Hiring Weakness

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In the world of pastoral search committees, there is a long-standing gag that says not even the Savior of the world would meet the qualifications many churches are looking for in a senior pastor. It’s not as funny as it sounds.

There is a disconnect between the pastors that search committees are looking for and the men[1] who would be those pastors. Taking cues from the business world in which so many of their members work, and from the executive search firms they engage to aid in the process, the hard-working men and women on search teams are looking for a hard-working pastor who will lead their church to ministry success and growth.

They scour resumes and cover letters and references for signs of leadership strength: increased attendance, multiple services, growing budgets, advanced degrees. They want to know the pastor is a skilled exegete of scripture, is known and respected in the community, is well-read in the latest from John Maxwell and Tim Keller and Malcolm Gladwell.

I want to suggest a different path: that search committees look for a pastor who is honestly and humbly aware of his weaknesses and his inability to stand alone.

I’m not talking about answering the question, “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” The corporate world has trained us to wrap our deficiencies in the language of strength; our answers to this question are therefore a sideways attempt to declare our aptitude, rather than a genuine admission of weakness.

Paul David Tripp gets at the heart of this in his excellent book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. I am grateful for the search committee member who recommended the book; it ought to be required reading for every pastor, every search committee, every church leadership team.

Writing from both his own experience as a pastor and his work with pastors and church leaders, Tripp boldly warns of the dangers inherent in pastoral ministry. Not the Davidic threat of an illicit relationship with a secretary or counselee, but the more sinister—because it’s more hidden—disappointment with or anger at God; the “personal isolation coupled with a large network of terminally casual relationships”; the unrealistic and unbiblical expectation that a pastor no longer struggles with sin.

But the reality, as Tripp reminds us, is that the pastor is still being sanctified just like any other church member. The shepherd needs to be nurtured and nourished every bit as much as the sheep under his care.

Search committees, keep this in mind the next time you look at resume or talk with a candidate:

“We are not calling skills, knowledge, and experience to ministry. … We are calling people in the middle of their own sanctification, still struggling with the seductive and deceptive power of sin. … We are calling people who are as desperately in need of forgiving, transforming, empowering, and delivering grace as anybody to whom they would ever minister.”[2]

 

[1] My use of the masculine is not a theological statement, but a practical one. In the church circles in which I run, the vast majority of pastors are men. I have chosen to use the masculine gender only in the interest of readability.

[2] Tripp, Paul David (2012-10-31). Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (pp. 64-65). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

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