Several years ago I was asked to assist a congregation in Florida find their next pastor. I was curious as to why a good friend and fellow pastor, now retired, was the one who called. He recounted to me the heartbreaking story of the painful split that occurred in the church six months prior to his calling me. The leadership of the church had wisely asked him to become their Interim Pastor.

This story illustrates one of two primary circumstances under which a congregation needs an Interim Pastor. The deep division in the church had resulted in lots of member being deeply wounded and discouraged. Many of the volunteers who had filled critically important roles in the church had left with the departing group. And, sadly, the departing group had left in such a way that several legal and ethical questions needed to be resolved.

What is the task of the Interim Pastor in such a situation? It can be summed up in two words: “Healing” and “Stability.” The congregation is in great pain marked by anger, feelings of betrayal, mistrust, and disillusionment. The Interim’s first and primary task is to minister healing with loving and sensitive pastoral care. Beyond that, he is to lead the church toward stability, working closely with the leaders who remain to see that new volunteers are recruited, trained, and assigned to places of ministry. He will lead the leaders by moderating their meetings, identifying and training new leaders, and assisting with bringing financial stability back to the church.

In summary, a church is wise to secure the ministry of a qualified Interim Pastor when the pulpit is left vacant resulting from trauma in the church’s life.

What is the task of the Interim Pastor in such a situation? It can be summed up in two words: “Healing” and “Stability.”

The second circumstance that calls for securing an Interim Pastor is when the departing pastor has had a long tenure and is deeply loved and respected. Typically, the tenure would be in excess of 15 years. During those years a deep bond has developed between him and the congregation. In all likelihood, he has worked hard and been faithful but, in spite of that, some aspects of the church’s life have been neglected. The best of pastors has a tendency to “default” to their strengths and passion. The result is that several things need to be addressed, corrected, or fixed so that the church might be ready to move forward when the next Pastor is installed. A wonderful “side” benefit of the Interim Pastor’s presence is that the gap that he fills between the previous pastor and the new pastor will make it much easier and quicker for a healthy bond to occur between the new pastor and the congregation.

So, when your pulpit becomes vacant two questions should be asked: 1) Is our vacancy the result of trauma that we have experienced?; and 2) has our previous pastor served us longer than 15 years? If the answer to either of these is “yes,” then in all likelihood an Interim Pastor should be sought.