How does an interim pastor get anything done when she’s the only person in the church able to provide leadership and management?

It takes tremendous focus.

Juggling chainsaws youtube i4

And a willingness to let go of the myth of multitasking.

You can’t do everything at once, so don’t even try.

Multitasking is a fairy tale

In his book, The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done, [affiliate link] business coach Dave Crenshaw points out that the notion of multitasking is a false construct that costs both time and money. The net result is that we get less done by trying to accomplish more that one task at a time.

Scientific research backs his claim.

Clifford Nass is the author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop [affiliate link] and a professor of communications at Stanford. During an interview on NPR Nass stated flatly that multitasking is a myth.

The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking. So in our research, the people who say they’re the best at multitasking because they do it all the time. It’s a little like smoking, you know, saying, I smoke all the time, so smoking can’t be bad for me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way….

So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand. And even – they’re even terrible at multitasking. When we ask them to multitask, they’re actually worse at it. So they’re pretty much mental wrecks. (Note: I’ve lightly edited this; check the original transcript)

Part of an interim pastor’s job is to train leaders to lead the church. May I suggest that you institute a policy of “topless” meetings – banning laptops, iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and such? A colleague of mine has this policy for his pastoral staff meetings. They get a lot done. Quickly.

Focus on “rock the world” tasks

Let’s move from the busy interim pastor who thinks he can multitask his way through the day to the one who thinks she has to move forward on all fronts simultaneously.

That’s just as effective as multitasking You end up accomplishing less. You confuse the leaders and congregation. You diffuse your energy and effectiveness.

How do you proceed when everything’s urgent?

You pick three or four things that will rock their world, things that will give the church a huge boost even if you get nothing else done.

Then you take action on those items every day.

Don’t let a day go by without touching at least one of those “rock the world” tasks. There are many ways you can touch these tasks:

  • Send an email to encourage people you’re waiting on
  • Pick up the phone and offer encouragement
  • Fulfill a task that you can tick off the checklist
  • Ask the person or team carrying the responsibility their goals for the next quarter

Here’s how I do it

When I delivered my assessment to the current client church I proposed 4 immediate tasks for the church. I also proposed 7 more tasks that had to be accomplished before the next settled pastor arrives.

11 tasks? It would take more time than I’ve got with this client church. When I looked at the list of 11, I picked 4 that would set the church up for success even if we didn’t get to the others.

  1. Communications: deliver an effective, easily managed system supported by useful technology solutions, clear policies and a lead who insures that communications function smoothly.
  2. Assimilation: create a system that increases visitor retention and makes it easy for people to become involved in the life of the church.
  3. Christian Education: Identify educational goals for the coming year and discover best practices that should be used to pursue the Christ-given mission of making disciples.
  4. Small Groups: develop a process for training small group leaders who are capable of producing small group environments that facilitate the spiritual maturation of every person in the church.

I look at this list every morning, at the start of my work day. I ask, “What can I do in the next 15 minutes that will move the ball closer to the goal in one of these four tasks?

Then I do it.


How do you narrow your focus to the most important tasks, and how do you manage yourself to make sure you’re making progress in those tasks?