Saturday, April 14, 2012

Unrealistic and Non-biblical Expectations of Churches Seeking a Pastor

Churches seeking pastors—both within my Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and without—are asking too much of their prospective ministers. Their preferences in some cases are downright unrealistic or even non-biblical.

One church I came across had fewer than 100 in attendance. However, they wanted a minister who pastored a 100+ congregation with documentable proof of church growth. Documentable proof?  Another church between 50-75 asserted that their candidate must have the [a]bility to work with all ages. A record of church growth (Spiritually and numerically)." 

Different churches were bi-vocational (which meant the pastors had to have additional "secular" jobs to make ends meet) but they wanted clergy with seminary degrees. (To put this in perspective, a typical M.Div. is 90 hours of graduate classes beyond a bachelor's degree; I know a guy who works for the federal government with a Ph.D. in economics whose masters-doctorate was fewer than 90 graduate hours.)

One bi-vocational church in particular (of 26 people) stated that a college degree was minimum but they would prefer a pastor with a seminary degree.  Here are the age ranges they listed:

2 people in the 30-45 range
2 people in the 56-65 range  
18 people in the 75-79
4 people in the 80+ range 

Furthermore, they instructed the potential pastoral candidate that the "[c]hurch does not have an active liaison with district. Would like to see a relationship develop with the school system and perhaps with local civic organizations".  So, they want a pastor to both care for an aged congregation AND reach out to children and the community?  When would he have time to join "civic organizations"?  How can he become a "liaison" with the school district when he's working a secular job during school hours?

One congregation whose entire operating budget was $12,000 a year wanted a pastor with a bachelor's degree.

I found one church of 50 people who offered no parsonage and fewer than $20,000 a year but they wanted a pastor with a theological doctorate.

Inside Secret: Bible college or seminary doesn't teach a person how to be a pastor.  Yes, they teach a person Bible/theology—which is crucial—and introduces the student to broad principles but it doesn't teach a person how to be a pastor, i.e. the practical aspects of ministry.  I learned that through asking questions about Dad's ministry.

Sadly, if a person felt a call to ministry today I fear I may have to say, "Go to a state school for your undergraduate degree.  It's cheaper.  Then go to seminary."  This is because I realize a bachelor's degree from Mid-America Christian University, Warner University, etc. is increasingly seen as insufficient in the eyes of many Church of God congregations seeking a pastor today.  It's wrong-headed because, again, these undergraduate and graduate programs don't teach a person how to be a pastor, but it's the reality we live in today.

One congregation—20 people at most attended worship services by their own admission—wanted an associate pastor to "groom" him for the pastorate.  They confessed the church couldn't afford moving expenses, salary or living expenses.  However, among other questions, they wanted each prospective candidate to tell them (a) what he believed about tithing and (b) if he currently was tithing at his present church.  So, was it that they wouldn't give him their money but they wanted to be sure they received his?

Some churches stated (directly or indirectly) that the pastor had to be married.  At the least, the thought of a single pastor never seemed to cross their minds.  Of course, the Lord Jesus and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, were not.  Do churches want two for the price of one?  Are they afraid single pastors are homosexuals?  I have written another blog entry detailing the fears of congregations toward single pastors to be found here.  (Not to be outdone, one church wanted a pastor with a sense of humor.  They also asked for prospective ministers to send, [a] family creative!"  Creative?  What, are they looking for a stand-up comic or a minister?

One congregation wanted each ministerial candidate to email a picture of himself (but not greater than one megabite in size, mind you).  Another church requested that the prospective minister send the congregation a photo of himself with his family. Why? If the pulpit committee deemed the "first family" too ugly would the minister be rejected? Is style (image) more important than substance?  Isaiah (53.2b) prophesied that Christ, himself, would have "no beauty that we should desire him."  Or—forgive me for asking—is this their roundabout way of checking skin color? 

Another church stated that their pastor must be physically fit. That rules out Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelic Doctor of the Church" who wrote Summa Theologica, Martin Luther, the Founder of the Protestant Reformation, Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in 19th Century England, George Whitefield, one of the greatest preachers during the Great Awakening and Thomas Coke, a close assistant to John Wesley and the first Methodist bishop in America.

Different churches wanted pastors who could bring in young families. (This in addition to caring for the older saints who were already present...see above.) Churches look for jacks-of-all-trades who can connect with every generation from young to old. Do you know how extraordinarily difficult this is?

One highly educated pastor lamented to me that churches don't want ministers who are over 50 in age. This is in spite of the fact that our churches are aging and people are living longer.

I get the feeling that churches are looking for John Piper on a budget or Francis Chan on food stamps. Most pastors just aren't that. If such ministers were commonplace would the names John Piper and Francis Chan even jump out at us?  As John MacArthur warns:
With the proliferation of modern media, preachers today face an unprecedented challenge of being compared with other preachers. Do you ever find yourself wishing you had one of those famous radio/television/Internet preachers in your local church pulpit? Measuring your pastor against the supremely gifted isn’t just unfair or ungracious; it’s detrimental to your spiritual growth. It’s not the preacher, the human instrument, that’s the main issue for you (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5-7). God uses what the preacher preaches to change lives—that’s where your attention needs to be focused.
I doubt I'm far from base when I guess many churches feel, "We are scared because younger Christians are abandoning us to attend larger congregations that offer more stuff.  We, the older saints, are holding on but we are aging and shrinking in membership so we need an unusually dynamic leader who is a multifaceted and extraordinarily gifted individual to turn around our situation." Let me tell you that few ministers are so designed by God...and those who are so gifted are already employed by larger churches earning larger salaries.  One church actually had the audacity to put this in their brief about pastoral pay:
Proven history of leadership and growth will earn the top range of salary posted.  Less experience will fall below posted salary range.
What the church was offering as the "top range" salary wasn't great when one considers the not inexpensive area where they were located.  How sad that this congregation would treat the minister as a secular business would treat an employee.  However, that is how churches see pastors these days: as professional employees/executives.  What is additionally sad is that this congregation misses the areas Paul says to reward with more money.  He wrote:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages." (1 Timothy5:17-18 ESV)
"Double honor" in Paul's Greek is διπλῆς τιμῆς and it means, quit bluntly, "double pay."  But when does Paul tell Timothy to instruct his churches to pay a minister twofold?  Not for "leadership" and "growth" but for those pastors who labor in preaching and teaching.  A pastor can't make a church grow.  Let me repeat that: A pastor can't make a church grow.  That is beyond his control.  As Paul, himself, said:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 ESV)
However, a pastor can help it if he works hard at preaching and teaching.  That takes discipline which he is capable of exercising through the Holy Spirit.  That is within his control.

One further word about a pastor's salary and compensation package: Would you work for that?  God has never paid for my ever-increasingly expensive insurance premiums with coins from fishes' mouths.  I naively wish churches paid their pastors just as well as they possibly could because that's just what they would want to do to honor them.

What really distresses me (in addition to the above) is that many churches spend precious little space speaking of the biblical qualifications of ministry—found in Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus—and precious little space speaking of doctrinal positions. (Ministers must be pardoned if they get the impression these things just aren't terribly important to seeking congregations.) Instead congregations spend their time defining what kind of church C.E.O. they want.

I don't think contemporary congregations know what they are supposed to look for in spiritual leaders. Instead they use catchphrases from the secular business world like "team leader" and "motivated" and "time manager" or "self-starter" while preaching "relevant sermons."  Oh, the phrase "relevant sermons" just gets me.  It's horribly atrocious.

It's time for churches and pastors to ask themselves, "What are the biblical qualifications for the pastoral ministry verses what are the preferences we have unwittingly absorbed from American culture and business?"  I'll reiterate: A pastor's qualifications for ministry are to be found in Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, not church growth books or secular business models of success.

UPDATE:  Recently I found this article online by Chris Pedersen.  While I REALLY don't like that Pedersen sources Rob Bell in his article Pedersen does make a good point.  Listen to the writer's story about one of his pastoral friends:
In my Ephesians 4 sermon from February 19th, I made reference to an interview a pastor friend of mine had with a CRC congregation when he was a candidate for ministry. He asked them the simple question, “What are your expectations for your next pastor?” Someone immediately chimed in, “We want a heroic leader who will fill our pews.” As I said in the sermon, my friend didn’t end up serving in this particular church. A statement like this sounds ridiculous and yet it sheds light on some of the unhealthy, unrealistic, and unbiblical expectations that churches and pastors come to expect from the role of pastor.
What scares me is that many churches may see nothing wrong with that person's answer.  That, in itself, is an indicator of how prevalent this problem is in the church world.

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