I was recently delighted to hear that one of the men in the church I’m currently serving is “wild about your sermons.” I felt gratified and humbled, but only for a moment. Those momentary joys fled when I remembered that he is also wild about “Pawn Stars”, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Dumb and Dumber.”
Pastoral ministry is a steady stream of good news and bad news. Although there’s lots to love about being an intentional interim pastor, there is some bad news. Interim pastors are exposed to spiritual dangers that settled pastors often avoid. There are dangers inherent in interim ministry and dangers inherent in being good. If you’re not careful you could slip and fall at any moment.
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Dangers inherent in interim ministry
Interim pastors face danger that flows from the fact that we are itinerants. We do not settle in any one place for very long and often leave before we’ve had the chance to build friendships that will last a lifetime. The fact that we’re called on to deal with tough situations and tough people adds to the problem of forming bonds that endure.
Two specific dangers spring out of this.
1. Lack of accountability
Intentional interim pastors can easily fall prey to various temptations when they are not in an accountability relationship with a trusted friend, coach, mentor or denominational executive. We are often bereft of the time it takes to build trusting relationships with others. Trusting relationships are a product of doing life with others; trust is earned (and given) in small increments over time.
Solution: Find a mentor, coach or colleague and build a long-term relationship of trust so that you will feel comfortable and safe having this person hold you accountable for your unseen life.
2. Disconnected from a believing community
Intentional interim pastors serve relatively short tenures (typically in the 12 to 18 month range) and then will wander in the desert a bit before the next call arrives. This makes it difficult for interim pastors to have meaningful relationships with a Christian community. You may connect for a time at the church you serve, but once you’ve finished the job, where will you turn?
This deprives us of the ministry of the Body of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit that operate in and through other believers. Maturation and growth occurs much more rapidly when we’re a member of a covenanted community. Without that connection it is easy to wither.
Solution: If possible, find a fellowship group of professionals, one that is not anchored to any particular church. Look to them for nuture, admonition and encouragement. Whatever you do, maintain membership in a solid community of believers.
Dangers inherent in being skilled
Interim pastors face another danger that flows from the fact that, after a while, we get good at what we do. After you’ve successfully completed four or five interim assignments your skills are polished, your confidence level is high and you exude a vibe that people want to follow. This leads to a number of dangers:
It’s perhaps easier for intentional interims to fall into the “I’ve seen this before” syndrome and then reach into our bag of tricks to pull out a ready solution that we know is going to work here like it did over there at that other church. This is the sin of pride expressing itself as an unwarranted self-reliance.
*Solution: Phone a few people that were injured by your ministry in the last church you served and ask them how good you are. That should pull the plug on any aberrant notion that you don’t need God’s step-by-step help!
4. Ego strokes
Interim pastors are in particular danger when they accept a call to a church with a highly dysfunctional past. You may be the first good preacher they’ve heard in a while and the gush over themsleves to let you know. It’s also probable that your sense of purpose, direction and knowledge of what to do is a breath of fresh air for the church. They’ll pay you sincere compliments but the reality is that it’s not really you they’re blessed by.
If you’re still struggling with your identity in Christ, if you still secretly relish the kind words you could be headed for serious trouble: becoming a manpleaser rather than a God pleaser.
Solution: Be sure that confession of your ego needs and a serious petition that the Lord would satisfy that need by who you are in Christ.
I’m sure there are many other dangers that intentional interim pastors face. Which ones are especially troublesome to you?