In typical SBC life, when a church looks for a new pastor you go through the process of establishing a committee, collecting resumes, sorting through the resumes for a handful that have potential, then: ask questions, call references, listen to sermons on CDs or DVDs (or tapes, if we still know what those are), set up meetings, narrow it down to one resume, bring him in “in view of a call,” have a pot luck, Q&A, he preaches, church votes… maybe it’s not all in that order or maybe there’s a piece added or removed but that’s the general gist. (And particularly this is on my mind b/c I’m currently in the process).
Yet, research has shown that the average stay for an SBC pastor is 4 years (this was 9 years ago, I’ve heard people say its closer to 3 but haven’t found the actual stats); while other research shows that the greatest period of a pastor’s ministry comes in years 5-14. Our average misses the beginning of that mark by a full year. And here’s some more depressing stats. Is our process working?
Add to this the personal experiences and stories I’m sure we all have (or know about): where pastors are ran off, they get burnt out, they face conflict, they just don’t fit the vision of the church, some fall into various sins, while others leave because God is calling them to another position that just so happens to have a bigger salary and better benefits package. I know this isn’t every story, but I’d wager we all (or almost all) know someone or some church that fits somewhere in here. Is our process working?
Personally, I don’t like the resume procedure of finding a pastor, I think it’s a weakness that leads to the above and here’s why:
You can’t really get to know a person through a resume and a handful of meetings. Not to mention the fact that some (many?) committees focus on the wrong things off the resume such as education, marital status, and experience (it’s amazing how often churches know from the start that God’s man is not a single dude with no seminary training and no prior pastoral experience. It reminds me of a resume I once saw of a young man who was married but fell into the other two categories. He had on his resume: “I’m just looking for somebody to give me a chance.” It’s sad that we have to think that way).
But think about it: most churches will say, “We’re looking for a man who meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1,” and what are those qualities: what’s his character like, if he’s married and a father what is his home life like, and can he teach? None of those things can be produced on a resume. Those are things that take time to learn. Of course, you have references and a sermon or two…but if I’m making a resume I’m going to put references I know will speak well of me and I’m going to send a CD of one of my better sermons not one where I was having a bad day and lost my place ten times. Even if I go and preach live for the committee/church I’m going to try to have the best sermon I can and make sure I deliver it the best way I can.
And even if I am a man (and I hope I am) who tries to be honest, uses references who will speak of my strengths and weaknesses, and preaches for the committee like I typically do elsewhere, the resume process is still just scratching the surface. And I am left with no initial deep connection to that church but must build it over time.
So is there a better way?
I believe the way 1 Timothy 3 begins indicates that the best way to find pastors is to bring them up within the body of the church itself. Focus on discipling people and if any man “aspires to the office of overseer” go from there. If you have someone who is raised up in the church then the church is in a better position to be a judge of the man’s character and home life. The church is able to trust the man more readily because they know him already. And the church is able to discern over a period of time the effectiveness of the man’s teaching. All the things from 1 Timothy and Titus are known (at least as well as we can know them) before the man is ever called/confirmed to that office.
But…sadly it seems that most SBC churches aren’t set up to operate this way. A lot of churches struggle with deep discipleship, and are not equipped to train pastors. We send men who want to be pastors to our seminaries, which is fine, but the typical expectation is not: Go to seminary and come back to us; but: Go to seminary, and we’ll pray for you as you look for a church. How do we change that culture?
Maybe it would help if we had some sort of interim period where a prospective pastor comes in for a year and functions as a pastor but it’s really a period of testing that is either confirmed or denied after the year is up. I still think something like this faces the same problems as above, but just in a different package.
So here’s the food for discussion: What do you think? Does the typical resume process really work? If yes, why, if no then what are your suggestions for changing it (and why/how)?