Taking time to reflect on your first 100 days in office can be fun, creative, and pay dividends down the road.
I recently read this article about what to know about your car if you’re not car-savvy and was blown away by how useful it was. Despite being a competent driver of cars, I do secretly wish they would take care of themselves. But cars need attentive care. Savvy drivers learn what they need to know about cars in order to get where they want to go.
In the same way, leaders of people must learn what we need to know to get organizations where they want to go. The article got me thinking: What does an interim pastor need to know about if they’re not interim-savvy — or simply inexperienced in an area of pastoral leadership?
Here’s the list I’ve come up with...
All interim pastors set out to end well. We know going into a new church that our tenure is short. So it behooves the wise interim leader to follow a simple rule of disengagement: begin to plan for the end from the beginning. For me, this is primarily an exercise in archiving.
Here are three things I do to help me end well:
- First, I keep a file folder in the back of my desk drawer labeled “Leaving”. Throughout my tenure I toss in pictures, bulletins, notes, and other memorabilia that will help me capture the essence of this place when it’s time to leave. In my current folder I have a note from a confirmation student, a caricature drawing of me preaching, two memorial service folders, three notes which were slipped under the door, and about a dozen pages torn from church newsletters, bulletins, session dockets, and newspapers. I also keep a ‘leaving’ folder on my phone with a stash digital images, photos and the like.
- Second, I try to follow a weekly practice of jotting down on a colorful piece of paper one highlight from each week. These are folded up and tossed into a glass vase in an obscure corner of the office. I’ll admit to being more than a month behind in this practice, but I do intend to catch up!
- Third, I keep a record of accomplishments made with each staff leader I supervise and each group I lead. Here I archive a truthful account of the highs, lows, and most importantly, the learnings made in our tenure together.
When the time of my departure nears, the desk drawer, the digital folder, the vase, and the records stand ready to help me tell the truth about our ministry and honor what God has been doing in our midst.
When it’s time for my final staff meeting, I will bring the vase and invite each leader to draw out a few slips of paper. Reading these aloud invites us to share highlights of our time together. I may also bring some blank slips of paper and invite staff to add their own highlights. Hearing from them broadens my perspective on what has mattered most in this place. Prior to my exit interview I will summarize these findings.
When it’s time to write my final sermon, I will use the desk and digital folder archives to help shape a farewell message. And when my keys are turned in and the office empty of all but a letter to the new pastor, I will have also left a letter to each of my colleagues on their desks, along with a small (or silly) memento of our work together. My goal in doing so is to convey that in planning to end well I began to take note of them from the start.
Finally, I will write an exit document for the presbytery leaders outlining the narrative of my tenure with said church. My goal in doing this is to demonstrate that I planned to end well from the start and to note the essential roles they played along the way.
In what ways do you plan to end well?
Where do you serve as an interim pastor and what drew you there?
Stuart: I serve First Presbyterian Church in Corinth, New York. They seemed to appear on my radar at just the time when I was considering a new call. My sense of them on our phone interview was that they were a faithful bunch who had a sense of humor — an indispensable element if we are going to be able to enjoy life together and move forward.
How do you approach the preaching task during a season of anxiety?
In some ways, I think we overstate the anxiety. Perhaps a third of the congregation’s anxiety is...
ARRIVAL: Take time to orient everyone to the training location pointing out parking, restrooms, WiFi access, and other housekeeping matters. Help everyone settle in.
Keep in mind that hosting at the church, while efficient, may not suit your objectives nearly as well as a more remote place of beauty, a denominational facility or retreat venue. Choose wisely. This is holy ground.
Equipping a group of people to function together as a PNC is one of the most important investments an interim pastor will make in a congregation. The wise interim knows that the PNC’s ability to collaborate in seeking to new pastoral leadership is mission critical to the future success of the new pastor and the church alike. Invest wisely. Prayerfully attend to all the Spirit’s whispers and promptings.
Do this early on...
- You must embrace and love change.
- Your family must support this unique ministry call.
- You must have the ability to articulate your sense of call to Interim Ministry with clarity, conviction, authenticity and grace.
- Spell out the steps from former pastor leaving to new pastor beginning using a roadmap graphic for print/handouts—see a sample roadmap below.
- Develop an interactive roadmap for digital applications such as the church website and social media.
If you're game to give interim ministry a try but wonder how to break into the field, try these ideas on for size:
Maintain an active online resume on LinkedIn or other social sites. Include recommendations from each of your references and list relevant ministry experience, strengths, and interests.
Job shadow an interim pastor. There's much to be learned from an experienced mentor who is actively working with a church in transition. Don't know an interim pastor? Sign up for a complimentary Coaching session with an Interim By Design / IBD mentor. We are delighted to talk with you.
Write a thoughtful job description outlining the desired leadership traits you are looking for: pastoral care, teaching gifts, conflict management and resolution skills, etc. Be prepared to articulate these traits clearly in the interview and explain why each is necessary.
Record online conversations and interviews—always ask for the candidate’s consent before doing this. When talking to many people, it's easy to forget details, take incomplete notes, or come away with differing opinions, so a recording provides a way to go back and replay the conversation later. It is also a helpful resource to share with others who did not participate in the original call.