When should an interim pastor step back and let the client congregation figure it out for themselves?


My default mode as an interim pastor can handicap a church.

Too often I respond to a problem by thinking, “I’m the interim pastor. They hired me to fix things.” And then I fix things.

I’ve learned that this is often an unhelpful response.

Turning the corner

First, the background story.

The church I’m serving as an intentional interim pastor achieved a major milestone two months ago.

They now see that “ministry ownership” is theirs. They’ve risen to the challenge. They’ve embraced it. And they’re doing fabulous ministry with little to no input from the top!

This is a milestone because for the past ten years their pastors ran the show. They set the agenda. They developed the plans. They directed the ministries. They bore the burden of recruiting.

Wittingly or unwittingly, this trained the congregation to remain passive until given directions from the top.

Those days are over.

Doing nothing

The precipitating event was a couple of resignations from Youth Ministry leadership. I waited until worried parents began to wonder aloud about the future. Would the pastor handle it? Would the leaders ignore the problem? Would they have to leave for a church with a good Youth Ministry?

My response?

I did nothing. I deliberately waited for them to feel the void, worry about the future and gather passion around the event.

This runs contrary to my nature. I’m a “fix it” guy. I think globally, study the system (rather than focusing on specific problems) and find the solution. Then I move on to the next one – after handing the solution to someone else to implement. (The “dark side” of my high D, Mr. Fixit nature is that my life is littered with unfinished projects!)

Let them figure it out

When the situation had ripened, I asked one of the parents to organize a meeting. 30 or so people – teens and their parents – gathered after a Sunday service.

I brought in an outside expert to facilitate a discussion. The purpose was to provide just enough direction so the group could figure it out on their own.

They did.

They can do it for themselves

They have proven that they can do genuine, significant and life transforming ministry on their own.

The Youth Ministry is vibrant. Wednesday evenings see the church alive with energy. The teens invite their friends – who come with them. During the Bible study time they are engaged, they ask deep questions and they are reflective.

I’m finding that this attitude is beginning to spread. The Women’s Ministry was actually ahead of the curve – perhaps the first group to discover they can do it for themselves. But I think it was too early in the transition process. Now we have some folks who are taking the lead with Financial Peace University Men’s Ministry.

Do they “get it”?

I think so.

The strongest evidence to date has been the discussion within the Transitional Leadership Team:

  • They have come to the realization that their church has failed in its disciplemaking mission, and they want to do something about that.
  • They are asking, “What kind of pastor do we need to help us fulfill our vision?”
  • They are digging deeply into God’s mission and how their church’s vision/mission (choose your terms wisely!) fit into what God is doing in the world.
  • They are expressing ownership of the future; they won’t be looking for a pastor to tell them what to do.


Tell us about a time when you solved a church problem by doing nothing. ~~Click here to leave your comments below~~. We’d love to learn from you!