Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

You Can’t Have It All

Part 7 of series: Advice for Pastor Search Committees
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
To this point, my Advice for Pastor Search Committees includes the following:

1. Seek first the kingdom of God.
2. Pray without ceasing.
3. Be open to God’s surprises.
4. Exercise endurance and beware of exhaustion.
5. Represent your church accurately.
6. Get the true “downside” on candidates.

Today I’ll add a seventh point:

7. You can’t have it all.


What I mean is you can’t have the perfect pastor because such a being doesn’t exist . . . apart from Jesus, the Church’s true Pastor. Unfortunately, Jesus rarely applies for church positions these days.
Search committees usually begin with great expectations. This is fine, just as long as they face reality. No pastoral candidate combines everything a church wants. You just won’t find somebody whose equally great at preaching, leadership, discipleship, and pastoral care. Every pastor will have strengths and weaknesses. Necessarily.
Of course this is true in any other field that requires people to have complex skill sets. In the NBA, for example, the best point guards won’t be the best centers, and vice versa. In the NFL, wide receivers would make poor linebackers. In business, those with ample creativity are rarely expert bean counters. Great salespeople often make poor managers.
So it is in pastoral work, and even more so when you consider the diverse tasks pastors are expected to perform. They need to be strong in the scholarly discipline of biblical study and in the field of oral communication. Pastors as preachers must be theological, practical, intellectual, and emotional. They are expected to be visionary leaders but also attend to pastoral and managerial details. Pastors are supposed to be tenderhearted with church members but tough when dealing with staff who are not doing their job well. Pastors should be present with the congregation and active in the community.
Not only is it rare, if not impossible to find a single person who is able to excel at all the tasks in a pastoral job description, but also you have a time prioritization problem. For example, it takes a substantial chunk of time to prepare a good sermon. I used to plan on devoting about twelve hours a week to sermon preparation. I know many pastors who need more time. My mentor, Lloyd Ogilvie, has said that a pastor needs to devote at least an hour of preparation for every minute of preaching. Unfortunately, many churches that want an excellent twenty-minute sermon aren’t willing to give their pastor twenty hours for preparation, unless that pastor is willing to work 60-70 hours a week. (Photo: Lloyd Ogilvie, one of the finest preachers in America in the last forty years)
If you’re on a search committee, and you’re looking for a senior pastor, and you want someone who is equally excellent in preaching, teaching, visionary leadership, management, discipleship, and pastoral care, you’re fooling yourself. And candidates who present themselves as equally competent in all these areas are fooling themselves, or trying to fool you, or both. I’m not suggesting that pastors can’t be fairly strong in all of these areas. But most visionary leaders are, by nature, not equipped to be excellent managers. And most outstanding preacher-teachers are not the best at pastoral care. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
If it’s true that you can’t have it all, then, obviously, pastor search committees need to work very hard on defining priorities. What do you really need in a pastor? What do you want, but are willing to give up if necessary? What are the essentials that must be in place if your new pastor is going to work out well in your church?
Years ago I was on a search committee for a high school director. This person would have been called a pastor in many church settings, but we were not seeking someone who was an ordained Presbyterian pastor. In the early stages of our search we came up with a long list of things we wanted in a youth leader. Some were clearly essential, like “A love for God and for kids.” Some were less so, like “The ability to speak a relevant foreign language.” At the end of our initial discernment process, the committee agreed that we needed our high school director to be strong as a guitar-playing worship leader. But, along the way, we found an outstanding candidate for the position who couldn’t play the guitar and couldn’t sing. (We’ll he could sing, but it wasn’t an especially pleasant experience for those nearby.) This candidate clearly fell short in a qualification that we had deemed essential. But we realized that we didn’t need him to be a musician/worship leader so much as we needed him to be someone who could recruit musician/worship leaders to work alongside him in ministry. So we called him to the church. And, before long, he had helped to build a strong worship-leading band.
In sum, I believe that search committees can’t have it all when it comes to pastoral candidates. (Likewise, I believe there are no perfect churches, by the way. Candidates need to be realistic, too) If committees recognize this, then they’ll work hard to define what is really essential in their next pastor. Moreover, they’ll be ready to be realistic in calling a new pastor, and in helping their church get ready for their new pastor to thrive.

  • Ray

    We began our search not by looking at candidates, but by looking long and hard at our own situation. We spent a lot of time in prayer trying to discern where God might be leading our congregation. We studied our own congregation in an attempt to define our organizational values, strengths and weaknesses. We studied our community to identify mission opportunities that we were well-positioned to serve. We looked at our history to make judgements about what had worked or not worked for us in the past. The first few months of our work was very introspective. We used this process to do exactly what Dr. Roberts described – determine what qualities we were seeking in a senior pastor.
    Once we had been through this together, it was not hard to come up with a short list of key attributes that our next pastor needed to possess. Armed with our solid list of criteria, I felt pretty confident that we would move quickly through our pool of candidates by process of elimination. WRONG. For example, we all agreed that exceptional, bible-based preaching was a key criteria. But then we couldn’t all agree about whether a particular candidate had demonstrated that gift or not. And so on, and so on. Some criteria are fairly black & white, but others are extremely subjective.
    Don’t give up, and don’t lose the enthusiasm you started with. God has already chosen the right person. You’re just searching through the weeds trying to find [gender-neutral pronoun].

  • Mark Roberts

    Ray: Great thoughts. Thanks.

  • Ray

    One final thought comes to mind as this series closes. After our congregation called the pastor we nominated, I should have made a point to remain by his side (behind the scenes, or course) to lead him through the process of becoming acclimated to our congregation. When a pastor enters a new call, he or she likely only knows a few people on the search committee. It can be overwhelming to suddenly be thrust into the role of pastor for an 800 member congregation, especially for a pastor moving to senior/head of staff from associate. And every pastor rates differently on the introvert/extrovert scale, so needs are different in each case. But I was exhausted from the search process, and I mistakenly thought that the new pastor would want me to step back and let him make his own way. Turns out that he could have used a friend, and I wasn’t there for him. My bad.

  • Steve

    Martha just told Nancy about this, and I am sure she is going to recommend your thoughts to the PNC. Thanks a bunch, this is great stuff.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Steve: Thanks, my friend.

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