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.