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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Life of One Interim

Her name is Shelby, and she lived in Hazen, ND, and was in my confirmation class during the time I was the interim pastor of her and her family's congregation. On my last day, as the congregation hosted a meal for me, and gave me some nice parting gifts ("Thanks for playing at Pastor Scott! Here's some nice parting gifts for you from our sponsors."), and she came up to me perplexed.

"So, this is it? You're just done?"
Yep.
"Oh...well, thanks. Have a good life."

You too. I smiled as she turned and walked away. I haven't seen her since, and I can't remember her last name. But I do remember her. I remember how she wanted a pastor who could understand what life in a small, rural community could be like for a 14 year old girl. She wanted a pastor who could help her believe in stuff she couldn't see, and to trust in the love of her parents that she could see--even if she didn't want to. In this particular case, I believe God sent her that pastor. But it wasn't me.

As an interim pastor it is NEVER me. I am not the answer to any congregations' questions or prayers. My job is to listen, to explore, and to help congregations claim their identity as places of God's work in the world. And their next pastor will see in their faces, hear in their words and laughter, their tears, and flagging energy, a way to live and be in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Congregations long for pastors to live with them in the promised land. Interim pastors like me, we walk with them through the wilderness right up to the Jordan river. But we don't cross over with them. We are never the ones to live in the promised land. We go back into the wilderness and get the next group that wants to go through.

I was in the promised land once. Turns out, not for me. Too many rules. Too many personalities. Too much politics. You don't have that stuff in the wilderness of interim ministry* There is no time for most of that stuff. You can politic all you want, but pastors will come with you only if they think ministry can be done with you. You best keep your crazy folks under wraps, as no pastor wants to interview with a bunch of questions designed to appease a few folks who have an axe to grind. And you better not have too many rules, else you may eliminate from consideration the very pastor you need.

Interim ministry is ministry on the run, making things up as they go, and trying things once. (There's usually no time to try something again.) Interim ministry is having people step up and claim their identity as children of God, and to have them be mature about their faith. Interim ministry is not for the faint of heart, as it requires you to ask hard questions about why God has called you to this place, and how you are to be a child of God in this congregation? Interim ministry shows people the best of what a faithful life can be. There is no other option, otherwise you just wander until you die.

I have met so many wonderful people in interim ministry over the past 20 years. People who really care about their faith, the faith of their communities, and trust God. I've met great congregational presidents, leaders of choirs, women's groups, and parishioners of all ages and types. I love getting to meet new people.

I do get sad when I am done with an interim. But I am also hopeful. I trust we have done our work in the wilderness of transition well. We can articulate who we are, what we are about, and how we see God calling us into the future, into the promised land. Yes, the teenagers are not used to such transient relationships (for that matter not all adults like them either), but not everything in life is meant to be permanent. Especially, living in the wilderness. That never lasts more than 40 years--give or take.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

*Interim ministry is ministry that helps congregations transition from one pastor (or leadership team) to another. Depending upon the traditions of the congregation involved, interims last from 6-24 months usually. Some interims, especially if malfeasance is involved in previous leadership, may require specific rituals and healings in order for a congregation to find its next leader.

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