Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you…Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good successwherever you go.This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:5, 7-8
Leadership changes are scary…and not just the political ones. Leadership changes at church are just as troublesome. None are more scary than changing shepherds of a congregation. Having served on pastor search teams myself, and having trained dozens of other such teams and processes for various churches and organizations, I have lots of stories of the many “pitfalls” and traps which await us when it comes to prayerfully searching for a new shepherd. So, for those of you who find this topic relevant, here are three mistakes Pastor search teams often make:
1. Making it a secular process. As laymen, we all bring whatever experiences and expertise we may have from our industries to our ministry, and it would be easy to think of the pastor search process as primarily (or essentially) a human resources process. But it is not…not primarily. Rather, it is first and foremost a spiritual discernment process. And as with any spiritual discernment process, it should bubble up out of deep and humbling gathered prayer. Indeed, prayer should not only be foundational and central to the process, but it …
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Isaiah 6:8-10
Believe me when I tell you there are parts of my work as an attorney which I do not like. Likewise, there are parts of my work as a church mediator which are hard and not very rewarding. Likewise, there are parts of my various assignments as a church leader which I would definitely rather not do…things I definitely do not feel “gifted” to do, but which my leadership requires nonetheless.
Isaiah’s calling was almost certainly not to do something he enjoyed doing. It was a calling to do a very hard thing…for over forty years…with practically no visible return whatsoever.
So, I hope my pastor friends will understand when I tend to look with some skepticism at their desire to just do the part of pastoring which they enjoy doing. Some would like to just focus on the preaching and teaching without having to bother with the “pastoral care” parts. Others would like to focus on the administrative aspects without having to do so much preaching and teaching. Still others could be content just doing hospital visits all day long and never having to attend another insufferable committee meeting.
Shepherding God’s people includes all of those things. You don’t have to be good at all of them…but you do have to do all of them. If you don’t feel called to visit sick people and to counsel grieving people…you probably are not called …
I always preferred essay tests when I was in school (duh, I became a writer). I didn’t like the “objective” tests, because I felt like they weren’t as accurate in measuring how well I knew the material, at least for material that is thick in concepts and not-so-thick in memorizable facts. In law school, I became even more opposed to objective tests…we called them “multiple guess” tests…it seemed always about finding the “least wrong answer”. Give me an essay test, please!
I feel that same way when it comes to eliciting information from a person or a group of people. If learning what is on their minds is important to me, I would much rather sit down and have a conversation with them than give them an objective survey. And I especially feel that same way when it comes to discerning God’s will as a church…my concept of God’s will just does not lend itself to a series of multiple-choice questions.
And yet, the conventional wisdom (and literature) for Pastor Search efforts is to do just such a written survey to your church in order to develop a profile for your pastoral candidates. The problem with asking your church objective, demographic questions like “Place a check next to the age range you think our next pastor should be?” is that, invariably, once all the results are tabulated, what your church ends up telling you is that they want a 40-year-old pastor with 30 years of pastoral experience…and a big, red “S” on his chest would be nice as well! Good luck with that.
Objective surveys may be mildly effective (not greatly effective, but mildly so) at figuring out what the people want, but not so much at figuring out what God wants. For that, if you …
I remember well the very first meeting of our last pastor search committee at my own church. We prayed together and then we discussed process. One thing we all agreed on was that we were trying to discern the will of a sovereign God, and that was no small task. We agreed that we would not act on a simple majority vote. Rather that we should act only upon “consensus”. Then one of us (and I don’t recall who it was) asked a very natural question: if there are nine of us on this committee, what number constitutes consensus? Great question. I’m not sure we ever came to a consensus about how to answer it.
Just as soon as your church purposes to find God’s will by a “consensus” process rather than a simple majority vote, that question immediately comes to the surface: how exactly do we define “consensus”? Is it necessarily the same as “unanimous” or is it something less than unanimous but more than a majority?
This is another place where our puzzle metaphor is a bit enlightening. It makes “consensus” easy to understand. “Consensus” simply means that we have enough puzzle pieces in place to leave no doubt about what the picture is. We can still work to add the other pieces, but it is crystal clear to everyone (not just a few, but everyone) what the puzzle is showing us. In that instance, then, it is not so much about a specific number of pieces, because the number will change, depending upon which pieces we have in place. If we have a 56-piece puzzle (like the one pictured here), how many pieces do we need in place before everyone can see and understand the picture? 55? 50? 40? Again, it depends.