How do you get everyone in the church headed in the same direction when the lay leaders aren’t up to the challenge?


Interim pastors often find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, you need to help the congregation own the transition process. On the other hand, the lay leaders don’t have the shepherding and leading skills needed to pull it off.

There’s a simple solution that will de-horn the problem.

Use the tried and true teaching formula: watch one, do one, teach one.

It works like a charm.

Suppose you’ve finished your assessment and presented your recommendations in an open meeting. Other than a few questions expressing doubt or worry they received your report gladly and endorsed your recommendations enthusiastically.

Now it’s time to consolidate the gains, answer the lingering questions and generate forward momentum. While you’re at it, why not start some of that leadership training you recommended?

Here’s one way to do both tasks at once.

  • Divide the church’s spiritual leaders into two groups.
  • Convene a meeting with one group and enough folks from the congregation that you have 12 to 14 people.
  • Prep the leaders to watch you lead the group, paying special attention to how you use questions to create dialog.
  • Start the meeting by telling them this is an information gathering meeting. You want to hear their concerns, find out where they need clarity, and find their level of interest in pushing forward with the transition process.
  • Facilitate the meeting with information questions and probing questions.
  • After the meeting is over, debrief the leaders who watched you. Discuss the process and find out what they learned about how to lead using open-ended questions.
  • Have them meet and lead the next small group with new members from the congregation.
  • You will sit in on the session and watch.
  • After the meeting is over, debrief your leaders and offer suggestions as needed.
  • Then, they repeat the process with the other group of leaders.
  • The process runs until everyone in the church has given feedback in a group.
  • The process ends by bringing the leaders back together and discussing the results of their findings.

So, in one simple process you have gotten feedback from the entire congregation, the congregation will feel like they’ve been heard, you’ve trained leaders to use attentive listening skills and open-ended questions.

They will all rise up and call you blessed.

Open-ended Questions

Relationships are built and strengthened around attentive listening and open-ended questions. An open-ended question does not lead the respondent to answer in a particular way, and it cannot be answered with a single word or a short phrase.

Information Questions

Information questions will help you discern areas of agreement and disagreement with the vision for the transition, with the analysis in your report, and the degree of “buy in” to the recommendations.

These open-ended questions should focus on the issue before the church: is the interim pastor’s assessment correct and are the recommendations SMART?

  • Where did you find yourself agreeing and disagreeing with the interim pastor’s assessment report?
  • Describe your suggestions for how the analysis of the church’s past – as revealed in the records – could be improved.
  • How would your knowledge of past events help fill in the gaps?
  • Which of the recommendations did you find yourself agreeing with?
  • With which did you find yourself holding back or in disagreement?
  • What do you see yourself doing to help carry out the recommendations?

Probing Questions

Probing questions invite the respondent to offer more detail about their answer to an information question. Effective probing questions are “what” or “how” questions that focus the response. If you’d like more personal insight (into the respondent’s thinking or values) you can also use “are you” or “have you” questions.

It’s probably a good idea to ask “why” questions because the respondent could misunderstand it as a subtle challenge to their reasoning. This could put them on the defensive and close the channel on more information.

Here are some effective probing questions:

  • Could you flesh that out a little more for me?
  • I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that. Could you give me an example that would help me dial in on your meaning?
  • Where do you think those feelings might come from?

It’s also helpful to probe by using a “what I hear you saying …” reply and then ask, “Am I on target with you?”


The calendar keeps an interim pastor on a short leash. You’ve got to do a lot of ministry development in a very short time. Two of those tasks are to (1) unite the congregation around the transition tasks and (2) train leaders to shepherd the church.

If you use the “watch one, do one, teach one” process with open-ended questions you’ll accelerate buy-in and leadership development.

Image credit: Creative Commons License Vinoth Chandar via Compfight