What else can an interim pastor say to a member who plays a trump card when they realize you can’t be co-opted?

My guess is that every interim pastor has either confronted or been approached by a member intent on exerting influence. Perhaps he wants to see a path back to the future. Perhaps she wants to express hope that you’ll prayerfully ______________ (fill in the blank; it’s almost always outside the scope of the interim pastor’s call). Maybe they want you to “finally clean house around here”.

The bully will threaten conflict, a power play or your paycheck.

I’ve only encountered one bully in my interim ministry. After he spoke his mind I gave him my best “sniper got you in the crosshairs” look. (I learned the “art” of settling differences in the bare-knuckled world of perishable commodities. Church folks don’t scare me)

He blinked.

Others will state displeasure and suggest they may consider leaving. If they are deeply embedded in the programs of the church their departure could cause some harm. On the other hand, these situations often present a God-ordained opportunity or clear away a problem you had planned on leaving for the next settled pastor.

Whether they are reasonable or bullies, their objective is the same – to bend you to their will.

It’s always about control

One of my mentors, a pioneer in the field of intentional interim ministry, is of the opinion that virtually all problems confronting a dysfunctional church boil down to a struggle for control. (Lately I’ve seen a growing number of churches steer into life-threatening trouble related to our nation’s current economic travail. I guess that would be one category of exception to my mentor’s otherwise accurate nostrum)

Although I suspect he’s right, I need to remember that we work in the ecclesiastic salvage yard, not the new car lot. So we mostly see the wreckage of ineffective pastoral leadership, unbridled ambition in lay leaders, and undisciplined sin in the membership.

And, since there is never a leadership vacuum, someone or something else steps in to fill the void. Sometimes the void is metaphorically filled, as when parishioners project their hopes and needs on the interim pastor. At other times it is a literal filling, generally by someone within the congregation who may lack some people skills, a spiritual life and God’s call.

Kindness is strength anchored in “firm grace”

Dealing with controllers takes great kindness. It may appear to be reproof, correction or discipline but it is kindness nonetheless. Think of it this way

  • It is kind to the congregation to solve the problem quickly?
  • It is kind to the controller to draw their attention to their sin?
  • It is kind to everyone to honor God’s plan for an orderly church?

Kindness like this requires a particular strength. It requires an emotional competence that distinguishes turnaround pastors from all others.

Jared Roth has shown us that “the ability to be self-reliant and free of emotional dependency on others” is a hallmark of pastors capable of leading turnaround churches. The social practitioners label this as “independence [in] self-awareness and self-expression.”

Interim pastors who display this competence and thereby give people permission to leave (when they finally discover they can’t exert control) will be seen as unloving, cold and rigid. But this is really a “firm grace” because we are operating out of our sufficiency in Christ. We’re able to handle the confrontation with a loving, unruffled heart because we don’t depend on others for our emotional well-being.

It’s probably not about the interim pastor

In most cases these issues aren’t about the interim pastor. We are just the catalyst that speeds up a reaction that’s been underway for quite some time.

Some will leave without any effort at exerting control. Their disappointment or disillusionment set in long ago; the kindest thing you can do for them is give them permission.

For the others I’ve mentioned in this article, the same thing would happen no matter who was interim pastor. You’re doing them, the church and the next settled pastor a kindness by giving them a safe and pleasant departure.

Just tell them.


How have you dealt with this issue?