HIRING & Why A Church Cannot Hire Itself Out of Trouble. But, there is the alternative!

by Bob Whitesel, 6/22/15.

A student posited this very keen observation, “I would like to think that churches cultivate their own pastors.  But in looking at the people I know from other churches and from my own church, this is not happening.”

Hiring your church out of trouble.

My personal thinking is that this is a customary strategy churches follow because of what I call “the professional fallacy of leadership.” By this I mean most churches try to hire a professional to get us out of trouble, or in other words: “hire the church out of trouble.”  This is a strategy whereby a church, rather than getting more of the congregation involved, tries to hire a more effective leader than they had previously. Subsequently, the lay and organizational problems of the church never get resolved and everyone looks to the new pastor to be the rescuer of the church.

Why it fails (three reasons).

The “hire the church out of trouble” strategy fails because of several factors:

1) Pastor is viewed as the savior of the organization.  This strategy puts undue expectations upon the pastor, and if the pastor doesn’t address the church’s internal organizational and laity problems, the pastor gets blamed.  This may be the reason there is so much pastoral turnover. They, instead of Christ, are seen as the savior of the church and if they don’t save it from a slow death, their leadership is blamed.

2) Communication and decision-making bottlenecks.  This strategy also perpetuates the “sole proprietorship” of organizational behavior where the church is run like a “mom and pop store.”  Because all major decisions have to go through the pastor, progress stalls because of information/permission bottlenecks. Again, because the church hired the pastor to get them out of trouble, they blame the pastor if their organizational behavior doesn’t change.

3) Good turnaround leaders will be poached by bigger churches.  But, a key weakness in this approach is that once you find a pastor that “fits” your church’s personality and potential, then that pastor will be the hiring target of larger churches and/or the judicatory overseers (district superintendent, presbytery, etc.).  This perpetuates an ecclesial system of continual pastoral transition, which hurts smaller churches because their competent pastors are constantly being hired away.  Unless the pastor fights to stay, then smaller churches will always experience ongoing pastoral transitions and remain weak.

The solution?

1)  Create a robust leadership apprenticeship program in your church.  Make leadership development a hallmark of your church.  For instance, make every volunteer, board member and small group leader have an “assistant” they are apprenticing.  Have them give to their supervisor the name and the supervisor should ensure every leader is apprenticing someone.

2)  Allow grassroots teams to make decisions and learn from their failures.  Because many church leaders are trained professionals, we like to teach people how to avoid failure. But this prevents emerging leaders from learning from their mistakes.  Accept and encourage mistakes, but keep them focused on progress.

3)  Develop home-grown leaders. They know your organization well, are less likely to leave and have a team they have developed over time.  Look for leaders who have been raised up from within your organization. For instance, a youth pastor can grow into a young adult pastor.  Then a young adult pastor can grow into a young married pastor.  Eventually that young married pastor can become the pastor of middle age adults and eventually the senior adults.  I have seen it done many times, and the history and proficiency it creates is amazing.