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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why Would a Church Hire Losers?

LoserHere's an article that might ruffle some feathers, but I think we can all relate because we've seen it happen to people we know and think to ourselves, "What was that church thinking?!"  It all goes back to a question I hear all the time, "why do churches hire the way they do?"  And it's a logical question to ask, because so many churches hire so poorly.

Ken Johnson, a church consultant, writes this over at ChurchCentral.com.  (Check out all the great articles and resources over at CC... it's worth the bookmark!)  Ken writes:

I worked with three pastors whose churches declined in attendance, giving and membership during their tenure as leader. Then, all three pastors accepted positions at larger churches. Why would a church look at a ministry history of decline and hire a loser?

The dictator

The first pastor led a mainline church in the suburbs of a major city. This pastor began his tenure with 1,350 members. In 13 years he "grew" the church down to 650 members, then moved on to a church with 2,000 members.

Generally speaking, pastors "grow" a church down to a size that fits their capabilities. In this pastor’s case the church would have had to downsize to zero before it would have been small enough for him to manage.

I worked with this pastor for two years and found him to be an abusive leader. He was a dictator. If you didn’t do what he wanted you were in trouble, and since he didn’t know what he wanted, you were always in trouble.

I found it difficult never knowing where I or anyone else stood with him at any time. The church went through countless staff people in his 13 years, and the leadership obviously didn’t think anything about it.

The agent of change

The second pastor was at a church that I used for a consultant training class. This was a mainline church right in the heart of a major city. In the seven years he was at this church he "grew" it from approximately 400 members to around 250—not earth-shattering numbers, but still not growth or even a plateau.

In all honesty, I hoped that this pastor would learn how to lead a church of this size and stay, but he, too, felt a call to another church. The church he went to is larger than the one he left.

I really enjoyed working with this pastor. He was very personable, a strong evangelical Christian with a passionate desire to build the church, but he came to a church that was already on its way down. This church had major problems with an old line membership that "had done it this way for years" and they weren’t about to change. This pastor could never break through their cultural facade and was never able to add enough new people to change the culture, so away he went. Someone new will have to come in and try to make those changes.

I feel like this pastor has an opportunity to be the leader that he is meant to be at his new church. He really has the understanding to do what needs to be done, but will need to be dealt a better hand than he had at the former church.

The abuser

The third pastor I mentioned worked in a mainline church that had a change of culture in its immediate neighborhood during his tenure. This did create some problems, but his dictatorial leadership style will hinder him wherever he goes. In his seven years he "grew" the church from 250 to 165.

I consulted with this church on their sound system and reconfiguring their platform. The pastor told me that I wouldn’t be able to do anything with the sound system because of the sanctuary configuration. The sound system was actually quite simple to fix and they currently have a sound system where everyone can hear—what a unique experience. Incidentally, the pastor never told me thank you or acknowledged that the new sound system made any difference.

Not too many months before he resigned he told the music director that he felt like he had tried everything "in his bag of tricks" and if the last thing, "The Purpose Driven Life," didn’t work, then it was time to go.

That’s interesting. Sometimes we use our "bag of tricks" and God doesn’t fit into the equation. God definitely wasn’t a part of this pastor’s attempts to revive the church. Maybe if God had been included, things would have been different.

This pastor is definitely an abusive leader who didn’t care what he said or did to anyone. There were a few people who he treated with a little "respect"—the people who gave the big bucks. The pastor and these other people treated the staff with total disrespect, but if one of the staff said or did anything against any of those people they were in big trouble with the pastor.

I am already feeling sorry for those churches who hired the first and third pastors. They are in for many years of torture and decline in membership. As far as the second pastor, I am praying that he will be able to overcome any of his difficulties with the size of church and become a successful pastor of a larger church.

Why hire a loser?

Why would a church hire a pastor who had literally killed his most recent church? Maybe the pastor is a good interviewer, maybe even a good liar. But any church can research what happened at a ministry applicant’s previous church. Maybe he convinced the new church that the other church’s slow death was not his fault. Who knows? Maybe the question to ask is not about the character of the former congregation but about the character of the pastor.

In his book "Breakout Churches," Thom Rainer writes that the temperament of the pastor is one reason that many churches become great. He writes that the pastors of all 13 breakout churches were humble. These pastors didn’t allow people to walk all over them, but they were humble. What a unique idea.

Two of the three pastors identified above have no idea what being humble means, so it won’t make a difference where they go.

What about you? Are you a dictator in your leadership? Or are you humble? Do you encourage people or do you lord your authority over them? Are you including God in your plans for the congregation?

Your thoughts?


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March 15, 2006 in Personnel Issues | Permalink

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Hey, I don't want to stand up for pastors just because I am one, but why no articles about congregations that are losers! :-)

Ok, now that, that is off my chest. The points are good and Pastors need to remember that they are God’s messenger, not policemen! They have a heavy burden to maintain the highest integrity in teaching and lifestyle, show the greatest love they can, and move the church in the direction the Holy Spirit calls. Each of these areas demand an extreme dependence on the Holy Spirit and a great deal of confidence in his leadership team (i.e. board or staff). A great deal of conflicts and their solutions boils down to the ability to develop and maintain relationships. Unfortunately, while many pastors might be excellent in the pulpit they are terrible in the foyer. I believe good training here is a must for up and coming individuals who want to enter the ministry.


Posted by: Pastor Al | Mar 15, 2006 1:38:41 PM

A number of years ago (20+?) I read one of Tony Campolo's books in which he told the story of a veteran pastor. After a year in his new position with a church, a friend asked him how it was going. The pastor replied, "I preached that church down to four people...and now we're building it back up again!" Like Al suggested, sometimes it's the congregation that's filled with "losers." And sometimes, decline is necessary...or at least not indicative of a "loser" pastor. I would hope that in the process of hiring a new pastor, a church will be able to discern the most significant factors in the previous church's growth or decline.

By the way, in all three examples in the article, the churches are described as "mainline". In some mainline denominations, the church itself has very little say in who the pastor is. I interviewed for a business position at a United Methodist church and was told that that denomination generally moves pastors around every couple of years (with a few exceptions for "exceptional" pastors in "flagship" churches).

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 15, 2006 2:01:08 PM

Mainline can also mean an outdated membership list. A church i know has 950 members but only 120 on a Sunday service. Many of hte "members have moved away over twenty years ago. I have also seen some abusive pastors who through conflict have seen drastic declines. After leaving to go to a "more receptive church" the conflict and decline happens there. I would rather look at attendance than membership to see growth.

Posted by: Bart | Mar 15, 2006 2:25:46 PM

I'm proud to say that I'm the most humble man alive!


Seriously, the humility thing is worth pursuing. And I mean puruing. It doesn't come nataural for those of us who are in the "limelight". I try and always remember that I'm a servant, or else I'm not a leader... I'm blessed to have others around me who are quick to remind me of that, too.


Posted by: Peter Hamm | Mar 15, 2006 2:43:31 PM

My husband and I grew up in different denominations. Our families were both heavily involved in church leadership all those years. Speaking here from that regard: Growing up, we each saw many pastors come in and out. What fascinates me is the whys and the hows. I can remember times when my father was asked to be on the pastor search committee and when he was asked to be the one to let a pastor go. Sometimes the very pastor involved in both. My husband remembers how pastors made their "rotations" through their church. He recalls one particular pastor who the church had to get permission from the hierachy of said denomination in-order for this pastor to stay longer.

In our adult years, we have known our fair share of pastors again. This time of course in the same denomination. I must admit - I still am fascinated as to the hows and whys. What makes this even moreso interesting is the fact that we are in vocational ministry as well. Talk about both sides of the coin.

I can share that God used the pastor of the last church we were members of to speak to us directly. The pastor of the church we are members of now has given us the wings to fly. These pastors are completely different with the exception of one thing: their love for God. Would others speak so highly of either or both of these men? Both men have people who would say they need to leave the church - their time there is finished. Of course, they also have people who think just the opposite.

Oh. I have been witness to the reconcilation of pastors with their former members and precious friendships happen as a result. Nothing is impossible with God.

Okay. Possibly strayed from the topic at hand. Does that make me a loser?

Posted by: Camey | Mar 15, 2006 2:57:30 PM

I think there are several things that can turn a pastor from a "good" leader to a "bad" leader.

One, has already been said, loser congregations. It only takes a few times being bitten before you stop doing what you were doing; even if it is the right thing to do. Also being a pastor is like being eaten alive by minnows. It is just one small bite after another.

Second, pastoring is a very lonely occupation. In a denominational setting, you can't trust other pastor's because of the political scene. Sometimes you are the only pastor for miles. Not to mention the busyness of the schedule.

Third, there is tremendous pressure to grow. Sometimes, really, no matter what you do, things won't grow. People are resistent to change, many are resistent to growth.

Just my thoughts.

Posted by: eric | Mar 15, 2006 3:07:25 PM

Very thought provoking stories. Normally pastors are hired by people with little or no history of hiring. And then do not place a reasonable structure in order to grow or develop reliable criteria for evaluation of a person's performance. Peter Drucker who knew something about organizations and mentoring said that the least reliable part of an organization is its hiring capacity.

I think pastors and church matching is a challenge and needs spiritual insight and common sense. Some combinations are just bad matches. Not necessarily "loser" pastor or "loser" congregations. We are all "losers" that why we needed a Savior.

May we be cloaked in his grace.

Posted by: Aaron | Mar 15, 2006 3:23:40 PM

I think churches do not spend enough time in the interview process, and they should have someone who knows what they are doing advising them. Back ground checks as well need to be more specific, in actually calling the refrences and as for more from the references.

Posted by: Jade | Mar 15, 2006 3:58:04 PM

Aaron nailed one big problem area: "Normally pastors are hired by people with little or no history of hiring." Is anyone aware of GOOD research on and resources for pastoral transitions? Seems to me that there ought to be a well-done training period for the search committees, with lots of consulting from denominational leaders, people who have been through the process, HR execs, etc. (Hmmm...maybe room for MMI to provide a service?!)

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 15, 2006 4:05:30 PM


Man this statement of yours really hit home.

"Second, pastoring is a very lonely occupation. In a denominational setting, you can't trust other pastor's because of the political scene."

My first church was in a denomination where this was so prevalent I almost left the ministry. I finally realized that God was calling me to start an independent work. I moved on after two years and have never looked back.

I am not suggesting that belonging to a denomination is in any sense evil or wrong. Nor am I suggesting that pastors who stay within them are somehow compromising... not at all, I am just saying God had other plans for me.

By the way, God will provide what we need and has placed individuals in my life who challenge, love and pray for me.


Posted by: Pastor Al | Mar 15, 2006 4:07:34 PM

I wonder if Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John would be considered losers (in some respects) by the author, church interviewing boards and research teams???

Seriously think through some of the things they said and did. Many churches today would consider at least some of their actions and beliefs as abusive and dictating.

Posted by: BeHim | Mar 15, 2006 4:12:59 PM


I heard a while back where someone had created a 20th century Resume of the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul and then mailed it to churched needing a pastor. Some of the responses he got were amazing. Bottom line... no one hired him!

Anyone remember who that individual was who did this?


Posted by: Pastor Al | Mar 15, 2006 4:19:59 PM

"being eaten alive by minnows...." True, been there.

I've also seen hiring done by "inexperienced people who have really sought the Lord on the issue and siring done by "qualified" individuals who had no clue about what calling and ministry really mean...

In the end, we must ultimately trust God's voice as He speaks to us, and learn to avoid the sharks that wear minnow masks. I wish I knew a shortcut to that discernment, I'd write a book, start a seminar and have my own TV ministry and amusement park...

Posted by: Jeff | Mar 15, 2006 4:42:11 PM

Well. It's like this... I am biting my tounge and I am holding onto my composure here. While I post this comment.

1. Good question.

2. Don't know!

3. This use to baffle my brain and get me upset.

4. This sort of thing don't bother me anymore.

5. I now pray,pray,pray and pray about. I pray that God will send men after his own heart and place them in the pulpit.

6. I allow God to speak me to me about this after I talk to him about this. He impressed it upon my heart about this... Remember the story of Saul, before he beame king of Israel. Remember how concerned Samuel was and how depreseed he got, (I believe we can relate with him huh.) God told him to snap out of it, because they have not rejected Samuel, but they have REJECTED ME AS THEIR KING OVER THEM... Well, you could say that Israel wanted to keep up with the Kings', ha,ha... That my friend's is why our Churches fail to call the right man..
He's got to be pretty..........
He's got to be built..........
He's got to have plaques, awards, Yale, Harvard, graduated from 2-3 different seminaries, have a AD,BA,CD,HD,PHD,and all the other D's...
I am not mad, jealous, or anything else like that. No why, because I have finally figured out where God wants me. Sowing that seed to the lost ones on the streets and everywhere else. Everywhere I go, I am a Pastor,Preacher, Deacon, youth pastor, evangelist, a teacher, and an example of Jesus Christ. Not a good one at times, but I am an example...

Finally word... God told me that he sees all, knows all, and he will deal with them all and for me to keep my big nose out of it, and keep on keep on... GIT R DONE.........

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Mar 15, 2006 9:06:39 PM

BeHim writes... "I wonder if Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John would be considered losers (in some respects) by the author, church interviewing boards and research teams???"

I know there's no way would they get hired.

Jesus couldn't work well with the religious establishment and was always offending them - plus he took days off with no notice all the time, Paul ticked people off everywhere he went and held grudges against those who left him in ministry, and James and John might've had tempers worse than mine, with the whole calling fire down from heaven thing. Plus, James and John were only after position, they just wanted to be the top guys, so maybe they didn't understand "servant leadership."

Oops I bit my tongue it was so far in my cheek! Or was it...

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Mar 17, 2006 7:32:38 AM

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