I have been asking this question for almost two years now. It has led me to conduct a survey, administer interviews, and read books. It has called me to be introspective about my own experiences, and to investigate corroborative aspects of others' experiences. It has motivated me to brainstorm, to write, and to give lectures and seminars. It is one of the main reasons for this blog.
As I've mentioned before, I have generally concluded that there are three defining elements of effective placement-- three benchmarks which, if met, indicate that a placement into ministry was everything that it could be. They are:
- Fulfillment of one's calling
- A fruit-bearing ministry
- “Full-term” service
Gospel-centered ministry is predicated on the calling by Jesus Christ of individuals to service in His Church and Kingdom. Just as Jesus’ life and ministry was focused on God’s Kingdom (Matthew 3:2-3, 11), so too the Redeemed, called by God, are focused on ministry within the Kingdom in accordance with their calling. All believers called by God to faith are also called to service in His Kingdom, and are uniquely gifted for that purpose (Romans 12:1-8). Every Christian has the privilege and responsibility to discern God’s particular calling for him, and to act upon that calling, ministering to others, and being ministered to by others, for his lifetime.
This is no less true for the pastor called into vocational ministry. Effective placement into a vocational ministry position, then, inevitably includes the utilization of a pastor’s giftedness. A pastoral call must be a good fit for both pastor and congregation. However God has gifted and prepared a man for ministry, that is how he should serve God in ministry (Romans 12:6-8).
If a Pastor is to serve out the calling God has given him, he must either fulfill this in the unique way that he is crafted or he will face eventual failure. Some men are capable enough that they might work outside of their giftedness for a season; a very few are remarkable enough to do this for an extended time. No one, however, can sustain work in ministry (or in any other vocation) indefinitely. All eventually burn out.
On the other hand, if a Pastor is allowed to focus on the areas where he is gifted, his work will delight him rather than leaving him spent. This means two things: first, a Pastor (or Pastor-to-be) must have a clear sense of how God has gifted and shaped him for the work of ministry, as well as a clue about where he is too weak to spend much time or effort. All of us have our weaknesses, and if we aren't aware of them then we cannot find appropriate complements for them. Pastor, know thyself.
The other implication is that both Pastor and church must recognize when a Pastor-- uniquely suited for a certain kind of ministry-- is a good fit for the position they are filling, and when he is not. Neither Pastor nor church should be afraid to simply say, “You're just not the right fit.” Obviously this must be done tactfully and graciously, but it must be done. Then, if feelings are hurt or egos bruised, that just shows the wrong approach was taken to the search.
A good fit or not? When the candidate-pastor and the candidate-church both know what would be a good fit for them, the question should be fairly straightforward. Anything else denies the possibility of genuine fulfillment of calling.