By Marion Aldridge
What kind of congregation do you want? That query precedes the probe into the kind of person you want as pastor.
For 15 years I trained churches and their pastor search committees. In recent months, I have begun to wonder whether congregations first ought to create a “church search committee.”
Nowadays, I see a lot of confused churches. They don’t know who they are. Confused congregations often call confused pastors. That is a disaster.
Or, just as bad, confused congregations call an unconfused pastor who is blind-sided by discovering the church is mixed up about its own identity. One pastor told me he knew he was in trouble on the day of his installation when he was being introduced. The pastor search committee introduced someone, but he was not that person. Big mistake!
Once upon a time in the Great Southland, congregations within a denomination were more or less homogeneous. In the latter half of the 20th century, that began to change.
Theologically, the Southern Baptist Convention debated, then split over issues such as:
• The role of women in the church.
• The authority of the pastor.
• Whether or not the world was created in a literal seven-day period, 168 hours.
Presbyterians and other denominations are having similar skirmishes even though the details of the conflict may be different.
A moderate congregation that empowers women is not the same as a fundamentalist church in which women are kept out of leadership. Even within the same denomination, congregations can be as different as a Catholic church and a Methodist church. What kind of church your congregation is or wants to be should determine what kind of pastor you call.
The same is true on a dozen other fronts.
• Do you want a congregation that is contemporary or liturgical in worship style?
• Do you want a big congregation or a small one? Some people say they want their church to grow. Yet people who enjoy the intimacy of a “family size” church leave when their congregation gets larger, when they no longer know all the people or when they begin to lose some of the power they enjoyed.
Your fantasy church may not exist. Some people want a church full of young families just like their congregation had in the 1950s. The only problem with that (and this thought is not original with me) is that not many 1950s families still exist.
Maybe congregations need a “church search committee” to see what kind of churches are out there. Then they can call a pastor with the gifts, temperament and theology to help them move in that direction.