Intentional Interim Ministry

Intentional Interim Ministry is a fairly new concept and process in the Upper Susquehanna Synod.  Although it is more than 25 years old in the ELCA, and a few of our congregations had experienced this ministry through the work of pastors from other synods, it was introduced to our synod when four pastors began the training five years ago.

Intentional Interim Ministry is a focused approach for guiding congregations during the time between regularly called pastors. It is not just crisis ministry, nor is it simply maintenance ministry.  It is not the same as “synodical administration,” which was reserved for crisis situations. It is ministry with specific “intentions” and tasks to be accomplished – goals defined by the process of intentional interim ministry and the specific needs of the congregation.

Intentional interim pastors receive specialized training consisting of two intensive weeks with field work in the intervening months.  They also have continuing education events to keep up to date and often have support groups.

There are three basic situations in which an intentional interim pastor is helpful:

  • The loss of a long-term pastor through moving or retirement.
  • Conflict situations.
  • Shattering situations, such as misconduct or death of a leader.

Healthy congregations as well as unhealthy ones benefit from making constructive use of the interim time.  The need to clarify mission in changing circumstances and other challenges may confront congregations in the time between regularly-called pastors.  Dealing with such unfinished business during the interim time helps prepare a congregation for a successful ministry with its next called pastor. Healthy congregations remain healthy and vulnerable ones move toward health. In the event of conflict and tragedies, such directed transition time is invaluable.

During this time the intentional interim works with the congregation on the following five tasks:

1.   Coming to terms with history

The congregation must deal with “letting go” of the former pastor and preparing for a new one, regardless of the reason for the former pastor leaving.

2.   Discovering a new identity.

This is a time for congregations to step back and re-examine their self-understanding, current realities, real possibilities, and goals. Often new insights, new directions and even a fresh vision emerge in the interim period.

3.   Allowing the needed leadership changes and procedures.

Congregations can get bogged down in familiar patterns, or congregational systems may malfunction.  When a pastor leaves, there is opportunity for new patterns of lay involvement.  Sometimes those who have been active step back and others step forward. A new dynamic emerges and a different set of pastoral skills may be required.

4.   Strengthening or renewing the congregation’s relationship with the synod and the  church-at-large.

Many congregations have a tenuous or distant relationship with the whole church. The period between pastors often brings the congregation into closer and more frequent contact with church-wide resources and activities and thus into a more real sense of shared ministry.

5.   Commitment to new leadership and directions.

The ultimate goal is for the congregation to move to spiritual and emotional readiness for a vital partnership with a new pastoral leader.  For more information about intentional interim ministry, discernment and continuing education events, see the ELCA Interim Ministry Association website:

http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Ministry/Interim-Ministry-Association.aspx.

(Contributed by Pastor MarthaSue Moll)