One of my colleagues – SL – shared something last week that has stuck with me about the work of pastoral leaders and his wisdom impacts how congregations select their pastors.
Countless church people tell me that – what they want in a pastor – are these skills and gifts:
- Good preacher.
- Able to bring in young families*
- Approachable and friendly*
- Able to connect with the community*
This is a deceptive way to call a pastor.
Instead of asking “What are we looking for in a pastor?” the better question for a church to ask is:
What is the work our church needs and who is the person to do it?
If your church needs to work on:
- Financial commitment
- Long term conflict
- Short term conflict
- Any conflict
- Worship refurbishment
- Corporate or individual grief
- Anxiety that “the church isn’t what it used to be”
- Replacing the roof
- Systemic racism
- Staff relationships
- Administrative organization
- Connecting with the community
Then – for the love of God – call someone who will do those things based on past performance in other positions. What every congregation needs most is a spiritual leader who will love them and who can shepherd them in doing the work that needs to be done for this time and context.
I hear over and over that about a year into a new position new pastors realize that there is essential work to do that nobody told them about during the interview process. They realize that the church has called them “to fix things” but those things were never discussed in the discernment process.
Savvy pastoral candidates will see this a mile away and withdraw from consideration as soon as possible.
What work does your congregation need to do in order to be the Church God has called you to be? Be honest about that.
It’s not fair to call a pastor under the false pretenses that “things are great and we just want a solid preacher with charisma.” Please don’t do that.
Most pastoral leaders are called to serve God’s people by creating community, bolstering spiritual growth, and expanding God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. It’s heartbreaking to go into a church excited about a call that allows them to do those things, when – in truth – there is a list of recognized or unrecognized issues to address. Life has enough surprises. Please don’t surprise new pastors with realities we could have shared before they moved in.
*It’s not any pastor’s job to 1) bring in young families, 2) be friendly, or 3) connect with the community. That would be the job of the members of the church led by the pastor.
I agree Jan.
I also know from experience, being on 3 different PNC’s and chairing 2 of those, that it’s very difficult to describe exactly what a church needs in a pastor. If we tell a young pastor, fresh out of seminary, all the responsibility of a pastor of a small rural church they would all run away and never look back.
Instead we tell them what we can provide, what we do as a congregation, that we can’t afford a secretary but we have a member who volunteers to do what a secretary would do, we have volunteers that are delighted to go with the pastor to visit those that need visits. We have volunteers that keep up maintenance of the church and manse, we have volunteers that do weekly ministries that reach many in our community and beyond, we have volunteers that clean the church, we have volunteers that do the yearly fundraisers that give all the proceeds to local ministries. We have volunteers that will do most anything asked of them. If they are asked.
We also are very open about what we as a congregation, an older congregation, would like our pastor to do. We don’t expect them to pull young families and children out of thin air, we are an older, but very active congregation.
We do expect our congregation to be treated with respect. All of them, even though we ourselves may not think they deserve it at times, we expect our congregation to be loved by it’s pastor, if not then what’s the point? We expect them to be active and participate in events at church. We expect them to deliver a heartfelt sermon on Sunday. And we know that some will be more from the heart than others because pastors are, after all, human.
We also realize that not all pastors will be a good fit for our small church, our aging congregation and our small community. But we tell the pastoral candidates that up front.
We know that if there has been a much loved pastor it will be hard to follow that pastor.
We also expect the pastor to protect their time but not to ignore calls of distress from members because they’re having lunch.
We expect our pastor to accept each of us for who we are and we will do our best to do the same.
We do ask that our pastor be open to listening to our thoughts and ideas and we will do the same. We don’t expect a pastor to change how we’ve always done things but to gradually introduce new ideas.
We expect our pastor to show love to ALL our members, no matter how unlovable they are. The pastor doesn’t have to agree, just love.
We also expect Presbytery to check up on new pastors AND members of the congregation monthly for the first year to hopefully recognize problems before they get out of control.
We know that no pastor is perfect, neither are we.
We do hope that all we do is in love and that we are examples of Christ’s love in all we do and say.
Thanks for listening,
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I do want my pastor to be friendly though. A smile cost nothing but gives so much. I think a pastor who is not friendly would be more unapproachable and therefore things may be overlooked or just forgotten about.
As a long-term interim pastor, I could have written this article! Thank you.