BY STEVE DUNN
Today, March 1, 2013 is a significant day in my life. I am moving into my office at 121 E. King Street in Shippensburg PA and officially beginning my duties as the Intentional Interim Pastor of the Shippensburg First Church of God. “Ship” is one of the oldest congregations of my denomination with a rich history of missions. community ministry, and biblical teaching. The congregation offers multiple worship styles, a solid mission program, a campus ministry, a community kitchen, creative youth and children’s ministries. More than 400 persons call this church their home.
Seven months and one week ago I ended a nearly eleven year pastorate at the Church of God of Landisville PA. God was calling to a broader ministry and it was time for wonderful outward-focused church to have a younger and more energetic pastor to help them move to the new live of being on mission with Jesus.
When I resigned, except for some working with Bridgebuilders Seminars and a part-time adjunct job with Winebrenner Seminary; Dianne and I did not know what God had in store next for us. Through a variety of God-shaped opportunities, we found a new form of ministry. It’s called Intentional Interim Pastor.
Churches are living organisms, communities of people joined together to help one another in their walk of faith and united for the purposes of being Christ’s representatives in the world. When a pastor leaves, there is both grief and also a very natural questioning about that congregation’s future.
People naturally just think, “let’s hire another one;” but that process in many congregations takes eight months to a year or more. Often churches lose momentum, treading water until the next pastor arrives. And when the new one arrives, it often takes years to recover what is lost.
An Intentional Interim Pastor becomes the church’s spiritual leader to help the church continue in meaningful ministry. The IIP does the necessary grief work and conflict management that emerges in these times of transition. They help the church assess its strengths and weaknesses, and then to identify the next step in ministry it needs to take. Armed with that focus and building upon a renewed health, they call a pastor whose vision matches what they believe God wants them to accomplish.
Often without an Intentional Interim Pastor, churches choose a new one too quickly and without the necessary work to be healthy. It’s sort of like getting married on the rebound–and marriage on the rebound is usually a formula for failure.
So with 40 years of pastoral experience and a passion for teaching churches about effective discipleship, this is the new chapter God has placed me in. I look forward to being “back to work” so to speak. (My wife is happy about it, too, because she can stop being the primary breadwinner, which she was when her hubby was underemployed.)