9 Characteristics Of An Effective Interim Pastor
In our work with churches, we've seen that pastoral transitions can happen rather suddenly and unexpectedly. In many of these cases, unfortunately, the church does not have a succession plan in place or a successor prepared to take over leadership. Wisely though, some of these churches will look to an interim pastor to step in and help lead their church through a season of transition.
Hiring an interim pastor can be just as tricky as hiring a full time pastor on staff if you don’t know what to look for. Here are nine characteristics of an effective interim pastor:
1. High Emotional IQ
This is one of the most important characteristics for an interim pastor to posses. An interim pastor with a high emotional IQ will be skilled and experienced in identifying and understanding a church’s unique needs. They will also be emotionally sensitive and able to quickly assess the state of a church and what stage they are at in their transitional season.
While an effective interim pastor will need to be able absorb and process the church’s situation quickly, they will also need to possess an endless supply of patience. In sudden pastoral transitions, often, church staff and congregation will be grieving for their previous pastor. Be it illness, death, or moral failure, there will be a grieving process that requires recognition by the interim pastor. At the same time, an interim pastor will need to be able to construct a timeline that keeps the church on track for sustainability and growth, while still allowing room for healing. An interim pastor is also a great resource for the pastor search committee to consult when searching for their next Senior Pastor.
In order to properly care for a church, a pastor needs to be able to fully own and step into the role of leadership. If an interim pastor is too dependent on their time being limited, they will not be capable of fully devoting their mission and gifts to the fostering the church. Conversely, the interim pastor should be cognizant of the season ahead having a distinct beginning and end. If they cannot give up their role when the time comes and the church is ready, an interim pastor could severely hinder any progress made during the transitional time.
4. Tough Skin
Possibly even more so than an established pastor, an interim pastor must posses an ability to let criticisms and judgment roll off their back. Regardless of the short amount of time an interim pastor will be at a church, the congregation can often be harsh in their critique and opinions of the pastor’s teaching or pastoring style. Likewise, if the interim pastor is good at accepting that they can’t (and are not meant to) replace the previous pastor, then it will be easier for them to take most criticisms with a grain of salt.
5. Supportive Spouse
As with almost any pastoral role, the interim pastor’s spouse plays in important role in how successful the pastor can be. The spouse must be willing to oftentimes uproot the family and move to another city or state, knowing that they will likely be there a very limited amount of time.
This process could easily harden one’s heart towards connecting and becoming involved with the congregation, but an interim pastor’s spouse must be willing to make the commitment whether they are staying six months or two years. The support of a spouse during an interim can greatly help the pastor to remain resolute in many of the other characteristics listed.
During a transitional season without a pastor, churches often experience a decrease in attendance, giving, and momentum. An interim pastor needs to be able to properly assess these aspects and the current situation, and take the appropriate steps towards rectifying any issues. Perhaps it’s spurring an outreach, coaching on the process of finding the next pastor, or encouraging and reminding the church of their mission and specific vision.
While attendance decline tends to be expected with the sudden loss of a pastor, some don’t realize that the church staff is often affected as well. If certain key staff members leave, an interim pastor should be able to fill in the gaps and “wear many hats” if necessary. At the least, they should have the awareness to know their own capacity and raise up other staff or volunteers to help during the transition.
An interim pastor must also be agile enough to jump in feet first to all of a church’s flaws and problems. No matter the reason for transition or state of the church, there will always be some grit for an interim pastor to get into.
8. Leadership Ability
An effective interim pastor, amongst all of these characteristics, should also possess a counselor nature. They’ll need to be able to ask the hard questions of other church leadership, while maintaining an understanding of the difficult situation that they are in. An interim pastor might also be dealing with some congregants who remain fiercely loyal to the previous pastor. These people will need a strong, yet empathetic leader to guide them in the transitional season.
9. Love For The Church
Most importantly; an interim pastor must have a whole-hearted love and passion for the Church. If they get too focused on one single church and all of their inherent brokenness, it could be easy to lose sight of the ultimate mission put forth by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Just like any Senior Pastor, Worship Pastor, or Children’s Ministry Pastor - no interim pastor will be perfect. However, these main characteristics can serve as a guide to choosing an interim pastor that can best help your church during a season of transition.
How can your interim pastor set your church for long-term success and growth?