The role of an interim pastor can be a vital one for a church going through a season of transition. An interim steps in during the gap between permanent pastors to provide stability, leadership, and guidance. But what does the Bible say about interim pastors? Are they actually biblical? Let’s dive into Scripture to gain some insight.
When a church finds itself without a permanent pastor due to resignation, retirement, or some other circumstance, it can be a very unsettling time. The congregation is often grieving the loss of their shepherd and anxious about the future. Emotions run high. Opinions differ on what to do next. It’s a vulnerable season. That’s why having an interim pastor can be so valuable. An interim provides steady leadership while the church prepares to call its next permanent pastor. They keep the ministry moving forward during the transition.
But not every Christian understands the purpose behind an interim. Some view it only as a temporary fill-in, lacking the authority or effectiveness of a “real” pastor. Others see it as an unbiblical role since the New Testament doesn’t explicitly mention interim pastors. So what insight does Scripture provide on this modern role in the church? Let’s explore four key biblical themes:
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Key Takeaways on Interim Pastors:
- Shepherding is an ongoing need for God’s people.
- God provides leadership in times of transition.
- Godly character qualities are required for spiritual leadership.
- Unity and harmony are vital for the church’s witness.
Looking at these four themes, we’ll see interim pastors are truly biblical and valuable for a congregation going through transition. The principles of God’s Word support and guide this pastoral role.
Shepherding Is an Ongoing Need
From the Old Testament through the New, the Bible uses sheep and shepherds as a metaphor for God’s people and their leaders. Psalm 23 declares “The Lord is my shepherd.” Jesus called Himself the “Good Shepherd” in John 10. This shepherding responsibility doesn’t go away when the church is between permanent pastors. The need for godly leadership and care continues uninterrupted. What does this mean for churches in transition?
First, we see the local church needs a shepherd at all times, not just when things are stable. Sheep without a shepherd tend to scatter and become vulnerable to harm (Matthew 9:36). Likewise, a church left totally rudderless in transition can easily drift from its mission and values. Having an interim shepherd provides ongoing guidance and nurturing care.
Second, shepherding during transition has unique challenges that require specialized skills and gifts. Unlike a permanent pastor focused on long-term goals, an interim pastor typically serves just 1-2 years. Their role is to lead the church through this temporary gap, not overhaul everything. It takes discernment to provide stability and comfort without overstepping bounds as an outsider. The interim must also deal with anxiety over the departure of the former pastor and uncertainty about the future. This requires exceptional sensitivity and communication skills.
So in looking at the biblical metaphor of shepherds and sheep, we see strong support for having interim pastors fulfill this specialized role. Churches need consistent shepherding before, during, and after a transition. The interim provides this critical stability as an extension of God’s care.
God Provides Leadership in Times of Transition
Another key biblical theme is that God actively provides leadership for His people during times of transition and change. Throughout Scripture, He raised up provisional figures to fill key leadership gaps:
- Moses as deliverer – God used Moses to lead Israel out of captivity in Egypt and through the wilderness transitions before Joshua took them into the Promised Land (Exodus-Deuteronomy).
- The Judges – Charismatic leaders like Gideon and Samson arose between Joshua and the Israelite kings to provide deliverance in a time of religious drifting (Judges).
- Priests – When Israel’s first priest Eli died, God raised up Samuel as a transitional priest guiding Israel until the priests of Zion under David (1 Samuel 1-7).
- Prophets – Men like Nathan, Gad, and Heman provided prophetic leadership when Israel lacked godly kings (1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 9:29).
In the New Testament, some key transitional figures emerge as well:
- John the Baptist – John powerfully prepared the way for Messiah between the Old and New Covenants (Matthew 3).
- Jesus’ Disciples – The Twelve led the early church after Jesus’ ascension but before the full commissioning of Paul and others as apostles.
God actively raises up and gifts interim-type leaders to guide His people through seasons of transition, filling the gap between permanent leaders. This affirms the value of interim pastors today. God desires faithful leadership for congregations in times of change. Interims are biblical answers to this need.
Godly Character Is Required
What kind of person should lead God’s people through transition? Whether permanent or interim, the Bible gives clear standards all spiritual leaders must meet. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 lay out qualifications for overseers/elders that include:
- Not violent or quick-tempered
- Loves what is good
Additionally, Exodus 18 and Acts 6 show administrative skills in delegating tasks are vital for effective leadership. Nehemiah’s example highlights visionary leadership in managing large projects and motivating workers. Leaders must also be “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), skilled at communicating God’s Word.
So in selecting an interim pastor, character and spiritual maturity are supreme – not just practical competencies. Biblical knowledge and teaching ability are also key. Familiarity with that church’s values helps, but godly wisdom and integrity are the main qualifications.
Does this mean only ordained pastors can serve as interims? Not necessarily. Many godly laypersons have provided outstanding interim leadership, though most churches prefer an ordained minister. As in Acts 6, the priority is spiritual maturity and skills, not titles. Biblical qualifications matter most.
Unity and Harmony Matter
A final biblical theme is that unity and harmony are vital for the church’s witness. Jesus prayed Christians would be unified to testify to the world (John 17:20-23). As transitions can spark division, maintaining fellowship is hugely important.
What contributes to unity during interim times? Several practices help:
- Patience – Adjusting to change takes time. As in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, the interim must “be patient with everyone.”
- Listening – Proverbs 18:13 warns against answering before listening fully. The interim must hear people’s concerns and feedback.
- Communication – Sharing information, explaining decisions, and setting expectations reduces confusion and anxiety that lead to discord.
- Seeking consensus – As in Acts 15:1-35, major decisions should involve the congregation, not just the interim. This builds buy-in and trust.
- Impartiality – Like Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), the interim must avoid favoritism and welcome all factions.
- Focusing on mission – As in Nehemiah 6:1-3, the interim should ignore distractions and keep people focused on core purposes.
The interim bears special responsibility for nurturing unity and limiting division. Their transitional position requires exceptional relationship skills. But the body shares this responsibility too by extending grace, communicating openly, and working toward shared goals.
While the New Testament doesn’t explicitly mention interim pastors, the role aligns closely with several key biblical themes:
- Churches need consistent shepherding, including through times of transition.
- God actively provides leadership for His people in seasons of change.
- Spiritual maturity and wisdom are essential for transitional leaders.
- Protecting unity and fellowship enables a vibrant witness.
Rather than being unbiblical, interim pastors are actually a practical and biblical answer to the unique leadership needs of a church in transition. An interim pastor centers the congregation on spiritual foundations when everything seems in flux. They provide steady guidance through a season that’s uncertain, emotional, and full of logistical challenges. This allows the church to continue pursuing its mission faithfully until the next permanent pastor is called.
So in response to the question “What does the Bible say about interim pastors?” we find strong support for this role throughout Scripture when understood properly. Interims provide godly shepherding and stability when churches need it most, just as God raised up strategic leadership for His people in biblical times of transition. Faithfully filling this role is a high and noble calling.