When to Bring in a Transitional Pastor to Your Church

Transitions in churches are never easy. Very few people enjoy seasons of change, and transitions tend to bring about a lot of change. However, if handled well, a time of transition can bring about a new season of growth and revitalization in just about any church.

Bringing in a transitional pastor is one way to help a church successfully navigate a transition period. Here are several instances in which a church should consider hiring a transitional pastor:

When the Lead Pastor Position is Abruptly Vacated

The most common reason to bring in a transitional pastor is when the lead pastor position at a church suddenly becomes vacant. This could happen for several reasons. A pastor could be terminated or decide to leave without much notice. He could become ill and not be able to perform his duties any longer, or he could pass away unexpectedly. Any of these instances would cause a church to have to scramble to fill the position of a person who more than likely wears many hats within the church.

Rather than hastily filling the position, many churches choose to bring in a transitional pastor. A transitional pastor will fill many of the roles of the lead pastor—or at the very least will be able to preach weekly sermons—so the church can take their time finding a new permanent pastor.

When Your Lead Pastor Retires After Many Years

It is not uncommon for a new lead pastor to only have a short tenure when he is the successor to a much-loved pastor who faithfully served a church for many years.

When a church has had the same pastor for many years, it can be difficult for those in the congregation to accept his replacement. There will almost certainly be many in the church who will make unfair comparisons between the former lead pastor and the new lead pastor. It will also be difficult for the new lead pastor to make any sort of changes—even changes that are much needed.

Bringing in a transitional pastor can provide a sort of “buffer” between the former pastor and the new pastor. The transitional pastor will take the brunt of the “that’s-not-how-the-last-guy-did-it” comments from the staff and congregation. By the time the next permanent lead pastor arrives, the congregation may be more open to change and different ways of doing things, giving the new lead pastor a greater chance to be successful.

In Order to Be Cautious Before Promoting from Within

Some churches are blessed to have another pastor already on their staff who has the gifts that would make him a great choice to step into the lead pastor role when it is vacated. However, churches would be wise to take their time before automatically promoting from within.

VitalChurch Ministry, an organization that provides churches with transitional pastors, suggests that every church should do an official pastoral search when the lead pastor position needs to be filled, even if there is someone who can be promoted from within. They say, “If the internal candidate is, in fact, the man God is calling to shepherd your church, this will be solidified in the search process. If he isn’t, that will also be revealed in the process. Going through an official search will also give your congregation more confidence in the final decision, knowing that other options were explored.”

How Do You Find a Transitional Pastor for Your Church?

If your church is part of a denomination, the denomination may have its own team of interim pastors and could send one of them to your church for a season. The advantage of going this route is that a denominational pastor will be right in line with the specific beliefs of your church. The pastor may even be familiar with some of the people in your church—particularly those in leadership. A denominational pastor will also be able to easily communicate with denominational leadership when necessary.

If your church is not a part of a denomination or church network, churches can look to ministries that provide transitional pastors, sometimes called intentional interim pastors. These organizations will send one of their dedicated pastors to your church to serve as the lead pastor until your church is able to hire a new, permanent lead pastor. Depending on the organization, the pastor may provide other services to the church as well, including policy and procedure reviews, staff evaluations, conflict resolution, and strategic planning.

What Type of Transitional Pastor Does Your Church Need?

Some churches only need someone to come in and preach on Sundays while they search for their next lead pastor. Their church is otherwise very stable and has a clear and agreed-upon mission and vision in place. They just need someone to maintain the status quo until the next lead pastor is called.

Other churches need much more from a transitional pastor. There may be some unresolved conflict, confusion over the church’s mission and vision, or a lack of clarity when it comes to staff roles. An experienced transitional pastor can often help with these types of issues. He can also be an unbiased third party who can see the presenting issues for what they truly are and help the church resolve them.

Before bringing in a transitional pastor, make sure you know what type of pastor you will be getting. Be honest with your church’s needs and issues, and be open to change.

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