Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

At any given time, between 15 and 25 congregations in the Michigan District utilize the services of an Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM) pastor. And as congregations and districts become aware of the benefits and even the need for such a ministry, demand is increasing. The Michigan District, one of 5 leading LCMS districts in IIM, has been training 4-6 pastors a year, but other districts are not up to the task yet—so they borrow pastors from Michigan. The conclusion is obvious: more IIM pastors are needed. So, pastor, if you are about to retire and would like to continue active in ministry somehow, this might be for you.

But what exactly does an IIM pastor do? Rev. Jim Eggert, an IIM pastor who is finishing his second assignment, explains: “Intentional Interim Pastors are used for a variety of reasons, including simply to give a congregation time to reflect on its past, sort out lessons to be learned, and plan for its future. Sometimes members are sensing a need for re-focus and sometimes they are not.” The ministry is intentional and intense, but with an end in sight. The length of the call varies from 8 to 18 months, sometimes a little longer, depending on what the congregation wants and also on the calendar (summer vacation, Advent, and Lent pauses).

Rev. Gary Siefert had never heard of IIM until Rev. Dr. Robert E. Kasper, Michigan District’s Interim Ministry Director, brought up the subject; Siefert then signed up for training, and is currently serving on his second assignment. He says, “It’s a very, very rewarding ministry for both congregations and clergy who participate in it. My wife and I enjoy the adventure of moving around and meeting new people. It’s temporary and open-ended, and we enjoy the sense of adventure. We will not be there indefinitely.”

Rev. Steve Schilke had heard about the IIM program and was interested because he wanted to stay in ministry after retiring, but not full time. He completed 4 interims and is now in his 5th assignment. He says, “The interesting part [of this ministry] is helping people come together, work together and receive the new pastor with joy. This ministry brings constant affirmation that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the church. He changes hearts and brings forgiveness and joy. You can really see Him at work.

When thinking about the ministry of Intentional Interim pastors, Rev. Dr. Kasper likes to compare it to the ministry of John the Baptist. He says,

“Like John the Baptist, IIM pastors help congregations tell God’s salvation story, lead them to repentance when necessary, and prepare them for their new permanent, “settled” pastor. Leading the congregation through [specific tasks], the IIM pastor INTENTIONALLY prepares the congregation for a new beginning with their new pastor. (…)

The IIM pastor makes every effort to immerse himself in the congregation’s system, while staying outside the system in order to provide objective diagnosis and healing through intentional use of Law and Gospel. A trained IIM pastor ‘begins with the end in mind.’ He comes to the congregation knowing he is the temporary shepherd and not eligible to become the settled pastor. His sole purpose is to bring the congregation to the best outcome, which is well defined at the outset of the interim. Therefore, the congregation has everything to gain, and the IIM pastor has nothing to lose.”

Siefert explains that an IIM pastor can be very effective because he is a “new face:” Sometimes the congregation doesn’t want to hear what the settled pastor wants to say, but they are open to what this new person has to say.  They WANT this person there, and that helps. The IIM pastor also can see things that the other pastor couldn’t because he was in the middle of it. The IIM pastor can bring new ideas for the congregation’s consideration and, because he knows he is not going to stay there, he also has the freedom to ask tough questions and touch sensitive spots.

Schilke says that there is no “canned” way of doing the IIM, since every congregation is different: “The IIM pastor has to discern and help solve and sometimes do lots of confession/absolution. Everyone has challenges but there are many joys as well.” Eggert adds, “It is nice to know, after going through that specific process, that the congregation is more ready to call a pastor. In the congregation I’m presently serving, on a year-end evaluation which included responses from Elders, Church Council Members, and Interim Task Force Members, on a five-point scale (with 5 being ‘yes, definitely’) the response average was 4.85 to this question: ‘Do you think the congregation is in a better condition for calling a pastor than it was a year ago?’ I would say that attests to the value of going through a process to re-focus and set sight on a future direction in preparation for calling a pastor.”

Is this ministry for you? Take a fellow pastor’s word for it: “I wish I knew about this ministry as a pastor years and years ago. I’d encourage other pastors to look into this. I’ts a very rewarding ministry that you normally would not experience as a settled pastor” (Rev. Gary Siefert). To learn more about IIM, contact Rob Kasper at the District Office: robert.kasper@michigandistrict.org or 734.213.4230.

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