission, re-dream its vision, and re-imagine its future. In my experience, if a church fails to take an “ecclesiastical time-out,” it just perpetuates and passes along to the new minister whatever dysfunction and pathology that plagued the last pastor’s tenure. Let me say it more bluntly: A church that doesn’t call an interim pastor and go through an “intentional” interim period of self-examination and evaluation will very likely make its next pastor an un-intentional interim.

That’s why it was so gratifying to watch this congregation come together over the past couple of years, re-think its identity and mission, and re-dream its future. It was fortuitous (or providential?) that during this period the congregation also celebrated its centennial, providing a natural juncture for such an evaluative enterprise. The church is now healthier than it has been in years. And last Sunday, when the Pastor Search Committee presented its candidate for church approval, the congregation responded by calling their new pastor with a 99% overwhelming consensus vote (that’s about as close as Baptists ever get to unanimity).

As for me, this is my seventh interim, and it’s always gratifying to be used of God to heal a wounded congregation and to help move them farther along toward becoming a healthy congregation, and by that I mean the Body of Christ, again. It’s some of the best work I’ve done in ministry.

For churches in transition, I recommend the process. Intentional Interim Pastors move into and among the congregation and lead them to reflect on five fundamental areas that define and determine the life and health of the congregation: heritage, mission (read "purpose"), connections (read "denominational relationships), leadership (read "church administration" and how the congregation makes decisions and gets things done), and future (who and what is the congregation to be, going forward?). The Intentional Interim has no stake in the outcome of these discussions (he’s not staying anyway); rather, he leads the congregation through a process whereby they examine these issues and come to conclusions and decisions that are right for that particular congregation (no “one-size-fits-all” model of doing church is brought in and imposed on the congregation; what works in one place won't necessarily work in another). The process is both therapeutic and empowering.

If you’d like more information about the Intentional Interim Process and what it can do for your church, contact the Center for Congregational Health at www.healthychurch.org.

1 comment:

stephanie said...

Congratulations on helping another church grow. I still enjoy your blog but have been missing you and Cheryl. Hope you both are well.
Much Love,
Stephanie