By Peter Yuen
Why is it so difficult to find an ABC pastor? And why do so many of them, after just a few years of service in a church, leave for some other work? Could the problem be the way churches seek to find their pastor? And could the problem be the way a worker goes about taking on a job in a church?
How should your church find an ABC pastor? If you were on a committee faced with such a task, what strategy would you use? Putting the shoe on the other foot, how should an ABC Christian worker find his place of service?
Most likely, the methods used are not unlike those undertaken by secular organizations. In seeking employees, they assemble a job description, advertise in the newspapers, trade journals or on the Net, and otherwise let the word circulate far and wide. Then hopefully, the right persons will make contact and apply.
And how does a person seeking employment in any field go about finding work? He puts together a resume, searches the want ads, trade publications, and the Net. He informs his circle of acquaintances of his availability and desires. Hopefully, an organization will make contact and extend an invitation for an interview; and if the applicant and the qualifications match, a contract is offered.
This is generally the approach taken both in the secular and church realms. And these steps, with the sanctification of prayer and the leading of God’s Word and will, are often helpful and effective in finding pastors and pastorates.
In a less than sanctified sense, some in the church see this process as simply the way of hiring a pastor to do the job needed in the same way that a company manager finds an employee. They invite as many applicants as possible so that the search committee can have the widest choice of prospective pastors. Then they choose the best of the lot. The prospective worker, on the other hand, goes about it by seeking all the possible openings, and among them he chooses the one with the most advantages in work conditions, pay, and benefits.
Although this method works in the secular world, finding a pastor is not a matter of merely hiring an employee. Unfortunately, too often people speak of “hiring” a pastor; too often, pastors consider themselves as having a “job”; and too often, layleaders speak of paying the pastor to do certain ministry-related tasks, all of which constitute his “job.”
The problem is that when a church hires a worker, they will get a hireling. And when a worker gets a job, he has just that -- a job. Those who hire him will be pleased or displeased depending on whether or not he does his job as expected. And for the hireling, if the work has sufficient advantages, he will stay as long as these advantages exist. When the disadvantages become overwhelming, the hireling will go off to some other job where there are more advantages.
Such a worker has no deep commitment to his flock. He looks out for his own welfare and as long as it is profitable for him to work with this church, he stays. This is what Jesus was talking about, as recorded in the Gospel of John: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But a hireling, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep” (10:11-13).
How is a search committee to find an ABC pastor? While the Bible spells out some good instructions on how to keep a pastor (1 Thes. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-19), it has virtually no teaching on how a church is to find one. And how is a pastor to find his work? While the Bible has virtually no teaching on this, it does have clear teaching on how one should offer oneself unconditionally to serve the Lord (Mark 8:34-38).
If a pastor is to be under the Good Shepherd as an undershepherd to His sheep, then who calls him? It is Christ -- through His body, the church. This makes clear the principle that a church should follow in seeking a pastor: Do not hire, but call. If a church hires, it will get a hireling. If it seeks the wisdom and guidance of the Lord, and the pastor is completely yielded to the Lord’s leading, the Lord in His sovereignty will lead the pastor to respond to the church’s call. And he will be a good undershepherd who, like the Good Shepherd, would lay down his life for His sheep.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments pastors, priests and other leaders of God’s people were called to their service. Abraham was repeatedly called to his task of coming out and becoming the leader of a special people of God (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-7). Moses was called (Gen. 3-4) to his role of leading the people of God out of Egypt. The prophets were called to speak forth the Word of God and lead His people in righteousness. Even in the New Testament, the apostles were called to their service, from Peter (John 21: 15-23) to be a shepherd of the Lord’s first church, to Paul (Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-21; 26:12-18) to become the missionary to the world. God’s special servants in the ministry are not hired; they are called by Him.
Today it is the role of the body of Christ to seek to do what Christ would do in calling His servants to ministry. So now, both the church and its search committee, together with the pastor seeking his assignment, have to depend totally upon the Good Shepherd to enable the church as the body of Christ to call, and the pastor as an undershepherd of Christ to respond.
How are a church and its search committee to know the wisdom and guidance of the Lord in extending a call? They must be much in prayer as they bring together the teaching of Scripture concerning the qualities of, and the care and respect for, a pastor and the particular needs of their church. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they will seek the person God desires to call as their pastor. In the process, by all means they utilize the analytical and communications tools at hand, such as the formulation of a position description and a church profile. But above all the human and practical tools, the church and its leaders must be spiritually in communion with the Lord while using every valid means to discover the person the Lord is preparing for them.
How is a person to be so in tune with the Lord so that a call to his work could be heard and understood and responded to? Consider the Good Shepherd. He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He came with no conditions as to what His limits and requirements were. He was willing to lay down His life for His friends. Sacrifice -- that was His calling. And so it is with the undershepherd whom He would deem qualified to shepherd His sheep. Let not salary, housing, work conditions, or location limit God’s calling. Of course, the prospective pastor is to use every good means (such as a resume) to inform the church about his background and experience. But above and beyond any tools of promotion, he should be spiritually in tune with the Lord through the Word and in prayer, and be alert to the Holy Spirit’s leading in his life.
For the church, it is not simply the hiring of a worker for a job. For the worker, it is not the finding of a good job in a good church. For the church, act as the body of Christ and be His instrument in calling your pastor. For the pastor, be the servant of the Lord, looking to Him not to be served, but to serve and to offer yourself as a living sacrifice for His body, the church.