Monday, April 18, 2005

Preparing for a new pastor-- fundamental principles

How should a church prepare for a new pastor? I decided to take on this question as the topic for a Sunday School lesson I taught today. I preached at a church not too far from St. Louis-- a church I had preached at several times before-- and they request that visiting preachers also teach the adult Sunday School class. Since I knew that they were seeking a new pastor, and had been for some time, this seemed to me a fitting topic for them. I like what I came up with, and may write it up in the form of an article-- and I certainly will use the lesson again if given an opportunity. I thought I also might reflect on my “findings” here over the course of a few posts.
Fundamentally, it is important to understand just how much God is in the process. When a church is in transition, it is not by mistake; God has called their former pastor away, and God is in the process of calling a new pastor to them. This seems obvious, but it can be easy to miss. Churches often think that things have gone awry because their pastor has left, but God is in the transition.

That is not to say that every pastor stays through the “completion,” as it were, of their calling. Thom Rainer's research revealed at one point that the average stay of a pastor in the evangelical church is 2.4 years. Many of those pastors, certainly, have served the full term of their calling in those ministries. But I am convinced that many of those leave before they have fulfilled their calling-- sometimes long before. I think one of the big reasons for this is pastoral burn-out (and the research by Rainer and others confirms this).

Churches shouldn't expect their current pastor to stay forever, of course. And when he leaves and they are looking for a new pastor, they shouldn't go looking for one who will stay forever, either. But they should hope that he will be able to serve out the full term of his calling to their church. If they hold this as their aim, they may benefit from reflecting on how they might prepare for their new pastor. Doing so will protect him from pastoral burn-out, incline their hearts toward his ministry, and set a course for successful and healthy ministry throughout the term of his ministry among them.

There are four things that a church must understand to prepare for a new pastor:
  1. The pastor's calling
  2. The pastor's work
  3. Their calling
  4. Their work
In the next post in this series, I'll address the first of these.

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