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.
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.
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.