Getting Ready

  • The pastor’s left!  What shall we do?
  • We’ve got an interim, and he/she’s great!
  • Hmm….isn’t it time for us to start to search for our next pastor?

Everyone goes through the cycle.  And every step is important.  The steps are most important when a church has been through great trauma — whether that trauma is the death of a pastor, misconduct of one or another sort, or some other kind of disaster.  This is particularly true, however, when the cumulative affects of trauma have affected the way the church deals with its pastor, with one another, with its world.

Trauma affects how we deal with the world around us.  Men and women come back from war zones and their way of living in our world has changed – they’ve experienced trauma and it has changed them.  The same is true of a church – no matter how seriously, how intentionally, the church names what has happened — those experiences will cause the church to react differently.

A church that has worked through an experience of sexual misconduct will have more clearly named guidelines for working with children and increased sensitivity to the implications of adults who “want to work with children”.

A church which has had an untrustworthy relationship with one pastor will find it difficult to build a trusting relationship with their next pastor.  If this isn’t named, isn’t recognized as a “sore spot”, it is entirely possible for the difficulty to last through succeeding pastorates.

As a church begins the process of writing a profile (the formal prospectus for candidates), the temptation is for us to put the best face on everything, to breeze right on by those “sore spots.”  So, a church which knows it wants to grow, and knows there is potential for growth in its area, positions itself as that very kind of church, and ignores the parts of its history which make it difficult to trust any leader, much less one who is going to propose the kinds of wholesale change which church growth requires.

This is particularly so if the church in question has been rolling along for fifteen or more years with very little innovation, with things staying pretty much the same, and the pastor confining himself to preaching.  Any church finds it difficult to move abruptly from a laid-back, hands-off pastor to one who is entirely hands-on.  But a church with trust issues is likely to meet that kind of change with a reaction that reminds me of teen-aged oppositional-defiant behavior.  Everything is wrong, unless and until it’s proven right.  Every change is evil, until it isn’t.

The worst of it is, that traumatized church most likely doesn’t think there’s anything wrong.  Folks there simply do not know that in healthy, trusting churches, they expect their pastors will try things out, expect the pastor to be responsive to their concerns, expects that new things will happen and some of them will fail, even as most of the succeed.  The default setting in a healthy church is “how can we make this happen”, while in traumatized churches, the default setting is “I don’t think that will work, let’s say no”.

So — getting back to that profile… which option is likely to get our traumatized church the best fit as pastor:  “Hi, we’re “GreatChurch”, everything’s fine here, but we want to grow.” or “Hi, we’re working church, we’ve had some problems, and sometimes we struggle to understand what’s happening… and we think God wants us to thrive.”

Go with the first option, whitewash over all your history, and your next pastor will be really disappointed, will lose faith in you, and if he/she is really good, will be gone within three years.

Go with the second option, tell the truth, be open about your problems, and the level of your willingness to work, and the pastor you call will be equipped with the knowledge and skill set to lead you into the future.

Preparing a profile is not just about putting something together, but about drawing as accurate a picture of who we are, where we are, and where we think God is calling us — as is absolutely possible.  In that way, we do our part in the search for the next,  right, settled pastor.

Author: tobelieveistocare

I am an interim pastor in the United Church of Christ, having served as a settled pastor for over thirty years. I play classical mandolin and share my home with a cavalier king charles spaniel

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