Six Reasons Churches Are Taking Too Long to Find a New Pastor

April 30, 2018
Post Quarantine Church
Cover Expressions
How to lead a virtual bible study

I wish I had objective data on the length of time between pastors. I can say anecdotally the time is much longer than it used to be. A whole lot longer.

To be clear, I know we cannot presume on the call of God. I get that. But, all things considered, more and more churches are struggling because they are going longer periods of time without a pastor. Attendance often declines. Budget giving often declines. Morale often declines.

So why are search committees and appointment processes (I will refer to all search entities as search committees for simplicity) taking so much longer? I see six clear reasons.

  1. There are no longer ready-made networks to provide a steady supply of pastors for churches. Denominations and other networks could provide a list of names in the past, many of whom could fit most churches in that network. Today, churches are different more than uniform. Communities are more diverse. The “denominationally-groomed-and-ready” pastor just does not exist today.
  2. Search committees are often poorly equipped to find pastors. They typically do not know the right places to go and the right people to ask. They don’t have time to devote to seeking applicants and culling through resumes. Most don’t know the profile of a best qualified applicant.
  3. Search committees often still use old paradigms. Advertise in denominational or network publications. Wait for a flood of resumes to arrive with mostly unqualified candidates. Go to a candidate’s church to hear a sermon. Go through resumes one by one in an excruciatingly slow and painful process. Wait. Wait. Wait.
  4. Many search committees don’t use a search firm. I’ve heard all the reasons not to do so. Some think it costs too much. But most churches save a lot of money and time using a search firm. For example, during prolonged interim periods church giving usually declines—which can lead to financial struggles. Other churches think the search firm chooses the pastors for them. No, the search firm finds qualified candidates for the church to choose (Full disclosure: Vanderbloemen Search Group (Vanderbloemen.com) is a sponsor of Rainer on Leadership podcast. They are incredible!)
  5. Search committees often represent a cross section of the church rather than the most qualified members. I understand the sentiment to have every group in the church represented. Unfortunately, such representation is not often commensurate with qualification. And an unqualified search committee is most often a slow search committee.
  6. Some search committees and churches don’t think it is spiritual to find a new pastor too quickly. In most cases, a church should be able to get a new pastor in six months or less. God is really able to work that punctually. There is nothing inherently spiritual about taking a year or two years or more finding a new pastor. In fact, in many cases it is really bad stewardship to take that long.

Many churches are simply taking too long to find a new pastor.

As a consequence, many congregations are struggling without a leader to guide them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

92 Comments

  • Churches should switch to a different model that is biblically aligned.
    see My Dream Church https://sites.google.com/site/mydreamchurch/

  • Phil Owen says on

    What a sad state that these “6 reasons” would even come to mind when considering why churches are “taking too long” to find a pastor. Use a “search firm” ? Seriously? Unfortunately, a radically diverse theology exists throughout churches that belong to the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists, as well as non-denominational congregations also eschew the creeds and confessions of the historic Christian Church. These are the reasons why it can be such a struggle for those congregations to “find” a pastor. Because Baptist churches are fiercely independent, and at the same time also open the door wide to embrace the smorgasboard of Biblically tenuous offerings of popular teachers, authors, and conference speakers proffered by publishers such as Lifeway, the marketing arm of the SBC, they have brought much inconsistency and confusion into their theology. This of course has a direct impact on ecclessiology, which then has a direct impact on the ability of a congregation to find a pastor. The historic, orthodox, Biblical method of choosing a pastor, would see Thom’s proposed method of finding a pastor through a para-church “search firm” as bizzare, in fact potentially dangerous. Thom’s is an astonishing proposition. Pastors should be men highly trained by an institution approved by, even better, founded by, and overseen by, a denomination that holds to certain fundamental, orthodox confessions of the Christian faith. Having been trained, the pastoral candidate is then apprenticed and approved within that denomination, by serving alongside an experienced pastor within a local congregation. Once approved, the pastoral candidate is then eligible to be “called” to serve a local congregation that needs a pastor within the denomination. Unfortunately, this safe, tried and true, historically orthodox method of “calling” a pastor, is all but impossible for Baptists, and non-denominational churches, because they hold to no creeds or confessions. Do you want to see how the “called” method is working successfully today? Check out the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Holding fast to the Biblical confessions of the Christian faith brings consistency of doctrine. Consistency of doctrine makes all the difference when a congregation needs a pastor. Thom, you’re welcome to let me know what you think. Phil Owen

  • Jon Hale says on

    As Council/Congregation President of an ELCA church, I can report we were fortunate enough to have a full time Associate In Ministry on staff (not ordained, but fully rostered in Word and Service) who was able to step in as Interim when our full-time pastor took a new call in mid-2016. Our Southern Ohio Synod Bishop exercised her authority to designate our now-Deacon (AIM designation subsequently phased out) as her direct representative to perform the sacraments. Having a familiar “member of the family” available to take on this role was terrific. Our Deacon has been performing very well under our interim agreement (renewed every six months) since then as we have also been working with several other ELCA congregations in our community on a possible shared-staffing/merger design, also under recommendation of our Bishop, due to a serious recent reduction in both new seminary graduates and established, experienced ELCA pastors. Our congregation has weathered the initial storm, settled into the arrangement and stabilized in attendance. We are hopefully close to the final vision and design for our plans moving forward in permanent partnership with two other congregations. Creative, non-traditional thinking has helped us remain strong as a church family, and as Disciples of Christ in our community.

  • R. D. Carrington, Sr. says on

    To the observation regarding “succession plan” I say “AMEN!’ 1. Maybe there is a hint in the Biblical record of Joshua serving Moses then succeeding him, and Elisha serving Elijah then succeeding him. 2. It would be just wrong and sad for any husband to lead a wife and children for years then not make any provisions for their lives after the eventuality of his death. And, I see poor stewardship of the trust and responsibilities given by God to pastors to not lead churches to put in place a plan which would provide guidance for the life of a church absent the pastor. And yet, in the years I served as moderator of a regional association I was called to help churches several times in this very situation, including several churches after long-term pastorates.

  • Tim Hancock says on

    Wow. The old “1-2 punch” turned into 6 quick jabs. I either laughed out loud or groaned (can’t remember, it all happened so fast). We are 6/6.
    I am the XP in a church whose Lead Pastor retired after 9 years. He was told to “wait” to announce his retirement and ended up giving the church 3 months notice. The Staff knew and many in the congregation knew, but nothing was official. As a result, we waited until a 6 weeks before his last day to even consider a Search Committee (#2, #3, #4, #5).
    The SC is made up of wonderful people but #2/#3&#5 apply.
    At this point, we don’t know who the candidates are while people keeping asking me if I am a candidate (to which I am unable to respond), we are seeing an attendance dip and, as we enter the summer months, both our attendance and finances will take another dip (snow-birds).
    Had we had a proper “succession plan”, this could have been avoided. Especially since I knew the pastor was contemplating his retirement last May.
    I think Jesus said something about “…the old ways are best…”
    Well, they aren’t.

  • A recruiter has an obvious advantage over the members of a search committee in a church, because recruiting is all that a recruiter does. The experienced recruiter knows the characteristics of excellence, and the candidate that satisfactorily fulfills that standard is the only one that is referred to the hiring church. The recruiter has interviewed hundreds of candidates, and no one on a search committee can bring that kind of knowledge to a church. Check a recruiter’s references and then be prepared to see some high quality candidates if you’ve found a professional.

    • Phil Owen says on

      John, the “recruiter” method may be appropriate for the corporate market, but the church? My goodness, we have gotten so off-track. Being a pastor is not about moving “up to more influential positions”. Read this comment I posted in response to Thom’s article. Here it is:
      “What a sad state that these “6 reasons” would even come to mind when considering why churches are “taking too long” to find a pastor. Use a “search firm” ? Seriously? Unfortunately, a radically diverse theology exists throughout churches that belong to the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists, as well as non-denominational congregations also eschew the creeds and confessions of the historic Christian Church. These are the reasons why it can be such a struggle for those congregations to “find” a pastor. Because Baptist churches are fiercely independent, and at the same time also open the door wide to embrace the smorgasboard of Biblically tenuous offerings of popular teachers, authors, and conference speakers proffered by publishers such as Lifeway, the marketing arm of the SBC, they have brought much inconsistency and confusion into their theology. This of course has a direct impact on ecclessiology, which then has a direct impact on the ability of a congregation to find a pastor. The historic, orthodox, Biblical method of choosing a pastor, would see Thom’s proposed method of finding a pastor through a para-church “search firm” as bizzare, in fact potentially dangerous. Thom’s is an astonishing proposition. Pastors should be men highly trained by an institution approved by, even better, founded by, and overseen by, a denomination that holds to certain fundamental, orthodox confessions of the Christian faith. Having been trained, the pastoral candidate is then apprenticed and approved within that denomination, by serving alongside an experienced pastor within a local congregation. Once approved, the pastoral candidate is then eligible to be “called” to serve a local congregation that needs a pastor within the denomination. Unfortunately, this safe, tried and true, historically orthodox method of “calling” a pastor, is all but impossible for Baptists, and non-denominational churches, because they hold to no creeds or confessions. Do you want to see how the “called” method is working successfully today? Check out the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Holding fast to the Biblical confessions of the Christian faith brings consistency of doctrine. Consistency of doctrine makes all the difference when a congregation needs a pastor.” Phil Owen

  • My name is John Emanuelson, and I am a recruiter with more than 25 years of experience. I now exclusively represent candidates for pastoral positions. My fee is significantly lower than other firms, because I consider a portion of my work to be a ministry. That is, I want to assist strong pastors to move up to more influential positions. You may learn more about me at http://www.thejarthurgroup.com.

    Thank you for your interest.

  • My name is John Emanuelson, and I am a recruiter with more than 25 years of experience. I now exclusively represent candidates for pastoral positions. My fee is significantly lower than other firms, because I consider a portion of my work to be a ministry. That is, I want to assist strong pastors to move up to more influential positions. You may learn more about me at http://www.thejarthurgroup.com.

    Thank you for your interest.

    PS. Thom, love your work here.

  • I’ve never had a resume and I have never presented my name to a church, or asked anyone to recommend me; yet I have served 5 churches and I am in the 27th year at my current church, soon to finish my 40th year of service to my Lord. Somewhere along the line God had prepared me and the churches spiritually to be together. I was told by a mentor that all I had to do was preach the Word serve Him faithfully and if I remained true to His calling on my life He would always provide a place/church to serve. I’m closer to the end than to the beginning and I have taken the training and have the certification to be an intentional interim when He sees fit to retire me from the full time (overtime) pastorate. Today it’s all about resumes and I know a church where the senior pastor position is open and they have not formed a search committee yet, but have already received over 300 resumes, and the pastor has only been gone a month. I never have been able to figure out how it is that God moves all of these ministers as soon as schools are out for the summer.
    I have a dear brother in the ministry who on his knees with his wife prayed for God’s direction in a difficult pastorate who was lead to resign his position as pastor because he and his wife who had faithfully served this church and it’s people for over 12 years did not want the church to experience a split as sides had already been chosen. Seminary educated over 30 years service post-seminary training, served every position in the association, served on state committees and boards, and appointed to a NAM position to assist local congregations who since resigning over two years ago now cannot find a church. He has been on the short list too many times to count. He was called to a church in another state but would not a could not betray his doctrinal beliefs as to women being ordained and serving in certain positions and he was beset by friends and family telling him to take the church he needed a job. There in lies the issue, it’s not a job; it’s a calling. He was to be called as a DOM and the night before he was to be presented to the association he was called and told the retiring DOM had come to the committee and told them if they would have him he wanted to stay as DOM , as he found out he wouldn’t have enough income to retire, so they took him back as it was $15,000 less than they were going to pay the new DOM, my friend, who again was without a place to serve. When the committees sees he is without a church and has been for nearly two years they start immediately with what is the problem why did you resign. They never listen that they prayed and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit they are where they are. His age, but churches don’t violate the law and discriminate, do they, is not helping. His previous health issue is a concern but shouldn’t be. Here is a called man of God who will be back serving a congregation when one allows God to do the vetting and them to do the calling. If you know of a good church especially all you smaller ones and rural ones saying you cannot find one contact me and I will pass along the resume of a truly called man of God wanting nothing more than to be back serving Him first and serving the congregation second; and by the way he is preaching at a little country church that was running two and in a month is running 16. They will not give my email out so I will not print it , but if you want a resume I am sure Dr. Rainer’s group will contact me to put us together. How is this for helping get a man of God before the churches that looking for a pastor?

  • If you’re pastor is retiring you should have a succession plan so that when he does step down someone is already there to step up.

  • Donnie Brannen says on

    This article left out one of the biggest reasons: many search committees are looking for absolute perfection and often eliminate qualified candidates for any number of biased reasons: too old, too young, wrong seminary, has a beard, wife is too quiet, wife is too loud, you name it. It usually takes them six months to discover that “Pastor Perfect” isn’t out there.

  • Jesse H Winn II says on

    Dr Rainer, I have to disagree with you about the denominations not being of assistance. I work with many other denominations, Methodists, Lutherans and some other mainline. From what I have seen they work closely with both Pastors, the local churches but also with keeping someone in there pulpit. From my experience we and this case saying SBC are left to ourselves. I have been a chaplain for the last ten years and have done a lot of pulpit supply but many churches ignore my resume for lack of Pastoral position experience. This comes from many DOM’s, talking to state resume bank person and churches. The churches that have shown interest are usually in positions that are unsustainable for a forty five year old, married father of four children. I’ve looked even with the bi-vocational aspect, no jobs, no housing, etc… Back to what I had been talking about with the some of the other denominations, they have had a direct hand in assisting in all of these area’s. I had a United Methodist Pastor that I had been working with approach me about them having a shortage and to see if I was interesting in crossing the line. I have seen to many of my brothers who I graduated with in Seminary already having left the ministry for this reason, though there are usually other reasons for some as well.