Most Churches Need a Transitional Pastor

While the transitional pastor model has been around for 20 years or more, churches have been relatively slow to adopt it. When a pastor leaves, many churches call a traditional interim pastor. His job is to preach on Sundays, sometimes Wednesdays and maybe make a few hospital visits when needed. The goal of the church is to hold things together while they quickly find their new man. Perhaps they can even save some money while they are not paying a full-time pastor.

I am increasingly noticing that more and more churches are not even calling an interim. They are filling the pulpit from week-to-week with a variety of available preachers. These churches seem to be convinced that they will find a pastor quickly. They are only minimally concerned with holding things together and saving money. Their goal is to find a pastor in the least amount of time possible.

The transitional pastor model does not fit churches who are just holding things together while they find a pastor quickly and save some money while they are at it. Yet, these are often the very churches who could benefit the most from a transitional pastor. In fact, I am convinced that most churches need a transitional pastor. Here are five reasons why…

  1. A transitional pastor is trained to help the church deal with conflict. The level of conflict and forced terminations in my denomination (SBC) has reached what our state leaders are calling epidemic levels. Some churches are chronically conflicted. A good transitional pastor can help a church recognize and repent of the underlying issues and avoid the 3-5 year churning cycle of pastoral change. The church has to be willing, but the transitional pastor can do marvelous things to get the train back on the tracks and pointed in the right direction.
  2. A transitional pastor is trained to help the church define current reality. This includes understanding church culture and community context using many of the same tools that I use in church consultations. These tools include demographic and psychographic studies of the community, accurate analysis of key church metrics, revisiting the church’s legacy, and more. In a recent article Thom Rainer observed that churches are taking much longer to find a new pastor than they used to. From my own experiences and observations, many of these churches would have found their pastors sooner if they had started with a better understanding of their current reality.
  3. A transitional pastor is trained to help the church assess strengths and weaknesses. Few search committees and even fewer church members understand their church’s strengths and weaknesses. Members may think they know based on their participation in an area of ministry, but unless they have followed an objective and comprehensive assessment process they don’t really know where the church excels and where it struggles. The search committee that begins a search without this information is like the builder Jesus described who does not sit down first to count the cost.
  4. A transitional pastor is trained to help the church be missionally strategic. Competing agendas are a major problem in many churches. In Baptist life we like to say that whenever two or three Baptists are gathered together there are at least five or six opinions. Because of our polity, these agendas often gain footing through committees resulting in what sometimes seems to be a church with a multiple personality disorder. A good transitional pastor can help the church focus on and align its ministries (and members) with the mission. It may just save the incoming pastor the impossible task of herding cats!
  5. A transitional pastor is trained to lead the church to experience revitalization. As many as 90% of our churches are unhealthy and in need of revitalization. Many experience chronic conflict. Most do not understand their own reality or the state of their community. They don’t know their strengths or weaknesses. They have competing agendas and an inward focus. And if they don’t change directions, they will continue to repeat the cycle until they cease to exist. The transitional pastor is in a unique position to love and lead the church to greater health and a brighter future.

One of the objections to the transitional pastor model is that it takes at least a year, usually more. Churches say, “We don’t want to wait to find our pastor.” They believe that if they just get the right pastor to lead them, everything will be OK. These churches would rather ignore the issues and repeat the cycle of dysfunction. They would rather take six months to find a pastor every three or four years than take twelve to eighteen months once every ten years or longer.

Another objection is the cost. Because the transitional pastor is doing more than preaching and visiting hospitals, he is usually paid more than a traditional interim and certainly more than a supply preacher. “We can’t afford it,” is the cry of the church. My question is can you afford not to call a transitional pastor. I have rarely seen a church go through an interim period without a loss of attendance, income and momentum. This is especially true when the church is unhealthy. Not only does the transitional pastor approach position the church to avoid the repetition of interim periods, many churches experience an increase in attendance, income and momentum during a transitional pastorate.

Ultimately the goal of a transitional pastor is to prepare the church for its next pastor to be successful. If you would like more information about the ministry of a transitional pastor or would like to check my availability, visit Transitional Pastor Ministry.  You can also shoot me an email, connect with me on Facebook or leave a comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Most Churches Need a Transitional Pastor”

  1. Churches rather “fix” the issue by doing what they’ve done in the past during the “fruitful” times of ministry. Of course times and people change and ministry should adjust. The fear is – losing sight of God, because God never changes so the church shouldn’t change. That is a true statement, God doesn’t change, however, people and their culture does change. The strategy should become how can the church minister to the present culture.
    Reminds me of the tongue and cheek definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
    Good article Rob!!!

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