What will guide us in our Interim Ministry?
In a small 1986 book, Critical Moment of Ministry: A change of pastors, Loren Mead laid out the Developmental Tasks that would dominate the teaching and practice of Interim Ministry for the next two decades or more. These tasks were, he thought, basically sequential, even as he acknowledged that most developmental psychology leaned toward a less rigid pattern.
I have a couple of experiences with “flipping” houses that needed a substantial amount of work to prepare them for their next phase of life. The first task is the evaluation of the house as it is. What is strong? What is crumbling? What is crucial and what expendable? What are the attractive, aesthetically valuable parts and what is just plain ugly? What is the foundation upon which we can work to return the building to a house and a home?
If I apply those experiences to the tasks of Interim Ministry, then the first task of the interim is to explore the whole of the church, to ascertain the spiritual strengths, the organizational structures that frame the congregation, the foundational values that guide it, and the places where it is in need of reworking or remodeling. The goal is to create a living house that, with new leadership, can serve as a home for those who are there now, and those who will be attracted to this community in the future. The task of the interim will be to lead the congregation through a parallel process of self-evaluation and preparedness.
Often helpful to the relationship building process, a deeper explorations of the historical story of the congregation provides more of the solid material for the foundations. How does the history of the church shape its current sense of purpose, its mission and ministry? How does who the church is now reflect its past and its current values? The stories we tell define our identities and shape our perceptions and our actions. Are these stories part of God’s story for the world?
Closely related to stories, core values and current context shape the mission and purpose of the organization. The essential question is “Why? Why do we gather? Why do we matter in our community? Why do we choose to do this activity or support this effort?” Congregations often scatter their efforts because they do not ask these questions. It is important to remember that there will be both collective responses and individual responses to the mission. We are both united and separated. Our life stories overlap, but are not parallel. Each person can witness to living out the mission in their own way, and enrich the sense of value and purpose of the whole.
Collective action is important because the connections of this body to the community and to other churches within and beyond the denomination are important. When we work and serve together, we have greater impact and greater potential for partnerships, denominational support, and community unity. Building and rebuilding these connections may be a significant part of interim ministry.
In order to continue to build upon the structures formed by the work of the congregation during the interim, processes for continual consultation, for spiritual growth, for discernment of next steps should be established. It is not the task of an interim to set in place a firm direction for the mission of the church, but it is important to develop a commitment to the processes by which the direction may be determined and maintained.
In order to maintain that commitment to process, leadership in those processes must be developed. Such leaders will encourage people to participate. The goal would be that people be comfortable and willing to talk together, to share ideas, to disagree and to creatively approach the questions that will arise.
If we adopt these areas of focus for our work: functioning and healthy relationships, a shared story for ministry, clearly stated mission and purpose, strong connections at all areas of covenant, a commitment to processes of discernment, and well-trained and committed leadership, we will have assisted a congregation to be ready for a new pastor, and an ever changing future.
Change in the church, as in all our society, is an ongoing part of life. To be vital, churches must learn to adapt, to be flexible, and to see in this the leading of the Holy Spirit.