Where do most interim pastors incur service wounds in the church?
It’s no surprise that interim pastors suffer heavy casualties in their ranks. The mainstream media know this is true about all pastors.
Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.
A ministry site for wounded pastors cites a few grim statistics.
80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged; 70% do not have a close friend; 40% report serious conflict with a church member at least once per month; over 1800 are forced out of their positions each month; 25% have faced a forced termination at least once.
If you’ve been a pastor or interim pastor, you’ve got a collection of campaign ribbons scars and bruises. You also know the surprising fact that most clergy wounds are inflicted on the back! Slings and arrows from the troops behind. “Fragging” in military parlance.
I’ve learned “duck and cover” drills that might have saved me a scar or two if I’d known them earlier.
I’ve also learned four types of people who are likely to lob one in my direction when I’m not looking. Maybe a different group will target you, but you may know some of these folks.
They have the interim pastor in their sights…
1. The Enforcer
I never went to parochial school, so I don’t know how to cower in fear with someone looking over my shoulder. (I have to admit the scene where Jake and Elwood get worked over with the ruler cracked me up)
The Enforcer is a self-anointed Saint who feels a special calling to insure the unspoken rules that lubricate church relationships are maintained.
A ruler isn’t necessary. A slight frown, a sharp glance or verbal gesture is enough to let the offender know an invisible line has been crossed.
The Enforcer is dangerous because he sucks grace out of the atmosphere. Spontaneity flies out the window and gospel is displaced with law.
The Enforcer won’t hesitate to take a swipe at an interim pastor who turns her back on an unspoken rule or an hoary tradition that needs to be plucked up so the church can go forward. The Enforcer will block progress and shoot anyone who goes out in front.
2. The Windex Guy
Remember Gus soaking his elbow in a bowl of Windex? It’s the opening scene to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. For Gus, Windex cured everything from acne to rash.
Beware of the folks who indiscriminately spray Bible verses on everything and everyone, often without thought.
Got a deep emotional wound? Let’s spray a bit of Psalms on it. In the midst of shocking trauma and loss? A little dab of Job will cure what ails ya! Facing a difficult life decision without clear leading from God? Ha – a tincture of Proverbs will set you straight.
Don’t get me wrong.
There is power in God’s Word. It has the power to illuminate the darkened heart of the most depraved sinner. Offering scripture counsel to those seeking direction is superb.
But the Windex Guy doesn’t operate out of mercy, empathy and attentive listening. He’s out to solve the world’s problems and convince himself that he’s on top of it all.
The Windex guy will put people off but they don’t dare criticize. After all, he’s quoting the Bible! When the interim pastor tries reign him in everyone’s headed for trouble.
3. The Historian
Often a close ally of The Enforcer, The Historian enters your every move into the archives. Then, if you forget to follow through on a promise or change course, she’s there to remind you!
This can be helpful if, like me, you’re more of a big-picture rather than daily-detail operator. The Historian can be a useful aide. But if her record keeping doesn’t include a significant measure of grace, she’ll drive you nuts.
A colleague tells of a church full of Historians. They came to business meetings with church constitutions, by-laws and records of previous business meetings all marked up and notated. They effectively blocked any possibility of change. Some folks will have to go home before this church will move.
When you’re battling The Historian don’t be surprised by the lead that flies your way. This is the type of person on whom you may need to exercise the Nuclear Option.
4. The Constant Visitor
More than once in ministry I wonder if I’m trapped in the movie “Groundhog Day.”
Some folks, probably the lonely ones, love to talk the pastor’s ear off. They’ll corner you in the lobby before or after the service and suck up your discretionary time. There’s never any movement forward with these folks – the conversation is always the same.
Soon enough you catch on that these folks aren’t leadership material and they’re not much interested in maturing as disciples. They just want to talk.
When you finally, gracefully extricate yourself from the conversation you vow it won’t happen again.
But the rinse-and-repeat cycle kicks in the next Sunday.
The Constant Visitor probably won’t harm you, but if he’s got close relatives in the church they may butcher you if you cut her off. “He’s just a lonely old man. All she wants is to talk to the pastor!”
So you’ll need to handle The Constant Visitor with care; sometimes groundhogs are porcupines in disguise. Since the interim pastor has to report to the Head of the Church, she has to make best use of her limited time. That may not leave much for The Constant Visitor.
From which direction have you been the recipient of unexpected projectiles?