Calling a New Pastor: Leadership Seasoning Makes All the Difference

By: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.

Most Christian folks will fall into one of three categories of emphasis when it relates to how they understand the purpose and focus of the person who stands in the pulpit on Sunday morning.  The three terms most often used are;

  1. My Preacher
  2. Our Minister
  3. The Pastor

Depending on how you personalize these phrases will directly affect your view of the purpose and value of the clergy-person serving in that role.   In context of this article a “preacher” means the person who prepares and presents a sermon message, regardless of style, at a worship gathering.  A “minister” is a person who serves the needs of an existing group of local Christians the missional programs it holds important.  Someone who is referred to as a PASTOR is the defacto “leader” of a congregation of Christians who is charged with guiding, directing, influencing and producing positive outcomes for the Cause of Christ within the specific local congregational identity.

The bible gives clear guidance in the quality of character, competence, and capacity in the area of identifying highly qualified pastoral leadership.

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—   (Ephesians 4:11-15)

question-4When a local congregation finds itself in a search for their next clergy-person it would greatly benefit their discerning process if they start with a honest review of what they are expecting the individual to actually do and realistically accomplish.  As far as I am concerned, most churches…..most of the time….would be much better served if they could identify, evaluate, recruit, call, and retain a highly seasoned PASTORAL LEADER.

Our understanding and then acceptance of all the things a pastoral leader is actually required to demonstrate will, with no doubt, significantly enhance the sustainable effectiveness of Christian mission. The following list represents what highly capable pastoral leaders have the capacity to demonstrate.

    • Theological/biblical awareness and scholarship proficiency
    • Worship leadership and environmental management
    • Team building
    • Conflict management and mitigation
    • Vision casting
    • Board development
    • Financial stewardship and fundraising
    • Spiritual stewardship and discipleship formation
    • Relevant Christian programmatic initiatives and management
    • Volunteer recruiting, evaluating, and retention
    • Existing and future leadership development
    • Community (non-attending) relations
    • Community (existing and inactive) member communications
    • Staff (paid/volunteer) supervision
    • Property and people liability protection
    • Property management, improvement and appropriate expansions
    • Evangelism & Generic Christian Education
    • Prayer ministry development
    • Sermon preparation and delivery
    • Multimedia/Web based promotional/marketing development and implementation
    • Christian based counseling services
    • Ceremonial Services (baptism, weddings, funerals, ordinations)
    • Hospice Ministries
    • First Responder Critical Care Leadership
    • Collaborative Christian Ministry opportunities
    • Maintaining personal family connections and healthy personal time

THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING LIST OF A HIGHLY SEASONED PASTOR.  Not all pastors are going to be great at everything on the previous list. However, for anyone who is trying to determine what the NEXT local pastoral leader may look like, this may help to put into perspective the competency and capacity you should be looking for.

Now that I have set the stage of understanding regarding what a SEASONED PASTORAL LEADER looks like I want you to imagine…JUST FOR A MOMENT….what it would be like if all those churches who are currently searching for their next pastor received someone who significantly resembles the previous listing. Just think how the Christian church, in general, would be served.  In addition to the previous list we can supplement this understanding by looking in 3rd Chapter of the letter of 1 Timothy.

 It is true that[anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile. That’s why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage.  They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach. They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money.

Church officials must be in control of their own families, and they must see that their children are obedient and always respectful. If they don’t know how to control their own families, how can they look after God’s people?

They must not be new followers of the Lord. If they are, they might become proud and be doomed along with the devil. Finally, they must be well-respected by people who are not followers. Then they won’t be trapped and disgraced by the devil.

Church officers should be serious. They must not be liars, heavy drinkers, or greedy for money. And they must have a clear conscience and hold firmly to what God has shown us about our faith. (1 Timothy 3:1-9 CEV)

Like all things associated with high quality leadership, it is much easier to define it than it is to find it!  In general, there are two major failings in all expressions of American Christianity;  ­­­­­

  1. There are not enough HIGHLY QUALIFIED pastors available, and
  2. Institutional Christianity and local congregations are woefully effective of producing new pastoral leaders.

bakery-workerIt never ceases to amaze me how WAAAAY TOO MANY search teams or sending authorities make the common mistake  of choosing “youth” over “seasoned experience” when filling a lead-clergy need at a local congregational setting. Think about that for a moment.  An example of this unfortunate leaning toward “youth” can be demonstrated by imagining what it would be like if the owner of a successful bakery that has 200 employees, a 15,000 sq ft facility, 300 distribution points, and with all the associated liability, advertising, logistical issues to a person that has only three years of practical experience working on the second shift as a manager of 12 union workers?

The answer, of course, is you wouldn’t if you had other options. My concern is not that some churches or sending authorities find themselves with few options.  My concern is that for those who could have other positive options…..either don’t know about them or unfortunately chose not to use them.  The lack of passionately seasoned, intellectually searching, empathetic listening, and devoted proclaimers of the Gospel of Christ found throughout the divinely inspired pages of the Bible is severely hindering the sustainability of thousands of local congregations throughout the American Christian landscape.  Both local search teams and other sending authorities HAVE TO do a much better job of identifying, evaluating, training, empowering, sending, supporting, and lovingly holding accountable both current and future pastoral leaders.  Mediocrity in Christian leadership has to stop being actively supported.

It is also important to note that I am NOT EQUATING age with “positive” experience.  I am also NOT EQUATING an experiential history void of some failures as bad seasoning.  The truth is most highly qualified leaders learn a tremendous amount from things that haven’t gone as planned or mistakes made.  It is an essential aspect of the seasoning process.

My grandmother, who was a non-drinker, use to tell me all the time,

“Do you know how to tell the difference between a great wine and a horrible one?  Then she said, “You have to not only taste a lot of wine but you have to experience both good and bad to appreciate the difference.”

The same can be said for a future pastoral leader.

Here are few other questions to consider when trying to find your next pastoral leader.

questionThe Question of the “Unspoken” Age Restriction

It would be wonderful to tell you that a person’s advancing age does not enter into the equation of the decision of calling, sending or receiving a new pastor…..but the truth is, it does.  You may think that I am about to tell you that age discrimination is not only illegal it is also unethical and immoral.  For the most part that is absolutely true. However, when it comes to leading the significant variety of local congregational expressions of the Christian Journey age SHOULD be a factor…but only in the context of “experiential seasoning.” I am not saying, discard the young and bring on the elderly. That would not only be wrong it also would be stupid.

Experiential Seasoning or the “right kind” of experience is incredibly important when trying to determine who a local congregation calls or receives to lead them and fill a Christian pulpit.

Again, the better and more appropriate concern to deal with is not an issue of age but rather EXPERIENCE….the RIGHT KIND of broad based….mostly good and some not-so-good experience!  It’s the kind of experience that allows the wisdom and spiritual maturity to know the difference between what to replicate in context and what to stay away from like it’s the proverbial plague.

If a potential candidate has not led any efforts of ministerial development at a previous congregational location (youth, women, evangelism, associate pastor leading a 2nd service, etc.) why are any of you serious considering this person to lead a congregation of 150 or more people?

Three items of importance immediately come to mind for me.

  1. If your church’s lay leadership (non-ordained clergy) does not view the next pastor as the actual LEADER of the congregation then they will inevitably down-grade the value of whatever their personal, vocational and professional experience may be.  If the search team or sending agency finds far more value in pulpit ministry than the other components of pastoral leadership then logically the potential candidate (male or female) will soon find that their attempts to extend pastoral leadership and reasonable positional authority is going to be greatly hindered. If a congregation significantly find foundational value of their new minister MANANGING AN EXISTING CONGREGATIONAL VIEW OF THEIR VERSION OF MINISTRY, then several other aspects of assertive leadership and pastoral vision casting will be curtailed and personal frustration will set in and grow.
  2. I have seen a tremendous amount of younger ministers who had great promise in serving the Gospel be eventually torn a part emotionally because they were elevated WAY TOO QUICKLY before they were ready.  Just think of all those young inexperienced parents who have no idea what they are doing when they bring the baby home….and that’s assuming there is a father and mother living in the same household.  They know literally nothing….UNLESS they helped to raise and care for younger siblings.  Two things become apparent in this scenario; (1) the fear that sets in when reality finally hits them, and (2) many of these poorly prepared young parents all of a sudden have new found respect for their parents “experience.”
  3. The average stay of a protestant pastor in the United States is approximately 4 years.  That is a fact!  The average growing and sustainable church has a pastor who has been at that location for more than 7 years. It is essential for all of us to do a much better job at putting the right person in the right place at the right time and absolutely commit to supporting the person called or sent to lead.

why-usThe Question of Life Expectancy…..

“We can’t call an older minister.   We want him/her to grow with us.” 

These two comments are heard often in the decision process.  They seem on the surface to be reasonable.  Life expectancy of a male born in 1930 was approximately 57 ½ years of age.  The Life expectancy of male born in 2000 is about 85 and a female is 87 ½.  Far too many people are stuck in an idea of equating age with vibrancy.  For the most part that is not true!  Many senior….well seasoned….pastors are serving well into their 70’s with great levels of effectiveness and enthusiastic vibrancy.  That is a fact!  To arbitrarily limit an appointment or selection of a potential candidate on age is not only wrong it can be remarkably counter-productive.  Healthy churches replicate new leaders. Who better to lead and guide healthy goal than an highly experienced pastor.

The Question of Marketing Demographics….

There is an unfortunate tendency that has been developed over the last 25 years in the United States that if a local church wants to afford themselves dramatic gains in recruiting younger families with children THEY MUST recruit and then call a younger lead pastor with a wife and smaller children.  Search committees all across the American landscape truly believe this and for the most part….this is simply not true.  The same can be said if a local church desires to intentionally address issues of diversity and inclusion. Church leaders who have been charged with helping the church grow have been told THEY MUST call as their next LEAD pastor someone who looks and sounds like the community they are wanting to attract.

As a White male who has been privileged to serve multiple times as a pastoral leader in historically African-American congregations as well as other multicultural ministries, let me say this next part clearly; I’m not saying DON’T CALL a younger minister, or a person of color, or a women or anything else! What I am directly stating is that making the assumption your future LEAD PASTOR has to look like someone else or be the same age as a group you are trying to attract is not only wrong, it goes directly against a long list of Gospel principles.

Again, I am NOT saying it isn’t a great idea to look at young, less experienced pastors for associate or staff positions.  That is always a good idea.  I’m NOT saying that if your appropriate goals relating to diversity or issues of inclusion in the life of the local church want to be met you shouldn’t be intentional about calling or hiring someone who is qualified as well as reflecting the demographics surrounding the church.  You should!

Confusion-300x300The Question of Calling a Young and Profoundly Inexperienced Minister….

For those of you who know my personal story this article may seem more than a little ironic given the fact that I started pastoring at a very young age.  Without those early opportunities I would not have had the experiences I was given.  I am most appreciative of the willingness of those first two churches to call a young, hyperactive, and brash preacher.  I thank God for their patience and support.  However, the reality is I may have been a gifted preacher as a young man but in no way was I ready to lead a congregation. If I were to honestly assess my abilities at the time of my first pastoral calls I would have to admit 90% of that list did not apply to me.  Yet, God provided an opportunity….IN SPITE OF MY LIMITATIONS.  Truthfully, that’s the way God works a lot of the time.

So, given that context, let me also say that eliminating someone because of their youthful appearance is also wrong.  If God has obviously blessed a person for ministerial leadership then every church, every bishop, or sending agency should earnestly attempt to find them an opportunity to exercise their spiritual gifts.  This is not only good it is also biblically right.  All I am trying to convey is that most churches….MOST OF THE TIME…would be far better served by a person with a broader perspective who matches THE REALTIY of what a healthy and effective pastor ACTUALLY is called to accomplish.

FullSizeRenderThe UGLY TRUTH about some committee’s decision making….  

Are you willing to call someone to lead you on your Christian journey or are you just wanting to hire someone who matches your personal expectations of a comfortable chaplaincy program?  A chaplain takes care of you….WHERE YOU ARE CURRENTLY.  Remember that a good pastoral leader….PROMPTS AND GUIDES WHERE YOU ARE CALLED TO GO IN CHRIST.  The difference could not be more important to both your personal spiritual health and the congregation’s sustainable future.

I was recently told by a friend that after a direct and rousing sermon by a pastor concerning the description of a “biblical directive” on the congregational members present on this particular Sunday morning that God expects a certain level of personal accountability as a measuring stick of their maturity in Christ.  After preaching and teaching God’s word for the better part of 4 decades I can tell you with assurance  that the vast majority of preachers from every Christian context have preached this message periodically.

Directly after the service ended a long-term and self-proclaimed influential member openly challenged the pastor about his brash arrogance of making the assumption that it was his job to tell the congregation (what he meant was to tell him personally) how they were suppose to live their lives.  He was quite upset that any pastor, in general, and this preacher, in particular, had the nerve to PREACH TO US (he meant him) like that.  This profoundly upset member was quite sincere in his consternation. However, what it reflected was his COMPLETE IGNORANCE of what a healthy, mature, and SEASONED pastor is called to do.

If you are not willing to follow a WELL SEASONED pastor then the problem does not lie at the pastor’s feet but your own.  Please start to evaluate your spiritual intentions PRIOR TO attempting to call or receive a new pastor.  Humility and obedience to the gospel and the overall biblical witness must not only be a requirement of a growing and healthy Christian congregational expression it should also be a Divinely inspired partnership between from every member and pastor as they work as a team to honor God’s gracious call on their lives.



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