At first, it was hard to pinpoint. The only clue was an occasional sense something wasn’t right.

In time it was followed by a dull ache that cropped up on occasion.

The frequency increased, but the discomfort never lasted long.

Finally, I mentioned it during my semi-annual dental check-up. She asked, “Have you been experiencing any discomfort or have you noticed any changes in your teeth?”

I told her.

She took a quick look, then grabbed a quick video with a camera the size of a ballpoint pen.

There was trouble at #17.

She showed me the video feed, and there it was. A 40 year old filling that needed to be replaced, surrounded by numerous tiny cracks and fissures. I was headed for some real pain if I didn’t have this fixed – soon![1]

The treatment taught me a few things about interim pastors and turnaround churches. You’ve got to remove old fillings, grind away the fissures and create a stable platform for the crown.

Remove old fillings

Tooth #17[2] had a 40 year old filling. It had served its purpose, but now it was causing trouble. Somehow the filling’s edges had receded from the surrounding tooth. It was still firmly in place but contributing to the formation of fissures.

Interim pastors often encounter old “fillings” – programs originally developed to fill a void in the church’s ministry. But they have outlived their usefulness and need to be removed. Leaving them untouched is counterproductive.

  • Sunday night prayer meetings that draw three people plus the pastor and his family.[3]
  • Mid-week Child and Youth programs that use materials anchored in the 1950s. If the program hasn’t seen true growth in a while, it’s time to get rid of it.
  • Singing that’s less than the church’s best. That soprano soloist lost her voice 40 years ago and now it’s just painful. Make room for younger folks with more talent – or at least more potential.[4]
  • Announcements. Isn’t it time to train your media-savvy congregation that they can get information about the latest doings and upcoming events on the church website, weekly email blast, FB page and Twitter feed?
  • Weekly visitation. Seriously. There are far more effective ways to reach people these days, especially in suburban environments. Think about it for a moment: How would you react if someone knocked on your door, uninvited, at 7 o’clock on Monday night?

Interim pastors should always take client churches through a ministry audit. It may have to wait until they’ve worked through mission and vision, but at some point they need to turn a jaded eye toward all expenditures of time, money and resources. That’s part of the interim pastors job – to force them to see what’s actually there.

So, to riff on a current commercial, “what’s in your programming?”

Grind away fissures

In addition to the old filling, #17 had grown a filigreed network of teensy fissures. Untreated, they would eventually lead to decay, painful cracks, and a lot of personal misery.

The client churches interim pastors typically serve usually have various barely noticeable fissures. These faults aren’t the source of current pain but left unchecked, they will be!

  • Malcontents who focus on the negative. They need to be counseled and corrected. If they’re unwilling to refocus on the good then they need to be shown the door.
  • Soapbox theologians who have a hobby horse they love to whip. They reveal themselves by their argument; they are intent on forcing people to knuckle under rather than gently coaching them through the thought process.
  • Historians who fondly recall the old days, which, with the passage of time, just keep getting better and better. Should you ever need to position the church to reach the 1950s, you’ll want these people around. Otherwise, make sure that they don’t become malcontents.
  • “Yes but” folks. From time to time we all use this verbal jiujitsu. When someone regularly and consistently uses this in conversations about the future or in focus groups on solving problems, you’ve got resistance and possible subterfuge.
  • Church leaders who don’t practice grace giving. Some of you probably prefer “the tithe” but I’m not there. Nonetheless, you need to ask the Treasurer whether the church leaders give faithfully to the church. You don’t need names, just the information. If they’re all giving generously you’re in good shape on this front. But I consider giving to be a lagging indicator of growth and a leading indicator of disaffection. Deal with it.

There are various other “fissures” in the system of churches that interim pastors. Deal with them even if they’re not the immediate cause of pain. In time they will be!

Create a stable platform

All-in-all “crown prep” is an unpleasant experience. The tooth needs to turned into a stable platform capable of holding a crown in place for decades to come. If the old filling isn’t removed and if the fissures aren’t cleaned up, the new crown will sit on a rotten foundation.

We all know what happens then, don’t we?


Interim pastors! What has been the most difficult “prep the church” challenge you’ve faced as an interim pastor? Please click here to leave your comments below.

Image credit: stylephotographs / 123RF Stock Photo

  1. I elected to have the tooth crowned rather than pulled. I reckoned that God gave me that tooth for a reason and I’d do my best to die with as many teeth was I was born with!  â†©
  2. Wisdom tooth on the lower left side.  â†©
  3. I’ll probably get some flames on this, but I believe this scenario is harmful. It allows the congregation to mask its prayerlessness by pointing to Sunday night! Remove this excuse and build a prayerful church in other ways that are easier for folks to connect with.  â†©
  4. It may be hard to convince the congregation that Sunday mornings aren’t the time to feel good about ourselves because we let Hazel fly after the soaring chorus of “How Great Thou Art.”  â†©