Why Have an Interim Preacher?

Here’s what I‘ve observed in sixty-one years of ministry, having followed a long-tenured preacher, and worked with congregations in intentional interim ministry for the past fifteen years.

The general rule: After a long ministry (five years or more) a church will have an interim minister — either an intentional or unintentional interim minister. That preacher will stay a short time. If he is an unintentional interim (he thought he was coming for a settled ministry), it’ll be a time of misery. He’ll be compared to the previous preacher. He will not be like the previous preacher. It’ll be an impossible job description.

I’ve served as an intentional and an unintentional preacher. I can assure you intentional is much preferred. The five most depressing years of my preaching were following a preacher who stayed a long time (fifteen years) and was released by the elders — not to his desire and a large part of the congregation. The congregation was stuck in grief, confusion, and resentment. I bore the brunt of something I had nothing to do with except I happened to be the next preacher. It’s now worth it. I had the opportunity to experience what I’d read in books about being a preacher following a long ministry. But the pain was real and sustained while I was learning the lesson.

People are often concerned about the widow or widower who starts dating immediately after the sudden death of a spouse. People aren’t machines. For a good new relationship, there needs to be a time of grieving over the past relationship before beginning a new one. See two blog posts relating to the concept:

  1. How Long Will it Take?
  2. How Can We Improve Without Changing?

The rule of thumb is there should be one month of interim ministry for each year of the ministry of the previous preacher.

My advice for two preacher friends who chose to follow a long-term preacher with no intentional interim period:

“You need to understand that part of your job description is you’re volunteering to be unfavorably compared to the previous preacher in preaching, teaching, dress, visitation, name memory, influence and recognition in the community, and the way he related to people. It will be done repeatedly for ten years. If you can endure that for ten years, it’ll get slightly better during the next five years.”

There’re exceptions to the rule. But from my experience, it is the rule: The next preacher who quickly follows a long-term preacher will have a short and difficult tenure. One of my most productive interims was with a congregation who tried the immediate replacement plan with two preachers following the retirement of their long-term preacher. After much pain, and a split, they decided an interim was worth the time and money. I worked with them for twenty-three months. They now have a good preacher. They are at peace and reaching their community.

When you get ready to look for a preacher, Don Viar has the best book I’ve read on the preacher search: The Search Committee Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to Hiring Your Next Minister .

What are your observations about the preacher following a long-term preacher?

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

4 Responses to “Why Have an Interim Preacher?

  • You can never fill the shoes of your predecessor as he always takes them with him… He just leaves his tracks…

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      5 months ago

      Leroy,

      Thank you for your observation.

      I’ve never heard it said that way.

      I appreciate you sharing.

  • David Courington
    5 months ago

    My observations have been the same as yours. Fortunately, I followed the one year term of a preacher, after he followed a long time and well respected man. I was able to enjoy a 42 1/2 year work with my dear brethren supporting my family and me very well. I served several years as an elder and as I was in my early 60’s decided I would retire from full time work at 66. Working with the other elders, we planned for a 6 month period of visiting speakers and using some of our own men who were quite capable. I think this helped prepare for the next man, who has just passed his one year mark and I hope is set for many more. My aim has been to encourage him and the other members to support him in this work. I know this is a rather unusual situation. I think every preacher should work with a long view of the future and help the next man coming along, whether sooner or later, to not be a victim of “preacheritus.” May God continue to bless you in the great work you are doing. I well remember hearing you preach a great sermon at 6th Avenue in Jasper, AL many years ago where you emphasized, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are!”

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      5 months ago

      David,

      You and the other elders did well to plan your transition years in advance.

      This helps prepare the way for a new person.

      Thank you for sharing this wisdom.

      I appreciate you remembering my sermon in Jasper. I enjoyed the workshops there.

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