We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Transitional Ministry & Cleaning Up the Campsite

Transitional ministry is a form of pastoral ministry, which is usually limited to a more or less brief period of time.  Interim pastors are normally transitional pastors, called or appointed for anywhere from a few months to usually no more than two years.  But, other pastors also carry out transitional ministry including, sometimes, ones who thought they were called to a more permanent situation only to find that the past still weighs heavily on the church they serve.  In all cases, the transitional pastor's task is to assist a church that is undergoing significant change in dealing with that change.  Interim pastors, in particular, serve churches who have lost a pastor and are preparing to call a new one.  The situation of the church, its level of grief, its conflicts, and its dysfunctional aspects set the tone for the ministry of the transitional pastor.

In general, the goal of a transitional pastor is to leave a clean campsite for the next pastor.

Transitional pastors thus don't start things they can't finish.  They focus on short-term problems.  Where possible, they deal with dysfunctional situations and personalities.  They leave behind as little conflict as possible.  Transitional pastors, by definition, begin to plan to leave on the day they arrive and never let the people they serve forget that fact.  Their job is to solve problems without creating new ones.

The thing is that increasingly all pastoral ministry is transitional ministry.  Churches, especially mainline churches, are always between times even during long pastorates.  The line between transitional ministry and longer pastorates was never as sharp as the definitions make it appear, and it is growing still more fuzzy as the years go by.  In particular, the future is no longer the friend of mainline churches.  Every church is always in transition.  All pastors have to consciously seek to leave a clean campsite for those who follow.  The one difference is that pastors called or appointed to longer transitional situations generally start things they know they can't finish, and they focus less on fixing things and more on discovering new directions and possibilities.  Still, it is best to think of all pastorates as being transitional, some are just longer than others, that's all.