Donít lose your theology when looking for a pastor

Dr. Matt Sanders
Executive Pastor, Beth-El Fellowship

Many churches forget who they are when they look for a new pastor. Is the church a business? A non-profit charity? A community? A family? A club? In some respect, it is all of these. But what should be the main understanding of the church when looking for a new pastor?
The Apostle Paul not only calls the church the body of Christ, but also goes into great detail as to what this means. This is not simply a metaphor. Paul is describing the unique roles each church member has as well as the deep connection that they have with each other. They share the oneness that the Father has with the Son.

If a church is a body, a pastor cannot simply be replaced any more than doctors can replace a kidney with any old kidney that happens to be handy. Although all kidneys are basically the same and have the same functions, any transplanted kidney must be a match for the recipient. Even when there is a match, patients must take drugs to keep their bodies from rejecting the new organ.

Although we know the church is the body of Christ, when it comes to finding a pastor, we tend to think about it less as a transplant and more as hiring a new employee. Our focus too often is on comparing qualifications or trying to find someone just like the last pastor (or nothing like the last pastor).

Measurables (e.g., education and experience) are important, but they cannot be the main factors. This is scary, because our pragmatic bent finds security in these things. But this is where the Spirit working through the body of Christ and the candidate helps the church in faith see what cannot be seen Ė to see a leader in an inarticulate shepherd, a king in a boy, or a Savior in a peasant infant. Beyond the measurable, the church must ask God to reveal the match.

Reading this, you might realize that part of the traditional pastor search process would need to be changed. You would be right. The process is often the same as any business would follow. But this cannot be if the church is first and foremost the body of Christ. Here are some factors to consider:

  • The church is a living, dynamic organism.
  • Each member, including the pastor, is a unique member.
  • Every time a pastor leaves or comes, the church changes.
  • Because the church changes when a pastor leaves and the pastor is unique, the church cannot simply look for someone just like the previous pastor. An identical pastor does not exist.

In future blog entries, I am going to propose some changes to the process that should take place if we take seriously the fact that the church is the body of Christ. I encourage you to think along with me.