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October-November 2014

What's Next for Home Missions?


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The Interim Pastor

By Roy W. Harris


The pastor informs the church of his decision to move to another ministry. He will be gone in 30 days, and it is not the first time the church has begun the process of searching for a new pastor. Who will shepherd the flock until the search has been completed?

Pastor resignations often create a vacuum filled by someone or some group within the church. Each church decides its own approach to the process of securing a pastor, but most churches scramble to find someone to fill the pulpit in the meantime.

Churches often look to retired ministers within their membership to fill the pulpit and provide spiritual nourishment. Others look beyond their membership to local ministers willing to step in for a few weeks until the church can complete the pastoral search. Sometimes, a deacon or layman may be pressed into service because the church simply cannot find anyone else. Yet churches have at least one other option: they may select someone to serve as interim pastor until a new pastor can be secured.

After serving as pastor of four full-time churches and also as interim pastor on four different occasions, I would like to offer a few simple suggestions to help local churches, district associations, and state promotional directors develop a plan, profile, and financial package for the position of interim pastor.


Planning for Interim Pastors

Free Will Baptist state promotional directors often receive calls from local churches that need help with the pastoral search. These men sometimes fill pulpits while churches travel down the road to a new pastor. This becomes especially difficult when multiple churches are without pastors at the same time.

I encourage state promotional directors to work in cooperation with their executive committees to locate and approve an appropriate number of ministers willing to serve the churches in their states as interim pastors. Start with one man and add more as needed. This should not involve expense to the state since local churches are responsible for the financial compensation of interim pastors.

District associations can also take the initiative by formally designating ministers within their associations who are willing to serve as interim pastors. Having go-to men who are eager to serve as interim pastors, will make it easier for leaders to connect these ministers to churches in need.


Profiling the Interim Pastor

What type of minister makes a good interim pastor? Wisdom dictates that these ministers have a minimum of five years pastoral experience and a proven track record. They should be well known and well respected.

Life expectancy continues to rise. This offers a great opportunity for Free Will Baptist churches. Men who have given decades of service to our churches may be willing to give a little more. Retired ministers provide a great choice—maybe even the best choice—for an interim pastor. Most ministers would agree that a man may retire from pastoring, but he never retires from God’s call to ministry.

While these godly men may not want or be physically able to assume the full gamut of a pastorate, they may prove to be great help to churches that need them. Sage older pastors have much to offer, and churches can benefit greatly from their wealth of knowledge and experience. Bi-vocational ministers living near the church provide another possibility for an interim pastor.

Whether retired or active in ministry, potential interims should understand up front their role is not to become pastor of the church, but to serve as interim for a specific period of time. This commitment should be made to church, district, or state association leaders and understood clearly by everyone involved.

If the church becomes interested in calling the minister while he serves as interim, and he has an interest in becoming the permanent pastor, he must follow God’s direction in the matter. But the interim pastor should not approach the church to suggest being considered as pastor.


A Blueprint for Successful Interim Ministry

State and district associations may provide a simple blueprint as a starting point for discussions between churches and potential interims. This will help both parties be on “the same page” regarding the role, responsibilities, and expectations of both churches and interim pastors.

A specific timeframe should be agreed upon at the outset by the church and potential interim regarding the length of service. Three to six months is a good starting point, with an option to continue beyond the timeframe if such an arrangement is acceptable to both parties. Churches that have recently endured difficult or traumatic situations may want to consider six months or longer with an interim pastor to provide time for healing.

Interim pastors generally are not compensated at the same level as regular or full-time pastors. Therefore, churches should not expect interim pastors to fulfill all the responsibilities of a full-time pastor. Wisdom dictates that churches and interim pastors have a clear understanding of what is expected. This understanding should be clearly stated in writing to avoid any unnecessary confusion.

What should this agreement contain? Consider the following brief outline—a starting point for the discussion between the church and prospective interim.


Interim Pastor Roles and Responsibilities


Worship Responsibilities

  • The interim will preach at each Sunday service or ensure the pulpit is filled.

  • Honorariums for substitute preachers will be the interim pastor’s responsibility.

  • The church worship leader will plan the order of service.

  • The church will be responsible for selecting songs and arranging for special music.

  • The church will be responsible for preparing and printing the church bulletin. (The interim pastor will communicate pertinent information).

  • The church will receive the offerings and take care of the announcements.

  • The interim pastor will oversee prayer meetings; select, prepare, and lead Bible studies; and use others to lead at his discretion.


Member Care (since interim pastors sometimes travel long distances)

  • Much of personal member care will be done by phone.

  • The interim pastor will visit hospitals during major surgeries and crisis times.

  • The interim pastor will not be expected to be present for outpatient procedures, tests, non-admittance Emergency Room illnesses, in-office medical procedures, etc.

  • Others will share responsibility in case of death or other emergencies when the interim pastor is out of town or has prior responsibilities that make it impossible for him to be present.



  • The interim pastor will advise and provide counsel for the visitation program.

  • Deacons and church leadership will be responsible for following up on first-time guests.


Boards and Committees

  • The interim pastor will work with and provide direction to church Leadership.

  • He will meet with deacons as needed.

  • He will meet with trustees as needed.

  • He will meet with with other groups, committees, boards, etc. as needed.

  • He will work with and provide direction to the building committee.*

*Note: It is wise for an interim pastor to communicate through the chairman rather than all committee members individually.


Interim Pastor’s Wife’s Involvement

  • Her primary role is supporting the interim pastor.

  • Although she may be eager to serve, she should not commit to specific responsibilities until she determines which areas fit her schedule and gifting.

  • Her job responsibilities, work hours, and distance to church may impact her ability to attend prayer meeting every week. The church must understand when she cannot be present.


Business Meetings

  • The church and interim pastor should decide who is responsible for moderating church business meetings.


Final Considerations

  • The interim pastor has responsibilities beyond the church. He must be allowed to fulfill these obligations in addition to the role of interim pastor.

  • The interim pastor will receive a weekly salary in the amount agreed upon by pastor and church. The amount should take into account the distance between the pastor’s home and the church.

  • The church will supply Sunday lunch for the interim pastor and his family.

  • The church will make arrangements for a place for the Interim Pastor and his family to rest and study on Sunday afternoons between Sunday services.

  • The church parsonage could be made available for the interim pastor’s use on weekends. Note: This can be a great benefit to the church. The Interim Pastor may be able to arrive on Saturdays and leave on Mondays rather than driving long distances on Sundays.

Interim pastors fill a vital role for many churches churches. He can step in, supply spiritual nourishment, and serve as a leader to help churches through the interim period. Who comes to your mind that would make a great interim pastor? Many great men have much to give. Let’s make use of this untapped resource.


About the Writer: Dr. Roy Harris is a veteran Free Will Baptist pastor, having pastored churches in North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. He graduated from Welch College with a B.A. in Pastoral Training and a M.M. He also holds a Ph.D. in Pastoral Ministry from Trinity Theological Seminary.


©2014 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists