Intentional Interim Ministry 101

 

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Mary Portas – a tough as nails model of trouble-shooting
transitional leadership

Some of my most rewarding experience in ministry has been on a spectrum of assignments as a Mission Companion – such as with OIKOS Australia, Church of the Good Shepherd (Waterlooville, Hampshire, UK) for JGen Associates and the Lachlan Macquarie Internship (see the tabs on this website). At the more intense end of that spectrum is a transitional ministry called Intentional Interim Ministry. When I talk to people about my work as an Intentional Interim, you can probably guess the usual response: “What’s one of those?” 

Here’s a personal answer. Intentional Interim – or I.I. for short – is, I believe, a tremendously exciting form of ministry that is essentially about helping a church to turn a corner or change gears in some kind of way. It is interim because it is performed in between successive pastors. I first became aware of this form of ministry nearly 20 years ago when I was working in the UK. It is the most dramatic turnaround of a church that I have ever seen – a church that when I first met it consisted of 12 octagenarians.

These twelve stalwarts were dyed-in-the-wool Pentecostals. And a very discouraged 12 they were because they had been that size for some time. Six years later everything about that church had changed.

It was now all-age, multi-cultural, multiple-congregation. The name of the church had changed, the style of worship had changed, emphases in the spirituality and theology were different – where it met was different. It had morphed and seeded a web of three adult congregations – one blended congregation, two separate African congregations, and one kids congregation. Counting them together one would estimate a web comprising around 550 people. Unrecognisable, except that in the praying core of the community those twelve were still there except for the one who had gone to glory.

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What was it that enabled those twelve elderly saints to make such a monumental journey? Looking back, I believe a critical factor was the ministry that came before all those changes. A mature minister – the regional superintendent – had given that tiny, discouraged little AOG church two years of his weekends. And what he did with his time with those great saints was to minister to their morale, their imagination and their confidence.

Through that careful, nurturing journey, those 12 people were able to change from seeing themselves as the sad remnant of a big church to seeing themselves as the foundation for something unrecognisably new – which is ultimately what they became. Today we have a label for that man’s ministry. We call it Intentional Interim. And as you can imagine his was an example of it I will never forget.

In the U.S. the espicopal churches have been developing I.I. ministry, using that name, since the 90s. The first time I heard the “I.I.” term used was by a couple of seasoned senior pastors in the Churches of Christ in Western Australia (COCWA) – Bill Addison and John Hutchinson. They were encouraging churches in their networks to engage an I.I. if – like the church I’ve just mentioned – they were either stuck or declining. You may know that Churches of Christ are emphatically autonomous at the congregational level and so are not automatically inclined to receive ministries sent from HQ! In that context those recommending I.I. ministry have had to do so purely on the fruit of it – on the basis of results. And so they have.

Another scenario that might call for an I.I: If a church is farewelling a pastor after 20 years of fruitful service clearly the danger is a church will try and replicate such a person and so fall into the trap of recruiting for 1992 instead of for 2012. There the II’s role is to help such churches get a feel for the new missional environment facing them, and so what kind of ministry they might need to recruit for.

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I was privileged to watch at close quarters an example of intentional interim ministry in NSW incarnated by a seasoned and skilled pastor by the name of Des Daniels. Ruth and I enjoyed attending a coastal Baptist church that had engaged Des to lead their congregation through an intentional interim process. Journeying with that community and watching Pastor Des in action showed me at close quarters that although I.I. might sound, to some, like management-speak from the world of corporate consultations, it is in fact something profoundly pastoral; helping people to recover, get up, change gear, and turn a corner. It is profoundly pastoral work.

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Pastor Des Daniels – a great model for me
in intentional interim ministry
Read Des’ blog at http://www.desdaniels.com

Once church that I served in this capacity invited their interim process because the people were bruised and wearied by what has been a bit of a bumpy ride over the previous 20 years. Three successive pastors’ terms had ended with distress and sickness. In the stories of those various pressures and conflicts there was evidence of repeating patterns – patterns that we did not want to see repeated for the next pastor. They were patterns to do with the health of the people, the health and wellbeing of the pastors and the governance patterns of the church.

Every church will have unique needs and histories but whatever the reason an I.I. has been engaged, there are five layers that every I.I. is likely to address. And I will unpack these in the next post…

 

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