What Is Interim Ministry, Anyway? By: Chris Morton

That period between an ending and a beginning goes by a lot of names. The Way of Transitions is William Bridges’ latest contribution to remind us of “the neutral zone.” A colleague in strategic planning and facilitation suggests it is called “the groan zone.” Liberation Theologians call it the “already/not-yet” as we experience Christ with us, and await Christ’s return. Churches often call it an interim period, thus the title of interim minister.

There has been a corresponding growth in defining what an interim minister does during the interim period as a growing number of congregations are availing themselves of interim ministers. When we live in that time of uncertainty we seem to clamor for clarity. In this case, both the congregation and the person filling the role of interim minister want clarity.

About two decades ago a group emerged that became known as the Interim Ministry Network (www.imnedu.org). As the role of interim minister has matured, so, too, have designs for interim ministry:

Joining the System – connecting with the members of the congregation directly, which I have been doing, visiting as many households as possible in these few short months that we have been together. Analyzing the System – this is a period of time closely aligned with joining the system because it is a time for listening to the people express their values, and observing the choices being made (i.e., behavioral expression of values)— and how values are aligned, or not.

Discerning Responsibility and Establishing Priorities – since Welcome Table has spent a fair amount of time with clarifying our Values, Vision, and Mission, our time together will be in setting our future with a clearly articulated plan for moving forward–by discerning our priorities. I had hoped that our all-church retreat would be such a time, but the planning group has helped me to see the wisdom of using that time to in other ways. We will get to planning, though. I love to plan!

Connecting the Congregation and the Denomination – this is really about leadership, and Welcome Table is facing a tremendous time of leadership transition in the near future. Our partnership with the Regional Church will be important as we move into the future.

Evaluating and Adjusting to a New Future – this is when the congregation will be ready to begin the process of searching for what we are now calling a “settled” pastor as we evaluate Welcome Table once again, and adjust to whatever future we envision.

Normally an interim will spend a good five to six months (or even longer, depending upon the situation) with developing relationships as the congregation gets to know the interim, and the interim gets to know the people and the congregations’ systems/approaches. We have been joining the system and analyzing the system for only four months, so far. But we are all ready to begin planning for our future--particularly given the fact that we are facing the possibility of the new building site being completed sometime in early 2016. Such planning will occur soon and will be born out of our time together at the all-church retreat on October 9th and 10th.

The time is ripe, they say. Ripe for planting. Ripe for harvesting. Jesus told his Disciples that the time was ripe for harvesting (John 4: 35)—but don’t simply look at the single verse; read the whole story and context, including the fact that Jesus has just told the Samaritan Woman that he can give her Living Water. Welcome Table can share what we know about Living Water and the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and maybe we, too, can learn something about Living Water and Bread of Life from our community as we harvest our future, together, with our neighbors.