At its annual meeting earlier this month, faculty and members of the consortium met to discuss policies and procedures as well as ways for educators to address changes in interim ministry.
Founded in 1999, the consortium is a cooperative and consultative gathering of interim ministry educators. Its purpose is to work toward coordinating and improving the education and training of interim ministers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Through the consortium, ministers complete two 30-hour educational sessions at any of 11 sites across the country, with a practicum between sessions. Last year, about 400 people went through one or both of the sessions.
When the consortium started, the general concept of interim ministry followed the pattern of stability, interim, stability, i.e., a church was stable, its minister left, it went through a time of instability with an interim minister, and then it found a new minister and was stable again.
That idea is gone, said Carol McDonald, co-executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails and one of the coordinators of the consortium site hosted by the synods of
Lincoln Trails and Mid-America. “There’s a changing vision for the future of interim ministry education,” she said. “How do we equip leaders to be part of that team?”
Now, interim ministry leaders see that all of life is constantly changing and that churches are in a continuous state of transition. Figuring out how to address this
outlook and how to make sure curriculum reflects reality was a major focus of the meeting, held at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center in Zephyr Cove, Nev.
This changing perspective includes realizing that the skills of interim ministers can be applied to churches in all kinds of transition, said IMC Moderator Carolyn Jones. In addition to pastoral changes, interim ministers can help congregations deal with shifts in mission, demographics, or size, she said.
Looking at interim ministry in new ways also means that interim ministry education must be re-examined. “Education needs to transform from simply providing tools … to coaching for resiliency,” McDonald said.
At the conference, faculty worked with “life coach” Laurie Ferguson to learn coaching skills. This is an important role of interim ministers, who have to work with
congregations trying to find of new way of being. “If one of our goals is to help folks move forward, coaching can help that,” McDonald said. “It’s more about asking questions than giving answers.”
Knowing how to ask questions is important for interim ministers because they come into new situations and must quickly learn how the system works, how decisions are made and who the leaders are. Good analytical skills are critical to entering a congregation and helping to lead it forward.
Often, congregations are sad or mad after their minister leaves. Interim ministers must come in and build trust with members to understand the dynamics of a congregation. One way to do that is to just be present at the church, McDonald said.
The demands of being an interim minister are not for everyone, she said. Interims must be willing to live an unsettled life and need to have the ability to lay the
foundation for a congregation to have success with its next minister.
“It’s a desire to do the groundwork, but not having the need to see the crops grow,” she said.