The Search for a New Pastor: The Often Forgotten First Step

Dr. Matt Sanders
Executive Pastor, Beth-El Fellowship

The search for a new pastor often skips over the most important step that a church must take. The focus is usually on filling the vacancy and determining what kind of pastor the church wants or need. However, this is a dangerous, unbiblical course of action that sets the church and the new pastor up for problems long before the moving vans arrive at the parsonage. If the former pastor left because of problems, he did not necessarily take all the problems with him. If the pastor left for positive reasons, the unique hole that he has left in the church can NEVER be filled. There will never be anyone exactly like him.

This is why the initial focus should not be on the vacancy. It should be on the church. The transition period from old pastor to new is an opportunity for the church to review its strengths and weaknesses, reassess its purpose and mission, and look afresh at what the Bible commands the church to be. It is not the time for assuming that everything is good or everything will get better. It is not the time to sit on problems until the new sheriff gets to town or wait for his new vision.

Without this step, even well-intended pulpit search committees are somewhat hamstrung. Any question to members regarding the kind of pastor that should be sought is turned into: “What kind of pastor do I want for our church?” This question is bad on multiple levels. The focus is wrongly on preserving or recapturing what used to be or it is on the member and his or her interpretation or preferences rather than on what God wants for the church. It gives an unscriptural impression regarding the role of the pastor, the nature of the church, and the relationship of the pastor to the church.

The Bible tells us that the church is the body of Christ, a growing, dynamic organism, and each member is a unique part of it. Anytime a member joins or leaves, the church is profoundly changed whether we recognize it or not. The same is true for the pastor, maybe even more so. That is why a pastor, like any other church member, cannot simply be replaced. With the leaving of the former pastor, the church changed, and with the coming of the new pastor, it will change again. The new pastor will make unique contributions to a church that is no longer the same as it was when it had the former pastor.

Church members longing to return their churches to some former Golden Age are like parents wishing their teenagers were four years old again. No good parent would really want a child to stop growing just to recapture some memories that are likely heavily idealized anyways. Churches longing for the past are either already dead or are in intensive care with little chance of recovery.

Before churches even begin to consider what kind of pastor they are seeking, they must begin by looking at who they have been, who they are, and who God wants them to become. It is not important to have definitive answers on all these questions, but the questions must be asked and thoroughly discussed. Only then can churches begin to pray for and seek the kind of pastor that God wants for their future.

In the next article, I will give some practical advice on how to take this first step.

Read Part II: The Search for a New Pastor: The Often Forgotten First Step.

Keywords: What to look for in calling a new pastor, pastoral search, hire church staff, how to choose a new pastor.