Subscribe: Pastoral Transition and Placement Reflections
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
call  church  committee  congregation  mdash  ministry  pastor  pastoral  process  search committee  search  time  transition 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Pastoral Transition and Placement Reflections

Pastoral Transition and Placement Reflections

This blog is all about Pastoral Transition. How does the pastoral placement process work? What is an effective placement? What is the candidating process like? These are my reflections on the processes of candidacy, placement, and transition.

Updated: 2017-09-05T22:21:30.495-05:00


Renting vs. Buying: home considerations


Pastors are not necessarily the most-adversely affected group when it comes to the decline in the housing market of the past seven years, but they are among those whose lives and vocations are greatly influenced by it. While buying a house used to be a stable and fairly certain positive investment, it is no longer such a safe bet. Frequently, pastors who would otherwise accept a call to ministry (a new/different one, or even a first one) are sometimes prevented from doing so because of the financial obligations of a home mortgage and the inability to sell their home.Our family faced the impact of this when I accepted a call to serve in Tucson, AZ after four years in Tennessee: we had purchased a home in Tennessee in 2007 (just before the "housing bubble" burst), and refinanced it for incredibly low terms just a year before moving. Because of our refinanced loan, we saved a lot of money on our mortgage with a payment reduced by more than $200 a month—but we also had almost no equity, which gave us very little room for negotiation on the price. That, coupled with the fact that two very similar homes on our street were short-selling for more than $20K less than what we had to get as the final price meant that our efforts to sell our home failed miserably. We ended up staying in a small guest house in Arizona for eight months while we sought to rent our house instead, and then faced the challenges of renting (which are too many to address in this post).I know another pastor who invested well in home after home (following one call to the next), and over the years established a great amount of equity—so much, in fact, that he and his wife were able to build the home they wanted shortly after accepting a new call in Florida in 2005. That home is now still more than $100K "under water" and every penny of equity they had gained over more than 30 years of ministry is gone. This is a perfect illustration of how home-buying is not the investment that it was for past generations.This is just one example of why housing can be such a difficult matter of decision for a pastor in transition. For a pastor or candidate who is blessed with being unencumbered by an existing mortgage, important decisions about their future housing are afoot. A church that provides a manse or parsonage (which are fewer and fewer, sadly—and perhaps reviving this time-tested tradition would be a way around the problem entirely!) offers a deferment, of sorts, on the decision, but most pastors will eventually face a single important question: rent or buy?There are more than mere fiscal considerations at play here. For example, about a year into my ministry at the church in Tennessee, one of the members affirmed that buying our house sent a clear signal to the congregation: we were coming to settle in and stay a while. That congregation had been through great turmoil in the years leading up to my pastorate, and the very existence of the church was precarious; this message was one small but vital piece of my ministry to them, and brought stability in ways I had not considered.There may be other non-financial reasons to buy (or to rent), but the financial factor is a big part of the decision regardless. In our transition to Tucson, the reality was that buying another home was simply not a possibility (there may technically have been a way to do it once we had rented our home for a while, and the rent we received was seen as income—but we had neither the inclination nor the resources to own properties in two states). In light of this, we recommend a new tool published in the New York Times website's "The Upshot" section offers a "rent vs. buy" calculator that allows multiple points of data input, with a very straightforward reporting of whether it makes more sense to rent or buy. (The report doesn't prescribe, but rather offers a recommendation along the lines of, "if you can rent for less than $xxxx / month, then renting is better.")You can find—and use—this tool here: Is It Better To Rent Or To Buy?There's no way to know how long [...]

Posting your "ad"


What do you put in the "ad" for your pastoral search? If you're part of a search committee, chances are you've had to think through the things you will put out as a description of the pastor you are seeking.

I've talked before about some utter failures (and about some slightly more subtle problems) with some of the "want-ad" like venues. Today I'll point you to some really solid advice from Pastor Mike Abendroth (host of No Compromise Radio), who spoke earnestly and truthfully last spring about "Want Ads for Pastors."

Pastor Abendroth speaks with some irony about some of the foibles and mis-steps that some search committees have made—some of which are not nearly so obvious as the failures I point to above, but may actually come across as good and legitimate criteria to ask for; indeed, some of the things he describes may be part of YOUR criteria for seeking a new pastor.

After exposing these follies, however, Pastor Abendroth has some excellent and useful words to search committees about what you really SHOULD be looking for: a man who will faithfully preach the Word. Period. The other things are all secondary concerns.

If you are on a search committee, I think you may find this fairly brief (25 minute) podcast episode well worth the listen. Click here to listen to Mike Abendroth's podcast on "Want Ads for Pastors."

Desperation and the job search


So, according to Inc. magazine, when job candidates appear too "desperate" for the job, it is a turn-off for interviewers:

"…If a job candidate comes across as someone who desperately wants to get back to work (or wants to change jobs), we reject them. Which leaves candidates who are currently unemployed (or are in bad jobs) in the weird position of having to pretend that they are fabulously wealthy and just want to get a job to get them out of the house for a bit."

(Read the whole article here.)

With regard to pastoral transition, my evidence is only anecdotal—but if accurate, then this bears out with pastoral searches, too.

One search committee member told me about how one candidate seemed tired and worn down by the process, and that was a big mark against him. I asked her, "do you know how long he had been looking for a position?" and she said she thought it might have been over a year. Is it any surprise that he appeared weary and worn?

(To be fair, the committee I just referenced recommended another candidate for more reasons than just this—but this was the stand-out reason she gave for what made him less favorable.)

This is a hard part of the process. Unless a candidate makes the foolish mistake of simply jumping at any opportunity that is available, then inevitably he has had to do some digging and research, and probably some waiting, for an opportunity to arise that is a good fit.

So, here's a bit of advice to both sides of the equation.

To Candidates

It's hard, but do your best to present yourself as fresh, confident, and eager (but not over-eager)—even if you have been worn down by the search process! Don't mislead or misrepresent yourself to search committees; let them see you as you really are. At the same time, do everything you can to be well-rested before your interviews and visits. Trust in God that His timing for your transition is perfect, and exhibit that trust in how you speak about your willingness to accept a call.

To Search Committees

Be aware that the men you are interviewing may have been in a season of transition, and don't judge them solely on how "fresh" they are, how much they seem "desperate," or whether they seem content in where God has them right now. They may be very discontent or quite weary, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they can't serve your congregation faithfully and with real energy and contentment! (And realize that whether they can do these things is often more dependent on YOUR congregation, and how healthy and peaceful it will be to serve in, than it is the candidate's current circumstances!)

Summing up

The article I linked to above has a great wrap-up that I'll borrow here as well:

"Your first priority should be hiring someone who can do a fabulous job, and sometimes that person is desperate for a job. Don't reject on that basis alone."

Search Committee humor


Thanks to (PCA pastor) Sean Lucas for the cartoon!

Shadow economies in pastoral ministry


A few years ago, I came across the idea of a "shadow economy," which is an economic structure that is parallel to, but also outside of, the "official" economy. This can be tantamount to a straight-out black market, where the economic activity is illegal—or it can be something that is not outright illegal, but it is certainly "off the books" as far as reported income goes, and even as far as something that people think of as part of their own economic equation.(Two very helpful sources in learning more about shadow economies are: a book entitled Working In The Shadows by Gabriel Thompson, and an episode from the radio program and podcast Freakonomics Radio, called "How Deep Is The Shadow Economy?")Our economic structure is not exactly favorable to shadow economies, but it doesn't prevent them either. And they are very present in the church and Kingdom, as well. In some cultures (especially in highly churched cultures, such as the American south), pastors are particularly frequent recipients of the benefits of a shadow economy.We could think of this in a Jeff Foxworthy-style way: if any of the following have ever happened to you, you might be part of a shadow economy!If you have ever been given a car...If you've ever received some cash with the encouragement to take your wife out to dinner...If you have been given a gift (for Christmas, pastor appreciation Sunday, or some other occasion) that was collected from all or most of the congregation...If someone from the church has volunteered to clean your house/mow your lawn/etc....If you've been given bags or boxes full of clothes for your children......then you've received the benefits of a shadow economy in your church.Again, let me qualify: these are not wrong or illegal, and in almost every case you don't need to worry about reporting them on your taxes as income. (See this FAQ from the IRS on gifts.) If your church—or individual members in your congregation—are able to be generous with you as their pastor in one of these ways (or dozens of others), you should be thankful!Why bring it up? Because shadow economies can make a difference in how you understand your terms of call. I can think of at least four ways that this is true. All of these are real-life examples.Example 1Pastor Bill is paid $xx,xxx annually by his congregation in housing and salary. In most years, this is barely enough for Bill and his family to get by on, and money is fairly tight for them. However, there are a couple of families in their church that are always on the watch for extraordinary expenses for Pastor Bill, and who step up and help out when these show up.When Pastor Bill's wife delivered their baby, one of these families began to buy disposable diapers, wipes, and baby formula for Bill's family a couple of times a month. For the first couple of years of the baby's life, Pastor Bill never had to buy a single diaper or can of formula!In this case, the shadow economy served Pastor Bill in a very beneficial way, including saving hundreds (or probably thousands) of dollars in regular expenses because of the diapers, wipes, and formula.Example 2Pastor Joe is a minister for First Church, which pays him $xx,xxx annually in housing and salary. Much like Pastor Bill, Joe and his family find his salary enough—but barely so—and they are grateful that they, too, have a few families who are especially generous. In Joe's case, the elders at his church are attuned to his needs, and have given him very generous "bonuses" and other gifts through the years. In one case, they gave Joe $4,000 when the engine in his car needed to be replaced.Joe and his wife want to buy a house close to First Church, but the real estate there is not inexpensive. Though they have saved enough for a down-payment, and are confident that they could afford the monthly payment, Joe and his wife cannot qualify for a home loan because the bank sees the amount of income claimed on his taxes as risky. Yet[...]

Wacky Transition Stories #2


Sometimes the way a pastoral search unfolds is truly bizarre—for the candidate, for the search committee, for the congregation, or all of the above!

In this series, we're sharing stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"

So, here's Wacky Story #2, which came to us from a member of the search committee in this account...

The search committee for Covenant Church had been very efficient in their work, and within about four months had identified a strong candidate, who we'll call Fred, who they were prepared to present to the congregation. They invited him (and his wife) for a visit, and Fred spent about four days with the committee, the session, the diaconate, and the congregation. He got to know the church very well, and indicated to everyone his willingness to come serve them as pastor.

A week after his visit, the congregation held a meeting and voted with a very strong majority to extend Fred the call as their next senior pastor. The search committee chair communicated this to Fred, and they began to discuss his terms of call and the other logistics related to his call as their pastor. Once all of these were essentially settled (within about another week), Fred again indicated his interest but also stated that he wanted to pray about it with his wife, and seek the counsel of some others.

A week went by. Then another. A member of the search committee e-mailed Fred, who responded vaguely that he was still praying about it. Another couple of weeks passed.

Finally, the presbytery meeting where Fred's call as Covenant Church's new senior pastor would be approved was approaching. The search committee chair called Fred, who still maintained that he was prayerfully considering it. Fred told him that he would let them know what his decision was at the presbytery meeting.

The day of the presbytery meeting arrived, and Fred didn't even show up! The search committee chair called Fred from the presbytery meeting, and Fred said bluntly that he wasn't taking the call.

Needless to say, by this point the members of the search committee—and many of the members of the congregation—were having their own doubts about whether Fred was the right guy for them, as well. There was a certain amount of relief in the final conclusion of it, but it also led to doubts and some second-guessing for the next candidate (who did take the call).

* * * * *

Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at:

Reflecting on the basis of a call to ministry (or a lack thereof)


Mike Milton, who until recently was the Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), regularly writes very personal letters to the students of RTS; in June, he wrote this letter to pastoral students on the ground and basis of their calling and ministry. Dr. Milton writes:[Martin] Bucer teaches us that the warrant, the calling and the work of the pastor, must be grounded in the Word of God and in the theological commitments of the Reformation and must be embraced personally by the pastor. In other words, the pastoral ministry is not just a Biblical idea, though it must be that, it is also a Spirit-shaped reality in the soul of the one called to be a pastor.He also recounts a conversation before his own seminary training, in which a seasoned minister challenged him:You only have your call from God! When they give you a Christmas raise and then run you out on a rumor, when the devil stirs up opposition against you for the sake of Jesus, and when you are hurt like our Lord was hurt, you will only have one thing to help you pick up your things and move on to the next field of service. Do you know what that is?” I decided not to answer. “You know what it is? It is your calling from God.” We both stood there looking at each other without talking. This eternity lasted for about a minute. Then he laid down the hammer for the final time. “Son, are you called by God to be a pastor according to the Word of God?” I whispered that I thought I should go home and pray about that. Brothers, that is just what I did.(Read Dr. Milton's whole letter here.)Dr. Milton's words, quoted above and in the rest of his letter, are both profound and wise. When someone is called to the ministry, it is not on the basis of the approval of their congregation, the outward affirmation that they receive (or that they don't receive), or any other external measure that should be what "keeps them going" so to speak. It should be their unequivocal sense that shepherding the flock of God in his church is all that they can do—the only thing that they can do.This is why Charles Spurgeon frequently admonished his students that, if there was any other profession in which they felt they could be satisfied and content, they should run as fast as they could from pastoral ministry and do that! (See Spurgeon's Lectures To My Students.) It wasn't that Spurgeon didn't want more pastors coming into the church, but that he recognized that (in his day) the ministry was seen as a cushy and undemanding job, and maybe one in which someone who didn't want to work all that hard might find their ease.Still today, pastoral ministry is a job where a lazy man can find a decent paycheck without too much work. Now, let me be clear: it is not that it should be this way, but for some it is. I've known lazy pastors, who present a façade of busyness and activity while hiding in their studies or wandering around, whereabouts unknown. Their sermons were ill-prepared and poorly presented, their visitation (what little of it existed) was infrequent and filled with empty clichés, and they didn't know their sheep from the wolves among them. These men were more susceptible than most to failed marriages and to the temptations of pornography, plagiarism, and other scandals that eventually wreaked havoc in their congregations; while they usually didn't stay more than a year or two in any one congregation, they did great damage during their brief visit. Thankfully, most of the men I'm thinking of are no longer in the ministry.I think Dr. Milton's admonitions are invaluable today. I believe our day is more like Spurgeon's, in terms of many men attending seminary and dabbling at the possibility of a career in ministry, than most of us would like to admit.As I commented on in my recent post reflecting on the decrease in placement, I believe we can see the fruit of the problem I've listed a[...]

Good Search Committee Communication, part 2: starting commitments


In May we looked at why good communication from search committees matters so much. We're called to love our neighbors, and it's just the neighborly thing to do.How should a search committee communicate? Obviously it's going to be different along the various stages of the search process, but it starts with a fundamental commitment to doing it.Appoint a SecretaryIf you're going to communicate well, someone must take the leadership on your search committee to do so. I recommend appointing one person to be the secretary for the committee; this simply means that they are in charge of any and all communication (internally and externally) that the committee has need for. The secretary can (and should) take notes for each meeting (not necessarily minutes, but those aren't a bad idea either) and make a regular report to the session, board, or other primary leadership of the congregation.And the secretary should also be charged with the responsibility of communicating with each of the candidates that the committee interacts with. This sounds more daunting than it needs to be; as you will see, it can be fairly simple to do, even if there are a lot of candidates.It's not a bad idea for the secretary to have an e-mail address set up specifically for the search process. This can be done through the church's existing system (something like, for example) or you can opt to set up an address through G-Mail or one of the other free services. Having a separate e-mail address allows the secretary to compartmentalize the communications work for the search team, and also protects their personal e-mail address from getting added inadvertently to a mailing list. (Do this well before you begin receiving submissions of candidates' names, if possible.)Decide on a Timeline/ProcessEven though the secretary will be in charge of communications, the committee as a whole should decide on the timeline and process by which they will communicate. It is important that everyone on the committee be in on this discussion, both so that they can know how much each candidate should have been communicated with, and so that they can all be accountable for the quality of communication from their committee. If everyone was part of the decision, then no one gets to say down the line, "We should have communicated more with them than we did"—which is only ever divisive and accusatory.Be careful, as a committee, to find the right balance of communication. Too little, and you have failed in the process in an important way; too much, and you have overburdened the secretary and set him/her up for burn-out. I recommend that, in the early stages, communication occur roughly every 4–6 weeks, though it will need to steadily increase as time moves on. This is okay though, because as the search progresses there will be fewer and fewer candidates with whom the committee has to communicate.Thus, a good timeline and process might look like this:Stage 1: Beginning—in this stage you're still forming the search committee, gathering information from the congregation, and/or assembling the search profile information; if you receive any name submissions at this stage, it is easy enough for the secretary (or the chairperson, if a secretary has not yet been appointed) to acknowledge them immediately.Stage 2: Getting Started—here you are beginning to receive names of candidates, but have not eliminated any of them yet; this is one of the busiest stages, because you will receive so many names—but you still need to acknowledge their submission in a timely manner (probably at least within a week or so).Stage 3: Early Progress—now you have begun to eliminate some candidates and have "culled" the list for the first round; you should keep those candidates who are still "in the running" in the loop, at very least by a quick note to that effect.[...]

Transition survey


If you've read much of this blog, you may know that it all began (almost 10 years ago!) with reflections on an extensive research project, done in collaboration with staff and faculty from Covenant Theological Seminary, to survey seminary graduates about their experiences in the transition process.

We're doing another survey. And we need your help!

If you are a pastor in any church tradition, or of you are an elder (or a church leader that is the rough equivalent to a presbyterian elder), there are questions on this survey for you! Please fill out the survey and help us with our research.

(image) Oh, and we're doing a drawing of all of those who complete the survey for a $25 Visa gift card. If you want to win free cash, then fill out our survey!

Here's a link to the survey, which is online:

Thanks SO much for your help!

Book review: What Color Is Your Parachute?


In the early 1970s, Richard Bolles was an ordained minister who found himself without a placement. He began to find his own way (eventually leaving the ministry), but in the process realized that there were a number of other pastors who were in the same situation and didn't know how to find the next job, or make an effective career change. Over time, the book What Color Is Your Parachute? was the result of his thought and work in seeking to help these, and others, with career decisions.Interestingly, Bolles couldn't find a publisher for his book, so he self-published (which, in the 70s, was stigmatized with the reputation of amateurism and poor quality, if not pure arrogance—that's why they used to call self-publishing companies "vanity presses"). Today, I'm sure he is glad that he did: without a doubt, the industry and brand that has grown up with What Color Is Your Parachute? (which Bolles has updated and re-released on an annual basis) has done quite well for him.When I first began to learn about things like temperament and what professor (and Doulos Resources board member) Phil Douglass calls "discovering your Divine Design," I found it to be both fascinating and incredibly useful for pastoral transition. Richard Bolles was a pioneer in that category (though he doesn't rely heavily on temperament as Douglass's system does), and the book is chock-full of diagnostic exercises that will help anyone—pastor or otherwise—in discerning nuances and details about what sort of job(s) would fit them the best.Bolles walks the reader through a process of self-discovery that is not only revealing, but immensely encouraging to the reader. His former profession as a pastor comes through in his writing, and it is clear that he is aware (probably all too aware, both from his personal experiences in the 70s as well as from countless encounters with others since then) of how challenging a season of job transition is. Hardly a page can be turned before he is building the reader up with hope and anticipation about their next job opportunity.This can have a downside, as well: in today's job climate (very different from the context in which Bolles originally wrote in the early 70s), it is possible to over-encourage, to the point of building someone's hopes up in an unreasonable way. Good self-discovery and awareness of job fitness will not guarantee anyone a placement.But they will take you further than an absence of them will—and that ultimately is Bolles's point and goal in writing. If you take the time to work through What Color Is Your Parachute? and complete the exercises within it, you will have a clearer sense of who you are and what you bring to a job, as well as where your weaknesses lie and how you can work around them.Buy a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? from Amazon.[...]

Reflecting on the decrease in placement


Graduates of several seminaries—including Matt Seilback, who is a member of our Advisory Council—were recently featured in a video piece by PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. Here's the video: width='512' height='376' src='' frameborder='0' marginwidth='0' marginheight='0' scrolling='no' seamless>(If you're not the video-watching sort, you can read a transcript here.)The bottom line for everyone in the video is: the ratio of available candidates to available opportunities continues to be less favorable for candidates. (An argument could be made that a glut on the "market" of many qualified candidates is, in some ways, less favorable for churches seeking a pastor, as well.) Or at least, the number of seminary graduates that are finding placement into pastoral ministry is at a low—not an all-time low, as the video pointed out, but a low point nevertheless.One candidate, Brian Brown (a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary) comments at one point: "I was always thinking there’s going to be a job at the end of this, you know. That was the hope and that was—and that’s the desire. It’s still the desire." He later comments on how he is following a call from God, and that demands a certain faith and faithfulness. Another CTS grad, Allen Sipe, talks about how being a pastor isn't just what he does, but it's who he is.I think these are sentiments shared by most seminarians—certainly most of those who plan to become pastors (rather than matriculating from seminary into PhD study, say, or simply planning to re-enter the secular workforce). But clearly many otherwise called and qualified candidates are coming out of seminary and not finding a particular call to a ministry position. What can be done?If you've read much of what has been written on this blog, you will know that I/we believe strongly that simply "sending out resumes" is not enough. There is a certain work-ethic that must accompany any placement, and especially an effective one. And part of that work must include exercising one's network as much as possible. I continue to find that, more and more, the "network" of the Body of Christ is vital to the search and transition process, from both sides of the equation: more churches are simply not "casting a wide net" by using the various lists and services, but utilizing the network that they have to find candidates.(A disclaimer here: the PBS video presented many of the featured graduates as having "sent out a bunch of resumes" and did not represent any further efforts on their parts. I am in no way either assuming that this is all they did, nor trying to cast these folks as being to blame for the struggles they have each had to find placement. I do not know, nor can I know, what the reasons are for why they have not found placement; I assume that each of them has faithfully explored every possible avenue toward finding placement, and that for reasons that remain mysteries to us God has not seen fit to put them into a pastoral call.) Another change that I believe will be increasingly present in the climate of pastoral transition is the need for bi-vocational and non-traditional pastoral calls. While the traditional pastorate will prevail for the foreseeable future, I think it will continue to decline in frequency in lieu of more non-typical options. I already see and read about this occurring in church planting situations, especially outside of the denominational mainstream; I'm convinced that we will see it increase and expand into other areas of pastoral ministry, too. (I'm not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so don't stone me if I'm wrong!)Of course, one thing that is off the radar for many Christians—even seminary-trained ones—in the U.S. is that[...]

Wacky Transition Stories #1


Sometimes the way a pastoral search unfolds is truly bizarre—for the candidate, for the search committee, for the congregation, or all of the above!In this new series, we'll share stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"So, here's Wacky Story #1, which came to us from a ruling elder who served as the chair of the search committee in this account...Community Church in York, South Carolina is a small, 50-member congregation that has been around for a little over 60 years. Their pastor had received another call, so the congregation formed a search committee led by one of the elders (call him Joe). This committee was active and diligent in their work to evaluate candidates and begin the process of narrowing the list down to a few. Meanwhile, several qualified men in the region served Community Church in their weekly worship service by providing pulpit supply.One particular preacher, who we'll call Tom, became a regular; he was a seminary graduate with some ministry experience, and had been ordained by their presbytery; however, he was currently without a call, and was therefore available to come fill the pulpit for Community Church on a regular basis. Tom had a good rapport with the congregation in general, and had submitted his name to the search committee as a candidate to be the next pastor—but, for a variety of reasons, they had eliminated him fairly early on in the process. He took it well, and continued to serve them regularly in preaching.After several months of consideration, the search committee began to turn its attention to one candidate in particular, whom we will call Bill. They really liked the way Bill had answered his questionnaire, and when they did a phone interview it went really well. Bill and Joe had also had several phone conversations one-on-one, and a friendship had begun to form between them. After further consideration, the committee decided to invite Bill to spend a long weekend with them, interviewing, leading worship, and preaching.The interview weekend came, and Bill and his family arrived on Thursday night. They spent time with a wide variety of congregants, including a lengthy interview with the session (all of the elders together) and another extended conversation with some other leaders. Bill seemed at ease leading their worship service, and his sermon hit the mark pretty well. When Joe asked around, he couldn't find anyone who didn't seem favorable to Bill as their candidate—it looked like they had found their next pastor.The congregation was scheduled to meet and vote the following Sunday. The process was supposed to be simple: they would call to order, pass out ballots, and cast their votes. There would be a few minutes before the votes when they could have some discussion, if they needed it. Joe didn't think they would.So he was surprised when, after asking if there were any questions or discussion, someone stood up and asked, "Why didn't we consider Tom to be our next pastor?" Joe began to explain that Tom had, indeed, applied—and then another member cut him off angrily, saying, "How come you never told us that!?" The discussion quickly devolved into an emotion-filled, multi-sided debate: some wanted Tom and were angry that he wasn't the candidate; others didn't want Tom, but were still frustrated they didn't know he had been a candidate. Others didn't care about Tom a[...]

Was it an effective placement?


The church I'd been serving since late 2011 closed its doors almost exactly two years after I got here. Which means that we moved across the country (to Arizona), away from our families and all that we knew, and into a culture very different from anything we were familiar with—only to see the church close in just two years.

I've had others ask me if we regretted it. "Was it worth it?" they would say. I've asked the same question.

Those who have followed my paradigm of "effective placements" might similarly ask: "was it an effective placement?"

Let's get to the heart of these questions. When we ask things like this, what we really want to know is: how could God be pleased and well-served by a church closing?

The truth is, I don't know the answer to the "how" question; not exactly, anyway. But I do know the answer to a more objective question: WILL God be pleased and well-served by a church closing?


As I said, I don't know how He will serve His purposes through such an event. But I can imagine it will include some of these things:
The work of discipline in a family, where the husband had abandoned his wife and children.
The home visitation of an older couple, who reported that it was the first time ever that their pastor had been in their home.
The counseling of a member whose 20+ year struggle with self-doubt and spiritual confusion was eased, if only a little, through the course of multiple counseling sessions.
The introduction to many in the congregation of the importance and value of a richer, fuller worship service—that worship was more than "just" a sermon with some buffer activities around the margins.
The act of disciplining the spouse in another couple who was fleeing the marriage unbiblically.
The bedside care of several who were dying and in need of a pastor, and the subsequent funerals conducted for the sake of the grief of their families (and the congregation as a whole).
The ministry to a single mom who couldn't see her way forward, and who needed to be assured that the messes in her life were cared for by Jesus.
The care of a divorcée who struggled with learning to trust anyone again.
The mounting weekly benefits of the ministry of Word and Sacrament, including a handful of baptisms.
The conducting of several weddings, plus the pre-marital counseling that attended them.
The challenging, encouraging, training, and support of elders and deacons.

That was just during my tenure here—and I'm certain that more of the above (and other things too) occurred before my ministry began.

And that's just the things I know about. There are surely countless others that I do not know now, and may never know this side of glory.

Which is to say: I'm confident in this, above all else: this was an effective placement, because God used me as He would do and did much in our midst in spite of me. I served the "full term" of my ministry here, even though that term was briefer than I or anyone else thought or hoped it would be when I accepted the call.

That's all that I—or anyone called to ministry—can ask.

Good Search Committtee Communication, part 1: why it matters


A friend of mine is between positions in non-church jobs, and he had an interview a few weeks ago. The company he interviewed with met with him on a Tuesday, and they said at the end, “We’ll let you know what is next on Friday.” And that’s exactly what they did.To a pastor in transition, the above situation seems foreign, if not inconceivable. That’s because pastoral search committees, as a category, have a reputation for being fairly horrible at communicating with candidates. And I have yet to encounter or hear about one that defies this reputation consistently, if they have any kind of process in place at all.(This means that I don’t have any one particular church or experience—so no one should take this personally. Actually, scratch that;  everyone should. This is very personal, and not just to me: it is personal to every pastor who is in transition, along with their wives and families. It’s personal to the people on the search committee and reflective of their perception about just how important it is.)Search committees: this post (and this series) is for you.What’s going on with your candidatesBy a certain point in life, all of us have had job interviews. Some of them may have been more informal, while others required the greatest of poise and decorum. We heard back from some right away, while others made us wait.The point is: somewhere in everyone’s personal history, they know the mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges of having to wait to see whether this job will be the next one for us.Your candidates are going through this, too. Whether they are currently in another position as a pastor or associate/assistant pastor, without a call, or approaching graduation from seminary, they are wrestling with the same challenges.Only maybe a little more. The pastoral transition process takes longer, and in some ways is much harder, than the process of many other professions.The timeline of a pastoral transitionIn many secular professions (by which I mean simply, “not a profession working in ministry”), the timeline for a transition can be as simple as this:Professional feels it is time to move on from his/her current position, or is fired/laid off/“downsized"/let goProfessional contacts those who might help him/her find another position (recruiters, friends with similar positions in other companies, etc.) and asks for helpA new opportunity arisesProfessional submits his/her name for the new opportunityProfessional interviews for new opportunityProfessional is offered a position with new opportunity and decides whether or not to take it; ORProfessional is NOT offered a position with new opportunity, and explores other opportunitiesThis timeline can take a while—maybe a few months—or it can take as little as a few weeks. In rougher economic times, as we have seen in recent years, it can be trying and a much longer process. Often, though, professionals are able to make an effective transition to a new position within, say, 2–4 months of when they first decide that it is time to move on.Let’s assume the same starting-point for a pastor: he has determined that it is time for him to move on to another pastorate. What happens next?He will probably spend several months waiting for a position to come available that likely is a good fit. This is because the positions that are currently open are already well-along into the process of considering other candidates.He may submit his name for several positions as they come available, and will wait another month or two still. This is because church search committees typically receive between 50 and 150 applicants for [...]

Infographic on recruiting


Here's an infographic from the folks at Vibe—it details a few "secrets" from recruiters about how things go in the corporate world.

A few take-aways from this are helpful:
  • My guess is that the average time looking at a CV (or resume) spent by a search committee is slightly more than the 5–7 seconds listed above; however, I would guess, too, that it is not more than 30 seconds for the first time they look (in other words, if you don't make the first cut, that's all the time you may get).
  • A lot of this stuff has already been covered on this blog (see Removing pebbles from the path...); however, here's further verification that those warnings are true (at least in the world in general).
  • I still maintain that finding opportunities via networking is the best way to go—precisely because of the notions mentioned above.

Things NOT to do during transition: apply for every position


Long-time friend of Doulos Resources, Ginger Korljan, recently posted a link to a great article entitled, "5 Job Search Tactics You Should Stop Immediately" by Jenny Foss. (Read the whole article here.)There's a lot of good stuff to mine from this article; while it is obviously written for those working in a more corporate work environment, much of what is said applies to pastoral transition too (if indirectly). The one I want to focus on today is #2 on Foss's list: "Applying for jobs (blindly) when you're not an obvious on-paper match."I think this is one of the bigger problems that pastoral candidates (and, consequently, search committees) have to deal with. And I think that because, when I have interacted with search committees—and especially committee chairs—about this question, they often tell me so.Here's a typical scenario of what I mean: during a season in which I am candidating (such as right now!), I usually try to find potential opportunities through my network of contacts; invariably, though, I will see some on the various lists that are out there that appear to be intriguing at first glance. In these cases, my next step is to get in contact with the search committee chairperson: I want to find out if the position would be a strong potential fit for me and for them.Often, when explaining this reason for calling or e-mailing, the chairperson will first express gratitude, and then surprise. It seems that search committees receive a lot of resumes from candidates who, it seems to the chair, have never stopped to consider whether potential "fit" should influence the decision to submit their names for consideration! What happens when a candidate doesn't bother to consider fit? Wasted time: it wastes the candidate's time— because they've spent time writing an e-mail and attaching files, at minimum. In some cases, the work that goes into taking the first steps of submitting one's name are much more involved. If a candidate has so much spare time on his hands that this waste is not a big deal, there are still many better ways to spend it fruitfully toward an effective transition.And it wastes the committee's time— because now they have to consider this candidate's resume, discuss it, and take the time to respond (negatively). If it were once in a blue moon, that would be one thing; add three, four, a dozen, or more candidates who are poorly suited for position to the mix, and you have a recipe for a committee that is fatigued, discouraged, and disenchanted with the process on the front-end of it. (Oh, and by the way: if you think it's no big deal to discourage a search committee like this, you've just proven how poorly suited you are to be their pastor!)This is not to mention the wasted energy, emotional investment, and so on that inevitably results from every time you chip your name into the hat. It costs a lot to NOT consider fit!How should you go about determining "fit" and avoiding the blind mass-application? Here are few ideas...Don't worry about casting a wide net. Early on in my research on the topic of pastoral transition, I thought that guys who had not submitted their names to at least a dozen or more churches were either being lazy or settling too quickly. As I've studied this topic over the last decade, I've come to realize that this can also be the mark of a careful consideration of what a good "fit" looks like. (This doesn't mean that a candidate shouldn't think outside of the box in terms of what he really is fit to do; there's a difference.)Remember that fit-ness will ultimately determine the effectiveness of your future ministry. If this is so (and my research certainly has [...]

Another question for search committees


A long time ago, I wrote a post on "10 questions I would ask a search committee..." That post has been one of the most popular on this blog through the years (coming up on 10!).Here's a new one that I am definitely adding to the list: What is their view of church membership?This deserves some elaboration. Most people have some idea of what their expectations are regarding church membership—the degree of commitment, participation, responsibility, and so on that is to be expected of someone who joins the church as a member. And many people assume that everyone has roughly the same view as they do!This is a mistake. DO NOT assume this of the church you are interviewing with.My own view of church membership is a fairly high view; I believe strongly that commitment to, participation in, and accountability from the local church is an essential element of our spiritual health, and indeed our salvation. Like Cyprian (3rd century church father), I believe that "he cannot have God as his father who does not have the church as his mother." I think that the Bible declares—and orthodox believers through history have affirmed—that God uses his church so primarily for outreach and evangelism that, as one confession says, "there is no salvation apart from the church." I believe that a healthy and growing Christian will invariably have an active and committed presence in a local church. And I believe that, once someone has committed to a local church in membership, they should have very good and specific reasons to leave that congregation for another.Now, I'm not under any illusion that my view of church membership is the dominant view in our 21st century western church, or even within my denomination. But I learned in one congregation how I mustn't take for granted even the assumption that most (including fellow PCA members) are "pretty close" to the same view. I'll give you an example of how I learned this. I knew the pastor that preceded me at from seminary, and after I moved to town we had lunch a few times. In one of those times, we were talking about his ongoing sense of connection and affinity with the congregation, and I said, "I know you still think of yourself as a '[nickname for the church member].'" He looked at me with surprise and said emphatically, "I AM a [same nickname]!" Now, this conversation took place over a year and a half after that pastor had left the congregation; during that time, he had only returned once (during my installation, and at my request). Though he had been in contact with some members, and others had followed him to another congregation, his relationship with the church I now served had no ongoing formal or regular connection. And yet, he thought of himself as a part of that body in a form no different from how any other member thought of themselves.The analogy for how this pastor seemed to view his connection came to me later. I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1999, and in the 15 years since I have only been back on the campus twice. I haven't attended one of my alma mater's sporting events in over 20 years, though I occasionally watch them on television (maybe two or three a year); I do check the scores on a regular basis, but at best I could be described as a tepid fan. I am still in contact—through Facebook and Twitter—with a number of my classmates, but here again it has been years since I saw most of them face-to-face. Likewise, I occasionally read with interest some news about some aspect of the school's leadership, academic development, or other recognition. And yet, in my sense of self-identification with the univ[...]

Removing pebbles from the path…


My friend and collaborator, Adam, and I were talking the other day about the "pebbles in the path" that can trip up a search committee and make it easy for them to pass on a candidate. We both thought it was worth a blog post.When we think about these kinds of issues, we have to keep two things in mind: (1) while God looks at the heart, man often looks at appearances; this is not only a fact of life, it is a necessary reality in the search process (when search teams aren't yet able to know—much less consider—the heart of a candidate yet). And, (2), when you're a search team with 75, 100, 150, or more résumés in front of you, inevitably you will look for any and every reason to eliminate a candidate and move on to the next guy. This, too, is a cruel fact in the pastoral search process.So what are the pebbles that you can easily remove from your path? Any of these…A goofy picture of you (or of something else) on your social media pageMisspelled words in your information packetAn e-mail address that suggests you don't take yourself seriouslyNot bothering to get the addressee information right (wrong or misspelled name, etc.)Evidence that you copied and pasted the e-mail/cover letter/other materialObvious grammatical mistakesUsing Comic Sans, Papyrus, or other "casual" style font/typeface on your documents…and a world of other possibilities. These are so easy—yet, they are so easily and frequently overlooked. I see résumés and other materials regularly that make me wonder, "Did they even bother to proofread this?" And I get connections from would-be candidates ("would-be" because no search committee has advanced them beyond the initial stages) on Facebook with ridiculous pictures on their profile. When I was teaching in seminary, I had a student who's e-mail address was something like "packer-fan@…" That was 11 years ago, and that former student is now a lawyer. I can still reach him via "packer-fan" but now he also has an address with his name and nothing cute as his main contact. He grew up, and it shows.So what should you do? How do you "clean it up" and get things in proper order?Some of these deserve their own post (I'll probably do something like "Facebook for Pastors" down the line). But some of them are simple.Set up (or just start using) an e-mail address that shows you are serious—and that you take yourself seriously enough to be their pastor. You don't have to register a special domain; Gmail or Yahoo are fine. But avoid stuff like "WonderBob@gmail…" or "wildcats_rule@yahoo…" These were fine in college. Now it's time to move on. Check over your social media profiles. Make sure that your profile pictures are you, or at least you with others—take down the pic of the sports team logo, the cartoon character, or that funny mash-up your friend did where he pasted your face onto Richard Simmons' head. (You can leave these in your photos, if you want, but just not as your profile picture.) And make sure that your other information is accurate and, again, taking seriously the fact that people are going to be measuring your potential as their future pastor, in part from what they see on Facebook (and Twitter, and LinkedIn, etc.).Use a traditional serifed font. Sure, Times New Roman is a bit dull, and you're probably tired of looking at it after all of the papers you've typed. But there are many great traditional typefaces that are quite beautiful and functional at the same time: Garamond, Minion Pro, Georgia, Goudy Old Style, and Baskerville are all great alternatives to Micro[...]

Where "vision" fits into transition


[Super-brief preamble: this blog has been "dark" for over two years—that is, no new posts since sometime in mid-2011. I aim to change that in the coming months, starting today, and return to regular blogging on transition.]I recently blogged (on my other blog) about what happened in the church I most recently served in Arizona. One of the things that "happened"—or rather, didn't happen—was the articulation of vision.As I laid out in that post, and won't re-cover in the same detail here, my first and biggest mistake in how I served that church was related to vision. In the case of Dove Mountain Church, they didn't have a clear vision which the congregation was united behind. This was evident in the early phone interviews (honest hems and haws in response to questions about vision), and it was clear when I visited for my interview weekend. Both in the phone interviews and during a congregation-wide Q&A time over my weekend visit, I was asked point-blank: "What would your vision for our congregation be, should we call you as our pastor?"Candidate-Pastors, when you hear this question or something like it, you must discern which of the following you are dealing with:Do they have a vision of their own, and they are seeking congruence and compatibility? ORDo they have NO vision, and they are relying on you to bring it?If the former, then your work is clear: you need to ascertain what their vision is, and decide whether YOU believe that your own vision is a good fit. A good search team is doing the same, and if you and they all agree that your vision is compatible with theirs, you'll be off on the right foot.If the latter—and they lack a clear vision—your work is also clear: you must state YOUR vision clearly, succinctly, and in a way that can be easily conveyed to others in their congregation. In this case, you are effectively asking them to buy into your vision as part of the process of calling you to be their pastor. (This, in addition to the other things they are committing to in calling you—but that's material for a future post.)So what is a vision? What are they looking for in asking the question I was asked?A vision is a simple declaration of where we are going, why we're going there, and what we're going to do when we get there. Or you could think of it as stating who we are and who we want to be. This is where my trouble arose: in response to the question above, I said, "I won't know that until I get here and discern what this congregation's vision is."That's an acceptable answer IF the congregation already has a vision. If they know who they are and where they want to go, then it is perfectly fine to say, "I'm comfortable leading you into the greater fulfillment of your existing vision." Be sure, however, that you understand very clearly what their vision is, and that it is truly the vision that the whole congregation shares. It's still probably better if you can show them your own vision (in your own words) and help them to see how they are two different statements saying basically the same thing; in that case, you can determine how clearly the existing vision is understood by people on the search team, in the leadership, and in the congregation as a whole. But if they don't have a vision—or, worse yet, they have a vision that only part of the congregation has committed to—then you absolutely must state your vision for church ministry. Do so uncompromisingly; be crystal clear that this is what you believe God has called you to do in His church. (Be flexible with the wording, of course, bu[...]

On aging and succession planning in ministry


I pointed out Collin Hansen's great article on the Gospel Coalition website about succession planning last month. Hansen has posted on the topic again, this time with a video of three significant men in evangelical ministry today -- Tim Keller, Don Carson, and John Piper -- discussing aging and how is has impacted their own thoughts about succession planning.Congregations: do you have an aging pastor? Has your leadership had frank discussions with him about how he (and they) are planning together for how this will inevitably take place? I would strongly urge pastors (especially aging pastors) to watch this video together with their leadership as a discussion-starter for this needed conversation. Piper Talks with Carson, Keller About Succession Plans at Bethlehem from The Gospel Coalition What’s going on here?Some of your technology may be out of date, and this video may not play properly.Try Anyway Piper Talks with Carson, Keller About Succession Plans at Bethlehem from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.HT to Collin Hansen; read his observations about the video here.[...]

Moving far from home, part 3


I've been doing a short series on the difficulties of moving far from "home" and family, and how some have dealt with it. (Read part one and part two.)

Back to my friend "Brian" who lives in Colorado, and his family is in South Carolina. Here's another observation Brian had, this time about his children's relationship with their grandparents.

Brian has several children, so naturally his parents (and his wife's parents) try to come visit as often as they can. Brian's wife has a sister who still lives in their hometown, so there's an interesting contrast between how Brian's mother-in-law and father-in-law relate to his children in comparison to his nieces and nephews.

Here's what Brian has noticed: his in-laws are a part of the "regular life" of his nieces and nephews. Because they live in the same town, the in-laws can attend school functions, recitals, etc., and see the kids on a regular basis. At the same time, the nature of "regular life" is such that they rarely get extended, uninterrupted time with their grandchildren.

On the other hand, when the in-laws come out Brian's way, they have regularly kept the kids home from school, and Brian has taken a few vacation days. Brian's family gives their undivided attention to his in-laws, as much as possible.

The contrast is significant. In a recent conversation with his mother-in-law, Brian and his wife learned that they (his in-laws) feel like they know Brian's children better, and that the children know them better, than their other grandchildren-- because Brian and his family live far away.

Obviously this would not be the case if Brian's in-laws were unable (because of schedule, money, health, etc.) to travel the great distance to see Brian's family. But since they are, in their case at least this is a surprising answer to what is surely a great concern for many.

For All the Saints endorsement/review


My fellow PCA pastor Ron Steel was kind enough to send me this warm review/endorsement for my little book, For All the Saints: praying for the church.

Ed Eubanks is wise to tremble, as he says, at the prospect of writing a book on prayer, but I am glad that the women’s prayer ministry at his church in western Tennessee prevailed upon him to set aside his understandable timidity and write this practical little treatise on praying for the church. The topics covered in the space of just 88 pages range widely over a number of arenas needing focused intercession from “all the saints”. Prayer in behalf of Christ’s church is both our great privilege and the source of spiritual power in being and doing all that our Sovereign Lord has designed and destined the church to be and do. Some of these areas of focus in prayer include unity, the ministry of Word and Sacrament, church discipline and restoration, fellowship and growth, the lost, renewal and revival, suffering, church leadership and the return of Christ. The section at the end of each chapter called “prayer summary” is worth the price of the book. Together these sections compose an impressive prayer list for those committed to upholding their church in prayer. Few have been able to compose something on prayer that is sensitive to the theology of prayer while being intensely practical in providing specific guidance in what to pray. Many will find, as I have, this little book to be large in usefulness."
Ronald Steel
recently Senior Pastor of Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church, Ballwin, Missouri.

Thanks Ron!

Challenging the conventional wisdom on Ministerial Calls


Carl Trueman posted a couple of shorter pieces on the Reformation 21 blog back in June (Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls part one and part two), in which he challenged our usual approach and practice to identifying a "pastoral call" in candidates and churches.

Trueman observes that the practice often is in conflict with similar practices in other parts of our congregational life:

I have often wondered why it is in Presbyterian circles (and probably other churches too) that we routinely call men in their twenties, straight from seminary, to be ministers when we would never dream of calling someone of such an age to be a ruling elder. It seems odd to apply the biblical norms only to the latter.

I think he is more right than wrong here. I know at Covenant Seminary, where I studied, there is a requirement that a man must have at least three years of pastoral ministry behind him before beginning a Doctor of Ministry program; I have wondered why a similar requirement is not made for those who would enter the ministry. Why not at least one or the other of the following: either several years of work experience in secular employment, or several years of ministry experience as an intern, pastoral assistant, or non-ordained ministry position?

Trueman goes on to point out that, too often, churches and presbyteries simply rely on seminaries to do their jobs for them, with regard to determining whether a man is fit for ministry. If they have completed seminary, the conventional wisdom goes, they must have some "chops" that make them suitable as a pastor. He makes the following point about that:

What is needed is a clear understanding that seminaries are not presbyteries: they do not make any judgment on suitability for ministry; they simply teach the necessary technical theological skills at the appropriate level.

He concludes with a poignant reminder about achievement and potential vs. fitness and qualification for ministry:

An MDiv degree, a congregational vote, an `internal call' and an act of presbytery do not mean that a man is really called by God to be a minister.

This is much-needed re-thinking. I know that our presbytery has ordained men on these bases, when in fact several of us have had serious questions about whether they were truly ready to serve the church as pastors-- or whether we were setting them up (and their congregations as well) for potential devastation.

Read all of the posts here:
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls I
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls II

Moving far from home, part 2


At our recent General Assembly I spoke with several friends who had moved a long way from "home" and family, and gleaned some interesting comments and reflections on their experiences. (Read part one here.)

Now let's consider a comment from "John" whose family is from Alabama, and who is now a pastor in California. Here's what John said:

"The best advice I received was from [a seminary professor] who said, 'you just need to negotiate into your terms of call that they will fly your whole family home once a year.' So we did-- and now there's a line-item in the church budget for $2,500 of airfare for my whole family to fly back!"

This is a great idea. Airfare is expensive enough for one or two, but John and his wife have several children. For most pastors, the cost would simply be prohibitive to think of paying for that every year, or even every other year. Or at very least, it might keep them from being able to afford other vacation time, as a couple or as a family.

With John's arrangement, however, they are free to simply not worry about the biggest part of the costs of visiting family. The first year they were there, John and his family flew back to Alabama around Christmas-- about six months after they had moved. Surely this was a great comfort, both to John's family and to their extended families.

The upside of this, among other things, is that the burden of traveling expenses is carried by neither John's family nor their parents or siblings. It's easy to think that extended family might simply travel out to see them in California, but that can get costly too (even if it is only one set of parents, with airfare for only two instead of five or six). This solution tempers that problem, at least a bit.

The downside, obviously, is that this represents a substantial financial commitment for the congregation. Some congregations may not be able to afford it. Others, while sympathetic, may not be willing to make such a large investment. (I would counter the latter, however, by pointing back to Brian's comment about how hard the decision can be to move so far from family, and suggesting that an unwilling approach in the short term may have unfavorable consequences in the longer term.)

On effective succession planning in pastoral ministry


The question of effective succession planning in the church is a vital one, and yet it is usually one of the topics that a congregation-- even the leadership-- most often neglects and ignores.

Churches seem to settle quickly into the assumption that, now that they have a pastor, he's there for good! And some great churches have seen devastating results as a consequence of that neglect. On the other hand, the exceptions prove the rule here; think about the congregations (or even large ministries) that you know of that have had a strong, capable leader follow another, and go on to advance the existing ministry even further than their predecessor did. I can count on one hand those that come to my mind.

That's one reason why this Gospel Coalition article from Collin Hansen, "Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession," is so valuable.

Hansen holds out Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan as a current example of effective succession planning. Few churches in our day have ministries as strong and with as great an impact as Redeemer, and few pastors are as recognizable as Keller. Yet Keller and the leadership of Redeemer have put in place a succession plan that spans the next 10 years, and surely lays a foundation for the future leaders to build upon. Hansen comments:

The succession plan corresponds with a larger ministry reorientation for Redeemer. For about 20 years, Redeemer grew as members invited their friends to hear the exceptional music and Keller’s compelling sermons. Without Keller as a draw, however, the church’s strategy will need to change. Church leaders and members will need to become more missional.

Hansen goes on to consider several other prominent examples, all learning from the foibles of others in church history who, great though the leaders were, failed to adequately consider the need for a strong succession plan.

Hansen concludes:

Succession isn’t simple. It isn’t smooth. It’s not often successful. Yet it’s a matter of gospel integrity. God doesn’t promise our churches will evermore yield wide influence through a preacher’s exceptional leadership. Surely, however, we can testify to his steadfast love by making more of Jesus Christ than ourselves. And that means planning ahead for generations who will never hear the great preacher’s voice.

Read the whole article here.