Interim Ministry and the Marine Corps

As a Marine officer in Vietnam, I have experienced war, seen death, and grieved over the loss of men. I don't wish combat on anyone, but greater battles are in the spiritual realm, for the fight for "soul survival" is constant and will continue until the appearance of Christ. It is also more fearful than physical combat, for Jesus said not to be afraid of those who kill the body, but fear the One who could cast the soul into hell.[1] The battle rages, for Satan loves to disrupt Christian ministry by poking his nose into the affairs of churches. Although he cannot destroy the soul that belongs to Christ, he certainly can make believers ineffective witnesses for the kingdom. He therefore establishes a foothold in the church, breeds conflict, and destroys unity.

The job of an interim pastor is very much like the objectives of a Marine battalion taking a beachhead. The Marines are landed on the shore by the Navy, sometimes under heavy gunfire by the enemy. They endure the incoming barrage of artillery fire and persevere through mine fields in order to secure the beachhead for the Army who will occupy it. In church work, the interim pastor prepares the beachhead (i.e., the church), takes the flak (i.e., the criticism from opposition), and perseveres the mine fields (i.e., plods through the issues and conflict) in order for the Army (the new Senior Pastor) to occupy the beachhead. Interims are to make the job easier for the new pastor by redeeming any conflict to the glory of God, by training elders in the way of Scripture, by managing church staff for unity and effectiveness, and by tending the sheep so that they can be easily cared for by the new pastor.

Standing in the gap for another pastor is a high calling. An interim pastor is a special breed of marine, for he has to love and fight for people that he will eventually leave in the hands of another. His orders are from the Lord; his objective clear – make ready the congregation for the new shepherd. He is to confront the obstacles, reconcile the conflict, and bring peace to the congregation so that the ministry of the new pastor will start out on the right foot without having to deal with problematic people or consuming issues.

True interim pastors are transitional shepherds who are not candidates for the vacant position of senior pastor.[2] An interim will become beloved by many in the congregation who will want him to stay on, but he must make it abundantly clear that his task is to prepare the church for a new man. Those who waffle and say they will be a candidate cause further conflict in the church and put the pastoral search committee in a difficult situation. Although he is to be enthusiastic in his ministry, he must be subservient to his objective. Once a new man is selected for the church, the interim must decrease and the new man elevated in the remaining time the interim has to serve.

[1] Luke 12:4-5

[2] An interim pastor should have a clause in their contract that states he is not nor will be a candidate for the vacant position of Senior Pastor. See the Appendix A2 for a sample of an Interim Pastor’s contract.