We are seeking a Pastor who is an inspiring pastor, preacher and teacher, a good counselor who is honest and trustworthy, thoughtful and pastoral, passionate about reaching young people and families, gregarious and people-oriented. We desire a pastor who is committed to attracting new members and retaining current members and whose sermons are spiritually nourishing and apply to every day life.

I saw the above advertisement and two thoughts simultaneously hit me:

  1. This is exactly the kind of pastor virtually every church is looking for … and
  2. This is a trap … or should I say, it’s most likely a trap. And woe be to the pastor who jumps at this golden opportunity without doing some serious due-diligence.

I know, you probably think I’m being cynical, and if I’m completely honest, there’s probably a grain of truth in that. But here’s the cold hard truth:

Almost every church that’s on a plateau or in decline (and that’s the VAST MAJORITY of US churches) says they want to grow. And almost every member in those churches has at least some understanding that if the church is going to grow, there will have to be some changes – and they’ll tell you they’ll be okay with that.

But most churches like the idea of growth and change – but when the reality kicks in, the gloves come off. And woe be to the unprepared pastor who wades into this morass of conflict.

Every week, I have conversations with somewhere between 20 –75 pastors across North America. During those conversations, I ask them about how it’s going with their ministries. Most of them tell me “Things are going great,” but when I ask them about specifics, most often the conversation takes a bit of a turn. Apparently even pastors suffer from the “How’s it going?” “Fine, thanks.” kind of dialog … and “Fine thanks” is generally code for “You don’t wanna know.”

This week alone, I had two heart-to-heart pastors who were in their first calls. Both of these pastors shared that they’d been lured to their churches with assurances that the churches really wanted to grow and reach young families. “We need more kids in the church” they said, “And that means attracting more young adults.” And since both of these pastors were “young,” or at least younger than those in the congregation, the search team and the board and the congregation were all convinced that quick growth was on the way.

I’m sure the congregation didn’t really mean to lie, but if we’re honest, that’s exactly what happened. The congregation loved the idea of growth, but was unprepared for the reality of what that takes today.

  • No one woke up on Sunday and thought, “I wish there was a friendly church in town.”
  • No one woke up on Sunday and thought, “If there was just a church that had good music, then I’d be there.”
  • And no one woke up on Sunday and thought, “I’d go to church if I could find a preacher who was preaching the Bible.”

Because there are plenty of churches in your community that check all those boxes … and all the rest of the boxes you think your church is uniquely offering (theology, ethnicity, liturgical style, liberal-progressive-conservative-evangelical-fundamental, non-judgmental, green, etc.).

In fact, pretty much everyone who wanted to be in church last Sunday, was in church last Sunday.

And that means the people your church is going to have to reach are those who don’t want to go to your church … or any other church for that matter.

And that means serious change … and like I said, congregations “think” they’re ready for change right up until change becomes a reality. Then … like I said … woe be to the unprepared pastor.

So, what’s the solution?

  • Pastor: When you respond to an ad like the one above, do your due-diligence. Ask the hard questions of the search team – “Why did the last two pastors leave?” “Do you have membership and leadership covenants? – Why not?” “Tell me about the last two conflicts this church has endured? How was it handled? Who stayed and who left? And what was the final result?” “Tell me about the last three or four changes the former pastor tried to make in worship.” Then talk to former pastors. Talk to the denominational leaders. Talk to local pastors in the community. Do NOT GO IN WITH BLINDERS ON.
  • Church: Let’s work on our integrity. If you have members (bullies) who are going to block a pastor’s attempts to bring change – and the board is going to play possum when the bully makes threats – then be real about it. You’re not willing to do what’s necessary for change. If the elders, deacons, board, etc. has invite the previous pastors to find greener pastures because of conflict – then be honest about it. And if the word “Change” rhymes with “No way, no how!” in your congregation, then own it. And finally, if you believe the congregation really is ready for change and you call a revitalization pastor, then back them up … even when the founding member says, “If you ___ then I’m leaving.” The ONLY proper response to that kind of bullying is to stick out your hand and say, “We accept your resignation effective immediately” and show them to the door. (Refer to Titus 3:10 and Jesus’ Red Letter Words in Matthew 18:15–17 for more information.)

    At least one of those first-call pastors I spoke with will be leaving the church and the ministry because of the disintegrity of a congregation that “promised support for change,” but then did a U-Turn when the pastor tried to lead the congregation into what the church had “said” it wanted.

So, Pastor … approach Unicorn and Rainbow search and call ads with wide open eyes. Do your due diligence and get the real lay of the land before you accept the call. (There really IS a national clergy shortage … there ARE great churches that DO want to grow out there, if this one isn’t it, then walk away and find one where your investment will pay Great Commission Dividends.)

And church, let’s dig deep and either find the courage to do what’s necessary, or else let’s be really honest about the job description of the pastor that we’d really be willing to “follow.”