For 30 years or more my wife and I have been involved in supporting Church Leaders and churches as they struggle with the stresses and issues of leadership and calling. Over the years we, and the Claybury International team, have come along side both churches and ministers to help them through difficulties, many of which arose because things were not well worked through when the pastor was appointed. So often, that leads to bad outcomes for all concerned.
From our insights I want to share with you 10 mistakes that can be made when a church is seeking a new pastor. I am sure that there are more than 10, but these seem to be the most important. The key, of course, is to be clear about God’s will for your church. The final decision on appointment is one of partnership between you, the prospective pastor and God.
1. Presenting an Unrealistic View of Your Church
Giving your candidate pastors an accurate view of what your church is like is vitally important to both you, and the candidates so that you can make good decisions.
It is a natural human trait to “paint things in a good light” but, in an effort to attract a good candidate, be careful not to make more of your church than you should. Similarly, avoid unhelpful modesty and false humility when presenting your church. You are not involved in a beauty contest but, with the candidate, are seeking to work out God’s will for your church. Trust him, do your best to “tell it like it is” and neither oversell or undersell your church, making it seem more or less than it is.
Giving your new pastor surprises when he arrives is not the best foundation for good relationships as it unnecessarily erodes trust. It can also mean that your new pastor has been mistakenly appointed and is not equipped to handle the specific needs of your church.
2. Falling for the Messiah Syndrome
The Messiah Syndrome is where a church is seeking a saviour rather than a pastor who, after all, is only human. This can arise for many reasons. It means that you need to take an honest view of where you are as a church and identify where the Lord wants you to go next. From there you will be able to discern what your church needs its next pastor to do and to be. The centre of your hope should be God and not him.
3. Failing to Recognise the Kind of Pastor Your Church Needs
If your church needs to develop its depth through teaching, say, and you call a minister whose gifting is not teaching but evangelism or pastoral care then, both you and they will be disappointed.
It is easy to fail to recognise where you are in your development as a church and call the wrong kind of pastor with the wrong gifts for where you are. This is common and destructive.
Don’t simply go straight to seeking your new pastor, take time before God to determine your identity as a church and discover his call for your church. Then you will be able to identify the characteristics that are required in your new pastor.
4. Having Unrealistic Expectations
You can have too many expectations of the new pastor so that stress, burnout and failure is inevitable.
Remember, pastors are only human and by definition are limited in gifting, talent, ability and capacity. Some are pastors, others evangelists, others teachers and so on. There is no such thing as the omnicompetent pastor; each will have their own specific strengths and weaknesses. They can only do so much.
So even if you know what your church needs in its pastor, unrealistic expectations may mean that you will never find them. Then, if you think you have, you will find out differently once their honeymoon period is over. The tensions and issues that will inevitably arise will be helpful to neither party, nor will they honour God.
Take time out to develop realistic expectations.
5. Having Delusions of Grandeur
You may have delusions of grandeur and only want a famous name to lead you. This is the way to miss God’s best for your church.
Finding a new pastor for your church is about understanding and obediently following God’s will for your church rather than following your own ambitions. The only guaranteed outcomes in the Christian life are as a result of obedience to God’s will.
6. Not Supporting Your New Pastor Well
You can fail to put a healthy support package together so that the new pastor may struggle.
There are all manner of issues and pressures that fall on the new pastor and his family, not just when they move in but as they faithfully seek to fulfil God’s call. Working out how to support them is important but the question “Who pastors the pastor?” needs answering.
Also, given the inevitability that the pastor, being a mere mortal, cannot do all that is needed, how will the church cover the gaps? It may be as simple as appointing an administrator; it may mean that someone else in the church with appropriate gifting must step in for particular tasks. This needs to be worked through, because failure to do so can turn, what could have been a thrilling and God honouring period in the life of the church, into time of tribulation.
7. Having Unresolved Leadership Issues
You may not have worked out your leadership team and you may be inviting a pastor into a mess. This is a recipe for continued problems that will not only blight the church but may cause severe grief for the new pastor and may lead to them giving up the ministry all together!
If your church has these kinds of issues, you need to sort them out before you begin looking for a new pastor. It is unreasonable to expect them to clear up your mess. It may be that you need to engage the assistance of a trusted, outside leader to assist you.
8. Generating Theological Conflict
You may not have clearly stated your theological perspectives and this may confuse your relationship with a prospective pastor.
Theological views are part of the Christian’s core belief system and there is ample scope for significant differences. If you end up with a pastor whose core theology is different to that of your church, something will have to give. This could end up being a battle of wills which can become very messy, painful and dishonouring to God. It may set your church and your pastor back by years.
Take time to be clear what your theological perspectives are so that you can declare them to prospective pastors and be able to compare theirs.
9. Lacking Vision and Direction
You may not have a sense of vision and direction so that the pastor knows where you hope to be going. Don’t wait for the new pastor to sort out where God is leading you all.
Armed with this you will be better equipped to identify your new pastor because from it follows the kind of pastor that your church needs. It may be that your new pastor will have to help you work out exactly what your vision and direction means as well as putting it into practice. This, itself will say something about the skills and giftings they will need.
10. An inadequately Considered Remuneration Plan
Be sure to provide a suitable housing and remuneration plan. Be generous, it always works well for the church.
Churches tend to be donation funded and may find this difficult to do but it is a circle that must be “squared”. Inadequately supported pastors are not something that honours God. Such situations heap stresses upon stresses and can make life very difficult for you and your pastor and family.
Resolving this may require a greater commitment from the church and, to this end, a shared vision and direction with the full buy-in of the church will be important.
I trust that these 10 items will be food for thought, will help you prepare yourselves for the pastor that God has in mind for your church and that together you will have fruitful time in his service.
Do You need Further help?
You may also find my book “Freedom to Lead” helpful in understanding the issues faced by church leaders and ministers. Our leadership resources website http://christian-leadership.org may also provide some materials that will be of benefit to you.
You may recognise some of the listed issues in your own church or, it may be that the relationship with your previous pastor had become difficult. In either case we would recommend that you seek help from an experienced church leader that you trust to guide you through the issues.
The Claybury International team and our associates have come along aside many ministers and churches as they seek to overcome the consequences of ministry meltdown or to work out their vision and strategy. We also help churches with the recruitment and development of their leadership team.
If you feel that we can help you further please call us on +44 (0)1462 600143 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: pellaea flickr.com