A PERSONAL CONTEXT
Among my most rewarding experiences in ministry has been a spectrum of specialist and surgical assignments as a Church Doctor. The contexts for this ministry have been many and diverse:
- Consultations for non-aligned grassroots churches with OIKOS Australia
- Consultations for parishes and chaplaincies in the UK and Australia
- In-service ministry-training among pentecostal and non-aligned churches in AUstralia
- Planting initiatives among pentecostal and Aglican churches in the UK and Australia
- Financial and organisational reprofiling of churches and para-church ministries
- Appointment processes
- Community healing and troubleshooting assignments
- As Archdeacon for Canberra (North) in the Australian Capital Territory
At one end of the church-doctoring spectrum is a special form of transitional ministry called Intentional Interim Ministry. Whenever I talk about my assignments as an Intentional Interim, the first question people ask is usually, “What’s one of those?”
A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION
Intentional Interim – or I.I. for short – 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 back in the 1990’s when I was working in the UK. I saw its effectiveness in the most dramatic turnaround of a church that I have ever seen – a church which when I first met it consisted of a dozen octagenarians. These 12 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 an 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 more than 500 people. Unrecognisable, except that in the praying core of the community those twelve were still there except for the one, Mr Sawden, who had gone to glory.
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 – Ps Colin Benton, 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.
Colin Benton – Southern Light Ministries & Assemblies of God UK
Through that careful, nurturing journey, those twelve 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.
Mary Portas – a tough as nails model of trouble-shooting
In the U.S. Episcopalian 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 seasoned senior ministry-development 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. 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.
Consider another scenario that might call for an I.I: If a church is farewelling a pastor after 30 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 2022. 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.
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.
Revd. Des Daniels – a great model for me in Intentional Interim
Read my tribute to the late Des Daniels here
One 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 well-being 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. I will unpack these layers in the posts that follow…