Our Journey to Interim Ministry

how we prepared for this work

Often people ask, “Where did you get the idea for interim ministry?”.

Gail and I married August 18, 1964. Soon after we married, we discussed what we would do when we retired. Retirement was not quitting work but changing gears.

August 18, 1964

August 18, 1964

All I had observed was preachers who weren’t in full-time works and wanted to continue preaching, held revivals and workshops. So I said, “We’ll hold meetings and workshops. We’ll travel, get to know many people, and serve in that way.”

Several years later, we were continuing our discussion. Gail said, “When you hold a meeting, you do a good job. But when you preach for a church Sunday through Wednesday, ten years later, what do they remember? Not much. What I’d like to do is to go to a church, work with them six months to a year, then go to another. You could preach and teach classes. I could teach ladies’ Bible classes and serve in other ways.”

I replied, “That would be great but I don’t know how to do it.”

Several years later, I was listening to a series of lectures on divorce by Gale Napier, a Christian counselor. He said, “If you get a divorce and think you might want to get married again, you probably ought to wait at least two years or you’ll have more people in the bed than you can sleep with.”

That rang a bell with me. That’s what we do with preachers. A preacher stays with a church ten, twenty, thirty, or more years. He moves, retires, is released, or dies. What most members want the elders to do is have another preacher ready to start. We want to have a going-away party for the old preacher one Sunday and have the next preacher start the next Sunday. Then we are amazed many people don’t accept the new preacher because his isn’t like the old preacher. One preacher told me he was invited to a potluck where he had tried out. They had invited the top two preachers of all that had tried out. They were to announce the one that had been selected. My friend lost (or won). The other preacher was the pick. My friend said it was an awkward day. No one wanted to talk with him. They didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to say. This is similar to my experiences in being an unintentional interim. Only when you move to work with a church where they aren’t ready for a new preacher, the awkwardness lasts much longer than a Sunday afternoon.

I started telling people this was what I wanted to do when I finished full-time preaching. If any church will let me, I want to work with a congregation where the preacher has left. I don’t want to be the next preacher but I want to work with them while they are looking for another preacher. I thought we had come up with a new idea.

Many people encouraged me in this. They began to recount many churches where the new preacher was rejected, not because he wasn’t a good man and a good preacher, but because he wasn’t like brother John who had just left.

About a year later, I read in Leadership Journal about the Interim Ministry Network. This group was started in 1981. I wrote to the IMN, paid my dues, and began to receive their publications. In 1996, Gail and I attended their conference and were impressed with their insights on the transition process.

August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014 (same suit and tie as August 18,1964)

In 1998-1999, Gail, John Parker, and I participated in their training. We had five days of classroom work, six months of field work, followed by five more days of class instruction. Interim Ministry Network teaches many skills helpful to any church leader. They rely on Family Systems (Bowen Theory) in viewing how groups behave. The insights I received helped me during the remaining years of full-time ministry at Berry’s Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee. My last day there was April 1, 2007.

At this writing, beginning in May 2007, we have served churches in Eddyville, Kentucky; Hendersonville, Cookeville, LaVergne, and Maury City, in Tennessee; and Jeffersonville, Indiana.

I look forward to sharing with you what I’ve learned in reading, training, and especially what I’ve observed from preaching since 1961 and interim ministry since 2007.

What would you like to know about the transition process?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Please comment

9 thoughts on “Our Journey to Interim Ministry

  1. This is so simple but also very practical. I have talked with you on several occasions, and your experience and insights have helped me tremendously. Understanding the challenge of changing preachers, there will always be a need for this kind of ministry. What I would like to know is how to prepare and “build a resume” to do this and make oneself known to the brotherhood. Should something change where I am, I would like to do this kind of work.

  2. It was interesting to observe your preparation for the transition and to work with you in the process as an elder. My observation is that most people retire with thoughts of doing something else but don’t really prepare for it. Your preparation was thoughtful and thorough as you and Gail had a transition plan for two. Your transition helped me when I was ready to change positions and it has been a blessing in my life.

    • Ron,

      You, the other elders at Berry’s Chapel, and the other Christians there were helpful and encouraging to us as we prepared. The training we received from Interim Ministry Network, which was paid for from my educational allowance at Berry’s Chapel, helped me in my remaining years of ministry there.

      Every preacher is an interim minister. Every Christian is an interim minister. Someone(s) preceded us and someone(s) will follow us. Our opportunity is to make it better for those who follow. The eldership at BC participated in and encouraged discussions of our transition. It was not a surprise to any of us. I think that kind of mature and truthful communication could eliminate the need for interim ministry. Many people avoid those conversations. Planning one’s funeral admits mortality and can be uncomfortable. But it makes painful transition easier and a promotion for everyone involved. Jesus set the example. Matthew 16:21

      Thank you for your part in what we are doing now.

    • I am thankful for you and Cordell. I read our “Counting Contract” we had at Central in my sermon Sunday morning.