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EP 233 – Effective Interim Pastors: Fearing God more than Man with Scott Catoe

Replant Bootcamp
Replant Bootcamp
EP 233 - Effective Interim Pastors: Fearing God more than Man with Scott Catoe

In this episode, we welcome Scott Catoe, a first-time guest but longtime friend of the podcast, who shares his experiences and insights from serving as the lead pastor at Slater Baptist Church for 10 years and his current role as the Associate Mission Strategist for the Three Rivers Baptist Association. Dr. Catoe discusses his book, ‘Effective Interim Pastors,’ which emerged from his doctoral research on interim pastors.

He highlights the importance of addressing sin, and conflicts, and shaping a healthy church culture through the period of interim ministry rather than avoiding disruption. The conversation emphasizes the tendency of interim pastors and long-term pastors alike to either fear man more than God or seek personal glorification in ministry, contrasting these with the gospel-centered approach required for impactful leadership.

The book outlines eight principles for effective interim pastors, urging a focus on biblical faithfulness, prayer, confronting sin, and equipping the congregation for future growth, all rooted in a deep reverence for God over the fear of man.

00:00 Introduction and Guest Introduction
00:17 Guest’s Background and Current Role
01:07 Discussion on Normative Size Churches
01:45 Revitalization and Replanting Churches
02:08 Introduction to the Book ‘Effective Interim Pastors’
02:41 The Need for Transitional Pastors
03:51 The Role of an Interim Pastor
05:45 The Importance of Addressing Sin in Churches
11:07 The Fear of Man and Hero Syndrome in Ministry
17:16 The Role of Decision-Making in Churches
25:22 Conclusion and Book Recommendation


JimBo Stewart: Here we are back at the boot camp, back at it again. I hope you’re ready for the next episode. In this episode, we’ve got a longtime friend of the podcast, but first time guest, Pastor Scott Cato, Dr. Scott Cato. Scott, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Scott Catoe: Yeah. So, so glad to be here, be on here today. So I’m Scott, I’m married to Ruthann, have a 12 year old son named Gabriel who loves any sport that involves ball, and a puck. He loves hockey too. So I have been pastoring here at Slater Baptist Church for 10 years. Slater is a replant in Northern Greenville County, South Carolina.

have grown and seen the Lord do an awful lot of incredible things in this little place, 259 houses in my zip code. And, uh, it has been really cool to see him do work there. And, and from the work that the Lord has done there, have had a lot of other opportunities to do other things.

Most recently, I serve as the Associate, Mission Strategist for the Three Rivers Baptist Association, which is my local Baptist Association well. So get to do a lot of work with, [00:01:00] Other churches now, doing some consultation work, helping them think through strategy and, and particularly focused on three areas, three lanes I would move in.

Number one is, is what, Mark calls normative size churches. The churches, particularly in our association, that only have one staff member. What I’m, what I’m trying to do is create a culture where those guys can have something like a staff meeting. Where they’re all coming together and bouncing ideas off.

If I learned anything, cause that was me, right? In, in a lot of ways it still is me. The Lord’s. Blessed us with some other bivocational guys, but I’m the only kind of fully funded staff person. And I think a lot of the bad ideas that happen sometimes in normative churches happen because we don’t have anybody to bounce those ideas off of before we execute them.

And so getting those guys in a room and encouraging them, just, you know, figuring out how to serve them. So that’s one. Two is, is revitalization and replanting, helping churches think about how they can. experience new life, different life, how to apply the gospel in their context, how to, how to understand and exegete their community.

And then third is interim and transitional pastors, which is, is [00:02:00] really obviously the crux of the book. and part of the reason that we’re here today, but those three lanes I get to run in pretty hard. And I’m really thankful for that. Look, I love that work.

JimBo Stewart: Man, I’m excited to have you on the podcast today to talk about your book, Effective Interim Pastors. for our listeners, don’t worry, this won’t be an episode just for interim pastors, but this is definitely a great resource. I was just telling Scott before we got started, Scott’s a good writer.

This is an enjoyable book to read. I read a lot of books. Not all of them are enjoyable to read. this one has been enjoyable to read. I haven’t finished it yet. But, Scott, real quick, just summarize the book for us, and then I want to jump into, for our listeners, the second chapter, but the first principle.

Scott Catoe: Sure. So this book came sort of an overflow of my doctoral research. My dissertation was on interim pastors and I discovered a couple of things during that, that process. Number one is when you look at the influx of retiring boomer generation pastors, we’re going to have a virtual [00:03:00] army of guys that we could Be equipping to work in transitional ministry contexts to help equip churches for their future and to To come alongside and support younger pastors and have churches more ready for what Lord the Lord may have in store for their futures So that was really seeing that really compelled me to man This is an area that we just an untapped resource if you will but then on on top of that There’s really not a lot written Transitional pastor ministry interim pastor ministry and a lot of it is written from more of an ecumenical perspective And so some of that’s translatable to to the evangelical world, but a lot of it just isn’t you know We don’t we hold very dearly to local church autonomy And so when you’re reading a book from a you know From from a Presbyterian or a Presbyterian and they’re talking about making decisions from above.

Well, we just don’t We just don’t do that. And we don’t do that by conviction. And so, so what I wanted to do was to produce something that was like a, okay, you’re walking in day one in interim pastor ministry. [00:04:00] You, you don’t really know which way to go. How do you, how do you do this? And through my dissertation, really what I realized, and so I appreciate what you said about it not being just for interim pastors, because really the man, the main crux of the book is when you read the book, the goal is to get to the end of it and go.

Well, this is not that much different than pastoral ministry, and that’s really exactly the point. I want to get you through, man. This is what the word says about what a pastor is, what an interim pastor is, and these two things look very much alike. There’s a difference in runway and time frame, but apart from that, there are, there are not that many appreciable differences because ministry is ministry and pastoring is pastoring.

JimBo Stewart: mean, I appreciate you. It’s refreshing to hear you have a, positive take on the coming retirement wave of boomers. So often when that topic comes up, it’s just in a negative, Oh no, what are we going to do? So. It’s really refreshing to hear you have kind of a, positive, like, Hey, this is a resource that we need to tap into and utilize these [00:05:00] guys they’re not wanting to continue as the long term pastor, how do we utilize them well as interims, as transitional pastors?


Scott Catoe: Right.

JimBo Stewart: I want to dive into the, the first, principle. You, you have eight principles of effective interim pastors. All eight of them, as I was reading, I was like, yeah, all eight of these are things we probably all as pastors need to work through. But specifically most of our listeners are in some sort of revitalization, replant context, where they’re having to do some.

level of corrective shepherding where we’re having to go in and things are not headed in the right direction spiritually. And we’re having to shepherd in a corrective manner. And, so as I was reading the first chapter, I thought, man, this is something I think any pastor, but especially a pastor in a church in decline of some kind, needs to think through the idea of fearing God more than we fear man.

Talk to us about [00:06:00] a little bit of that chapter.

Scott Catoe: Yeah. so the heart behind that was a lot of the book is an overflow of, when I was writing, both for my dissertation and for the book, you find that there are not a lot of, written resources, right? So a lot of my research came through interviews and not all of those interviews, were entirely positive, but they were all instructive.

And one of the common things you hear often, in fact, I’ve heard. Really prominent guys say things like this is your role as an interim pastor is to not really make too many waves Like you want to come in and just kind of keep things the status quo and let the church Walk through its search process and you just love the people and you kind of leave them where they are And I just, you know, it was almost like the first time I heard that I thought this just fundamentally just disagrees with my heart.

There’s gotta be, this can’t be it. Because, because when you work in associational life, state convention life, and I’m sure the same is true for your work, and you look at things from a higher view. You get to see the shrapnel that is, that is left [00:07:00] over from guys who do this. And then the, you know, a younger and more experienced guy or just well intentioned guy who doesn’t know what landmine he’s getting ready to step on walks in the door and none of that’s been dealt with.

And now it explodes when the reality is that bomb could have been diffused during that transitional period. And so, so the whole purpose, I wanted to lead out the box with that chapter to say, really, what we’ve got to come to grips with here is this really is a sin issue. The issue here is that we end up often fearing God, less than we fear the, pushback that we’re going to get or that we desire the accolades that people will give us for being this older shepherd who just loves people and coddles them and kind of does this sort of, spiritual palliative care with people all the way into the grave and all of that.

it doesn’t lead to growth, it doesn’t lead to positive change in the church, it just, you’re just, at best, you’re delaying the inevitable, and at worst, you’re exacerbating it.

JimBo Stewart: Yeah, I, know for a fact that my replant that God allowed me to be a part of leading would [00:08:00] not have gone, as well as it did without a period of a transitional pastor prior to me really setting the groundwork And setting me up, I appreciate the way in the book you address this idea of, don’t make waves, don’t change too much.

And you talk about like, yeah, there’s, there are probably some parameters you should set. You probably shouldn’t change them from, you know, deacon led to elder led. You probably shouldn’t change them, you know, their worship style, dramatically. You probably, you know, some things like that, like you should let the next longterm pastor be the one to kind of lead that type of structural.

Scott Catoe: Absolutely.

JimBo Stewart: preferential change, but a quote from the book, he said, but the interim pastor must address unbiblical behaviors, attitudes, and practices if he hopes to lead a congregation well to the transition. And he can’t do that if he fears man more than he fears God. it’s such a valuable, I think all of us struggle with that, [00:09:00] We all struggle with the idea of when we’re leading, how is this going to be received?

And that’s something we have to consider. You have to consider how is this going to be received, but you cannot make ministry decisions based just on how people will receive it. It has to be largely based on what is God calling this church to do? What, what does biblical faithfulness in the daily things look like?

Scott Catoe: 100%. Yeah, and so, you know, in, so no one’s advocating, I would never advocate, and I don’t know anyone who would advocate for being the proverbial, Bull in the China shop, right? So, so when I say we should fear God more than fear man, what I’m not saying and what the book won’t say is, man, you should just come in and tear everything up.

You know, you, you don’t, don’t think at all how people are going to receive something. Don’t worry about what people are going to think of you. Uh, number one, even if. Even if we give those, those instructions to people, our own desire just to be liked by people will often prevent us from doing that.

It’s how you come to bear with it. [00:10:00] It’s how you come to grips with the fact that, that, that, that I’m going to, people may not like this and I’m going to have to deal with it. But, but more than that it really is, the, the next seven principles in a lot of ways are just instructions on, how to keep from fearing man, you know, so a section, whole section that I really wanted to devote to, I wanted to devote to, conflict, and thinking about leading change, leading transitional change through conflict, or, you know, really being a person committed to prayer, or more importantly to me, being committed to the sufficiency of God’s word, because the reality of the fact is, we don’t really get to say How the church ought to be conducted that that really is oh from it from an overarching biblical perspective those instructions are already written There are things that should not happen.

There should be unity in the body. There shouldn’t be backbiting there You know conflict should be resolved in biblical ways Those are instructions that we already have and so so in those Situations fearing God more than fearing man means being willing to speak the truth in love as we’ve been instructed pointing people back to God’s Word [00:11:00] and saying look we can We can start working on this and the Holy Spirit can work this out between us because we’re all claiming the name of Jesus.

We’re all claiming the power of the Holy Spirit, so let’s work on this together. But to do so requires this mixture of courage and humility that really does, at the end of the day, help put that fear of man to death in us and makes us better Christians, better men, better pastors as we’re working through the process.

JimBo Stewart: Do you feel like interim pastors are able to get away with diving into some of that a little quicker than a long term pastor because it’s just stated up front that I’m not planning on staying here super long and so there’s a little bit of freedom that comes with that opportunity?

Scott Catoe: Man, I really think so. And I think there’s, I think there’s that reason. I think it’s that you understand, you know, if things go according to plan, your tenure is short. and so your work is urgent, right? So the, the length of time that you’re there creates a greater sense of urgency to go ahead and hammer these things out.

For where we are in our context too, we have found that a [00:12:00] lot of our interim pastors are men who have retired from our association often after like 20 or 30 years of service. And because we’re mostly suburban and rural churches. Everybody knows everybody, right? So, so when you come in and you’re one of these men who’ve served faithfully in the community for 30 years and nearly everybody loves you there’s also a measure of of gravity that comes with the words that you speak that gets you the Ability to speak into those things in a lot of ways a lot faster than a guy who maybe is moving from out of state or a young guys coming in to replant a church.

They just, they just haven’t earned that yet. There’s, there’s not enough weight to their words, but these guys come in with instant weight and they come in with a short, you know, with a short time period. and the combination of those two things really does give them a whole lot of leverage to be able to use those, to see the church immediately respond and begin changing.

JimBo Stewart: That’s great. One of the other quotes I found in this chapter, it says when sinful habits are reinforced over time, they become strong points [00:13:00] of contention early in the ministry of the church’s new pastor. So while the interim pastor has an opportunity to kind of dive into this a little quicker, if he doesn’t and he just doesn’t want to make waves and he doesn’t want to upset anybody and this kind of fear of man keeps him from addressing some spiritual things that he needs to address in a corrective shepherding posture.

All he’s doing is really teeing up that next pastor for it to be some of the first things he’s probably gonna have to deal with when he gets there.

Scott Catoe: and often he doesn’t even know that those are some of the first things he’s having to deal with, right? It’s it’s what you want guys come in and love these folks and be patient and wait to see what bubbles up to the surface. And I mean, just, you know, full disclosure, I was horrible at this 10 years ago when I first got here, because, you know, you come in with this vision of, man, I can see what the Lord can do and I can see where this thing can go.

And if you’re not careful, you’re running so hard into that vision that, like we said earlier, you step on this landmine that you didn’t even know it was there. And now from a, from a ministerial standpoint, man, you’re, you’re, you’re [00:14:00] crippled because you realize, wait a second, I stepped on something.

I, I, I didn’t mean to step on. And I had a great interim pastor who really did. I, I make reference to him in the preface who really did, tee me up well for ministry. And I was willing to take on some fights that. I probably wouldn’t have handled nearly as well, as he did. and even with that, there are still, those things are still going to be there, right?

Because if you’re, if your interim pastor is, is there six months, if he’s there for a year, you’re still probably not going to be able to defuse all those bombs, but. If you can figure, you, the big ones come to the surface, right? Because they become as, you know, the phrase that we like to use is sacred cows.

They become these really important things to the church that the, church almost orients itself around. They are cows, which is exactly why in that chapter, I picked, Moses and Aaron and the golden calf, because in so many ways That running to those things that we think are bringing us hope because, you know, in many of those situations, at least my experience has been in declining churches, the people latch on to those things that they think are [00:15:00] most bound or most, are probably going to give them some sort of hope or life or whatever, vitality, or they’re a, they’re a memory or they’re a, they’re a ministry event that used to be wildly successful in their community.

And they’re going to latch on and hold on to that thing. And it’s very dear. And it becomes an idol in many ways in the, um, In the church and if we’re not willing to confront those idols in that transitional period, then what happens is it seems like my experience has been people generally just galvanize harder around those things because you’ve got another change coming behind it.

JimBo Stewart: Yeah, one of the things you said shortly after that was, when we as leaders 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.

And that’s so key. I found over the years I’ve been researching and working in this topic of church revitalization, that this identity [00:16:00] piece is so key because even what happens, you, you were talking about when you first got there 10 years ago. You’re coming in with vision. You’re coming in hard. And I think if you were like me, I started at my replant 10 years ago, as well, you start to see like the structural things that you know will make this a better organization as a church.

And we end up focusing more of our attention on those things sometimes than the spiritual identity pieces of what’s going on, which are really the foundation that you’re building that. structure stuff on. And if you don’t deal with that foundation, I mean it doesn’t matter how great the building looks when you build it, it’s just, it’s going to start to crumble.

And that’s one of the things the Lord had to correct in my heart, was I came in going, if we can have, you know, better systems, and we can have better worship, and we can have better this, and we can have better that, then ultimately all, this will be a healthier church. And when this is a healthier church, As an [00:17:00] organization, inevitably, they will end up being healthier people.

and that’s not actually how it works. Like you, there, there’s a flip to that. You got to actually work on the people

before you work on the structure stuff. You got to deal with the identity stuff before you deal with all the other stuff.

Scott Catoe: Oh man. one of the chapters I set aside for was just decision making, seeing decision making in the church as a reflection of what the church worships. and, you know, and again, thinking of all the following chapters as just this, okay, I see that fear of man can be a problem in ministry.

What are these principles that are going to help us, you know, bring this to bear, with decision making? I have a tendency to focus on the decision that’s being made first instead of What is the motive behind this decision that’s being made? Like, you so year one, uh, we did these fruit bags, here, and so we’re in a, we’re a mill community.

And for the longest time, it’s church was planted here in 29. prior to that point, we’re in a, we’re in a pretty high poverty area. And so the church would pull its money together and buy fruit bags for all the [00:18:00] kids in the community. Well, that. By the time I got here in 2014, it was definitely easier to go to the grocery store and just get some fruit.

And so I thought, well, we just need to stop doing this. I mean, this is a, it’s an ineffective decision. What I failed to think about, what I failed to see was the motive was that there are a lot of older ladies in our church who remembered these children coming in and could, in their minds, they could see five rows deep of kids coming off the Mill Hill and getting these fruit bags and singing songs about Jesus.

And I just. Man, I just missed that. I totally missed it. And I was like, oh, we’re just not going to do this anymore. And not only did I get pushback, man, I inadvertently really wounded people that I could have avoided wounding if I, if I had just asked, why are we doing this? You know? And so the, so the motive behind those decisions that are being made, it’s also really critical.

And the motive, if the motive is, so bringing it back to interim pastors, if the motive then for me making decisions is fear of man. It’s going to go sideways. If the motive of the [00:19:00] church making decisions is fear of man, which often you have these one or two power brokers, you know, and so you’ll see this one person around whom all decisions are centralized.

And, and when you begin to see that this person, okay, this person is the eye of the hurricane, if you will, everything’s revolving around them. Okay. Now I want to go and not just push back against their decisions, but how can I come in? Apply the gospel and pierce their heart so that they change by the power of the Holy Spirit and the motives of those decisions change.

JimBo Stewart: You wanted to talk about motives, you also kind of go to the, the flip side of the coin of the fear of man to the hero syndrome. It’s like another version of the way that this plays out with us. Explain that a little bit.

Scott Catoe: Yeah. So, any of us can be prone to think that it’s our responsibility to save a church or to come in and be the guy, you know, and, and I’m going to, I’m going to come in and get all of this credit, all of this glory, seeing this, especially as, interim pastors kind of gain experience in practice, but pastors are like this too, as pastors [00:20:00] gain experience in practice, sometimes we can look into a, into a congregation and I found myself tempted to do this, even in consulting with churches, you look at a congregation and you can think, Oh, well, the thing that’s missing in this situation is me, right?

And so if I can come in and make these decisions, if I can come in and lead this way, well, then, then everything’s going to be fixed. and we miss so many things you miss in that moment, right? If we desire to get the glory, whether you miss. Ephesians 4. 12, we don’t equip the saints for the work of service, right?

 we come in and we’re the one who’s doing the work and then we leave and no one has grown closer to Jesus. No one has become a more equipped disciple maker in the midst of our ministry. We’ve just come in and fixed things, if you will, and then left. And when you do that, you probably leave the church less healthy than it was when you got there.

Because now instead of being centralized around all these other things, well, it’s just centralized around you. And neither of these options are good.

JimBo Stewart: So one of the longest quotes that I highlighted in the book was, towards the [00:21:00] conclusion of the chapter. First, when we fear God more than we fear men, we are freed by the power of the gospel to love our church members the way that 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, and 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. So just in the last couple of minutes here, speak to the listeners of this podcast on The importance of courageously but gently shepherding our people to see their sin and to fear God more than we fear man.

Scott Catoe: Yeah, so, so in many [00:22:00] ways, I would almost summarize that as the work of making disciples, right? Like, the work of making disciples is this ever increasing process of helping us have a growing awareness of the glory of Christ and an increasing affection for the glory of Christ. And I’m a, I’m a big Puritan reader.

So the, the other pastor of this church and I, we do a podcast together where we literally read a Puritan book. And then talk about it line by line. And, and, you know, one of the, one of the Puritanic concepts is that as you have this ever increasing love for Christ, you will also find yourself having this ever increasing holy hatred of sin.

Uh, because you see the destructive nature of it in you. You see the destructive nature of it in your church. And, if a pastor, if a shepherd can cast a compelling vision for the beauty of Christ. for the glory of God and, by the way, of the latent danger of sin and of what it’s actually doing.

Well, then, then in those cases, you, you set the tone for this long term runway, where our next, the next guy can build on a really biblical [00:23:00] and solid foundation. And so, Again, thinking about it not just in terms of interim ministry, I think it’s critical for ministry, for us to first, you know, and I would make it clear, first, we must do this in our own hearts, right, like I’m not advocating that we’re simply looking at the speck in someone else’s eye without taking the log out of our own, you know, so we gotta first look inward, like look at what, look at what this, let’s just take fear of man, look at what fear of man is doing in my own heart.

It creates this anxiety, it creates, you know, the sleeplessness that I can feel sometimes because I’m really concerned about how a person will respond or a group of people will respond to a decision that I’m making even though I know that biblically the decision I’m making honors Christ ought to give us some insight.

into just the latent, nefarious danger of sin. And so, so when I see that in my own heart, and I bring it to bear, and I apply the gospel, you know, repentance is not, not a bad thing. Repentance is a great thing. You know, it’s the reason that Luther started when he said, when our [00:24:00] Lord and Master said, repent, he intended for the whole of Christian life to be a lifestyle of repentance, a day to day repentance.

We’re doing this all the time. Why? Because we can because we’ve been freed by the gospel to constantly take the shackles of sin off and bring them before the Lord and say, I want to live free from fear of man. I want to feel free, you know, from the worry of what others are going to think of me. And when you take that to bear in your own heart, in my experience, the freedom that I, that I have.

From seeing the gospel applied to that thing, I want that to be contagious in the lives of my people. I want that to be contagious in the culture of the church, where the church itself, you know, we can be free from this. Like, we can, we can be, we can live life in the freedom of the gospel, making decisions that we know glorify as the Lord, and if, and if others don’t like that Uh, then, then, you know, the Lord does, I, I had to, I put many, many, you know, a long time ago, I put, I have a whiteboard wall in my office and I’m looking at it right now.

and at the top of it I wrote, because [00:25:00] an older man in ministry said the most important sentence that he ever, heard in ministry was if God approves, nothing else matters. And so to begin with that perspective and to live with that perspective. Then to lead with that perspective will allow you to be able to, transfer that to others who will end up being more fully formed followers of Jesus because of it.

JimBo Stewart: Scott, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. this is a great resource that I highly recommend. effective interim pastors. We’ll put a link in the show notes. You can get it on Amazon. You can get it, a coma press. just real quick reading through the contents for you.

So you can see, he defines kind of what is an interim pastor. Effective interim pastors fear God more than man. They prepare God’s people for a hopeful future. They settle crisis level conflicts. They teach the church to glorify Christ through decision making. They put in order what remains. They lead the church to pray fervently.

And they are directed by the word. And they equip the saints to fulfill the Great Commission. And then [00:26:00] he ends it with putting it all together, the first six months of interim ministry. So if you are an interim pastor or looking to be an interim pastor, I highly recommend this resource. if you’re not an interim pastor, I at least recommend, the first couple of chapters, man, dive into it, the rest of it.

as I get through it, it seems like it’s all very helpful and effective as well, for anybody. So thanks for taking the time to be on the podcast with us today.

Scott Catoe: Yeah. Thanks for having me Jimbo. We’re really thankful for the opportunity and hope my whole goal of it was to be able to be a blessing to others. And so I hope that that, that goal is accomplished.

JimBo Stewart: Absolutely.

church replanting, church revitalization, conflict, fear of God, fear of man, Interim, interim pastors, pastoring, Scott catoe

Jimbo Stewart

Replant Bootcamp Co-Host

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