Friday, August 24, 2012

Do churches really want a pastor to lead them?

A few months ago I met with a pastor search committee and began our conversation by asking one of the questions I always ask during our first meeting, "What does your church want in its next pastor?"  I received the answer I almost always hear from smaller churches:  "We want a pastor who will grow our church."  I responded by saying something I had never said before to a search committee:  "Really?  Are you sure about that?"  They looked at me like they couldn't believe someone would ask that question.  I then explained that if their church could be growing by doing what it's been doing it would already be growing.  Obviously, if the church was serious about wanting to grow then things would have to change.  If they wanted a pastor who could grow their church then they were saying they wanted a pastor who would come in and begin to make changes in their church and how it did things.  I asked again, "Is that what you really want?"  At that point one of them smiled at me and said they might need to talk about that some more.

I am convinced that one of the most critical things many of our churches need today is a pastor who will lead his or her congregation.  The problem is that a majority of those churches do not want a leader.  They prefer to have managers for pastors, not leaders.  And the fact is that most seminaries train pastors to be managers, not leaders.  So, the pastor can come into a church and use the training he or she has received and be appreciated by the congregation because that managerial skill is exactly what they want in their pastor.  The greater problem is that this seldom results in the church growing or having much impact on its community.

If a church does call a leader, that person is often in trouble early on when he or she learns that the church is not ready or willing to follow a leader.  Jill Hudson, in her excellent book When Better Isn't Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21St-Century Church, writes

When churches say they desire a transformational leader, they usually have no idea what they're really asking for.  Often they mean someone who will bring just enough change to keep the pews and offering plates full.  Pastors have historically been rewarded for being effective managers, for keeping the church stable and moving.  Pastors who are transformational leaders often find they are not universally valued or praised.

Judicatory leaders like myself who work with pastor search committees and other leadership groups in churches need to begin having some bold conversations with these groups and challenge them on what they want from their pastors.  Those who insist they want a pastor to lead them need to be further challenged on how far are they willing to follow that pastor.  I recently heard a leader from one organization that hired a consultant say that before hiring that individual he made sure from everyone who reported to him that they were willing to actually do what the consultant would recommend.  The cost of hiring the consultant was too great to not put his recommendations into practice.  The same is true for churches.  Although there is little financial difference between a pastor who is a leader and one who is a manager, there is a big cost to calling a leader and then refusing to follow his or her leadership.  The cost to both the church and the pastor can be great and can last for years and even decades.

We must have pastor-leaders for our churches if we have any hope of turning around our existing churches that have plateaued or are in decline.  Managers can offer technical changes by tweaking what we've been doing, but our times require more adaptive changes, and those can only be led by leaders.  Churches that are unable to understand this and accept the kind of pastoral leadership they need will continue to remain stuck and unable to provide very effective ministries to this current and future generations.

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