Questions and Answers about Interim Ministry

A college student interviewed me for a paper in one of his classes. Here is the result:

1. What is the purpose/vision of interim ministry?

Assisting preachers and churches in transition through effective training coming from decades of experience to navigate through the pain of loss to begin a new time of growth.

2. How did you become an interim minister? What inspired you?

Our Journey to Interim Ministry

3. I know you like rules, so what are some rules that you have for the congregation and yourself throughout this process? Beginning? Middle? End?

First three rules

Name memory rule

Communication rules

Criticism rule

Originality rule

Discussion rules I use the ones appropriate at the beginning of each group I lead: classes, Transition Monitoring Team, Search training, etc.:

4. How would you describe the difference between yourself, as an interim minister, and any other minister in relation to the congregation?

In addition to preaching and teaching, I lead several activities to encourage the church to think about where they are, where they want to go, and what kind of preacher they need now. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTERIM MINISTRY AND A FILL-IN PREACHER IS THINKING, PROCESS. Interim ministry is an interruption of things as usual and a challenge to think about who we are, what our purpose is, where we want to go, and how do we plan to get there. That takes thinking. I challenge mindless repetition of previous methods continually. Good preaching is good. Interim ministry works with the leadership and the rest of the congregation to encourage growth. I teach classes and provide workshops to impliment this.

5. Throughout your time as an interim minister, have you noticed any patterns that are common to churches you have worked for? Any growth patterns? Any consistent problems within the congregations?

Churches with problems allow, and sometimes encourage, gossip. This brings conflict. Proverbs 26:20 I discuss over and over Jesus’ instructions on resolving conflict. Matthew 18:15-17 When that isn’t followed consistently, people are hurt and there is polarization where Christians are talking about each other instead of to each other.

6. Please describe the overall transition process that you walk a congregation through during the interim.

I start or participate in staff meetings.

I lead a Transition Monitoring Team.

We do a self-study survey.

A group prepares a timeline of attendance and contribution for as long as they have records. It is put on a chart. We designate a night to discuss what we learn from what we see. A group assembles an introduction to the church and community to help prospective preachers decide if this is a church and community that would fit him and his family. They include opportunities and facilities for sports, education, shopping, recreation.

A group prepares a timeline of attendance and contribution for as long as they have records and the results of a self-study.

I have a day of training for people involved in the preacher search

You might like to look at the entire SEARCH page, either for this paper or future reference.

7. What are the main focuses/lessons that you preach/roles to do at the Beginning of the interim? Middle? End?

a. Begin with Luke 9:23, being a disciple of Jesus: Carving Ears, Cutting Out, Calling Angels, or Crucifixion. Are we the kind of congregation that will attract the kind of preacher we want? Seven lessons in this series.

b. How to Survive the Storm and Enjoy the Sunshine. Acts 6:1-7 Seven lessons on dealing with conflict in the church.

c. What Do You Do When God Is Late? Nine lessons on time — God’s Sovereign Time and Human Standard Time. One of the struggles of the interim is getting in a hurry to get a new preacher and “get it back the way it used to be.” We need to take the time to do the work we need to do.

8. How long is the average interim minister hired for?

My contract is six to eighteen months. In two churches, I stayed for nearly two years. We discussed that in the beginning. Both wanted to select elders before they began the preacher search.

9. In your experience, what is the biggest obstacle for spiritual growth in the church?

Insufficient spiritual nourishment, exercise, and rest.

10. Why do you believe that churches struggle to transition to a new pulpit minister?

If the previous preacher has been at the congregation for a long time (five years or more), the people who liked him want another just like him. The people who didn’t like him want a preacher exactly opposite to him. There are none in either category. Part of the value of an interim minister is to allow enough time to pass that the previous preacher isn’t the standard for the new preacher — either positive or negative.

11. Is interim ministry scriptural? What scripture/scriptures are most cited as the “theme scripture” if you will?

I think of Hebrews 11:8, “And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

12. Going along with #11, are there biblical figures who were interim ministers or something like it themselves?

Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness to the edge of the promised land, yet never entered himself. The interim preacher isn’t the star. I’ve often observed it this way: you go to a church where one-third of the people don’t want to in the beginning and 100% of them are praying every week for you to leave as soon as possible (“Lord, help us to find a good preacher soon.”). John the Baptist was an interim preacher for Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). My last sermon at each interim church is “Every Christian Is an Interim Minister.” Someone came before us. Others will follow after us. Our opportunity is to make it better to those who follow.

13. Have you found it to be difficult to build relationships with people knowing that your position is temporary?

Some people are hesitant. But that is true in long-term ministry also.

14. What do you do personally to prepare yourself for your ministry?

I intentionally try to learn from every experience, reflecting on Biblical principles. Every success and failure is an opportunity to learn.

15. This may be similar to #6, but do you have a sermon plan for the interim? If so, what is it? #7

16. What values do you try to instill in the congregation before the interim is over?

God loves His church. Jesus died for it. God loves this congregation. God will give us wisdom. We will survive and thrive as we keep our faith in God.

17. Like your practice of resigning with the hiring of a new elder, what other “radical” practices do you believe help in church growth?

Something that will help us think. One of the most spiritual things a person can do is to think.

Resigning with the change in the eldership.

Eldership funerals.

18. Which spiritual disciplines do you encourage/preach/teach most?

Regular, individual, and group Bible study. Pray without ceasing. Think in parables. Jesus never taught without telling a story to illustrate. Mark 4:33, 34

19. Please explain your Accepting Criticism class that you teach and the purpose behind it.

It has been one of the most stress-relieving practices I’ve started. I went from being frozen in fear of criticism to loving criticism. I’m doing the best I know how. Anyone who tells me a better way to live, think, talk, teach, preach, rest, eat, exercise, manage money, or anything else does me a favor. If it gives me a new idea or tells me what I’ve been doing isn’t the best, I have an opportunity to think and evaluate. I can be harmed by criticism in two ways:

a. Rejecting all criticism.

b. Accepting all criticism. I need to think and evaluate — then after prayer and consideration, do what I think is best. When I welcome criticism, it neutralizes henpeckers — people who want to arouse irritation.

20. What are some criticisms that you have received throughout the years?

Your wife doesn’t have enough different dresses for Sunday.
You preach too long.
I don’t like sermon series.
I don’t think anyone who is paid by the church should drive a red car.
A lady was upset because I didn’t visit her when she was sick even though she didn’t tell me she was sick: “I’ve been sick two weeks and nobody came to see me — not even the preacher.”
I don’t like the clothes your teen-age son wears. The colors are loud and the pants have too many pockets.

21. If you had a snapshot of the congregation when you begin your interim position and another snapshot of the congregation at the end of your interim period, how would you describe the differences in these snapshots? What are the important changes/points of growth within the congregation from the beginning to the end?

Two of the most rewarding were congregations where they had gone through a major split. One lost 50% and the other lost 60% of their members. When we first came, people left as soon as the last prayer was finished. They didn’t trust each other. They thought they could trust the people who left. But since they left, they’ve been calling them dirty religious names such as “liberal, unfaithful, change agents.” If those people were like that, what about some of the ones still here. Will they leave and do the same thing? After a few months, by establishing relationship guidelines, talking, and making commitments about how we will treat each other, people begin to stay longer, talk, and work together again.

22. Which congregations have you worked with in the past as an interim minister?

Eddyville, Kentucky, May 2007-August 2008
Hendersonville, Tennessee, October 2008-December 2009
Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee, March 2010-June 2011
LaVergne, Tennessee, August 2011-June 2013
Maury City, Tennessee, September 2013-July 2015
Northside Church of Christ, Jeffersonville, Indiana, September 2015-February 2017 Next, if the Lord wills,
Shady Acres, Sikeston, Missouri, April 2017-August 2018
River Road, Nashville, Tennessee, November 2018-???

23. What do you view as the biggest threat to the church and individual churches today?

Not studying God’s word with a view to individual application, regardless of the pain.

24. If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to enter the field of interim ministry, what would you say?

Learn from every experience. Study Family Systems.

25. At the beginning of an interim, is there a foundation, so to speak, that must be set?

At the beginning of any relationship, it is good to talk about “family rules.” Family rules are usually unspoken, unconscious, understood, and contradictory. This means in many relationships, in regard to our expectations, we don’t think about anyone having different needs from us, we don’t talk about how we will relate, but when someone misses our expectations, we are offended and often punish the offending party. A better way is to talk about how we will relate, negotiate how we will respond to differences, and if we can’t live with the differences, don’t get tied to each other. The best time to get a divorce is before you get married.

26. Is there a core set of practices (I’m thinking like prayer groups or the elder & staff meetings) that you introduce to the church throughout this period?

I attend elders’ meetings and make observations, always with the wastebasket available (third of the first three rules) — if they don’t think what I say is helpful, they can throw it into the wastebasket. Weekly staff meetings consisting of Bible study, coordination, and staff development (reading a book with ideas of how groups work and discussing the principles).

What questions do you have about interim ministry?

[reminder]

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

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