Discovering Your Mission During an Interim

We were one month into the consultation when the pastor called to tell me he was leaving the church. God had been dealing with him for several months. He sensed that his ministry at the church was over. And God had opened another door for pastoral leadership at another church. I anticipated the next statement from him. “Our leadership is wondering if they should postpone the consultation until they call a pastor.” I responded, “Actually, the interim period is the ideal time for a church consultation. It is the ideal time for discovering your mission.” Here is why.

Discovering Your Mission Gives You Direction

I once knew a couple who took a vacation without a clear destination. Seriously. They got to the end of their driveway and asked, “Do we turn right or do we turn left?” They got to the end of the street and asked, “Do we turn right or do we turn left?” Their entire vacation was spent answering, “Right or left?” I have no idea where they ended up. But I did ask them what they did if they didn’t agree on which direction to turn. They answered, “The person behind the wheel was in control.”

Many churches function in the same way. Church members share their opinions and the majority rules. The church spends its time deciding right or left. There is no clear direction. Or worse, without a clear direction the person with the most power decides. But Jesus has a very clear mission for every church.

Discovering Your Mission Gives You Purpose

Some churches view the interim as a time to rest. They treat it like an extended timeout or halftime of a ballgame. But the mission of Jesus continues during the interim period. The people in your community still need the ministry of your church. People are still hurting. And the church has been placed in their midst to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Even during the interim. Knowing your mission allows you to keep on keeping on.

I know of one church that chose to view the interim as an extended timeout. Not only did they refuse to discover their mission. They stopped many of the ministries they were doing before. They focused on maintaining what they had. And the result was that they declined by 30%! The interim is not the time to cease ministry. It is time to discover your mission and get busy doing it.

Discovering Your Mission Leads You to Your Next Pastor

We have all heard the cliche. We want a pastor in his thirties with twenty years of experience and a seminary doctorate. He needs to be married with two kids. We want him to spend two nights a week with our teenagers. One night a week with our children. Three nights a week with the senior adults. And he will need to be available two nights a week for meetings. And we don’t want him to neglect his family. We laugh at that description. But too many churches seek a pastor to meet the wishes of the people. When they should be seeking a pastor to lead them to fulfill Jesus’ specific mission for that specific church.

Discovering Your Mission Can Help You Avoid Conflict

I often hear church leaders say, “We want to wait and let our next pastor lead us to discover our mission.” That sounds good in theory. But that approach often leads to major conflict. The church wants the pastor to lead them until he leads them somewhere they don’t want to go. It would be much better if the church knew where it was going and called a pastor to lead them to that destination.

Discovering Your Mission Can Help You Avoid Pastoral Turnover

Many of our churches are stuck in a relentless cycle of pastoral turnover. A new pastor comes. The church is excited. The pastor leads. The church reacts. Conflict ensues. The pastor leaves. They find a new pastor as quickly as possible. The cycle repeats. And with each repetition the church declines.

I have had two short-term pastorates that fit this pattern. The church did not know their mission. They had opinions and personal preferences. They knew that they were supposed to obey the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. But they did not know what that meant. In both cases the pastor search committee indicated they understood the mission. And in both cases I felt that my calling matched their mission. I had the skillset, the passion, and the gifts to lead them. Unfortunately, the church did not share their understanding of the mission.

Discovering Your Mission Leads to Fruitful Ministry

I have also had two relatively long-term pastorates. In both cases the churches took the time to discover their mission. One did so just prior to the previous pastor’s retirement. The other did so during the interim. Both search committees sought a pastor who fit the mission. The churches knew who they were. They knew their mission. They knew what they were looking for in a pastor. And the result was extended and fruitful ministry.

The interim is an ideal time for a church to discover who they are and what is their mission. But going through the process of a consultation is not a magic bullet. Discovering your mission is only valuable if you do something with it. As Peter Drucker observed, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

A church that discovers its mission during an interim period needs to begin living out that mission during the interim. The search committee needs to consider the mission when looking for a pastor. Church leadership needs to hold church members accountable when personal preferences become more important than the mission. They also need to hold the pastor they call accountable for leading them to fulfill the mission.

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2 thoughts on “Discovering Your Mission During an Interim”

  1. This is a good article. I am in my seventh month of an Interim and have led the church to discover why they were unhealthy, what their mission is, what there 5 core values are and a preliminary vision statement. We are now in the process of setting one goal and action plans in achieving it. I have also reinstated the search process. All this information will be shared with the candidate of their choice, asking him if he would lead the church toward their vision.
    Thanks for the confirmation of their process.

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