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What Is the Difference Between an Interim Pastor & a Full-Time Pastor?

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In a nod to the interim pastor, Dr. Steve Drake of Lifeway Christian Resources recalled a time when he, as a pastor, visited a dying woman in the hospital. Her heart was already encouraged as she claimed that the former interim pastor had just visited and she had woken to see him on his knees praying for her. Serving as a reminder to interim and full-time pastors alike, Drake's story demonstrates that the heart of ministry essentially remains the same although differences between titles and positions are evident.

When Jesus told the Apostle Peter to "feed his sheep," he used an allegory to refer to one of the most basic definitions of a pastor -- one who spiritually feeds the church. While both full-time pastors and interim pastors share this responsibility, there are differences. A full-time pastor focuses on spiritually leading a church at least 40-hours a week and assumes himself to be in this position for the long haul. An interim pastor also focuses on spiritually leading the church, but his focus is more on part-time transitional ministry, knowing his position is only temporary -- usually only 12 to 18 months -- until a full-time pastor can take over.

Congregational Climate

A full-time pastor's purpose is to love the church, foster relationships with church members and to help grow the church on a spiritual level. His congregation may vary in degrees of strength, but it is generally moving forward. On the other hand, an interim pastor walks into a different arena. According to the Interim Ministry Network, nearly 60 percent of churches suffer change-related difficulties. The interim pastor's job is to love the church during an often difficult transitional period, grieving the loss of its former pastor -- perhaps suddenly-- while being apprehensive about the future. The interim pastor must make steps to heal the church while carefully moving it toward the day when a new pastor will take over on a full-time basis.


Both a full-time pastor and an interim pastor can expect to prepare sermons and preach on Sundays. However, an interim pastor -- who often has a full-time job elsewhere -- may be excused from mid-week services, allowing a church officer or other member an opportunity to serve in this capacity. The ministry of counseling varies slightly between the two pastor types, too. While a full-time pastor's counseling can be long-term and deeply involved, the interim pastor's counseling generally centers around transitional needs, preparing the way for the next pastor. Duties the two generally share include teaching, funeral presiding, visiting sick church members and any other ministry that fosters spiritual growth and the general well-being of church members.


The 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff revealed that the average pastoral salary was $82,938, a number based on 4,600 participating churches. It's crucial to realize that individual salaries largely depend on the size, income and giving tendencies of the particular congregation. Full-time pastors can use this number as a guideline but interim pastors should also consider the number of hours they work, as well as whether they are volunteering to serve or are vocational interim pastors with appropriate training and education.


Zoe Maletta writes on a variety of topics with special focus on leadership, careers and small business management. Professionally writing since 2007, her many publishers include "The Houston Chronicle", "Global Post Careers" and "The Nest." When she's not writing, Maletta enjoys making memories with family and participating in church ministry. Maletta holds both a B.S.and an M.A. in counseling.

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