One of the frustrations I have in my work with churches is the number of times that problems occur because the church and pastor are not good matches for one another. Although this should seldom occur, it happens all too frequently. When a good church and a good pastor are not good matches for one another both pay a price. The church loses ministry opportunities it could have enjoyed if it had not been spending so much time trying to make a bad match work, and the pastor usually ends up leaving the church feeling as if he or she has failed in ministry. The reason it is so frustrating to me is that in most cases it could be avoided if both parties really understood God's vision for their ministries.
In my first meeting with pastor search committees I always ask them to tell me the vision of the church. The best response I usually get is someone reads a vision statement from a piece of paper they had in a file. Most of the time I get blank stares until someone finally admits they don't have one. My next question then is, "If you don't know where God is leading you as a church how do you know what ministry gifts your new pastor will need to help you get there?" More times than I can count someone will respond that they are waiting for a new pastor to come and lead them. Guess what? Quite often that pastor tries to lead them where they don't want to go, and that's when denominational leaders receive a call saying the church is having problems with its pastor. If the church has a clear understanding of the ministry God is leading them to embrace, and they share that with the candidates the potential pastors can then compare that to their ministry strengths and determine if they will be a good fit.
That often does not happen. Too many churches can't stand to go long without a pastor and they call the first one who seems to have a good personality and can preach a decent trial sermon. Too many pastors are so desperate to find a place to serve they are willing to take the first one that keeps them close to family, or offers a better financial package, or fits them culturally. The church and pastor both announce to the world that God has brought them together to do ministry, and three years later it appears that God has changed His mind because they are now trying to separate from one another as quickly as possible. And we wonder why the church in America is in the trouble it's in.
Let me conclude this post with two quotes. The first one comes from the Bible: Without a vision the people perish. Approximately 5,000 churches in America close their doors every year, and it is safe to say that none of them probably had any sense of vision other than survival. God has a plan for every church. He has a vision for every church, and a church that identifies that vision and seeks to live it out will not just survive but thrive. That vision will engage the congregation, bring hope to people who have lost hope, and expand the Kingdom of God in ways many churches cannot imagine. When the gifts and passions of the people are in alignment with God's vision great things will happen. When a pastor's ministry gifts and skills are a match for that vision he or she and the church will usually enjoy a long, fruitful ministry together.
The second quote is associated with John Maxwell: Everything rises and falls on leadership. If the pastor is not a good match for the church it is almost a certainty that the church will wander around in the wilderness confused and unable to enter into the ministry God has for it. If the pastor is trying to lead the church one way that is in alignment with his or her gifts, and the church has a different destination in mind, there will soon be a parting of the ways. Ministry opportunities will be lost, some forever. It is essential that before a church begins the process of seeking a new pastor that it goes through some type of discernment process, and much prayer, to clearly identify a vision that unifies the congregation and captures the commitment of everyone in the church, and that it seeks only those persons whose spiritual giftedness and skills sets will be a good match for that vision.