The first article in this series offered guidance on three issues that churches considering retaining an interim pastor need to address.
- Deciding on the kind of interim pastor your church should retain.
- Determining the cost of retaining an interim pastor (and what a church stands to lose if it doesn’t)
- The church board’s first task in preparing the congregation for the interim pastor and the transition period.
This article touches two issues:
- How do you evaluate an interim pastor?
- How do you avoid a “paycheck” interim pastor?
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE AN INTERIM PASTOR?
An interim pastor’s primary task is to guide the church in solving the problems that have hindered its growth so it is poised for effective ministry under the next settled pastor.
That phrase, “the solutions to problems”, leads to a bit of congregational self-examination. By identifying those problems you’ll know the sorts of training, skills or experience an interim pastor will need to help your church. Then you’ll want to evaluate
- The interim pastor’s resume
- The interim pastor’s availability
- The interim pastor’s teaching, training and preaching
- The interim pastor’s relevant experience
- The interim pastor’s references
- Check the chemistry
Evaluate the resume
A well written resume should capsulize a minister’s employment history, ministry accomplishments, experience, academic training and special skills. Unfortunately – at least in my opinion – most ministerial resumes aren’t written well. (I’m jaded; I served some hard time as a retained recruiter in Silicon Valley back in the days when talent was hard to find)
An interim pastor’s resume will differ from a settled pastor’s resume.
- A series of short tenures spells trouble on a settled pastor’s resume. On an interim pastor’s resume it shows that you’re considering someone with a breadth of experience.
- Most interim pastors can work within various denominations, particularly if those share theological affinity around core doctrines of the Christian faith.
- If denominational affiliation is important for your church, be sure the resume reflects experience or familiarity with your denomination.
- Look for accomplishments, which are typically denoted by action verbs.
- In a well written resume the name and dates of employment for each church is followed by a list of concise statements, each of which begins with an active verb.
- Ignore statements like “had responsibility for”, “participated in” and “worked with”. These don’t tell a candidate’s accomplishments, illustrate ministry skills or suggest an increased knowledge base of experience.
- Put a tick mark next to the accomplishments that are relevant to your church’s current need.
- Watch for the attempt to mask relevant experience by highlighting education, degrees, certifications, association membership and other irrelevant data.
- Does the resume show care in preparation and attention to detail?
- Look for consistent formatting, proper punctuation and proper grammar.
- A poorly executed resume should lead to questions about the interim pastor’s diligence and professionalism.
Pastor Dan Sherman gives helpful guidance that focuses your thinking in this regard. He writes,
- The longer you will go without a pastor, the more involved your interim pastor will need to be.
- The more problems your church encountered during the previous pastor’s administration, the more involved your interim will need to be.
- The deeper the emotional bonds were between your former pastor and the congregation, the more involved your interim will need to be.
- The more spiritually immature your congregation, the more involved your interim will need to be.
- The longer your previous pastor was at your church, the more involved your interim will need to be.
- The more independent your church, the more involved your interim will need to be.
You get the drift.
All that to say that one thing to look for in your interim pastor is availability. Many ministers turn to interim ministry late in their careers to stay active while reducing their workload.
Let me suggest two steps you should take to evaluate whether the interim pastor you’re considering has the appropriate level of availability.
- Determine which kind of interim pastor you need. Your church will need more time from an interventionist than it will from a pulpit supply pastor.
- Seek outside help to analyze the mission critical tasks your church will require from the interim pastor. In consultation with a denominational executive, your departing pastor (if the relationship is good) or another local pastor, determine how many hours per week will be needed to do the job. Please, don’t rely on lay leaders in the church; the research is clear: this is something lay people rarely get right.
Evaluate Teaching, Training and Preaching
Be careful when you evaluate the potential interim pastor’s preaching. Although she needs to preach well, preaching alone won’t get the job done. Also ask to review some of the training materials she has prepared for other congregations, and inquire about her training skills.
Consider this scenario: You have narrowed your consideration to two interim pastors. One is an especially skilled preacher, but his teaching and training skills are reported as “marginal” by those who’ve experienced his ministry. The other is an adequate preacher – she gets the job done – but she receives glowing reviews for her skill at educating and training people. Which would you pick?
Although I prize excellent preaching and work hard at it myself, I am of the opinion that you’re better off with a fair-to-middling preacher who is an excellent trainer rather than vice versa.
Evaluate Relevant experience
My best guess is that there are only eight to ten problems that lead to dysfunctional churches. But because each church is unique, each church will experience common problems in unique ways. This means you’ll need to look for skills and experience – gained in other churches and perhaps in formal training – that will transfer to your church.
Bear in mind that no one can excel at everything. You’re looking for a generalist who has broad knowledge and experience in a variety of situations. That knowledge or experience should overlap in some degree with the challenges your church is facing.
- If your primary challenge is shabby facilities, look for an interim pastor who has led remodeling or building projects.
- If your primary challenge is significant debt, look for an interim pastor with skills in church finance.
- If your primary challenge is bitter dissension and strong factions in the church look for a pastor with experience in conflict resolution and peacemaking.
You get the drift.
This requires a bit of tact and discernment.
Because an interventionist is by definition a change agent, and because change makes some people unhappy, it is probable that you’ll run into people who are quite upset with the interim pastor. So don’t let a few negative reports throw you off the trail.
Let me suggest you follow these procedures in checking references for an interim pastor.
- Develop a written interview instrument that you’ll use when talking with referrals.
- Make sure the interview questions focus on the interim pastor’s problem solving abilities.
- Ask if the pastor worked on the sorts of issues that your church faces.
- Be sure to speak with denominational officials that are familiar with this interim pastor’s work.
- When you finish interviewing a referral, ask “Who else do you know that is well familiar with this pastor’s work?” Then interview those secondary referrals. This is called drilling down into the referral network.
Check the chemistry
If all the other hurdles are cleared, the last thing you’ll need to examine is the chemistry.
- Does this pastor “fit” your church?
- Is her vocabulary, diction and speaking pace appropriate for this position in your congregation?
- Do you get the sense, perhaps very subtly, that this pastor is “all about me?
- A name dropper?
- Insists on being addressed with a formal title?
- Draws attention to advanced education, publications or other accomplishments?
- Give off signals that there’s a theological hobby horse that will be coming with the pastor?
- Does the metacommunication point to someone who listens attentively and cares deeply?
- How’s the sense of humor?
- Can the pastor adopt a leadership style that’s appropriate for your congregation?
If the chemistry’s not right this could be a long, hard pull for everyone. Even with sterling credentials, impeccable references and depth of experience this might not be the right interim pastor for you.
If the leadership team isn’t getting a clear signal on this one, slow down and take time to pray. There’s no rush; you just want to get it right.
How do you avoid a “paycheck” interim pastor?
One delicate question to discuss while interviewing potential interim pastors is whether they will fully immerse themselves in the work or if they view your church as a preaching post that will pad an inadequate retirement income.
You’ll need to factor in the fact that the intentional interim pastor won’t be performing some typical pastoral functions. For example, I don’t provide pastoral counseling, perform weddings or lead fundraising activities in my client churches. Some pastoral tasks need to be suspended so the interim pastor can concentrate his time and energy guiding the church through beneficial change.
This is hard work. It isn’t something that a paycheck pastor will relish.
So if the pastor commits to completing the tasks in the number of hours per week you’ve stipulated (and for the salary you’ve offered) then he’s probably not a paycheck pastor.
In Part 3 of this series we’ll deal with how to find a skilled interim pastor.