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As long as we are human beings, there is no perfect way to fill an upcoming pastoral vacancy. The head of the Body of Christ is Jesus—perfect in every way. So we look to Him, pray for guidance, and ask for His Spirit to direct, and above all, seek a decision that is God’s will.
Below the head of the Body, the rest of the Body—the members of the church—are not perfect. Yet, that doesn’t mean we can’t do some things that help us, as imperfect people, practice the best stewardship possible when looking for a pastoral great fit for our congregation.
- Don’t look for a clone of your present or former pastor. God may use this moment of transition toward a new chapter of history in your church. It may call for a different set of gifts, talents and personality. Consider conducting an assessment of your church, or inviting an outside expert to do so. The written report of the assessment is an invaluable tool for your leaders to use as a strategic guide for prayer and for searching for the next pastor. It is a magnificent gift for the candidate also, to use as a lens to seek God’s will about your church and their participation in it.
- Beyond the assessment, your church, (every church), has a personality. It’s what makes it unique among other churches. Consider using the book Your Church has Personality: Find Your Focus/Maximize Your Mission. Develop a philosophy of ministry statement reflecting the personality of your church. Do this with the help of your present pastor before the pastor retires.
- #3 Identify the dominant and subordinate gifts of your present pastor. Do the same for any candidate. Use spiritual gifts surveys. As your church faces the next chapter of history with a new pastor, what gifts should remain the same and which other gifts may be more helpful instead?
- Ask the candidate to take a Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis and the Ministry Styles Profile. If it is useful or necessary, use a trained consultant to explain the results. You may even have someone in your church with expertise to guide the process of using these valuable tools.
- Before you invite the candidate to visit, send a few qualified leaders from your church to visit the candidate’s church. attend a worship service and a Bible class and talk with a number of the members about their pastor.
- When you ask the pastor candidate to visit your church, invite the pastor’s whole family and pay for the travel. Ask them to attend worship, meet with your present pastor privately and then meet with the pastor and the leaders.
- We recommend the opposite of the intentional interim concept: ask the present pastor and the new pastor to serve your church together for at least six months. Ask your retiring pastor to disciple the new pastor in the culture and uniqueness of your church, introducing the people of influence in your church and coaching the new pastor about some of the challenges and opportunities from the perspective of the present pastor. Recognize that the new pastor will likely keep some areas the same and change others after the previous pastor retires. The retiring pastor should also introduce the new pastor to other local pastors in your area.
- The whole congregation should be urged to pray each day for your retiring pastor and family and your new pastor and family during the six-month overlap time.
Recognize that the transition to a new pastor is one of the most important efforts of your church for at least a decade. To pay for the overlap, ask members to give above and beyond their normal offerings for the period of six months. It is one of the best investment gifts to God and His work, and to your church they will ever make. Finally, but most important: look to God to greatly bless your church through your new pastor and thank God and celebrate the retirement of your previous pastor.
There are many different, and sometimes unusual approaches to replacing a retiring pastor with a new one. Here are some we’ve seen, along with some questions posed from a biblical perspective.
- #1 The people of a congregation all vote for the candidate who may be their next pastor. Is voting spiritual? Or has it been “baptized” by secular means? The only time the New Testament mentions anything close to voting is when the disciples picked Matthias to fill the spot left by Judas. Interestingly, you never hear another word about Matthias—like he disappeared from the face of the earth! And then, Jesus appears to Paul on the Damascus Road, and fills that spot.
- #2 When congregations vote, everyone who is a “member” gets a vote. The challenge is that not every Christian is at the same place, spiritually. You can be 80 years old and be a baby Christian. As a baby Christian, how much of the Bible do you know? How steeped are you in prayer? How important is “the mind of God”…God’s will? Often, those who vote know very little about what is needed for the role of pastor in the coming years. They may or may not know the candidate at all.
In some churches/denominations, a visit by the perspective candidate is forbidden. The church must extend a call based on a description put on a half sheet of paper. Would you marry someone following that procedure? Is ignorance a Christian virtue?
This is either/or thinking. If the Holy Spirit is involved, we should wear blinders and never use our God-given intelligence or tools God has given us to assess reality? Is a pastor more spiritual for moving the family and taking a position at a church without any awareness of the strengths and needs of that church?
- #3 The latest fad is the use of “intentional interims.” This approach, often presented by the denomination, provides “gap time” between the time when the previous pastor leaves and the new one arrives. This is devastating to the momentum of most congregations.
The interim pastor is often a retired person. What can they know about a church in 3-6 months? This assumes that all churches of the same tradition are identical. However, the Body of Christ, from the neck on down, is as unique as a person—and as complex.
Even if a pastor dies in office, does it really help the mourning process of a congregation to have a fill-in stranger? Or does it widen the gap for progress?
Based on what has been said in points 1-3 of this series, there will be some directions in part 4 that will help you add your next outstanding pastor.
One of the greatest challenges churches and pastors face is a good fit for both. In theological terms, it is a matter of good stewardship.
There are a wide variety of approaches used by churches.
- #1 At one extreme is an approach touted as spiritual, but operates almost as “magic.” It’s the approach where neither the pastor nor the church have any knowledge of the other. A denominational leader pairs the two together under the guise of ecclesiastical power, yet, using no sanctified common sense. The track record is not very good. The percentage of “good fit” pastoral placements for the congregation and the pastor is very low.
- #2 At the other extreme is a purely secular approach, often fostered by well-meaning church leaders who sit on a board at church because they have been successful in the business world. Yet, they couldn’t find Paul’s letter to the Galatians with two hands and 20 minutes.
This process is one of presentation, negotiation, with a contractual feel. The pastor with the slick pizazz gets the job. This process doesn’t produce much spiritual fruit either.
- #3 Somewhere in the middle of these extremes there is a process for churches that may or may not get help with names of potential candidates from their denominational or fellowship leaders. But they have the freedom to pursue discussions with potential candidates, invite them to visit, conduct some research, pray a lot, discuss the issues, look at resumes, and the like. That system works better than the other two, but it still lacks elements that God can bless the most.
In part #3 of this series, tomorrow, I’ll unwrap some dynamics we’ve seen over the years, and weigh in on their effectiveness. Then, for part #4, I’ll suggest several ways that seem to help congregations the most and use approaches that are biblically supported.
Hundreds of pastors are retiring every month. This is the result of the aging Baby Boomer generation of pastors.
At the same time, most branches of Christianity are reporting a decline in enrollment at pastor training institutions. This is a challenge…and an opportunity for denominations and networks or fellowships of churches to rethink how they staff churches.
It is an opportunity for seminaries and Bible colleges to take a hard look at how they equip pastors. This can be a season for housecleaning so many out-of-date seminary and Bible class courses and retooling the way training institutions operate.
This change has started already, with online courses, fast track approaches, and more hands-on equipping. It is a great time to update approaches and patterns of training that have been the same for hundreds of years.
In the 1,700 churches I have consulted, from 65 different denominations, fellowships and independent churches, about 80% of the pastors have complained that they were trained for a ministry world that no longer exists. Perhaps this is a good time to rethink how pastors are equipped for the 21st Century secular mission field where almost everyone who wants to be a pastor is called to serve.
From the congregation’s point of view, the sheer competition to find a pastor that “fits” your culture is a daunting challenge—but it is not impossible!
I’ve worked with hundreds of churches involved in a pastoral transition. In the next three daily blogs, I share some of the best insights discovered in the consultation process, among the churches we have served. Sometimes hard times stretch us to acknowledge realities that lead to overhaul and improve our approach to ministry.
There are two needs in congregations that justify a youth ministry/pastor/worker on staff.
- When your church has a large number of youth and children in Sunday school and a significant of high school/college age young adults.
- When your church has almost no children in Sunday school and perhaps few high school and college age young adults.
How do you find an outstanding youth minister/young adult pastor/worker?
- Some of the best “fishing pools” for youth ministers are churches that have had strong youth ministry for at least ten years. Those churches likely have a good youth minister who has been a model for young adults growing up in that church.
- Youth ministry is better caught than taught. That means great youth ministries raise up new great youth ministers.
- The best way to teach effective youth ministry is to model it. So, when you interview a youth minister, make sure he/she has a strong commitment to disciple youth to be the youth minsters of the future.
- Look at a youth minister who has the objective of equipping youth, to replace themselves in a decade. Shy away from youth ministers who have the idea that their primary calling is to entertain the youth in the church.
- Look for a youth minister that has the objective of continually developing future youth ministers, within the congregation, unpaid, and operating, so that the youth minister operates as an overseer/coach, discipler of volunteer youth who are empowered to lead and multiply future leaders.
- When looking at youth pastor candidates, make sure they understand and commit to the philosophy of ministry of your church. If your church does not have a philosophy of ministry, develop one, using the book, Your Church has Personality: Find Your Focus/Maximize Your Mission. Bring a team together and develop a philosophy of ministry.
- When reviewing candidates, ask them to take a spiritual gifts survey. Watch for dominant gifts of wisdom, leadership, apostle, teaching and exhortation (encouragement).
- As with any leadership position, look for one who knows how to relationally disciple others.
- Identify whether the candidate has a lifestyle of Bible study. This is important because it demonstrates a priority that can be modeled to young people.
- I know of no better source for an outstanding youth minister than a young adult who has been equipped in the ten-month spiritual adventure, SENDNorthAmerica.com, especially if they have the spiritual gifts listed above.