Losing the lead pastor at a church is never easy. It doesn’t matter if it was due to a sudden loss (a death or an abrupt resignation or firing) or one that you saw coming (a planned-for retirement or a resignation with plenty of notice). There are still challenges.
A church that has seen a string of short-tenured pastors can have a very difficult time when it comes time to find their next senior pastor. Repeated pain, loss, and missed expectations can cause a church to suffer analysis paralysis, in which no candidate ever quite “fits” the role.
Conversely, there are churches that have had a pastor who served for 20, 30, or even 40 years, which means there may be very few in the church who will have seen or experienced a transition of leadership. They may have seen it in the world—in their places of work, in politics, and in other organizations with which they are affiliated—but leadership in the church is different. A good pastor is a servant leader who is called to equip others for the works of ministry (Eph. 4:12). He serves under the authority of God and for the service of the community, inside and outside of the church walls. As such, finding a new lead pastor isn’t just about identifying someone with the right experience and skill set. It’s also about finding one with the five “Cs”: character, competence, calling, chemistry, and culture fit.
Successful Pastoral Searches Without Outside Help
The pastoral search process is critical for the future of the church and must be done prayerfully and deliberately. It is certainly possible that a church could undertake the process using only people from within the church and still have a great outcome. However, a few key things should be in place.
First, a church should have an agreed-upon mission and vision, as well as values in place and a good understanding of their church culture prior to starting the process. This will allow them to put together accurate and detailed church and candidate profiles that will help bring in applications from candidates who are good matches for the position and for the church. A church that is unclear on anything other than their basic beliefs will have a hard time attracting quality candidates.
The church should also have someone (either a staff member or a member of the congregation) who has experience in hiring for executive leadership positions who can lead, or at least guide, the process. Or, if the church has strong denominational ties, someone from the denomination may be able to help with the process by offering guidance and support.
Going in, churches should recognize that to do the process right, a considerable amount of time needs to be invested. Those involved in the search should be individuals who have a good amount of spiritual depth and the gift of discernment, but practically speaking, they should also have realistic expectations about the amount of time that will be involved and be committed to seeing the process through. The process could take a year or more, from start to finish. In addition, the entire congregation needs to be committed to praying for both the committee and for the next lead pastor.
Going Through the Pastoral Search Process with an Interim Pastor from VitalChurch
For the majority of churches, an outside perspective can be very valuable in the pastoral search process. When you work with VitalChurch, part of what we do is coach the process. We use the word “coach” rather than “lead” very deliberately. Our interim pastors offer a wealth of input, experience, resources, and tools, but we believe the choice for the next lead pastor is for the church to make.
Our diagnostic analysis, which every church that works with VitalChurch goes through, is very helpful at the start of the process. This detailed assessment identifies both the church’s sweet spots and blind spots, as well as the issues the church may be ignoring. The assessment also has a section called “Pastoral Profile,” which helps to define the pastoral leadership style the congregation desires.
Unfortunately, determining the best type of pastor for a church isn’t as easy as just asking people what they want. In our experience, there are two factors that can inappropriately influence what people think they want in a pastor. If a congregation member really liked the last pastor, he or she will tend to pick the elements of a profile that are similar to the former pastor’s characteristics (including his faults). If the person was more critical of the previous pastor, he or she may say they want qualities that are unlike the former pastor, even if those qualities are actually needed in that particular church. Our diagnostic assessment is designed to help make the distinction between what the congregation says they want and what they actually need.
Once the diagnostic analysis is complete and the subsequent report is delivered to the church, an intentional interim pastor helps the church work through the issues that have been identified. Doing this prepares the body for their next senior pastor, making it a healthier and safer place for him to serve. VitalChurch also walks the church through our “Focusing the Church” process, which helps identify God’s calling for their specific body of believers.
A church doesn’t have to be perfect before calling their next pastor, but if their major issues have already been addressed, and they have unified and compelling mission and vision statements and agreed-upon values in place, the pastoral search process has a much greater chance of success—ending with a new pastor who is a great match for the church, and God willing, will faithfully serve there for many years.
We realize that not every church that needs help with the pastoral search process also needs the other services we provide at VitalChurch Ministry, such as a diagnostic analysis or an interim pastor. In those situations, we recommend using the services of organizations like Vanderbloemen and Slingshot Group, which specialize in church staffing. We’ve worked with both of these organizations and can recommend them without reservation.
If your church is currently without a lead pastor (or about to be), we’re sure you have a lot of questions about how to proceed. VitalChurch has walked with many churches through this type of situation and we can help you too! Contact us today to learn more about our services and to have your initial questions answered.