Everyone has a crazy idea—or multiple if you’re me. Here’s the rationale for mine: every church and every candidate for ministry wants experience. For candidates, it opens doors; it creates opportunities; it gives you purpose. For churches, an experienced minister provides a sense of calm because the minister has done this before. So what do you do if you need experience, yet can’t find an opportunity that provides it? Looking at the statistics today on the PC(USA) website it shows there are 1494 individuals seeking a call; of that number 251 are candidates for ministry or first call seekers. But there are only 486 positions, of which 104 are open to candidates/first call seekers. You don’t need a masters in mathematics to see there are more people than jobs.
Many of the folks I’ve spoken to who are seeking a call hear the response, “Thanks for your interest, but we are looking for someone with more experience.” If you are a seminary trained, first call seeker your options for gaining experience are limited; if churches won’t call you how else does one gain experience? The General Assembly has created various opportunities including Lilly Residents, For Such a Time As This, and 1001 Worshipping Communities—all of which provide experience for first call seekers. These opportunities emerged when the church thought outside the box, finding ways to connect pastors with new opportunities. I want to suggest the church continue this trend and urge churches to open themselves up to potentially calling first time call seekers to interim pastor positions. The call of an interim aligns well with the experience first call seekers desire and/or need.
Here are five reasons why this could be great:
1. Change Agents
Pastors end seminary/divinity school energized. We are ready to change the church, relying upon all the theology, history, Greek, Hebrew and practical tools our professors instilled within us. Seeing the flaws of the church, our tool belts are readied to apply the necessary fix; seeing the strengths, we aim to grease those wheels to keep them turning. Churches in the interim period would benefit from this energy as they are more open to discerning what did or didn’t work.
2. Churches Rise to the Occasion
Too often we underestimate the gifts a congregation possesses. One of them is nurturing leaders. Most seminarian’s internships prove to be fertile ground for growth, particularly when churches realize they have a role in the maturation process of a pastor. Folks who sit in the pews have much to share (beyond what’s wrong with the church) and inexperienced pastors have much to learn. It is a great pairing!
3. It is Temporary (or not!)
An interim’s contract is a designated period so each party knows that no matter what happens the relationship will come to an end as interim ministry that typically last between nine months to three years. If it’s bad, it will be over soon; but if it’s great the New Form of Government in the PC(USA) allows a church to call that interim. It is a trial basis that is a win-win for both parties. Churches get an interim and the pastor gets some experience.
4. There’s Built-in Support
During interim periods the Presbytery is actively engaged. What if that engagement extended to the pastor who is learning the ropes of ministry? First-call pastors don’t know exactly what we are doing, but there is a plethora of wisdom within the many pastors in the Presbytery. Why not use this interim period as an extension of seminary where the pastor is given support from seasoned pastors who have seen all the church has to offer. The Presbytery could create a committee (and what Presbyterian doesn’t like creating another committee!) of pastors who meet regularly to discuss the practicalities of leading a church.
5. Shows the Future is Now
The majority of interim ministers are retired pastors. They benefit from their experiences to guide churches through this in-between period. In certain situations that is exactly what a church needs. However, more often than not a church simply needs to take a breath after their pastor has left before calling another one. If a church is healthy enough to be ready to call a new pastor and needs time for the PNC to form and search for a candidate, why wouldn’t it be a great sign to the congregation to have an interim with little experience leading them. It will show them a different face and, potentially, a possibility for who their next pastor might be.
This is a crazy idea and it needs some ironing out. But it is time the Church realizes that we often function with an unconscious mentality that once you’ve put in your time – you will be able to lead the church. Maybe it’s time to think differently and outside the box to see how we offer opportunities for folks to gain experience. Truth is you never know what can happen if you let the Holy Spirit loose!
What do you think, is this too crazy an idea? If not, how do we make it work?