In Lyle Schaller’s classic book Survival Tactics in the Parish, he writes about the next pastor that follows a long-term pastor. That next pastor, even if they don’t call him an interim, is an interim. The only question is whether he will succeed himself and eventually become the permanent pastor.
It’s important for pastors who come into situations like this to understand their true position and recognize that they need to build trust. Where there is energy and ownership for change, they can get out in front of that and build buy in. Where there is not, they need to do a lot of listening and processing.
If the pastor doesn’t handle this stage well, he becomes an “unintentional interim.”
In some ways, it can be like the rebound relationship. If you move too quickly from a serious, long-term relationship into a new one, the resulting mistake is known as the “rebound.” You might find someone new, but if you haven’t healed sufficiently yourself, you can’t engage in a healthy relationship moving forward.
The new pastor needs to be aware of this need for healing, for grieving, for processing. The congregation likely needs to get an accurate picture of where they are and what God is calling them to in the absence of their long-term pastor. In this way, the new pastor can be extremely helpful, whether he or she goes on to become another long-term pastor or not.