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

Dr. Matt Sanders
Executive Pastor, Beth-El Fellowship

The first step in searching for a new pastor is for churches to ask themselves questions regarding who they have been, who they are, and who God wants them to become. This takes seriously the biblical presentation of the church as the body of Christ in which members, including the pastor, are unique and connected to the other members. This means that the departure of pastors or any other members changes the church and that they cannot simply be replaced. Only by looking at who they are can churches begin to consider what kind of pastor God might be directing to them. By beginning with themselves, churches can create an environment that allows the new pastor to fulfill this biblical role in the unique way that God has gifted him.

Many different approaches to answering these questions can be taken. Two principles that should always be followed are (1) every active member should be given opportunity to participate and (2) the questions/discussion should not focus on what members like or don’t like. A good first step could be a church-wide survey that asks questions like:

  • What is the purpose of the church according to the Bible?
  • What are areas where our church is doing well in fulfilling this purpose?
  • What are areas where our church is not doing well in fulfilling this purpose?
  • If we were to ask all the people who live within a two-mile radius of our church to tell us what word comes to mind when they hear the name of our church, what do you think they would say?
  • Looking ahead to the next five years, what does our church need to keep doing to fulfill God’s purpose, what does it need to stop doing, and what does it need to start doing?

Depending on the church, these questions can be much more specific. The purpose is for members to consider what the Bible teaches rather than their personal preferences and then to look at their church in light of what the Bible teaches. The survey might reveal the need for a study on what the Bible teaches about the church or it can lead the church to begin addressing deficiencies immediately. The survey can help the church to know how it can continue to grow and minister during the transition period.

After this step, the church can then address the question regarding who should be pastor. But rather than it becoming a competition or piecing together of personal preferences, it is more likely that input will be based on the biblical purpose of the church and God’s unique mission for this particular body in this community at this time. Rather than looking for someone just like the former pastor or nothing like the former pastor, the focus will be on the present and not the past.

The question is less likely to be transformed into “What kind of a pastor do I like or want?” and more likely to be “What kind of pastor is God calling who will help us accomplish His purpose for our church? Members still might not be able to overcome their preferences or might just learn “holy words” to mask their likes and dislikes, but without the discussion, there is virtually no chance that they are even aware that they are more driven by preferences than Scripture.

In the next article, I will address how this first step can be accomplished in a dysfunctional church.