October 11, 2009

I have often said that it is easier for a high school graduate with three years of work experience to be selected as the C.E.O of a Fortune 500 Company than it is for a minister to get a call to another pastorate.

Fact: The average Southern Baptist Church (membership of 220-275) with attendances averaging about 150, will take 3 years to call a person to serve as their pastor.  That means at any given time, there are 2 out of seven Baptist churches are without a permanent pastor and are being served by fill-in preachers or interim pastors! 

The average small suburban church will hire a part-time pastor with a full-time job description and the average rural or country church will change pastors every twenty-four to thirty months as they can not afford to provide livable wages to support a pastor and his family.

Why the tough times for the churches, you ask?  It is not because of a preacher shortage.  According to the Southern Baptist Convention, there are more pastors than there are churches to be filled, only, that is, if you count those who have left the ministry and are working in secular employment.  Added to that, there is the fact that when a person begins his search for a new position in a different church, the average time it takes from the sending out of the initial resumes and an actual call from a church takes 28 to 32 months!

Taking these factors into account, for a young man just starting in the ministry and hoping to "move up" a little, he would have to be in constant search mode. This is due to the fact that he will usually begin his ministry in a country, rural or small church setting.  With the average small-church ministry being two-and-a-half years, he must be networking with fellow pastors and state conventions as well as updating and sending out the resumes so as to obtain a larger pastorate within three years.

An average church will take 2 to 3 years to call a pastor.  During that period of time, it wouldn't be surprising that the committee tasked with the search and interview of prospects would receive over 300 resumes.  There are any number of processes a committee will go through before the first interview takes place.

What are these churches looking for?  The answer if quite simple: The Perfect Pastor.  The unfortunate news for these churches is that the Perfect Pastor was crucified over 2000 years ago and it was a religious group that got Him into hot water.

We are living in a time where the only pastors who make the news are those who do something wrong, are arrested on charges of indecency of some sort, aggravated assault, other crimes, etc.  Otherwise, you won't hear about men of God. Since there is such a number of person's who have had a brush with the law, churches do want to be careful who they hire. But here is the problem -- In their zeal to maintain the church's integrity, a search committee becomes so bogged down with the requirements that it bends over backwards to become legalistic.

Many of you know that I have been a pastor or have filled the role of a minister for over thirty-three years.  During this time I have received numerous inquiries from churches seeking a pastor and it has increasingly become quite common to be presented with extensive questionnaires, containing queries regarding my health, my financial situation, criminal background, the backgrounds or my wife and children, what hobbies I have, and the like.

Recently, I received a 16 page questionnaire (234 questions - total) from a church in North Carolina. It came replete with such queries as "Have you had a medical examination performed by a physician within the last two years? If not, would be you willing to have a physical before we issue you a call? Would you be willing to have your medical records forwarded to our committee for its consideration?" Then, a few questions further, "What is the medical condition of your wife? Your children? When was the last time they had a physical examination and would you be willing to forward their medical records to us for consideration?"

A little further down the questionnaire came inquiries like these: "Would you be willing to submit to a polygraph examination if requested?" Or this one: "Would you have your high school, college, seminary, and/or graduate schools forward your transcriptions for our consideration?" Then, the icing on the cake: "Would you be willing to submit to random drug testing when requested by our personnel committee?"

What on earth is this church's problem?  Now, it is no secret that they have planned to be without a pastor for "the long haul."  I would say they probably will never have a pastor as long as these are requirements for the job.

This church is not the only one with extensive questionnaires.  Most have them, and a number are extensive, but they ask pertinent questions pertaining to a pastor's view of the Bible, the Church, the ministry, evangelism, discipleship, counseling techniques for marriages and the family and the like.  But the enormous increase of inquires about personal items has become overwhelming.  Some of this is expected and is reasonable. But those that delve into the personal aspects of a pastors life, with emphasis on what his favorite movies and television programs are, and what the current balance in his checking and savings accounts are, serve only as a means to dismiss many if not most candidates for the position.

In contrast to almost all businesses which require or ask for a one-page resume, churches ask for extensive resumes, complete with autobiographical notations that will allow a search committee to become acquainted with personal details about a candidate's life.  I have seen and heard of several churches who hired their pastors based on these details.  A friend of mine served on a search committee from one such church and he said they paired down over 235 resumes to two finalists who had but one thing in common.  Both sent autobiographies complete with pictures of the candidates from childhood on with newspaper clippings of things in which they participated (sports and the like) as children, as well as biographical details of their spouses and children!

I find it odd that the church is the only entity on earth that wants to know more about its perspective pastor than quite possibly that pastor's wife knows. An "Open Book" doesn't quite describe the pastor's life and background.  It's more of an in-depth exposition into the everyday affairs of the guy.  It's a "tell-all" BEFORE we talk proposition.

Then, there's this pastor's marital and familial situation.  One of my pastor friends lost his wife to cancer a few years back and because he was serving a church that was insistent their pastor be married, was forced to resign shortly after a period of bereavement.  This loving church did provide housing and remuneration for eight months, but almost all churches insist that their pastor be married - and many of them believe he can only have been married once (never divorced or widowed, and then, never remarried).  Now my friend is working with Fed Ex, has been employed by them since his forced resignation, and has no prospects for ever returning to preaching again.  He is on his second wife now and that is considered a "NO NO" as well.

As far as I can tell, there are no businesses, jobs, places of employment or situations out there with these strenuous requirements and certainly none are allowed by law to ask for your medical records!  It is also true that the church should never consider itself a business as that firmly places itself in the position of being the very thing Jesus came to earth to destroy, viz. Organized religion!

As I said earlier, the only perfect pastor died a long time ago and after He was run out of town and crucified.  Since He has a criminal record, odds are that if He were alive on earth today seeking a pastorate He wouldn't get an interview either!

Churches have become so self-absorbed and consumed with protecting their image in the world that nothing less than perfection is acceptable.  This is why it is easier to get a C.E.O. position with a Fortune 500 company than it is a pastorate in the Southern Baptist Church.  Many other denominations have churches which hire or call their pastors, such as the Christian and Presbyterian Churches, most non-Southern Baptist Churches are autonomous and many Lutheran denominations call and hire their own pastors as well.  Many of these have become so intensive with their requirements for the perspective pastor that most have started to decline and decay for lack of a leader.

Interestingly enough, George Barna has researched over 200 growing churches across America and has found two noteworthy pieces of data: 1) Of those growing congregations, 82% or better than four out of five have been started by the pastor who currently serves the church; and 2) 88%, or nearly 9 out of 10, have leaders within their ranks who, if something were to happen to their pastor, would take over and lead the congregation into its future.

This begs the question: If pastoring is done right is it not plausible to a minister to work himself out of a job and the church no longer needing the services of a "Professional Clergyman?"

In my next article, I will discuss the issue of whether the clergy has become a highly overrated commodity and address the probability that our clergy-system has almost nothing to do with the New Testament.

Being a pastor in the local church can be fundamentally counter-productive, and is perhaps an inherent obstruction to healthy, biblical church life.  This is especially true for the church that seeks the perfect pastor.  Maybe churches would do well to just do without - not just for a while - but for good!  It would become a "Do or Die" situation, one in which the proverbial rubber would meet the road.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.