The Alban Institute’s Dan Hotchkiss just published an article on the evolution of interim ministry theory and practice. Given that the Alban Institute wrote the book on interim ministry, it is interesting to hear a senior staff member reflect on increasing criticism of the practice.
Hotchkiss writes: Over the last decade, the consensus in support of interim ministry has softened somewhat.
Carolyn Weese and Russell Crabtree, in The Elephant in the Boardroom (Jossey-Bass 2004), complain that the “prevailing stream of thinking about leadership transitions tends to be illness- based. A pastoral transition is treated like a terminal diagnosis….” (p. 19) Ouch!
Hotchkiss cites a recent article by Norman Bendroth, a long time interim ministry practitioner who surveyed current thinking about the interim system:
Bendroth writes: Anthony B. Robinson, a seasoned United Church of Christ pastor, author and consultant has recommended that “Tall Steeple” churches, in particular, might consider a “succession” model where the newly called pastor overlaps the outgoing pastor so the church does not lose momentum.
How effective is transitional ministry? There is a crying need for longitudinal studies to be done across denominational lines that will provide quantitative results. To date that has not been done,
Here in the Diocese of Massachusetts, a recent transition in our transition ministry office led to a lively discussion among our bishop and area deans about the future of transition ministry. Bishop Shaw cited statistics that show that interims often slow down a congregation’s momentum, that attendance and pledges often drop during the interim period. He noted that, given the unpredictability of many transitions, it is difficult to find good interim ministers in a timely fashion. He expressed openness to trying the planned succession model mentioned by Weese and Crabtree and Anthony Robinson. Our largest inner city church used the succession model several years ago and is flourishing. The deans noted that another model – appointment of a priest in charge as a prelude to calling that priest as rector, was increasingly popular.
Here at Old North, we are developing a long-range plan focused on our three hundredth birthday in eleven years. The wardens approached me about including succession planning as I will probably retire within that timeframe. They are intrigued with the idea of bringing an associate on who would be eligible to become rector.
The practice of interim ministry will continue to evolve as the church restructures herself for effective ministry in the 21st century. The articles cited above are useful introductory reflections. I agree with Norman Bendroth that we need some serious independent studies on what has or has not worked well in the church as well as studies of best practices in other business and non-profit organizations.