By Anne Tambling

Churches are destined to change if they are going to survive. This can be a really uncomfortable truth, even though we all recognize the benefit of refining fire or pruning the branches; especially when they show up in our sermons. We just don’t face the necessity and even the desirability of change when it happens to us. This moment in the life of the church finds us all struggling to adapt (or even try to lead) in this new reality as increasing numbers of people are leaving the church, attendance and giving are dropping, and we are seeking new ways to understand church and community in a digital world. And for some of us, our churches are experiencing more personal change when ministers leave, whether they are going to a church or simply retiring. As the world keeps moving faster, we are all seeking solid, stable ground.

This is the scenario where many churches find themselves these days. Post-pandemic, there are many issues that the church needs to address as they look to the future, and they need strong leadership to navigate the process. The announcement that a pastor is leaving is not only inconvenient, but often disconcerting or even panic-inducing. What is a church, a personnel committee, or a board of deacons or elders to do? It is in this moment that the Intentional Interim Ministry program excels. Trained to work with churches to clarify their own identity as a people of faith, IIM’s accept change as a given and walk with churches to find ways that they can not only survive but thrive during a time of transition. The time in between pastors can be seen as a metaphorical wilderness journey with the Promised Land far off in the future. While governing bodies may often be focused on the task at hand—finding a new pastor—an IIM creates space for a deep breath and a pause to step back and reflect. Who are we at our very core? And who is God calling us to be at this particular moment in time? Do we have the skills and gifts to do the work God is calling us to do? And how might we best equip ourselves to follow God’s call, even as that leads towards an uncertain future?

Intentional Interim Ministers are brought in by a church to address these issues. Rather than coming in as an expert, they work with the church’s transition team to guide the congregation through a period of discernment as they clarify their identity. The team uses the lens of five focus points to guide their work, exploring the church’s heritage, their mission and vision, their leadership structure and governing bodies, the connections they have with the denomination and the community, and ideas and strategies for the future. In this process, they work with the congregation to celebrate the past and mourn the losses of what they had or what might have been. They explore the mission and overarching vision of the church and explore ways to live out this mission. They analyze the governing structures and the documents that support them to ensure the church is in alignment with governing documents. And finally, they look to the future and the ways that the church can live out its mission and address the needs of the community around them.

It is only by knowing who you are that allows you to truly determine where you are going. In a time when the world seems to be in flux, there is hope and comfort in knowing who you are and who God is calling you to be. What you do in these times is best determined by knowing who you are.