The following email contains two questions that people often ask.

Dear Bill,

When we were meeting last year a couple of very practical questions came up that I would like to get your input on when you have the opportunity. What are the things you look for as you look to move to another congregation to see if they are able and willing to be in a “transformational” mold? I didn’t see that as I came to my present congregation and would like to be able to spot a little better when a congregation wants a “chaplain” and when they want to move on to a more vibrant, alive future.

What are the first things that you would set up as soon as you would get to a new congregation that help get a quick start on the process of moving folks towards ministry and away from entitlement? In my present call, I was dumbfounded that there was no focus, no process for renewing, moving forward when I got here. It has taken me a long time to figure out any steps to move the congregation forward.


Questions like those posed in the email aren’t easy to answer, since the context of each new pastorate can be so different. But these questions come up too often to pass them off as impossible to answer. So here is how I responded to Jane. Hopefully it will help some of you as you face the possibility of being called to another church.

First of all, Jane, never take at face value what members of a search committee tell you. Many times they don’t have a clue about what they want. Other times they think they know what they want until faced with the implications. I remember one consultation where the church leaders told me they wanted to reach more young people. What they really meant was they wanted to reach more young people who acted like old people.

So, Jane, you must dig much deeper to find out what they really mean. Sure, they will tell you they want to grow. What they don’t tell you is that they want to grow as long as it is on their terms and doesn’t cause any pain. So get very specific with them about who you are and what God has called you to do. I guarantee that if you don’t know what you’re about, the congregation will quickly tell you. So set your agenda.

You see, Jane, the real issue is not so much are they in a transformational mode, as are you?

You have a Call from God. Follow it. You must never fit your Call into their agenda. If what God has called you to do doesn’t match what they want to happen, nothing good can come of it. So get very specific with them about what God has called you to do. If you don’t know, then take your Bible and go off to a lonely place and find out.

Keep in mind that the more specific your Call is, the more effective you will be as a leader. If your Call isn’t specific enough to give serious direction to your choices, you will most likely drift through your ministry doing what others want done rather than following God’s claim on your life. It’s stupid to assume that you must fit your Call into what they want. It should be the other way around. If it doesn’t match, then you shouldn’t be their pastor.

So my first response, Jane, is “What has God called you to do?” Whatever it is, don’t let any congregation derail you in fulfilling that Call. When you interview with the search committee members, share your Call with them and make sure they understand that you work for God, not them. Say to them, “Here is the mission that I am on. Does it match with your mission? This is what God has called me to do as a pastor. How does it match up with what you hope to achieve over the next few years?” If they can’t handle that, don’t accept the Call to pastor that church. Surely God wouldn’t send you to a place where you weren’t expected to follow your Call.

Second, based on your understanding of your Call, make a list of responsibilities you feel called to perform and ask them to rate these responsibilities based on what they want from a pastor.

Here’s the list I would give them if I were interviewing for the position. I have put the responsibilities in the order in which I would hope they would rank them. Of course, you need to make up your own list and rank it according to your Call.

Please mark the following in the order of importance based on what you expect from your pastor.

_____Modeling spiritual leadership

_____Mentoring key leaders, paid and unpaid, into spiritual giants

_____Equipping key leaders, paid and unpaid, for hands-on, team-based ministry

_____Seeing the big picture and communicating it to the congregation

_____Overseeing the best worship experience in town

_____Overseeing the care and feeding of the congregation

_____Raising up new adult leaders

_____Encouraging the youth to share in the ministry

_____What’s not in the above list that you feel is more important than what’s listed?

As you see from the list, Jane, I have led them in the direction my Call has taken me. You should do the same. If transformation is your goal, as your email suggests, then the above will work for you. My guess is the list will provide fodder for much conversation. I would be prepared to back up the list with some biblical examples in story or text.

Let’s assume that you are now the pastor of this congregation. What you do your first year is based on what you are called to do. If you are serious about transformation, then forget most of what you have heard you should do the first year. Usually it’s wrong. Whatever you do, don’t spend the first year doing nothing but getting to know them. That is a formula for failure. By the time you are ready to take action, the people who hoped you would be a leader have given up on you. And the Controllers, if there are any, feel as if they can manipulate you. So strike while the iron is hot!

Jane, here’s what I would do.

I would arrive casting a specific vision and see whose eyes light up when they hear the vision.

I would gather these folks into a small group and mentor them until they were ready to assume major leadership in the church. When the time comes, move them into leadership.

I’d immediately try to bring a number of people into the church. That means I would spend more time away from the church than within it. This would probably mean that I would have to miss some regular meetings and that I might have to explain why to the present leaders. Perhaps the parable of the Lost Sheep might help here.

Next, I would preach the entire first year from the great transformational texts, especially from Acts, so that they can see what a church is like and what it does. (You will find a list of some of these in an article I wrote for the May 2001 Net Results titled “Nine Texts For Our Time.”) I would emphasize the key transformational moments in the life of church, especially those where the early Christians are caused to reach out into the world, such as Peter when he went to Cornelius even though he really didn’t want to go.

I would gather as many from the congregation as would willingly participate in small home groups to explore their hopes and dreams. My goal here would be to listen so well that I could repeat back to them a synthesized version of those hopes and dreams. Hopefully their hopes and dreams would provide the foundation from which to launch the new direction.

Finally, if needed, I would try to create a quick victory or two. Most small churches don’t believe in themselves much anymore. And we all need a quick victory sometimes!

Jane, all of this needs to be sifted through the grid of your Call and the context in which you find yourself. Above all, stay close to your Call and have fun.

Let me know if any of the above needs to be clarified or added to.