In the life of any church, there is a time when a pastor leaves. Sometimes it’s because a minister moves on to a larger congregation or some other field of ministry. At other times, there are times when the pastor leaves for personal reasons — illness, death and retirement. There are even times when ministers are forced from the local ministry.
What does a church not governed by a bishop or some other authority that names the new pastor do when they are left without a shepherd? Many times an interim pastor is called to fill the role until a permanent spiritual leader can be found.
The Catholic Church and the Methodist Church and others are governed such that they are not without a pastor as the position is sent to them from the district office.
Many other denominations, such as the Baptist, Presbyterians and many others, have the task of searching for a pastor when they find themselves without a leader.
The role of an interim pastor is as varied as the congregation that he or she may be asked to serve. For the purpose of this article, the discussion will be focused on a veteran interim pastor, the Rev. Dr. Glenn Jonas Jr. Jonas is chairman of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Campbell University.
He is currently serving as interim pastor at Grove Park Baptist Church. Clinton is his 12th interim position, with many of them in and around the area, places such as Kenansville, Mount Olive and Salemburg.
The university professor majored in church history and has a great understanding of problems experienced by churches throughout the ages.
“Often when we think of a church undergoing problems, we tend to think they are new to our day,” Jonas pointed out. “This is most certainly not true. The early church had problems. Some serious problems. First, they had problems from within … disunity. Secondly, they experienced problems from without…persecution. However, it was not the most common thought of the Romans, it was persecution from fellow Jews,” expressed Jonas.
The professor then alluded to comments that many have heard, “If you ever found the perfect church, don’t go. Because as soon as you joined, it would no longer be perfect.” Jonas expressed that despite the circumstances of the separation caused by the departure of a pastor, a church must go through a period of grieving.
“When a pastor leaves the church, no matter the cause or reason, the church is left with a void and experiences loss. It is much like the loss of a loved one when they move away or even pass away. That is the main role of the interim pastor — to hold the church together as they work through their loss and ultimately find a new spiritual leader,” asserted Jonas.
“It is my responsibility to help bring the broken church back together so it may either continue or even start serving God more effectively than they have in the past,” stated Jonas.
The role of the interim involves a variety of areas. “As interim I spend time counseling with people one-on-one, in groups and committees. I spend time with the pastor search committee and doing limited pastoral care, and preaching the Word,” shared the interim minister.
Jonas stated that his sermon topics are based on God’s leadership as to what the needs of the church are and help serve the purpose of reuniting the church and redirecting them in a positive direction where everyone benefit from new relationships and prepare themselves for their new pastor and leader. “The length of time a church needs an interim is determined by the church’s needs. It will vary from congregation to congregation. The ultimate goal is that the church is ready to move forward under the leadership of their new spiritual leader,” asserted Jonas.
The Campbell University professor also shared that he felt the role of interim is a unique ministry in itself. “People are called to be pastors, others are called to be in the classroom and academics, others called to the mission field. Some are called to be in the interim ministry. It is a good fit for me as I am called to be in the academic field teaching and the interim ministry. We are all called by God to be some type of minister. It is wonderful when you discover where you are supposed to be,” explained Jonas.
“The interim ministry is unique in that you get to be a helper, a healer and help deal with conflict and problems. My philosophy is to come in not to rehash past issues and problems but to deal with the issues that need to be dealt with and not to revisit the past. For the church to survive it must move forward,” remarked Jonas.
The experienced interim feels that he has many gifts to help him throughout his ministry. “I look for the church’s strengths. I love to laugh. Humor has a disarming affect on people that may be upset. I am a people person and love to be with people. These gifts enable me to be a better servant of God as I attempt to point them in the right direction as they build the framework for a new relationship with each other as the church and the new relationship with their new pastor,” concluded Jonas.