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Lessons from “Effective Interim Pastors”

Lessons from “Effective Interim Pastors”

In a church’s transitional stages, there is a big difference between an interim who simply fills the pulpit and an interim who is intentional in his ministry during that transition. I have seen interims who are there to simply “fill a hole” during the preaching hour, but I have also seen interims who are effectively leading change in a church that desperately needs it.

Every life stage in a church can be a pivotal moment. The transitional stage between pastors is one of the most unnoticed critical moments in the life stage of a church. Biblically speaking, there are many “waiting stages.” We must not forget that oftentimes that’s when God is up to something. We are told to “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

While a church is waiting on the next Pastor that God has called to their church, it is critical to have an intentional interim pastor in lieu. Even though this podcast is for Replanters, there are some important lessons we can learn from the tenure of an effectual interim. So, this week on the podcast, we spent some time with Scott Catoe, a Replant Pastor in South Carolina. As a result of his doctoral work, Scott has written a great resource on Effective Interim Pastors. 

Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

Relative Principles for Church Leaders

The goal of an interim pastor is to shepherd effectively while helping a church be equipped for its future. While some people think the goal of an interim is to “not ruffle any feathers or change anything,” Scott recommends a more gospel-centered way. In the book Effective Interim Pastors, he lists 8 principles to focus attention. This list is helpful as it relates to the work of a Replant Pastor: 

  1. Fear God more than man.
  2. Prepare God’s people for a hopeful future. 
  3. Settle crisis-level conflicts
  4. Teach the church to glorify Christ through decision-making
  5. Put in order what remains
  6. Lead the church to pray fervently
  7. Be directed by the word
  8. Equip the saints to fulfill the great commission

We encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Because while the position of an interim may not apply to you, the principles most certainly do.

Being Intentional

Sometimes, the phrase “being intentional” is thrown out a little too much. But the word couldn’t carry more weight than in the context of a church’s transitional stage. In the book, Catoe says, “When we fail to address sin, conflicts, disagreements, and brokenness in our churches, it does not simply disappear over time, rather it gradually embeds itself into the culture of the church becoming a part of the fundamental identity of the congregation.”

The need for change is urgent. But there is a balance in moving steadily, at a moderate pace. Don’t encourage complacency by failing to act, and don’t move too quickly that you fail to see the land mines around you. He says, “When sinful habits are reinforced over time they become strong points of contention early in the ministry of the church’s new pastor.” Interim Pastors (and Replant Pastors) may be tempted to run quickly towards your vision, but you must not fail to see the land mines that can blow up along the way.

Beware of “Hero Syndrome”

Sometimes, church leaders have “Hero Syndrome.” Hero Syndrome is the idea that its our responsibility to “save” the church and receive the glory for doing so. Such an idea can only come from a prideful and misunderstood heart. Remember that God alone can give the growth. We are planters and stewards. 

If we desire to receive the glory, we’ve missed the point. The cry of commitment from Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, not to us! But to your name give glory.” Let us point to the true hero: Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can change the heart of a person, so only Jesus can change the heart of a church.

Essentially the work of interim pastors is focused on making disciples. In the podcast, Catoe said, “The work of making disciples is a growing affection of Christ and a holy hatred of sin.” That’s what our focus should be. 

Scott says, “When we fear God more than we fear men, we are freed by the power of the gospel to love our church members they way God has commanded us. This means we can call them to repentance, show them the serious nature of sin, and point them to Jesus who will freely forgive according to his word, when we fear the Lord more than we fear men, we will understand that sin isn’t just an inconvenience. It is death, it brings death. It leads to death. The reality of the matter is that many declining churches and a great number of churches in transition have unrepentant sin that must be dealt with for them to see positive change.”