Interim pastors share an important secret with blues guitarists and improv comedians.

Here’s how to use that secret to your advantage in your first call as an interim pastor.


I studied blues guitar and improv theater for years.

I settled on blues guitar because I love improv – those 12 or 24 bars that turn the guitarist loose to improvise around melody and scales, bound only by imagination and skill. (I never got into Jazz even though improv and call/response is the genre’s backbone; I found it too cerebral. I prefer a gutsy Eb7 over a Cmaj7+inverted 13th)

I also spent a lot of time in improv theater. I played with a group for years and loved every minute of it. My preaching improved as a result because I learned to trust my God-given skills and my instinct in the moment. It freed me to preach without notes (affiliate link. You’ll love Fred’s book, btw).

I transitioned to vocational interim ministry with calm confidence because of something guitar and improv taught me.

The Spotlight Effect

A great studio guitarist I sat with for a while taught me an important lesson about mistakes. “When that bar comes around again, make the same mistake – louder. They’ll think you meant it.”

His wisdom rested on something known as the “Spotlight Effect”. It’s a fancy term for a simple truth: most people don’t notice your mistakes.

That nagging feeling that dogs new interim pastors – that you’re under constant scrutiny doesn’t reflect reality. According to the Spotlight Effect, people aren’t paying attention at our moments of failure nearly as much as we think. All most people want from their interim pastors is a spotlight on the path to follow out of the woods.

Psychologists at Cornell developed an ingenious test of the Spotlight Effect.

They asked a group of test subjects to wear an embarrassing T-shirt (featuring a picture of Barry Manilow’s face) and estimate how many people noticed what they were wearing. Their estimates were twice as high as the actual number.

Dittoes for the mistakes you make in the course of conducting an assessment interview, leading indirectly through lay leaders you find “on the ground”, stepping all over the order of service on Sunday morning, or your constantly confusing mission and vision.

People aren’t watching you as often as you think. If do you do slip up, just smile and continue on with your day.

Action Steps

  • Make a list of the mistakes you most fear
  • Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if I do this?”
  • Recall a time in the past you made that mistake. What was the net result?
  • Practice laughing at yourself
  • Buy Fred’s book if you could use some help loosening up in the pulpit


In your first call as an interim pastor how did you get past the fear of making a mistake?

Source: 6 Powerful Psychological Effects that Explain how Our Brains Tick – The Buffer Blog.