I spoke with a congregation this week that was about to lose their beloved, long-term pulpit minister and they wanted to know if we could help them find a new one.  The more we chatted, the more I became convinced that it would be a colossal mistake for them to try to hire someone right now.  The odds of a new minister failing were just too high so instead; I recommended that they consider a long-term interim appointment to help them through a difficult transition period.

Let me give you two prime examples of when it might be better to work with a long-term interim rather than going ahead and hiring someone right away.

Replacing A Long-Term Minister

Even in the best of circumstances, it can be very difficult for a new minister to follow right behind someone who has been with your congregation for a long period of time.  Just like a long term personal relationship, breaking up is hard to do.  There will be pain and grief within the congregation that needs time to heal. 

No matter how good your new minister might be, he won’t be as good as “Brother Soandso” (at least at first). He won’t say things the same way as Brother Soandso.  He won’t know the members like Brother Soandso. Even if he is fantastic, there will still be a portion of the congregation that won’t like him just because he isn’t Brother Soandso.

It would be a mistake for a new minister to try to come in and replace Brother Soandso.  Your new minister should be true to himself and not try to imitate his predecessor.  He will want to do and say things his way, with his distinctive style. That is good and healthy, but it will be different and sometimes change is hard.

Internal Turmoil

The second situation where it can be hard for a new minister to be successful is if there is a lot of internal turmoil within the congregation.  Maybe you have recently experienced a crisis in leadership.  Maybe some portion of the congregation had to actively campaign to force the last minister to leave.  Maybe some portion of the congregation has been pushing for a doctrinal change.  Whatever the reason, if you are bitterly divided internally, it can be very tough for a new minister to succeed.

The Role of a Long-Term Interim

In both of these situations, I recommend that you consider a long-term interim minister.  You need someone who can focus on helping the congregation heal while at the same time preparing the congregation to one day receive a new minister. 

When I say “long term” I’m thinking of a period of at least nine months and possibly as long as eighteen months.  This gives your members a chance to work through the turmoil. It allows the memory of Brother Soandso to fade a little and not be quite as vivid. It really just prepares the congregation to receive a permanent minister who can be successful and with you for a long time.

If you are in the market for an interim minister, my friend, Jerrie Barber, has served as a full-time interim minister since 2007.  Following a forty-year career as a full-time minister, Jerrie is one of the few men in our brotherhood who has actually been trained in interim ministry and he knows how to help a congregation heal.  While he personally only accepts one post at a time, he often knows of others who might consider a role similar to his.  If you are at all inclined, I would highly recommend that you check out his website at http://www.barberclippings.com or contact him personally to help find an interim minister in your neck of the woods.