“Shepherd the flock of God among you, overseeing not under compulsion, but willingly, according to God; and not for dishonest gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
Recently, the question, “How do we find a new Pastor?” arose in my circles. The Senior Pastor of my sending church, having dedicated a remarkable 33 years in service, is now embracing retirement at the age of 77. His journey in ministry began fresh out of high school, spanning nearly six decades. We are deeply grateful for his enduring commitment and are filled with anticipation for what the Lord has planned for this next season. But now, the church is in transition, and times like these often bring about a sense of wandering. It’s with this in mind that I write this plea to the church in transition, to offer hope and help in a season of uncertainty.
Filling the Position
In my 13 years in ministry, I have observed churches grappling with anxiety during pastoral transition, and too frequently, they rushed to call the man who had an impressive resume, prioritizing credentials and experience over who was the right fit for the congregation. Other times, in their eagerness to find the next great leader, they overlooked the significance of a compassionate shepherd—someone who would guide the congregation with kindness and the gentle tug of wisdom.
It’s crucial to understand that our aim isn’t merely to fill a position but to call a man who will passionately guide the church into God’s will for the next chapter. While academic achievements and years of service hold weight in evaluating potential candidates, the right fit might come in diverse forms. It could be someone who has served in manifold ministry roles across different churches without completing a formal degree. Conversely, it might be an individual with multiple academic accolades but with limited years in ministry. What’s essential is the alignment of heart and purpose with the congregation’s needs and aspirations.
Filling the Pulpit
A charismatic speaker who can hold the attention of the congregation and eloquently preach is undeniably an asset. However, if the primary criterion for choosing a Pastor is their oratory prowess, churches risk missing the bigger picture. The pulpit isn’t just a platform for speech; it’s a place of spiritual guidance and biblical insight. A pastor should be rooted in scripture, in tune with the Spirit, and attentive to the needs and growth of the congregation. Eloquence is desirable, but depth, authenticity, and a heart for God’s people are indispensable.
Many churches also benefit from having multiple Pastors on staff, reducing the urgency to swiftly identify the next primary preacher. Central to distinguishing a Pastor’s role from any other position within the church is the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). With several Pastors on board, your church possesses multiple qualified individuals ready to step up to the pulpit when needed. Lean on these men, for they hold just as much authority and joy in the caring and shepherding of your souls.
Filling the Pews
It’s a well-known fact: dynamic leaders often draw crowds. But numbers alone shouldn’t be the gauge for pastoral success or fit. A church bursting at the seams, with no spiritual depth or discipleship, risks becoming a social club rather than a transformative force for Christ. While outreach and programs have their place, discipleship reigns far greater in the scope of church health.
A pastor’s primary role isn’t to boost church attendance figures but to shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), guiding them towards a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The right pastor will prioritize spiritual health over mere numerical health. It’s tempting to call the man that might lead the church to grow by leaps and bounds but filling the pews at the cost of filling the person is a mistake that far too many churches struggle to recover from.
Pastoral transitions are delicate and consequential moments in the life of a church. Rushing to fill a vacancy without the right discernment can set a congregation on a path away from its divine calling and purpose. As churches navigate these waters, the guiding principle should always be seeking God’s will and the spiritual well-being of the congregation. Remember, it’s not about filling the position, the pulpit, or the pew; it’s about fulfilling the call to guide God’s people into a genuine, deeper relationship with Him.
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Patrick Williams is married to Allison and together they have three daughters: Naomi Grace, Elizabeth Faith, and Lydia Christine. He is the Pastor of Redemption Fellowship, a new church plant in Ashland City, TN, and an author focusing on theology for children and family worship. Williams is currently pursuing a dual BA and M. Div in Global Engagement at Gateway Seminary in Los Angeles, California.
October 30, 2023
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