I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the Council at First Lutheran Community Church of Port Orchard.
My contract for service at FLCC ends August 31, 2010. I alerted the leaders almost three months ago that my contract was ending in the near future and I desired preparation for the next chapter in our work together. Not having an interim pastor for over 20 years, they weren't aware of the end game of interim ministry. Though a call committee is formed, no candidates have been interviewed. We have a few months to go. The Council did not feel confident in bridging the gap without a consistent presence in preaching and worship from a lead pastor. I suggested that we go "month-to-month."
They looked at me as if to say, "Really??? You would do that?" One leader said, "Pastor Joe is being very gracious." I'm not gracious, only experienced.
Interim ministry is approximately 50 percent month-to-month. The first few months of interim ministry are tenuous. These can be like a middle-aged man going to the doctor--kicking and screaming the whole time. The congregation does not want to pore over the darkness of its X-rays, they only want to know who the next pastor will be and know when they start. I understand that impulse--therefore I know during the first few months, we could both say the relationship is cancerous and must end. Once that feeling has dissipated, the basic familiarity that comes from sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ together become a fine edge of respect, anxiety, knowledge, self-examination and vision. Interim pastor and congregation become willing partners, invested in each others well-being. That lasts about six months, give or take a few months. Once a pastoral search group is formed, thank you and good-bye can come about any time. Sometimes a candidate can move through the process rather quickly. Other times search teams and candidates labor and sputter. With each candidate and opportunity, both congregation and interim pastor realize the time is short. Back to month-to-month.
In my seventh interim, I know the month-to-month personality. My family and I have a month-to-month lease on our rental. Some people wonder if this pattern of living is good for my family. Maybe, maybe not. What are the standards for evaluating this life? Congregational economies are flailing. 20th Century Brand North American Protestantism is teetering in its corporate life. I don't look at the faces of congregation members and see economic confidence. Security and stability as we know it in our lives on this Earth is a bit of an illusion. If my job ends and Melanie's job ends, would it be a good thing to have a mortgage? If Melanie and I don't have work in a few months, we have very few debts to pay. We can make it and not panic. All I can do is the best I can to care for my family and neighbor, and share the Gospel. What remains, remains illusory. Our understanding of stability is entwined with multiple cultural, political and familial perceptions. I'm praying to God that I can be faithful and trustworthy in the resources and gifts God has given me. Maybe a day will come when we look more in a year-to-year or decade-to-decade vision. Now, we live month-to-month.
Technically, what month-to-month means is that the congregation-interim pastor relationship can end anytime with 30 days notice. This was always the case, but when leaders and I signed the original contract, we remained committed to work together for at least a year. No there is no illusion of a longer commitment. That is adequate and appropriate.
Month-to-month, the people of FLCC and I will wait for the new Lead Pastor. At this point in our lives, month-to-month we will look at the world anew, giving thanks for what we have and the opportunities before us. In month-to-month living, I am reminded that my security comes from God in Christ.