Interim pastors ask tough questions when the going gets tough.

“You can keep your worship services as is or you can reach young families. Which do you want?”

That’s how Interim Pastors handle a client churches when stated goals and personal preferences clash. A colleague – now retired – often threw the “question no one dares ask” out on the table.

“You say you want to attract younger families. But you also want Fran playing the organ as long as someone will wheel her oxygen tank up on the platform for her. You can’t have both. Which do you want?”

Questions like this can result in injury. They set off chain reactions that may get out of control. They must be handled with courage and care.

Tough questions

Here are 5 clarifying questions Interim Pastors should ask. The rest of you should handle them with extreme care.

George Hunter poses the questions that Interim Pastors should put to their client churches.1

  1. Do we want to know secular, pre-Christian people?
  2. Do we want unrefined and out-of-control people in our church? (“Early Celtic Christians designed their monasteries and worship to save the souls of others”2)
  3. Are we willing to go where these non-Christians are?
  4. Are we willing to really spend time on their turf?
  5. Are we willing to let our church become their church, too? (their style, music, favored time or worship, etc.)

Clarifying questions have common themes

Contrary to coaching questions, clarifying questions are deliberately framed as “yes or no”. Interim Pastors use this format to force the church to face the disconnect between Christ’s mission and their personal values (which could accurately be labelled “preferences”).

  •  They force us to decide if the church is for us or for them. (NB: this is a different question than asking “who is the worship service for?”)
  • They force us to settle on the ministry’s purpose par excellence – is it a rescue station, an educational institution or a weekend spiritual retreat center?
  • The force us to identify the object of our first love.
  • They force us to move in a specific direction – away from control to hospitality, away from institution to mission.

Action Steps

For Interim Pastors

  1. Review the assessment
  2. Evaluate the Memorandum of Understanding – one of your employment documents
  3. Determine the most important resistance point
  4. Craft two or three questions that force the resistance into the open
  5. Ask the questions of your allies and early adopters
  6. Recruit them to ask the question of others
  7. Develop channels of communication and feedback loops that provide everyone opportunity to wrestle with these questions

For Settled Pastors

  1. Ask yourself, “Do I fit the profile of a turnaround pastor?” (see also)
  2. Assuming you do, conduct the church assessment
  3. Pick up at item #3 on the intentional interim pastor’s list

What are some tough questions you’ve asked of your church? Click here to leave comment below.


  1. Hunter was not speaking specifically to Interim Pastors, but his questions are cogent. See George G. Hunter III, “Reaching Secular People: Celtic Tradition and Winning the West Again” cited in James R. Farrer, “Resurrecting the Celtic Model of Evangelism for the 21st Century: George G Hunter III” Great Commission Research Journal 5:1 (Summer 2013), 42.
  2. P. 44.


I came across this interesting video, “When a church turnaround gets nasty” that illustrates the dangers of turnaround ministry.