The “Authentic” Pastoral Search
A few years ago, I was visiting a Southern Baptist, worship pastor, friend, who is happily serving in a small Anglican church plant in North Carolina. I told him I was contemplating pastoral ministry after taking some time off, waiting on the Lord to see what was next for me in His service. He asked how it was going. I told him I had just begun looking, but it was depressing to read what churches were interested in and how they presented themselves.
For the most part, American churches are semi-spiritual enterprises with business leaders running them. They demand corporate visions to drive corporate agendas, employing corporate success strategies, and corporate growth, as their stated objective. All of this is to keep the investors happy…in the name of Jesus, of course. If you do not believe me, you probably got a low score on your Myers-Briggs test, which is required of all pastoral applicants. What would Jesus score?
As I was offering my friend an opportunity to have me read a church advertisement for a pastor, he stopped me, and said, “Hold on, I keep a file of the most absurd pastor job advertisements, let me read a couple of the doozies for you.” During the next 15 minutes I had a headache from shaking my head in disbelief. Recovering my jaw from the floor and restarting my heart from grief, I said, “Are these people even Christians?” My friend turned very earnest and replied, “I really don’t know.”
On that same journey to the American south, I read an article of how some pastors are leaving church leadership so they can pastor. What is that? That same morning, I read where the Southern Baptists were recalling 1,132 missionaries from the international mission field. What does this corporate mismanagement mean for the mission field and for the returning missionaries and local American churches?
As I scroll through pastor job listings, I recognize another trend. More and more churches are turning to corporate headhunters to find their next pastor. Where did that idea come from?
It has been a couple decades since E. Glenn Wagner wrote his book, Escape from Church, Inc.: The Return of the Pastor-Shepherd. From my experience and vantage point, not many are heeding Wagner’s plea for pastors and churches to move away from the business executive model of church leadership. You will know them by their comparative statistical analyses.
When churches present themselves to prospective pastors in their advertisements, the most prominent feature is the numbers. Statistics are everything in the American corporate church. The new, most significant statistic is the number of campus sites. Not only have churches become corporations, but they are also now franchising. Where do they come up with this stuff? As the church continues to shrink in America, the creative scramble for market share has never been more vibrant.
The world loves its church. Scrolling through one church jobs web site, I ran across job postings by one church looking for a “barista,” and another for a “Sunday cashier.” Sunday cashier? I cannot even figure out what that means. No, I did not open the link because of the threat of depression. Not the economic depression of the worldly church, but my own depression at the state of Christ’s church in America. Not only will we have you break the Lord’s Day Sabbath, but we will advertise that we are the ones helping you do it!
Is anyone caring for souls anymore? Or are church members just customers needing a Sunday cashier? Forgive me, church members? Does membership even exist at your particular video campus site?
Hey, time out. Stop. Just curious. Did you actually read the first sentence I wrote in the first paragraph? You need not turn back, here it is, “A few years ago, I was visiting a Southern Baptist, worship pastor, friend, who is happily serving in a small Anglican church plant in North Carolina.”
Honestly, did you even ask yourself why my Southern Baptist friend is serving in an Anglican church? Before you think he went liberal, he did not. Just the opposite, actually, for he joined an Anglican church plant in North Carolina whose bishop lives in Kigali, Rwanda, Central Africa. Why not an Anglican bishop from England or America? I think you know the answer to that one.
My friend loves Jesus Christ. He is a very gifted theologian, singer, and musician. He has a masters and a doctorate and has been unemployed or employed part-time in the ministry for the past two decades. He is now writing a book, in order to continue to serve Jesus because he would be under-employed if he did not initiate his own workload. The fact is, he longs to serve Christ and His church, but he cannot find the right environment to use his gifts and at the same time thrive spiritually. His spiritual life matters more to him than the employment of his gifts on the stage at the big show.
Is there spiritual lethargy in the church? Lethargy sounds like nothing is happening. On the contrary, more is happening in American churches than ever before. We have to ask how much of it is spiritual? A lot of motion, much programming, and diverse activity has replaced the earnest quest for authentic spirituality.
Even the word “authentic” has become a cliché in church. If someone uses the word “authentic” you can bet, they actually mean “novel” in its replication of somebody else’s idea or practice (ie. Does your church have the name “journey” or “legacy” in it?). It is like a clothing corporation calling its product line, “True Religion.” Things are mislabeled to create allure (ie. “Mosaic Journey”), and this is true for the consumer friendly, “relevant” corporate church.
Are we really on track? Or are we de-railed and in need of a reformation? If reformation is required, then it is always a return to the basics of pastoral ministry and church life. It may be time to stop praying for revival and start praying for reformation.
So, what does it mean to be spiritual? What is the spiritual work of a pastor? How should pastors and local churches join together without the use of a corporate headhunter? If I were a local church’s pastoral search team, looking for me as a pastor (that would be a miracle, so obviously this is going to be dreamy hypothetical), this would be my advertisement on (yes, this web site is hypothetical, too) authenticspiritualpastorsearch.com
Shadowy Landscape Baptist Church is looking for a man of God who loves Jesus Christ. We want a shepherd who loves God’s Word, and who loves to minister to people. We have two tasks in mind for our next pastor: ministry of the Word and prayer. That is it. We believe this is what God has ordained for elders with teaching and pastoral gifts (Acts 6:4; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:2). We want him to care for our souls by spending time with us.
Ideally, our pastor would spend four hours each morning in spiritual study, followed by four hours visiting with people for spiritual discourse, needs assessment, discipleship, and accountability. We want him with his family the rest of the time. We know true men of God often put in far more hours than that, but this is all we ask. We have everything else covered. Our last pastor trained up a few of the men in our congregation to be very capable preachers and teachers. They will capably serve us while we wait for God to fill our need and this position.
We are a congregation of about 150 members and 50 guests on Sunday morning. We are not looking to get bigger, but we have agreed to begin looking at planting another church across town with one of our current elders becoming the pastor. He has demonstrated an aptitude for teaching, and he loves to spend time with people in conversation and prayer with them. We are praying for this and for some fifty people to join him in this church planting mission.
Our facilities are rather simple, and we are debt free. Our expenses are minimal. We would prefer to financially bless our pastor to free him up for the aforementioned twin tasks (Acts 6:4). We give most of our money to missions, however. We support simple churches like ours in developing nations, especially where the Gospel ministry is most difficult. At the end of the year, we empty the church’s bank account for these purposes, in order to demonstrate our utter dependence upon the Lord for our provision. He has always demonstrated His faithfulness to us, so in essence, we take no thought for tomorrow. We already know we will be praying then, something like, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We do look back, however, and we recall the amazing things God has done in our midst. Because we have no programs in the church, we rejoice in the telling of the stories of how someone was led by the Spirit to minister to someone else. This brings us to our worship services and community life. We keep everything simple so there is no need for politics in anything. Each Sunday we meet, we worship, and we eat. The Holy Spirit teaches us and leads our worship in song, Bible reading, prayer, and preaching. We have a fellowship meal every Sunday to keep up with one another. We have communion every Sunday because our last pastor showed us the infinite depths of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper; so much so that we wanted to learn more of Christ’s death each week. We want our next pastor to preach expository sermons and teach us all the doctrines of the Christian faith in the process.
We are not taking applications at this time because we are too busy praying for God to show us and to show the man of His choice that we were meant to be together. We trust the Holy Spirit knows how and when to form this union. We will wait patiently on the Lord because our last pastor taught us these things from the Scriptures. We loved him and his family, and we saw God’s hand of providence graciously and gently move them on to their next kingdom assignment.
So, if you are the next man of God to shepherd our little flock, because God has made that clear to you, then come visit us on Sunday. Join us for worship and a wonderful fellowship meal and see if God continues to confirm your calling to be our next pastor. If so, let us know afterwards, and we will schedule a Sunday for you to preach God’s Word to us and pray for us. We are confident God will let us know if it is you.
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 2, 2021