Ever have this happen to you?

VCU ProselytizingYou’ve just started at a new client church. It’s your first Sunday sermon before this congregation. The sermon is polished – true to the text, relevant to the congregation and filled with just the right balance of exposition and application. Then, less than ten minutes into the sermon you discover that you’re much better than Paul at putting people to sleep.

Connecting with a new congregation, especially if there’s a cultural gap between your other clients and this one, is a challenge. You won’t know the inside jokes, you’re likely to step on a landmine.

If you don’t turn this around in a hurry you may end being the unintentional interim interim pastor!


Use a preaching team. Gather a group of folks from the church who will help you connect your preaching to the place where the church members live every day.

Most interim pastors conduct extensive interviews early on in the interim period. Chances are you’ll have met some folks who’d fit nicely on this team.

The preaching team starts when the interim pastor’s assessment has finished.

Brainstorm preaching ideas

After you’ve completed the assessment, delivered the report and hashed it over with the governing board it’s time to bring this to the preaching team for some planning. Set aside an afternoon – three to four hours – so the team will have plenty of time to sketch out and begin to refine the preaching calendar.

  • Discuss the full range of issues (surfaced in the assessment) that need to be touched on in the preaching calendar
  • Narrow it down to the three most important topics – those things that will give the church the “most bang for the buck”
  • Discern which¬† books or pericopes in scripture address these topics
  • Develop the preaching calendar for the next quarter/six months/year – whatever you feel comfortable with
  • Get this preaching calendar to the worship team!

Preview your sermon

Interim pastors typically have a few dozen pericopes, texts and canonical books they rely on. The challenge is to make what you know fit this new audience.

A week out meet with the preaching team for thirty minutes (maybe over breakfast) to discuss the sermon. The team will be evaluating the sermon you’ll be delivering the week after the nearest Sunday. In other words, if your preaching team meets on Friday mornings, you won’t be going over Sunday’s sermon, but the sermon you’ll be giving a week from next Sunday – 10 days hence.

Briefly describe the sermon for the team: give them your purpose, your introduction, your main idea, the outline and the conclusion. Let them know how the sermon fits into your overall strategy as an interim pastor with a plan.

Then hash through how well the sermon will connect with the congregation.

  • Does the sermon grab attention and invite them to listen?
  • Does the sermon accomplish its purpose (inform, persuade, call to action)?
  • Is it true to the text?
  • Is the outline easy to follow?

Once the team learns to trust you – because you trust them and receive their constructive criticism with equanimity – they’ll help you become more effective at connecting with and communicating to the people in that congregation.

Debrief the sermon

  • On Sunday morning touch bases with one of on your preaching team and ask “How could that have been better?”
  • Review the audio (or video if available) and evaluate the sermon.
  • Journal the lessons you learned from that sermon and carry them forward into the next.

I know this works. You’ll be a better preacher and a more effective interim pastor if you follow this tip.

Image: Creative Commons LicenseEli Christman via Compfight

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