Interim Ministry: Silver Bullet or Substitute for Action?

Five (and finally): I am frankly dubious about the amount of information or wisdom that most parishes acquire in a lengthy interim periods. Granted, there may be some rare cases when some kind of special attention might be needed in the neutral zone (traumatic events, clergy misconduct, an extraordinarily long tenure comes to an end).

But even Fortune 500 companies, which are far larger and culturally far more complex, do not take the kind of time that most parishes take to study themselves. And some denominations that are bigger than my own, including the United Methodist Church almost never rely upon interims.

Every parish should observe some reasonable, creative time in the neutral zone to take stock, evaluate the past, and articulate their needs and mission going forward. But the notion that the parish will discover something utterly invisible to them over a year's interim is, it seems to me, a rare thing. And even if something unseen or unacknowledged surfaces, who better to navigate that water than the new leadership of the parish?

The American church—like the larger culture—is a great place for systems, strategies, and engineered cures. For that reason, we tend to see systems like interim ministry as the "silver bullet" for what troubles us. Systems like this postpone the need to make a choice. They offer us a substitute (to either name or blame) for success or failure going forward and they eventually acquire an unquestioned value and purpose in our common life.

Interim ministry has acquired that silver bullet status in our life and ministry. And—notwithstanding the intelligent, gifted work that its practitioners are doing—it has slowed our growth and robbed us of resources for building the Kingdom.

Let the conversation begin...

6/2/2014 4:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
  • The Spiritual Landscape
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  • Frederick Schmidt
    About Frederick Schmidt
    Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at:
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