Is it time for you – the Interim Pastor – to give your client church the “Gatorade treatment”?
Not the victory celebration.
I’m talking about a cold dose of reality, that may be the only thing that will wake a slumbering congregation.
The “problem” beneath symptoms and causes
Let me suggest that the real problem that lies at the heart of our client churches’ woes is that they’ve forgotten who they are and why they’re here.
Church members experience a church’s ailment as symptoms – conflict, confusion, declining income and attendance, lack of volunteers, and doubts and discouragement over the future.
Interim pastors categorize a church’s trouble by etiology – undisciplined sin, unresolved conflict, untrained leaders, lack of vision, neglected facilities and the like.
But I think there’s really only one problem that lies at the heart of the diagnostic causes and the unpleasant symptoms: for whatever reason the people (as individuals) and the congregation (as a body) have decoupled from God’s mission in the world.
If this problem isn’t solved – if the congregation’s attention isn’t turned toward God’s mission – it’s probable that the church will remain plateaued even under the ministry of the next pastor.
The Interim Pastor’s Challenge
Your job as the Interim Pastor is to stage this church so it is poised for growth under its next settled pastor. You do this in two ways: (1) removing obstacles to growth and (2) reconnecting the church to God’s mission.
The first task is the easier; note I did not say “easy”, just “easier”. As the painful debridement begins to take effect church members experience new ways of being and doing church. A gentle air of optimism passes over their gatherings and hope for a brighter future begins to waken. But this step by itself is insufficient. It leaves the church’s attention focused inward. But this state may be worse that the first as they’re now happy with their lot.
The second task – connecting them to God’s mission – is tougher. Instead of marshaling energy and resources to solve internal problems and address the parishioners’ needs, you’re now asking them to send those resources out into the unchurched community just beyond their doors.
Here’s where a big bucket of ice water may be needed. Your job may require you to “rain on their parade” or “shake the ground beneath their feet” or – my favorite metaphor – give them the “Gatorade treatment.”
Use the metaphor that works for you but it boils down to this: you have to arrest their attention, compel them to look away from themselves and force them to see the world, their church and themselves from God’s perspective. If you cannot lead them to come to grips with their role in God’s mission in the world you cannot stage them poised to grow under their next settled pastor.
Here are some Gatorade buckets that I’ve found useful:
- Reading: If your leadership team consists of people who like to read, guide them through books like The Road to Missional or The Mission of God’s People.
- Preaching: Frame your preaching calendar around biblical texts that hammer the Missio Dei week in and week out. (You’ll probably get tired of this, but hang in there. Even when the early adopters begin complaining about it, hang in there)
- Social Proof: Assign teams of people to go out into the community – a local mall, a social gathering place or wherever people in the community gather – to conduct a simple survey: “How many Christians do you know?”
- By teaming people up you’ll increase the likelihood that they’ll follow through
- The phenomenon of social proof will soon take over; before long everyone in your church will get serious about just how disconnected they are from the unchurched.
- While you’re at it, have some teams interview local officials in the schools, police department and city gov’t offices. Ask them “What social and family needs in the community can we as a church do a better job of addressing?”
What have you tried as a way of getting church folks to “wake up” and see God’s mission for them? Click here to leave your comment below.