How does an interim pastor train church leaders to maintain a culture of peace and keeping short accounts so that they “own” the problem of missing church discipline?

Often – not always, but often – a pastor who departs under duress leaves a church culture that prefers to turn a blind eye to mischief. He may be leaving a vicious gossip (is there any other kind?) to spread discord because he’s just tired of the conflict. Maybe it’s her first ministry and she’s ceded control to a “church boss” who bullies the pastor and the congregation to get his way.

The result is a church culture that turns a blind eye to mischief.

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You’ve been retained to solve the church’s problems. The judicatory or denominational executive has charged you with cleaning things up without blowing them up.

Now what?

In a previous post I advocate setting the interim pastor’s church discipline default to “sooner rather than later.” “Swiftly” is the term I used in the title.

In response some of my colleagues offered cogent observations that slower is sometimes better. I agree. But I “sooner rather than later” is appropriate most of the time. I believe that view does a better job explaining the biblical passages on church discipline.

Clarifying the interim pastor’s responsibility

The interim pastor is responsible for scrubbing away the conflict, the tension and the unbiblical behavior between church members. It is a task of dealing with specific people and specific conflicts.

The larger task is to create a culture that inhibits dysfunctional ways of church discipline.

Interim pastors excel at the smaller task. We could use better tools to accomplish the larger. So in that vein I offer two tools that will help you train church leaders to be diligent in the matter of church discipline.

#1 Have church leaders participate

In your role of “interim pastor as trainer” you’ve got to get the church’s officers and influencers involved in the discipline process right up front.

#2 Get church leaders on record

This is crucial.

When it’s time to inform the congregation of a disciplinary action, or when a letter needs to be sent have the church officers do it! You may need to draft the letter or outline the announcement but they must be the ones to deliver the message.


Because once they make a decision, take an action and then go on record they become confident in their decision.

Robert Cialdini, in his book Influence [affiliate link], explains how this works.

A study done by a pair of Canadian psychologists uncovered something fascinating about people at the racetrack: just after placing bets they are much more confident of their horses’ chances of winning than they were immediately before laying down the bets. Of course, nothing about the horse’s chances actually shifted; it’s the same horse, on the same track, in the same field; but in the minds of those bettors, its prospects improve significantly once that ticket is purchases. Although a bit puzzling at first glance, the reason for the dramatic chance has to do with a common weapon of social influence. Like other weapons of influence, this one lies deep within us, directing our actions with quiet power. It is, quite simply, our desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we make a choice or take a stand, will will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. [his emphasis]

Cialdini goes on to describe how small acts of going on the record create significant changes in behavior and in how we think about ourselves.

It’s interesting to see this phenomenon on the pages of scripture.

The brash (Matthew 26:35) but timid-before-servant-girls Peter (Matthew 26:69-75) underwent an amazing transformation.

The filling of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) motivated Peter to go public with his faith in Jesus as Israel’s crucified and risen Messiah. Once he had gone public, there was no turning back. Those personal and interpersonal forces – including the Holy Spirit – set him on a path from which there was no retreat. The man who had cowered before servants now boldly defied rulers (Acts 4:19-20).

Creating a church discipline culture

  • The interim pastor involves church officers in the discipline process
  • The interim pastor has the church officers go on record by delivering the message
  • The act of going on record reinforces the “rightness” of the decision in their minds
  • The inner propensity for consistency makes it likely that they will do the same thing in the future
  • Rinse and repeat several times; this reinforces actions based on a biblical value

And that is how a church culture is changed over time.

If you pull it off, you virtually insure that they will “own” a healthy process going forward. They’ll take the lead in creating that culture of peacemaking and keeping short accounts.

Denominational officials will praise you.

Pastors will marvel.

You’ll likely go into the Interim Pastor Hall of Fame.



What steps have you taken in your interim ministry to change the culture of a client church?