Justin W. Tull
Interim Ministry






Dr. Tull has been trained as an intentional interim ministry specialist and has served two interim appointments. He has recently authored a book entitled: Interim Ministry: Positive Change in Times of Transition, which contains detailed case studies of these two interim experiences. The book is now available through Amazon.com. For a complete description of the book and link to Amazon, click on TULL BOOKS at the top of the page.

Interim Ministry: Positive Change in Times of Transition


Since embarking on the journey of interim ministry, Dr. Tull has been in the process of becoming a trainer of future interim ministers. He has been a part of three interim training seminars and has shared in the teaching leadership in several of these sessions. He hopes to be a lead trainer in the near future.

Three excerpts from his book on interim ministry are included here: "Reflections on Interim Ministry," "The Role of Preaching in Interim Ministry," and "Keys to Effective Interim Ministry."

Reflections on Interim Ministry

  • One Crisis Calls for Another

I am now convinced that there are no "one issue" interims. True, one obvious issue may be in the forefront (like the grieving process at the loss of a pastor, or a financial crisis, or a conflict between members of the church), but where there is one issue brewing, others will likely erupt. The interim pastor must be able to detect new issues that need to be addressed and never be content with simply dealing with the obvious ones at the onset.

  • Take the Hit! Bite the Bullet!

If there are any issues that have the potential for negative fallout, the interim pastor should be willing to risk taking on the problem. If the interim minister can “take the fall” thus sparing that role for the next pastor, then it is the responsible and prudent thing do. Once the interim pastor has taken the hit, he or she can simply forgive the aggressors and move on, perhaps never having to face that person or those persons ever again. The new pastor can thereby avoid an early conflict and all the accompanying collateral damage. When the interim pastor experiences harsh criticism as a result of tackling a tough issue, such a consequence is not senseless suffering but one done for the sake of the church and for the well-being of the next pastor.

  • Theological and Personal Maturity Required

Since one of the roles of the interim pastor may be to pay the price for tough decisions, then emotional maturity is most certainly required. Seasoned wisdom and a wealth of experience in life and in the church can also come in handy. In volatile times of transition, it is crucial that the interim pastor have adequate self-esteem and a well-grounded theological perspective. Interim clergy should expect certain negative fallout in a time of crisis, some, rightly or wrongly, directed solely at the interim pastor. There are several helpful mantras for those times: “Don't take it personally!” “It is not about you, stupid.” The interim experience is no time for “finding oneself” or formulating a theology of the church or developing a methodology for crisis management. It is a time of knowing oneself, already understanding the church's ministry and being able to act decisively within the context of both.

  • Preach the Word!

No ministerial function is more important during interim ministry than preaching the word. In doing so, great care should be taken to avoid using old sermons or blindly following the lectionary with no regard to the present situation. What is required is tailor-made preaching, much in the style of the apostle Paul who applied the emerging biblical faith to concrete issues in the life of the church. It is the inescapable responsibility of the interim pastor to bring a biblical and theological word to the issues being faced by the congregation and to do so believing that such faith, when coupled with the Holy Spirit, will be sufficient for the day. Grace will be equal to every need; dead bones can come to life; the spirit of forgiveness can overcome an atmosphere of contentiousness. The interim pastor must be able to discern what word the congregation needs to hear and when it should be proclaimed. Careful sermon planning as well as effective execution must be the order of the day.

  • Love the People!

The interim pastor is never simply a problem solver or a change agent. There is one essential action required as the pastor enters a crisis interim situation—love the people. There is no substitute for that essential act and no amount of leadership finesse or ministerial skill will make up for its absence. I am not talking about being warm and fuzzy but rather caring, empathetic and insightful. Even genuine love must be combined with wisdom, forethought and shrewdness to serve the church effectively. Every act of ministry will be greatly enhanced if the interim minister expresses a true love for the people.

  • Interim, Not Limbo!

The interim time is not one of limbo or marking time but one that is actively monitoring and enabling a healthy transition. Significant changes should not be reserved for the new pastor who will follow but rather inaugurated by the interim pastor. Indeed, a time of crisis is one ripe for change and nothing should prevent that change from being immediate and largely positive. When the interim time period works as it should, many positive changes will have taken place. In such cases the laity will be able to say as they welcome the new pastor, “So much progress has already been made; we can't wait for you to continue to lead us to greater ministry and service.”

(excerpt from Interim Ministry: Positive Change in Times of Transition / Copyright 2012 © Justin W. Tull)

Role of Preaching in Interim Ministry

  • Honor the Importance of Preaching

Preaching is the most important task for the interim minister. Its role is to be the interpreter of both the biblical faith and the current culture. In times of crisis, interim preaching is called to offer insights into the situation at hand and to give a theology of hope for the future. Preaching will often be the most powerful tool in addressing such issues as grief, despair, disillusionment, anger, forgiveness, and conflict.

  • Preach Only Tailor-made Sermons

The interim is not a time to pull out old sermons or blindly follow the lectionary. In addressing the issues, the preacher may draw from the entire Bible to find the appropriate text or texts. The lectionary should be the starting point but not the mandatory rule. Careful planning should ensure that important aspects of the faith be preached during this time of transition.

  • Preach First to the Situation at Hand

The first sermon preached in the interim should address any key issues or problems in the church. These may be dynamics of grief, responding to clerical misconduct, conflict within the church, issues of racism or injustice. Just as Paul wrote letters that addressed specific issues or problems in the church, so should the interim preacher address issues that are immediately apparent. Failure to acknowledge the “elephant in the room” will only cause more anxiety on the part of the congregation. Even so, one should never assume that there is only one issue to be addressed no matter how dominant that issue is. For example, after the death of a beloved and charismatic pastor, the issue at hand may not only be grief but also a confusion of church identity in the face of that loss.

  • Discern When to Leave the Issue(s) at Hand

As important as detecting and dealing with critical issues in the church, equally important is knowing when to more on. Preaching in the interim should address systemic issues of the church as well as personal needs of individual members. A church in grief may need four sermons that deal in different ways with grief and the aspect of hope, but it does not need four months of such a diet. To heal, people need to focus on other aspects of the gospel and of the Christian life. A church in grief needs to be given permission to laugh again.

  • Always Preach Hope

From the first meeting to the first sermon, the minister should exhibit the spirit of hope. Even when a situation is extremely tragic, even when church members are in total despair, the interim minister must always believe in hope and be able to preach that the power of God is sufficient in the face of all circumstances.

  • Include the Formative Tasks in Preaching

Preaching during an interim appointment is often in the midst of change and crisis—a great time to wrestle with formative issues (history, identity, direction, leadership, and connection.) Subject matter may include such topics as the mission of the church, the vision of a congregation, the connection with the larger church, the role of stewardship, how a congregation should treat the pastor, and worship identity.

  • Use Other Forms of Communication to Enhance Preaching

When complex issues are being addressed, using various forms of church communication—church newsletter, discussion forums, letters to the congregation—can set the stage for the preached word. Indeed, some discussion and dissemination of information can best be done through the printed page. When used in tandem—the printed word and the spoken word—both will be enriched. For example, when ideas are first shared in a pastoral reflection and then followed by a thought-provoking sermon, the effectiveness of the sermon is greatly increased and the pastoral reflection becomes firmly grounded in the biblical faith.

  • Plan Carefully the Worship Context

During the interim appointment the preacher should begin by using familiar worship practices when possible. Continuity in worship is often helpful, but especially so if the church is in crisis. As in all worship planning, care should be taken that the service move smoothly and have a unifying theme thus strengthening the effectiveness of the sermon and deepening the total worship experience.

  • Use Listening and Pastoral Care to Strengthen the Preached Word

The more pastoral care the interim minister can do, the more informed the preaching can be. In addition, the personal contact will make the congregation feel more connected to the pastor as they listen from the pew. If the pastor listens to them, they are more likely to return the favor. Listening, in fact, is one of the most important preparations one can do for preaching. Without it one might be able to interpret the word but be inadequately prepared to apply it to the specific needs of the congregation. Preaching without much personal contact runs the risk of “missing the mark” on Sunday.

  • Be Oneself

Using one's unique gifts, graces, and style in the act of preaching is important in interim ministry as it underscores the variety of personalities and abilities of each minister. Though the minister should honor when possible local worship traditions, one should not be forced to “give up the sling shot in favor of Saul's armor.” For example, one might refuse to use film clips as a regular tool in preaching the contemporary service if that did not mesh with one's style of preaching. However, jettisoning the robe and stole for a dressy polo shirt and slacks might be an appropriate concession—a compromise that would not affect one's preaching.

  • Preach with Humility

The more dramatically one preaches, the greater the temptation to draw attention to oneself instead of the message, and to think that the positive responses are mainly a result of one's own skills. But the ultimate effectiveness of preaching rests in the workings of the Holy Spirit and in the minds and hearts of willing listeners. The preacher must do his or her part in preparation and then trust the results to God.

(excerpt from Interim Ministry: Positive Change in Times of Transition / Copyright 2012 © Justin W. Tull)

Keys to Effective Interim Ministry

  • Study carefully the church's history and tradition.

  • Set personal and church goals at the beginning of the interim.

  • Diagnose the problems and issues the church is facing.

  • Re-present the biblical faith in word, action, and spirit.

  • Offer a less-anxious presence.

  • Listen to the people with heart and mind.

  • Analyze critically all feedback.

  • Share your observations and insights about the church with the congregation.

  • Interact with the congregation in a variety of settings.

  • Engage in critical pastoral care.

  • Take on any issue or problem that needs addressing; don't leave it for the next pastor.

  • Don't take negative behavior personally; simply expect it and deflect it.

  • Always believe in the people and in the possibility for positive change.

  • Celebrate every victory no matter how small.

  • Never accept full credit for positive results; give credit to other leaders, to God, and to the people.

  • Pass the baton smoothly and decisively when your leg of the race is complete.

(excerpt from Interim Ministry: Positive Change in Times of Transition / Copyright 2012 © Justin W. Tull)