Leadership transition time provides an excellent opportunity to both fund and follow through on needed actions to strengthen the health and effectiveness of the organization. Design Group International often uses such an opportunity to embed a senior leader as the interim or acting CEO/Executive Director. We have gone further to apply this in Christian congregations during time of pastoral transition, especially stressed and declining congregations needing to find their way back to mission and hope. Recently, we were privileged to link up with Orlan Koehn, a seasoned transitional pastor and to ask him the following questions:
1) Many congregational lay leaders say “why do we need an interim pastor”, why do they?
An interim pastor can be helpful in guiding the congregation through the sense of loss and grief when a pastor leaves for whatever reason by providing a supportive non-anxious presence.
An interim pastor can help the congregation celebrate the blessings/good times of the past and help them gain a better understanding and appreciation of who they are by evaluating their journey together from a historical perspective.
An interim pastor can be helpful in guiding a congregation in processing tension and conflict that may be present when pastoral transition occurs.
An interim pastor can help a congregation share their dreams for the future and determine what kind of leadership person would be a good fit.
Simply put; an interim pastor can assist the congregation in assessing and evaluating who they are and “setting the sail” for the future.
2) Is this all that significantly different from what is often called “pulpit supply”?
It is significantly different in the sense that there are mutual expectations and agreement for doing deeper work that evaluates what the congregation has experienced and develops insight from their shared past experiences: how that has shaped who they are presently. Then we can assist with the work of sharing dreams and identifying goals for the pathway into the future.
3) How did you become engaged in interim ministry and what helped you begin to see it as a vocation?
I was introduced to the idea of interim ministry by my counselor prior to graduation at Hesston College. Frankly, my wife and I were reluctant to seek a long term pastor position away from our home in Colorado. Shortly after graduation, while serving as a sabbatical relief pastor in Phoenix, Az., I met a regional pastor from Ohio with whom I shared my thoughts about future ministry options. It was shortly thereafter that he offered me my first interim pastor opportunity. I have done 6 interim pastor assignments in the Midwest, including my home congregation in Greeley, Co. since Jan. 2004.
Early on in this adventure I gained more insight in who I am as gifted and wired by God, and that I fit well with interim pastor ministry. I also received affirmation from people in the congregations I served as well as conference pastor(s) to whom I was accountable. This path of interim pastoral ministerial has been shaped by an on-going sense of a closed door for my wife and I, when pondering leaving Colorado permanently.
4) What do you identify as markers of success in an interim scenario? What pitfalls should one be aware of?
A key marker is when leadership people and the congregation are less anxious, even at peace about their situation. Also, when they focus on God and are praying, seeking his direction for forward movement, and when they can look ahead with a sense of adventure.
Of course, it also feels like success when a congregation gets through the calling process and approves a pastor candidate!
The pitfall to avoid is taking credit for one’s ability and not recognizing God’s hand and direction in the situation. An interim pastor is not the messiah for a congregation that is in transition.
5) What resource or two would you point to if someone wants more information about interim pastor ministries?
- Regional pastors/ministers/bishops/overseers at a denominational level
- Design Group International
- IMN (Interim Ministry Network)
- IPM (Interim Pastor Ministries)