The first day a pastor begins his or her ministry in a new church that person is a departing pastor. We seldom think of it that way, but at some point that pastor will leave the church. He or she may leave for another church, leave the ministry completely, retire, or die, but, if the Lord tarries, at some point the church will be seeking a new pastor. Instead of being surprised when this happens the church should be planning for that eventual transition.
For many years this was often referred to as an interim time in the life of the church. The person called to lead the church during this time was usually referred to as an interim pastor. In recent years many are calling this a transitional time and the individual serving as pastor is a transitional pastor. I think this is a good change in terminology.
The word interim seems to me like a time when things are at a standstill. Everyone is waiting for something to happen, and that something is the calling of a new pastor. On the other hand, transitional provides a sense that things are happening. You are moving from one place to another. In fact, my dictionary defines transition as "a passage from one state to another; a movement."
This time between pastors should not be a time when a church is idle and waiting, but should be a time when the church is reflecting on who it is and where God wants it to be going. It is a time to seek a fresh vision from God so the church has a better idea of the gifts and abilities their next pastor needs to have to help them achieve that vision.
Too many churches are waiting for a new pastor to tell them their vision. Think of the time that is wasted. It's not unusual to take a year or two to find a new pastor. That person needs to take some time to get to know the congregation and the community, and only then can a vision discernment begin. A church waiting on a new pastor to give them their vision for ministry could easily spend 2-3 years doing absolutely nothing but waiting.
Besides, it's not the pastor's role to "give" the church a vision. A vision discernment process should be done by the entire church, or in the case of a larger church by the leadership. For any vision to truly be owned by the congregation they need to have input into the process of discerning what that vision is. The transitional time between pastors is a great opportunity for such discernment to occur.
It's often helpful to have someone from outside the church lead that process. Denominational and judicatory leaders can often lead that. Church consultants and coaches can do so as well. Regardless of whom you use to lead the process, it's important to do it.
When you can match your next pastor to your ministry vision, you are more likely to call the right person. You also won't lose valuable time when such vision discernment is done before the new pastor begins. Use the transitional time between pastors wisely. Your church's ministry will benefit greatly if you do.