Pastors are, for many churches, an anchor. When pastors move or retire, the hole that they leave can be hard for a church to grapple with. At any time, there are over 300 Texas Baptists churches that are pastorless and working to figure out their next step as they look for a new church leader.
For many churches, the process to find a new pastor can be difficult, especially if the pastor was with the church for a long time. Dowell Loftis, director of the Center for Ministerial Health, explained that a good relationship between a pastor and the church they serve should be strong and filled with trust. When that relationship ends, for whatever reasons, the next steps can be difficult for a church.
A network of interim pastors
As churches go through this time, some start by planning to host a different guest preacher every Sunday for the entire interim period. This can be hard for a church to sustain and leads to “congregation fatigue,” Karl Fickling, coordinator of Interim Church Services, explained.
Instead, Fickling encouraged churches to make use of the Texas Baptists Interim Church Services, which has a network of called and well-equipped interim pastors ready to serve at churches across Texas. Fickling explained that the network is made up of retired pastors, Texas Baptists employees, parachurch ministry staff and people who work secular jobs to support their passion for interim ministry. Each of them feels called to support interim ministry efforts and goes through training sessions before being added to the network.
So, what is the benefit of having an interim pastor? Firstly, it gives the pastor search committee time to thoroughly look through and search for viable candidates to take the full-time pastorate position, instead of putting them under pressure to find someone quickly. Secondly, it gives the church the presence of a pastor who can, temporarily, take on the duties of pastoral care, administrative tasks and other pastoral duties.
“It can feel like the church is broken when there’s no settled pastor, and a good interim can keep that from happening,” Fickling explained. “Just having someone fill in the pulpit consistently can bring a sense of security, and the interim pastor can also ensure that the existing church staff or volunteers don’t have pastoral duties put on them or have them pile up on a desk.”
First Baptist Church Caldwell recently experienced these benefits firsthand. When their pastor retired after 30 years of ministry just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the church was suddenly overwhelmed with managing those changes in addition to seeking a new pastor. The church contacted Fickling, and he sent them the resumes of all the interim pastors available in the area and a guide to picking an interim pastor. They chose Charles “Rusty” Walton, who helped the church do a health check and also assisted them with the pastor search committee. A year later, the church was ready to hire a full-time pastor, and Walton transitioned out.
Finding connections for churches and ministers
For churches ready to look for a new pastor, Texas Baptists Minister Connection is a great resource. Texas Baptists churches have complete autonomy, and they can choose any pastor they feel God has called them to choose, but in order to help them do that, Texas Baptists has created a secure website for churches to post ministry openings and for potential candidates to create a profile and share their resume.
“We want to be helpful to the men and women who are called to minister to our churches. Sometimes it’s hard for them to get their names in front of the churches. And sometimes it is hard for our churches to find qualified candidates to fill their ministerial openings,” Loftis said.
Churches can post their open positions on Minister Connection and ministers can use Minister Connection to find out about open ministerial positions around the state. Ministers who wish to post their resumes on the website are subjected to a background check, and while there is no official vetting process, senior pastor resumes are reviewed by Loftis to ensure that there are no red flags and that they adhere to core Baptist beliefs.
The website is password-protected for the privacy of the applicants and the churches. Interested parties can apply on the service’s website and will be granted access when they have been approved.
Loftis explained that, at their core, both the Interim Church Services and Minister Connection ministries were created to make the process of transitioning between pastors easier on Texas Baptists churches.
“As a convention, we do what the churches need and ask us to do,” Loftis said. “Our churches have complete autonomy and can call whomever they feel led to call, but we provide these services to better equip them with those decisions.”
To learn more about Interim Church Services, Minister Connection and the many other resources available to pastors and churches through the Center for Ministerial Health, go to txb.org/minister.