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Research Report Series IV: 
Getting Pastors for Churches & Clergy for the Judicatory

Adair T. Lummis

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Introduction to the Fourth Research Report Series:

Over the next few weeks, this and several other brief research reports on getting pastors for congregations will be posted on the judicatory web site and sent over web e-mail. This series of reports, like others, will be based primarily on judicatory leaders’ concerns and solutions, garnered from telephone conversations with you and others in this judicatory learning community between Fall, 1999 and Spring 2001 and written your written comments since then. The following reports in this series are:

1. Getting Pastors for Full-Time Paying Positions

2. Finding Leaders at All for Part-time & Rural Pastorates

3. Innovations and Experiments in Using Nonstipendiary Pastors, Ordained & Lay

4. Creating a Community of Clergy for Judicatory Vitality

After the first two research reports in this series, I will try to telephone some of you who I know from our conversations of over a year ago were experimenting with new program ideas in these areas, and get updates on how these are going. There are very likely others of you who have more recently begun some innovative program, which I have not heard about. Please feel free to share details of what you are doing by posting a response to this or forthcoming reports on the web e-mail or discussion board which will go out to all participants. Or, if you prefer, send a private e-mail to Loren Mead ( LorenMead@aol.com ) or to me (alummis@hartsem.edu).


Congregations which can afford to pay full-time, theologically-educated, ordained pastors, are an essential constituency in setting standards of what qualities and competencies define "good" pastoral leadership. Seminaries, national denominational leaders, regional judicatory officials and clergy themselves are other constituencies with their own, often differing, definitions of what attributes indicate superior pastors and good congregational leadership practices. Each constituency within a denomination is eager for their definitions to be normative particularly by their growing or well-established larger congregations, and hire a person who fits their ideal of pastoral excellence. This present report summarizes and contrasts the issues regional leaders interviewed have confronted in finding good clergy for their financially healthy churches. (Finding good clergy for small congregations that may not be able to pay even half -time pastors, will be the focus of the next research report in this series.)

A. Prime Intervention Point into Congregations: The Time of Pastoral Change

Loren Mead in his third insight essay for judicatory web series, Intervention Moments: Places and Times When There is an Opportunity for Change, wrote that:

"The change of pastors...is the one point in the congregation at which most growth is possible. What happens in the months before, during, and the year or so after one pastor leaves a congregation and a successor takes over the position is the most critical moment in the life of the judicatory."

It is during this time, he explains, that lay leaders are most likely to seek help from their regional judicatory executive. They often help from senior staff and consultants used by the judicatory in defining what qualities they want in their next pastor, as well as assistance in locating, interviewing, hiring and incorporating the new pastor into the congregation and community.

Across denominations, regional leaders interviewed also noted that the time of pastoral change is one of their best opportunities to be - and be seen as being - helpful to congregations in their jurisdictions. Judicatory executives believe that getting "good" clergy for congregations is a major piece of their position responsibility, both directly and through oversight of senior staff with this portfolio. Further, the better the match between pastor and congregation, the less chance of church fights. These conflicts require substantial efforts on the part of regional leaders to resolve and whatever the outcome, seldom result in their earning congregational appreciation.

Judicatory executives and deployment officers often spend much time in helping the congregations get new pastors. They spend hours talking with congregational search committees, help develop descriptions of their congregations and summaries of what members want in their next pastor. They are likely to also consult on how to conduct a search, read clergy resumes, and often communicate with others in the state and across the country in recruiting and in checking up on potential candidates for open pulpits. This is true both in denominations in which congregations have a great deal of autonomy in hiring their pastor (even sometimes one from a different denomination) and in those denominations where the judicatory executive has the authority to appoint or at least approve the congregation’s choice of pastor. In the former "free church" denominational traditions, judicatory staff typically cannot advise or enter a congregation unless invited to do so by its lay leaders. For these judicatory leaders, the time when one of their congregations is looking for a new pastor is not only their major - but sometimes their only -- real opportunity to assist the congregation and enhance its connection to the judicatory.

For all these reasons, judicatory executives are highly motivated to get the kind of pastor with the attributes and skills wanted by their congregations, particularly their growing congregations or ones which are already large and/or wealthy. They would agree with Loren Mead’s advice to judicatory executives, particularly those with limited staff and financial resources: "If you want to improve/change congregations, ignore them totally except for one time -- when they are changing pastors!"

B. Areas of Consensus and Divergence in What Qualities Define a Good Pastor

The pastoral abilities most frequently sought by congregations, according to these regional leaders, are: good preaching skills, ability to plan and lead worship services and programs that spiritually inspire and strengthen the connections among members. Such a pastor would be committed to pastoral ministry in the particular congregation, as demonstrated by his/her openness, warmth and care in giving time and effort to counseling, praying and visiting with members. Congregations often tell regional leaders that they want their next pastor to have the kind of leadership style that involves lay members in making decisions for the congregation and increases their enthusiasm for donating their time and money to its ministry and mission programs. Many congregations would also hope that their next pastor would possess some to great expertise in parish administration and stewardship. More yearn for the pastor who can attract and retain new members, especially youth and young families. These are also attributes and skills that regional leaders would welcome in pastors now in or entering the judicatory.

Disagreements or "disconnects" between what kind of pastor congregational members say they want next and what judicatory officials believe they can or should have, however, also occur with regularity. To be sure, disagreements may occur between lay search committees and judicatory officials concerning what constitutes "good" preaching, worship services, spiritual depth, and effective parish leadership. Major points of disjunction between lay leaders and regional leaders around clergy qualifications seem to arise along the following lines:

Reality - whether the kind of pastor wanted by the congregation is available for what the congregation can offer to get such a pastor;

Official denominational policies concerning what kind of pastor the congregation may call or even voice as preferred criteria for their next pastor;

Fit of the pastor’s leadership in the particular congregation now as compared with what the congregation could become with changes made.

Search committees in churches offering average or above pastoral salary and benefit packages, may have very unrealistic expectations about the caliber of pastors they can attract to their pulpits. Churches that were once able to pay top dollar and get the best preachers in their denomination, now may find that what they can offer is insufficient to attract the same quality of clergy. Another kind of lay members’ disconnect with the realities of clergy supply, often noted by regional leaders, is that these members are expecting to find the kind of pastor far more prevalent thirty years ago than presently.

Regional leaders in several denominations interviewed made a similar ironic comment to the effect that their congregations want, "a pastor under thirty-five with fifteen years experience", preferably one who is also a white male, married to a stay-at-home mom of two lovely children. Half or more of the recent seminary graduates in liberal Protestant denominations are women and half or more of these are currently single. Moreover, whether newly ordained clergy are men or women, married or not, they are likely to be closer to 45 than 25 years of age. Middle-aged clergy are therefore not necessarily experienced parish ministers.

A related disjunction can occur between the kind of parish position these "second-career" persons ordained in their late thirties and forties hope to get, and the kinds of congregations which are most likely to hire them. This disjunction also creates a problem for regional leaders in finding pastoral leaders for their open pulpits.

Congregations often seek a younger pastor in the hope (mistaken though it may be) that younger clergy will be better able than older clergy to attract young adults and young families to their church. Some also believe that the younger clergy will be more energetically engaged in ministerial work and perhaps also more controllable by lay leaders than would be the case with older clergy. For such reasons, among recently ordained clergy, those age 45 and over are apt to experience more difficulty than younger clergy in being called as pastor.

However, regional leaders were more likely to cite other factors associated with second-career clergy than their age per se as obstacles in deploying them to congregations needing pastors. Basically, regional leaders advanced the following kinds of explanations for the placement problems they experienced with second-career clergy:

  • Clergy ordained in their early forties will not have had the time to acquire much pastoral experience even by their early fifties. Inexperience in parish ministry, particularly ministry in mid-sized and larger congregations, is a growing problem for regional leaders in being helpful in finding good senior pastors for the larger congregations. Judicatory executives, representing five denominations, noted that while there are many applicants for senior pastor positions in their biggest and/or wealthiest congregations, few applicants appear to have sufficient experience to take over the leadership of a multi-staffed, multi-programed church.
  • Clergy in their forties and older may refuse to accept relatively good full-time parish positions if these are at a distance from their present residence. Most clergy families these days must have two spouses working. The ordained spouse may be geographically restricted by the "golden handcuff" of the secularly employed spouse, who often makes the larger salary and may be either unwilling or unable to find a similar position in another location.
  • Middle-aged clergy with children at home, whether single or married, may also resist or encounter family opposition to their taking a pastorate involving their having to move a to a different town or state , where the schools and social life may be less agreeable. Indeed, most pastoral openings, particularly for those recently ordained, are either in small towns, rural regions or in somewhat depressed urban locations. Congregations in these areas offering full-time employment are apt to pay very modest clergy salary and benefits packages. Single second-career clergy without dependents may also be unwilling or unable to accept positions in such areas, especially those at a great distance from urban areas.
  • Some recently ordained second-career clergy seem to have exaggerated expectations of the kind of church positions their past secular job experience, age and now seminary degree should entitle them. Such purported "attitudes" of second-career clergy make it difficult for the regional leaders to get these clergy to accept clearly entry-level congregational positions. Further, some of these clergy on taking pastorates may through their arrogant behavior or overly directive leadership style create conflicts within their congregations, ensuring more problems for judicatory executives and staff.

However, clergy arrogance or seeming inability to lead collaboratively in ways that encourage lay involvement in their congregation’s programs, is a trait other regional leaders depict as equally or more characteristic of their younger, recently ordained pastors. Sometimes this perceived failing in pastoral leadership is less an attitudinal posture on the part of younger (or older) clergy, and more due to their lack of social skills or sometimes experience in relating to members of their congregations who may be very different from their friends and families.

Regional leaders, particularly in the liturgical, more hierarchical denominations, have the authority to stop a congregation from hiring a pastor whom they see as unacceptable on theological, competency, health or moral grounds. In these and other denominations, judicatory executives also may have formally stated or more informal policies about what characteristics a congregation may not specify in a looking for a new pastor. In the more liberal denominations, such verboten pastoral attributes are particularly apt to be gender and race, and sometimes age, marital status and sexual orientation as well. Regional leaders report that sometimes search committees resist adhering to these exclusions in seeking their next pastor, resorting to more subtle ways of advertising for or ascertaining whether candidates have one or more of these personal attributes.

C. Potential Disjunctions in Judicatory Priorities: Clergy Placement or Congregational Development? Congregational Stability or Transformation?

Ideally, regional leaders would encounter no disjunction between matching clergy seeking positions with open pulpits so that:

1) the new pastoral leadership promotes congregational vitality and growth; and

2) does so without seriously disrupting congregational stability in the process.

However, as noted, neither regional leaders nor congregations typically have sufficient influence or financial resources to recruit clergy with leadership skills to accomplish these tasks for all or any of their congregations in need of a new pastor. This reality creates a dilemma of pushing regional leaders to make a choice on whether to put priority on assisting pastors wanting new positions get these in their open congregations, or priority more on helping these congregations get the kind of pastor that might help them grow.

1. Clergy Placement or Congregational Development

Loren Mead wrote in a recent e-mail to me that from his experiences judicatory executives do often face this dilemma, and either choice they make has potential costs for the judicatory system:

  • One element to be sure to get into the mix is the universal whip-saw every judicatory executive has to deal with in the change of pastors -- is his/her job primarily one of clergy placement or of congregation development? That tension is there, believe me. The tension is between the "traditional" expectation of the judicatory executive (an expectation that's stronger in the hierarchical denominations, but often quite strong even in the congregational ones) that the executive is pastor to the pastors. This is obviously a very personalized relationship, and results in pastors thinking, "My executive's job is to help me get the position I want -- as long as I loyally soldier along doing what he/she asks." The executive thinks: " I’ve got to take care of Joe/Josephine -- he/she needs to be in a better place." In the ultimate sense, this is the choice made by Cardinal Law that is getting him into such trouble. My bias is to his/her being pastor to the system, getting the best match between place and pastor in terms of potential growth for both. >

However, when there is no clear probability of making such a fortunate match, the judicatory executive is faced with a choice of which good to maximize occurring. The executive who chooses place over pastor is going to risk the likelihood that some clergy wanting better church positions within this judicatory are apt to feel betrayed by their executive. Feeling betrayed can have negative consequences not only for this pastor’s future cooperation with the judicatory and possible continuance in parish ministry, but possibly also for the commitment of other clergy among his/her colleagues to whom he/she has complained. This last scenario is apt to occur, as several instances suggest, when a judicatory executive takes pains to recruit clergy from other judicatories to become senior pastors of growing or large congregations. If the judicatory executive chooses pastor over place, and this pastor becomes the focus of scandal, or rather is a highly moral person whose leadership style nonetheless results in congregational stagnation, decline, or severe conflict resulting in the church ‘s demise or exit from the denomination, the judicatory executive may lose not only the support of that particular congregation but other constituencies within the judicatory and wider denomination as well.

2. Stability or Transformation? Issues of Structural Dependence and Counter- Dependence, Differentiation, and Innovative Leadership for Change

Another reality impeding regional leaders’ being successful in matching place and pastor for the growth of each, is that fact that while lay leaders may say they want a pastor who will help their congregation grow, according to many regional leaders interviewed, these same lay leaders also want their congregation to grow without any basic changes in the worship service, programs, missions, governance and committee structure.

Loren Mean in his insight essay on "Large and Wealthy Congregations" describes dynamics of exercising and responding to power in church systems. He point out that sometimes the judicatory climate promotes congregations and clergy "playing it safe" rather than trying to innovate or grow, being passively dependent or sometimes passive-aggressively counter-dependent in trying to fulfill (or thwart) the expectations of their regional executives and lay leaders. In contrast, Loren Mead describes "self-differentiated" clergy and lay leaders as those who gather facts, think through issues, and make decisions based less on what significant others in their congregational or judicatory system want, and more on what would promote healthy development for their congregation and for their future work as effective church leaders..

Judicatory executives interviewed raised the common plaint that they wished more of their congregations asked for pastors who could be visionary administrators, prophetic innovators, entrepreneurs or transformational leaders - clergy who could image directions in which their congregation might grow and mobilize its members toward working for such growth. Most members of congregations and even their search committees, however, put far greater priority on their next pastor being one who will "fit well" with the culture of their church and community, be a "team player", a minister who will love them as they are, uplift, counsel, care and console them as they need, but definitely not come in with an "agenda" for change. Judicatory executives generally agree that clergy who are dictatorial or lacking "people-skills" are going to be ineffective in promoting congregational development. Pastors, who try to force their congregation to make even changes they see as essential for its future, may soon face "involuntary termination" by their church board or be the pivotal figure in a church fight that splits the congregation. At the same time, many judicatory executives said they would like to rid their congregations of the kindly but stagnant pastors who eschew asking for judicatory resources or participating in educational offerings, but instead continue placidly caring for their remaining flock and bemoaning the decline of members.

Postscript: Many regional leaders interviewed over a year ago were eager to find and place pastors who have innovative, creative, entrepreneurial and "transformative " pastoral leadership abilities. They were not generally enthusiastic about the job their seminaries are doing in developing this kind of graduate. Some executives have begun training programs for new clergy in their judicatory to better instill such principles and methods of pastoral leadership. Most reading this, including Loren and me, would welcome hearing more about what judicatories are now experiencing and experimenting with in finding ways of teaching clergy how to be effective pastoral leaders and matching person and place for the development of both congregation and pastor.




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