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What Are Pastoral Search Committees Looking For?*

Rev. John Simpson, General Superintendent
Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia

Number 181

Over recent years the Pastoral Search Committees (PSC’s) of our churches have been encouraged to give very careful thought to the shaping of their pastoral profiles before undertaking interviews. The pastoral profile is a usually a comprehensive description of the qualities which the PSC is seeking in a new pastor. Moderators have helped in this shaping process with the use of resources developed for this purpose.

So, what are our churches seeking when they start the search for a pastor? This report is based on information supplied by the Pastoral Search Committees (PSC’s) of many churches as part of their pastoral profiles.

The Bottom Line Expectation

Foremost in the minds of PSC’s is the expectation that the pastor will have a sense of Call to ministry. Associated with this are the following:

* There will be a growing relationship with Christ as Lord.

All PSC’s are deeply interested in the pastor’s testimony of how they became a Christian and what their faith means to them in the day to day. Some will press further and inquire into the pastor’s spiritual disciplines realising the crucial importance of being "an example to the flock."

They will be concerned to see a real balance between the mountain and the market place. Too many churches have been alerted to the dangers of unrestrained busy-ness and are aware of these in their own lives. In the centre of all this will be an active interest in the pastor’s attitude to the Bible and prayer and the place that these find in the pastor’s personal routines.

* PSC’s will want to know how and why a pastor is in the ministry.

It is a source of fascination to PSC’s to discover why a person is a pastor and in what ways the Call to ministry is being confirmed, nurtured and deepened. There is also the recognition that without this underlying conviction, the staying power for the tough times will not be there.

* It is assumed by many PSC’s that the pastor will be continuing to stretch the mind and develop further their giftedness for ministry.

This is the reason why PSC’s will gladly accommodate the pastor’s desire for ongoing training and enrichment. A pastor who does not have plans for study will raise questions in the minds of many who, in their own fields will recognise that in-service training is a must. PSC’s are also keen to discover just how teachable a pastor is in a more general sense. They are discomforted by the thought of a pastor being a poor listener and unable to benefit from the wisdom of others.

The Qualities Most Often Sought in a Pastor

Some qualities emerged as being common to the needs of all churches regardless of size or location. It should be stressed at the outcome that your average PSC is not looking for perfection. There is usually a clear idea about the kind of pastor appropriate to their needs and this is accompanied by a willingness to expect and accept the rough edges which go with being human.

These are listed according to a freshly emerging understanding of priorities:

* The capacity to bring vision and strategic thinking to the leadership of the church.

This desire has emerged in recent years in churches representing a wide range of theological positions and understandings of ministry. Churches are looking for pastors who are able to offer leadership to their congregations by grasping the "big picture" while still being at home with the details.

A dictatorial or autocratic style of leadership is not on the shopping list. There appears to be plenty of room for the way in which leadership may be exercised though. Most PSC’s will be attracted to the thought that their pastor will not be afraid to take a few risks and that there will be the courage to do this.

* The clear ability to relate warmly to people within and beyond the immediate congregation and to all ages.

This is often summarised as "people skills." PSC’s are alert to any sign of difficulty in this area. They are deeply interested in pastors whose ministry is known for its warmth and emphasis on relationships.

Most churches see the pastor playing a key role in nurturing a sense of community and fellowship within the congregation. Also included is the ability to conduct meetings with skill and sensitivity.

Pastors who have been in situations where a church division has occurred are especially vulnerable (even where their own role has been beyond reproach).

* The capacity for effective communication.

This is usually first expressed in the context of preaching: there is the expectation that the pastor will be able to preach on Sunday in a way that will give the congregation something to hang their hat on for the coming week.

There is an undisputed desire for biblical content. While many PSC’s will be anxious to obtain a tape (or even a video of a sermon), they will prefer to visit a service where the pastor can be heard first hand.

Few churches are looking for the Archangel or even Billy Graham for that matter; they are looking though for a basic competence in preaching.

* Pastoral care follows hard on the heels of effective communication.

This is a development of the people skills area. It has to do with the giftedness of the pastor to care for people. The whole area of visitation is in a state of flux at present.

Many male pastors are now wary of visiting people in their homes by themselves especially if there is the likelihood of a woman being on their own at the time. Despite this there is still the clear view that the pastor will be available to the congregation and not invisible Monday to Saturday. This applies in team ministry situations as well.

There continues to be a danger of turning the study into an office with the "bureaucratising" and "professionalising" of ministry which comes as a consequence.

* Not too far away in the minds of most PSC’s is an interest in the place which the pastor places on evangelism.

Most people want to belong to a growing church. There is always a concern about a stagnant congregation trapped in a non-growth cycle.

Now this does not mean that the pastor is expected to posses the gift of evangelistic preaching or be a highly accomplished soul winner but it does mean that there should be a passion, an enthusiasm and a clear commitment to stating the claims of the Gospel clearly.

Many would expect that in every sermon, for example, there should be the opportunity for a challenge of some kind to be overtly articulated. Most congregations want a pastor who will give a strong lead in helping the church to think and act with evangelistic intent.

* It is a common theme to hear PSC’s wanting a "playing coach" who will engage the church in ministry and not attempt to do it all themselves.

These days the word "facilitator" is frequently used. It has to do with the pastor drawing on the gifts and the skills of the congregation and not building the ministry around themselves.

In fact there is a distinct aversion to one man bands (as indeed there should be). Questions asked frequently revolve around the extent to which the pastor motivates, delegates, encourages and generally shares with others in the exercise of ministry.

* Churches are becoming increasingly interested in connecting well with the communities in which they are located and how the pastor sees the needs of the community.

There is a healthy and growing interest in the way churches relate to their communities. Social questions, community issues, debates about values and standards are (thankfully) finding their way onto leadership and church agendas.

Along with this there is, in many places, a strong desire to nurture creative and constructive links with other churches (both Baptist and those of other denominations).

Bridge building is seen to be an essential way forward for the Christian community to make a genuine impact on the community in addressing current needs not all of which may be seen as "spiritual" in the first instance.

Some Other Considerations

In addition to all of the above, there are other enquiries which often surface:

* Will the pastor work hard?

Unfortunately some pastors have appeared to their churches to have lacked application, personal organisation skills and energetic commitment and it is felt that they have represented "poor value for money."

Churches do not expect to know all that their pastor does but they do get mightily frustrated by the pastor who always seems to be behind the eight ball, never seen during the week and resistant to visiting obvious cases of need.

PSC’s will be keen to discover the pastor’s capacity for work if they have suffered from a chronic case of sustained lethargy or perceived laziness.

* What capacity does the pastor have for self-support?

Given that a third of our churches are part-time and the number is rising, the issues of bi-vocational ministry is of ever increasing importance.

Churches will want to know if the pastor is able to be self- supporting (to varying degrees) as they do not want to create an awkward situation especially if there is a young family at stake. This matter is all the more complicated in rural environments where the opportunity for work may be very limited.

* What age is the pastor?

It will come as no surprise to find that many churches are looking for that ideal family person around the early 40's who can model all that is good about marriage and family.

The fact that a younger pastor has an enthusiastic contribution to make and an older pastor has a truck load of wisdom often has to be gently pointed out.

This remains a pressing issue and indicates how the secular, commercial context has surreptitiously influenced the thinking of at least some of those searching for a pastor.

* Can the pastor cope with a team ministry situation?

With the growth of ministry teams a new need has emerged for team players who do not lust after the pulpit every Sunday, who can be fulfilled in addressing a specific brief and who can happily accommodate a wide range of gifts and perspectives in approaches to ministry. This is still a growth area for us as there are still teams which do not function as well as they should.

Finally...

Of course every PSC brings its own inflection to the task of seeking a new pastor. Most approach a fresh appointment prayerfully and realistically. Need it be said that people are sceptical of those pastors who sometimes convey the perception that, if they cannot actually walk on water, they at least only get their shoe laces wet.

Rev. John Simpson

* This article was originally titled, "What Are Our Churches Looking For?"

This article is reprinted by permission of the author. It originally appeared in Ministry Perspectives,
a publication of the Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia.

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:27 PM