Whatever the reason the Intentional Interim has been engaged, every I.I. will, most probably find five layers that, at some point during the process, will need to be addressed:
1) The Pastoral Layer. If a church is in distress people will want to talk. II is a great ticket on which to go into a parish because your role as an II and the shorter time-frame gives you a reason to visit everybody, to get to know the church quickly and listen to people’s stories. And people will want to talk. That in itself is tremendously important in helping people to process unsettled grief and to voice anxieties and taboos – person-to-person. I am finding that very significant in terms of taking some of the heat out of the situation, helping alleviate some of the pressure that will have impacted relationships. And that aspect of getting alongside people in an old-fashioned pastor’s way really undergirds the other aspects of the work. That people should feel loved.
2) Governance matters… When a pastor comes under great stress or caves in all the other governance systems shift to compensate. Executive, board, wardens, treasurer, council, diaconate, and general meeting all adapt to keep the show on the road. When a new pastor comes they will find that there is consequently a pressure on the relationships. There is not the usual pastor-shaped-space in the machinery. And the new pastor might find that they are being forced back into the shape of the collapsed pastor. The “emergency powers committee” will have their hands on the reins and will be doing all they can to stabilize and keep the show on the road.
It can be hard for the church’s protectors to begin to relax again, and the “emergency” mode can push regular church members well away from the decision making centre of the church’s life. Run for too long this way and a feeling of depression, martial law, or dysfunctionality can begin to pervade the congregation.
Given enough time a dysfunctional polity will attract and entrench dysfunctional people. So these adaptions away from healthy church governance need de-adapting. An II helps the governance systems go back to their peacetime patterns. And it is easier for an II to do that than the next pastor. If the next pastor tries it very often people will say “You’re just trying to run it your way, feather your nest, shape us in your own image.” An II doesn’t face those same suspicions and has the benefit of a very motivating goal – that the church be ready to call its next pastor. That’s what everybody wants.
3) Church Focus. Distress always turns the attention of a congregation inwards. And gradually a process can help renew people’s hopes and vision for local church-life and ministry. If a church has put its hand up for an II process it is because people want their sights lifting. A church with high morale will be more willing to adapt and run with whatever the new pastor may bring.
4) Uncovering the Hidden Stories. Sometimes there may be an aspect to the story of church that is too longstanding or too disturbing to be on everyone’s lips. Two significant groups of people can help the II here. Those who have left – who will tell you the hidden story pretty quickly. And the older oldies. The older oldies are gems for many reasons. They are the ones who tell you how it was before“it’s always been this way” ! Because they remember the change or because they’re old enough to have seen other things. To heal, a church must be brought to a place where there is enough hope and ease that the taboos can be named and the church can listen without rancour to its own stories.
5) The Spiritual Layer. When stories recur in a church’s life, over decades, with personnel changing but distinct patterns repeating, that may sometimes signal that there is a spiritual layer to the story. I feel that we pastors are sometimes embarrassed to name this layer. If I say that it is only because I am describing myself. We don’t want to be regarded as paranoiacs or fruitcakes. But as the Scripture says “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” There are, according to Jesus, certain things that will only respond to prayer or to prayer and fasting. And so engaging the ministry of people with gifts of intercession and spiritual discernment is another important aspect of the process. I believe it is a critical first step.
As I have hinted I.I. is a form of ministry that is growing right across the denominations. Whatever the setting it boils down to helping a group of people to breathe, take a pause, do some thinking and turn a corner. So when a church puts up its hand and says “We need an I.I. process” I think it’s a wonderful thing. A wonderful opportunity for the grace of God.
Speaking in 2012 about Intentional Interim Ministry at the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn one-day Clergy Conference.