Friday, November 13, 2009

The search for a new pastor

I have some trepidation in posting this. I am an outsider, i.e., though I am a church member, I'm not in the leadership structure anywhere. As such, I have no real credibility. But this is what I'm thinking.

When my pastor resigned to start a new church in another city, one of the obligations the church inherited was that of finding a new pastor. A search committee has been constituted, and to get a feeling for how to find a pastor the church will embrace, the committee has distributed a survey. While I am slightly unnerved by survey as a method, I guess it maximizes efficiency so the committee can get to work sooner.

The survey starts with some standard questions about who's answering it (church membership, gender, age, household composition, etc.), then starts in on the questions about our preferences for the new pastor:

  • Minimum education level
  • Prior ministry experience
  • Acceptable age range
  • Acceptable family situation
  • Ministry priorities

This little essay is about the last one. The survey asks us to select the top five priorities for a new pastor, ranking from 1 (most important) to 5 (least important of the top five). The selections follow; I have numbered them for easy reference later.

  1. A gifted teacher who enables persons to learn and understand deep spiritual truths
  2. An administrator of the church office, giving attention to bulletins, correspondence, newsletter, etc.
  3. A person active in associational, state-convention [sic], and denominational life
  4. A community volunteer who cooperates in community and denominational activities/programs
  5. An effective communicator of well-prepared sermons
  6. A skilled counselor available to assist with personal and spiritual problems
  7. A person who emphasizes evangelism and the importance of lifestyle witnessing
  8. A person who emphasizes discipleship and spiritual growth
  9. A person with leadership vision and a wll-developed vision for the the future of the church
  10. A person who uses praise songs and/or drama in worship (contemporary worship)
  11. A person who prefers to feature hymns, gospel songs, prayers, and preaching in worship (traditional worship)
  12. A nurturing leader who grows personally and helps others grow
  13. A person who communicates well with youth
  14. A person who communicates well with preschoolers and children
  15. A person who understands and communicates well with senior adults
  16. A person who understands and communicates well with single adults
  17. A person who emphasizes the importance of strong families

Looking at this list, nothing here is bad. I have a few preferences among them, but only a few.

But, with due respect, this is the wrong list.

Here are my personal top priorities for the new pastor. I will list the priorities as such and offer a few comments as I go. The order is flexible as long as #1 is #1.

  1. A person who preaches Christ as Savior from the whole Bible. Does not preach about himself or this year's fad.

    Christ as Savior is the Bible's primary “deep spiritual truth” (from survey item 1), and it is therefore God's primary deep spiritual truth. I have a list of fads, but I'm certain you would be mad at me for naming at least one of them. (To be fair, I'd probably get mad about something on your list, too.)

  2. A person who leads by communication, persuasion and example, not by command or slogan.

    This includes items 3, 4, 5, but goes beyond them. When the leadership has simply announced a new direction, most folks didn't “buy in”. The new thing was just announced with the expectation that everyone would follow. Examples: Community groups, the auditorium upgrade, dissolution of Sunday night worship. None of these things was bad as such, but the congregation didn't unite behind them. I believe the congregation's not following has been a source of frustration to the leadership.

  3. A person who will change and publicize the church's bylaws to reflect the way things are actually done.

    Even elders are under authority, and are not a law unto themselves. I believe the congregation will unite behind a leader (or leaders). But we need to know what limitations are in place. I'm not sure this touches any of the survey items.

    To be a little provocative, leadership by fiat can be used in a work setting where the participants are employees. However, a church is inherently congregational, regardless of how the organization is nominally structured: If all else fails, people vote with their checkbooks and their feet. (HT: Mark Dever)

  4. A person who knows content is more important than style in worship.

    This touches items 10 and 11, obviously. I admit I have preferences about style, but my preferences are not important. I can participate wherever the Jesus revealed in Scripture is being worshiped as Lord and Christ. I'm not being critical of how things are done now, but elevating style over substance would be a mistake.

  5. A person who understands that “You can do better” is not the Gospel.

    “You were forgiven at the cross and you are now free” is the message of the Bible for Christians. Binding people under the bondage of “go do better” will burn them out.

    Someplace I recently heard about someone going through the New Testament letters finding out what the responses are to all the problems in the early church. In every case, the apostle (whether Paul, Peter, or John) said that the reason the church was having problems was because they failed to believe the Gospel.

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