Transformation and Interim Ministry By The Rev. Dr. Ann M. Philbrick "Whom the God's wish to destroy, they bless with 30 years of success." - Peter Drucker
Mr. Drucker was not making a theological statement so much as an observation about the nature of human organizations. He was speaking to the length of time that a certain way of doing things will be effective and to our human tendency to want to make that way last forever (or at least for our lifetime). This is just one of the reasons why so many churches are struggling these days. What most of us grew up with is not cutting it for younger generations and while we want them in our churches for the sake of the future, we don't want to let go of the understanding and habits and ways of doing things that have meant so much to us for so long. Besides, it worked all this time, why can't we make it work now? Add to those dynamics a shifting global and national culture, changing communities and populations, the secularization of society and a moving away from cultural support for institutional religion, and you have a recipe for change. That need for change is the challenge that all of our congregational leaders face. And that need for change goes by different names: transforming congregations, missional church, church vitality, congregational renewal to name a few. In thinking about what this challenge is all about, it is helpful to look at the difference between transactional and transformational behaviors. Transactional behavior is that which manages the status quo well and gives an organization stability. Transformational behavior is that which pushes an organization to wrestle with the deep questions about driving vision and ultimate purpose. Many folks paraphrase Warren Bennis (from 'On Becoming a Leader') this way: managers do things right, leaders do the right things. The challenge for pastors is about becoming leaders rather than managers. We became accustomed to inheriting a program that we then managed and kept on track - from worship to education to stewardship to pastoral care. We continued what was always done and in better days expanding the capacity of those ministries over time. Indeed, that is what we were trained to do. Now we face challenges we don't even completely understand much less know the answers to and management will not cut it (unless we are content to manage the church into its premature grave). Many pastors and judicatory staff people are not content and thus are investing time and energy in learning what it will take to raise leaders who will help our congregations face the challenges with creativity and energy. Many of those who specialize in interim ministry are also joining the ranks of the discontent. While most literature on transformation or change theory will correctly convey that organizational change efforts take many years (more years than most interims are in one place), that does not preclude the interim from still contributing to a congregation's ability to handle change. For the interim minister, it begins by acknowledging that the old paradigm of doing transitional ministry between times of stability is over. Rather, the transitional ministry carried out in the interim time is a moment in the on-going chaos of life and the goal is vital ministry in the midst of chaos. An interim still prepares a congregation for the calling of a new, installed pastor. But if the congregation can see that as just one more step on the journey of ministry in this changing world, it will be better prepared for engaging with an effective future. The Florida United Methodists have described the transformational journey this way:
The "aha" of seeing the difference between maintenance and mission, and choosing with resoluteness to become missional in congregational lifestyle.
The long process of aligning congregational behavior with the vision and mission that God is calling the church to be and do ... the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
An interim might help a congregation find their 'aha.' Or he/she might contribute to that long process of aligning behavior. Either way, an interim can be part of the creation of a congregation's vibrant future. What an exciting ministry!
From Reflections, the Interim Ministry Network newsletter, March 2010, Vol. 5, Issue 3.