Six Updates from Churches with Pastoral Vacancies

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear from a church searching for a pastor. As I have taken mental notes from these conversations over the past few months, I have noticed common themes. Here are the six of the most common developments I have heard from leaders of these churches:

  1. It is taking longer for churches to decide on a pastor. About ten years ago, you could expect a church to take about six to nine months to find a pastor. Today, it is more common to hear the range increase from nine to eighteen months.
  2. These churches have many candidates; but they say most of them are not qualified candidates. Each church seems to have a different idea of the desired qualifications for a pastor. Though they all seem to insist the pastor must have basic biblical qualifications, their preferred qualifications beyond that vary from church to church.
  3. There is more frustration from both the churches and potential candidates. The churches express frustration because they can’t find a qualified candidate. Many candidates express frustration because they can’t seem to find churches willing to respond to their expressions of interest.
  4. More churches are giving up on traditional processes to find a pastor. In the past, many churches depended on their denominational organizations to find a pool of candidates. Today, only a small number shared that the denominational path was their preferred alternative.
  5. Churches are turning to internal candidates more frequently. This trend may be the most pervasive. Some churches begin with an intentional process toward an internal candidate. Others get an internal candidate by default.
  6. More churches are screening candidates by listening to their podcasts. They thus avoid the potential awkwardness of going to a candidate’s current church. They also do not ever need to let candidates know they are being considered until they make a decision based on the podcast.

Many of the comments I hear from churches and candidates come through this blog and other social media. If your church is looking for a pastor, I would love to hear from you. I also appreciate hearing from those of you who are looking for a church. Of course, I am always happy to hear from any of you.

Posted on September 22, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I certainly agree with number five. It seems that when a church has an on staff Pastor fill the pulpit when there is a vacancy, the church can assume this should be the next Pastor. Do you think a potential on staff candidate should be given the pulpit weekly during the search process?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Typically the best answer is “no” if the church is looking at multiple candidates. It can be a path headed for conflict.

  • My husband and I made the decision to leave our church based on the poor decision making of our elder board. (In all honesty, it was one of many reasons). Our pastor left in July, 2013. In June, 2013 the Associate Pastor had left. It took the elders 6 months to create a “vision” and begin the process of hiring. There was a lot of talk about transparency and vetting. From our point of view the process had a very corporate feel and not a very Holy Spirit driven feel. The more I looked at the vision, the less I saw God’s hand in the vision-writing. Meanwhile, our church needed a shepherd and not a CEO. A pastor was chosen 15 months later. Why did it take so long? They wanted someone to agree with the vision. The narrow vision became more important than the leading of the Holy Spirit. I believe consumerism is alive and well in our churches today. In an attempt to compete with the culture, we’ve lost our sense of importance to the culture.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      6 months to create a vision? It’s all there in 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus.

      • New pastors invariably bring changes to the congregation.

        If that six months is spent at looking at where the congregation is currently, and where it would like to be, it can be useful to both sides.
        By way of example, mean age of the congregation is 75, mode age is 80, median age is 70. Do you hire a pastor that buries people,or one that can lower those ages by one or two decades?

        If those members want a pastor that buries people, then the pastor that attempts to lower those figures will split the congregation, if not force it to permanently close the doors.

    • The lead pastor is to be the primary vision caster. It is unbiblical for a church elder board to spend so much time developing a detailed vision without a pastor or to expect a new hire pastor to share and implement that vision. The vision is the pastor’s job and responsibility to create, not a pastor-less elder board.

  • Mark Dance says on

    Thank you for helping us rethink this important aspect of church life.

    Unfortunately, it seems that this process will take even more time and become more frustrating as the pastoral pool of candidates get smaller. (See Dr Rainer’s 9/17 blog about Boomer’s retirement)

    I embrace some of the positive changes you mentioned today and recently: internal candidates, bi-vocational pastors, social media profiling. Some of the traditional paths to finding a pastor are frustratingly slow and ineffective and need to be revisited .

  • I’m happily serving a great church, but this post did remind me of the days during the end of seminary when I was searching. I noticed that many churches desired an unbiblical candidate: they wanted a pastor who possessed most if not all of the spiritual gifts listed in the NT to some degree This obviously reflects an unhealthy view of how the church body is to function. I serve a small congregation as solo pastor, so there is a need to be a generalist. But the church called me with the understanding that my spiritual gifting is primarily preaching/teaching. Search teams and congregations, even in the smaller settings where a generalist is needed, would do better to zero in on the specific gifts they are looking for in a candidate.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Ladies and Gentlemen:

    I am in meetings most of the day, but I will be responding later. Please keep the comments coming. I will definitely get back with you.

    Thank you.

    • i get tired of sending resumes to churches all i do is get regected and i have 22yrs experience as a Sr. Pastor in small churches and love to teach and preach the word of God with tremendous depth and reveal Christ through the Scriptures.

  • Joe Pastor says on

    What is the best means to contact you, Dr. Rainer? (In regard to this topic, some things cannot be posted on public comment boards)

  • I have been saddened to see so many churches place “their” qualifications on a pastor instead of following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Let me offer the following verse:

    “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” -2 Timothy 4:3

    We don’t often use this verse in the context of churches seeking pastors but I believe it’s applicable. The problem we face in evangelical churches is a belief that democracy is God’s way of bringing us pastors. Since when do sheep select a shepherd? If it becomes a popular vote (which is exactly how a democracy runs) are we not in danger of falling into what Paul was talking about? Requirements are given and quickly it becomes about us: “Candidate must have his Doctorate, must be over 50, must believe in premillenial dispensationalism, must look like us, talk like us, act like us…”

    Often, the last thing a church needs in a pastor is what they want.

    • It’s all relative, isn’t it? As a former Spanish speaking missionary, and having served in churches as pastor since returning to the States almost 20 years ago, in ministry all my adult life, where in the world (with all due respect) ARE those churches that want a guy over 50? What I see is “NOT over 50.” Three earned masters degrees later has put me at a stage in life in my early 60s where I feel as good as a 25 year old, but “well, we wanted a younger man.” But a younger man does not keep a roof over my head, I do.

      Please don’t hear any bitterness, just a measure of frustration. What does God want you and me to do? Answer: pray and ask our Father to open a door of service so we can fulfill our call. He will. He always has.

      Father, open doors for my brother pastors and for me. We love you and want to serve you. After all, you called us! Thank you Father!

    • Mark
      I was reading you comment and I want you to know I feel the same way. I am 35 and have felt called for some time by God to lead His people I full time ministry in a church. I been in church ministry all of my life and I spend a great deal of time trying to understand and teach Gods word but I don’t have a college degree. Because if that I have received more “no’s”. I have been asking myself why is the church seeking the credentials of the world and not the calling of God? I am glad to know that it is not just myself seeing this trend.

      • Dr. Angela Carter says on

        Hey Mark I read your post, You can still do the work God called you to do it He called you to be a pastor and study for your degrees. Check out International Seminary in Plymouth, FL. They are affordable and accredited.

        I too am looking for a church to pastor. I noticed that a lot of them don’t want to give women a chance to use the giftings that God has called them to do. But God will provide for those He called. I pastored in New York for a few years but that was years ago, I have been in school working on my degrees.

  • John Paul Anonymous says on

    I was just called as the Associate Pastor at a church with an interim pastor. They’ve been without a pastor for over two years now (after a nasty church split) and plan to keep the current interim (who is very close to retirement) until he retires in the next couple years. This church might be the exception, but I’m afraid that the mindset of the people has shifted from desiring clear directional leadership (under a permanent pastor) to primarily desiring pastoral care. The church’s median age is about 60. Any advice?

    • I would focus on two things: worship and groups.

      Get the leaders to see the dire situation they are in. When/if they see that, the church needs to start praying and burning a strong focus on what matters, not on what does not produce results.

      More is less in that situation.

      The influencers need to see the direness of their church. If they don’t, hard road ahead.

      Call a prayer meeting. Be encouraged. It can turn around.

      • Why would you focus on groups? I’m sorry but that makes no sense.

        If you are going to introduce anything you should aim at events in the community. To hit that again: in your community…not for your community at the church. Bring the church to people in the community.

      • >Why would you focus on groups?

        Groups built up from within, have a positive impact on the community.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      JPA –

      In addition to the input you have received thus far, look at my book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,” for some insights that might help.

    • Stephen Asaye Oluwaseyi says on

      My own little advise is that you cry out to God to show you what to do, at the right time, at the right place, because without the wisdom of God human reason can not fathom what God have in place for you

  • Lynn McIntosh says on

    Thom, our church in
    Roswell, GA.
    First Baptist Church
    Contact: Elwyn Gaissert
    We need a firecracker! Our pastor is retiring in Nov.

    Roswell, voted best city in Georgia to raise a family!
    #3 in the country for Recreation department!
    Beautiful town
    Thank you so much. Our pastor retirement date is Nov. 17th?
    Revival needed
    I wanted to ask you something but will be in contact. Thanks, old boss!

  • I believe #2 and #3 are important points. I have personally seen this with the smaller rural churches that are unable to afford a grand salary for their pastor. Unfortunately I have seen numerous occasions when a small church is seeking a Bi-Vocational pastor to lead their 40 member church and they require the candidate to have a seminary degree plus 5 years of experience, but can only afford to pay the pastor $100 per week. Most pastors under the age of about 50 are still attempting to pay off student loans to get that seminary degree (not to mention paying rent, health insurance for their family, car payments…).

    This not only causes frustration for the churches (because they can’t find anyone they think is qualified), but also for pastors will less education and/or experience that can’t seem to find a church to take them seriously (point #3).

    I think a good way to ease some of this stress and frustration is for churches to be more realistic about what a qualified candidate for their particular church should look like. If you are leading a small church that only has the means to offer a humble salary to the pastor, then it is unrealistic to only respond to candidates that have a doctorate and 15 years of senior pastor experience (ok, this may be overstating a little, but you get the point). These churches should “take a chance” on some younger pastors that have less education and less experience. These younger pastors will often be high quality ministers.

  • It’s been a year since God led me to my new place of service. My sermons were (and still are) on YouTube. After God led me here, the search chairman told me that he was asked if the team had “heard me preach.” They never visited me in person at my former church. His response was, “Yes, I’ve heard him preach. I’m been listening to him for 6 months.” He said that by the time God called me to where I am now, he felt I had already been pastoring him for months.

    • I suggest to committees that they should never ever make a decision based just on those podcasts (videos on the website, etc). Sure, listen to them. But there is no substitute for visiting in person. There are a hundred things you want to know not available just from the video. What kind of church is this? What is the mood of the congregation? After all, the best indication of what a preacher would do in our church is what he has done in this one. You cannot learn that from a video.

      • Charlie Wallace says on

        Rev. McKeever,

        I can assure you that the decision was not made “just on the podcasts.” The church that I formerly pastored for close to 4 years heard me preach at a random congregation in a town close by. I’m not sure they got an accurate portrayal of my preaching given the environment and the fact that I knew no one at the church. As you know, there are a lot of factors involved when it comes to getting a “feel” for the pastor. Thankful that God is ultimately sovereign over this process and gives us all much grace.

      • I don’t know if I can agree with you on this point. I agree much can be garnered by seeing the congregation that the person presently serves, but I can assure you that as congregations grow older and more stuck in their ways that you will see less and less of what the pastor can do and more and more of what the churches internal leadership will allow to be done.

        In my previous ministry I had a vibrant group and was able to triple a youth ministry in a small church in 3 years with out flashy programs, rather with biblical discipleship and caring for my students. However, I was brought to my current position to help an aging and dying church reach out to younger folks and bring new life. Does it say much about me that in the last few years my lay leadership has refused to allow me to make any of the changes that I have suggested, after I spent a year evaluating the church? Does it say much about me that I found out after a year and a half of being here the changes I was suggesting were the same ones my predecessor, who had lead a state church planting agency, had suggested 7 years earlier but they refused to allow the changes for either of us? Does it say much about me that my present church is dying and full of people more than double my age? What would you see about me at my church, you would see that I am a biblical teacher and preacher, that I love my people and that many of them care about and love me, but you would not see what my heart for the church and the kingdom is lived out in anything but my sermon.

        The older churches are getting the more that you will see the heart of the church rather than the gifts of the pastor.

      • Mark,

        I would agree that in your case, they would not get the whole picture. Much if what you shared needs to come out in the interview.

        But a committee would see how you interact with people. Are you warm and engaging or cold and aloof. Do you treat people with live and respsct?

        In years as a pastor, consultant, and missionary, I have seen poor “people skills” kill more ministries than moral, doctrinal, or leadership failures combined.

      • Roger Smith says on

        I completely agree with you. A pastor or leader may be seeking a new position because his current church refuses to follow his leadership. He may have proposed all the right things, tried to implement much needed changes with love and patience and the church just refused to follow and then blames the leader for the church’s failures.

        Search teams often show a picture of a church that simply isn’t true and the pastor finds out the hard way that no amount of solid leadership is going to make a difference. Should the leader be judged by that?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Charlie –

      I am with you. I did not mean to suggest that churches make decisions just on podcasts. It can be a way, however, to screen a number of candidates.

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