Just as a pendulum swings in opposite directions, pastor search committees often choose a new pastor in response to the perceived weaknesses of their previous pastor. If the last pastor were weak in a particular area of ministry (such as outreach or preaching), the pastor search committee would look for someone much stronger in those areas. I call this the Pastor Search Pendulum Swing.
The Pastor Search Pendulum Swing is not always a negative phenomenon. Every pastor has strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes a change of ministry focus is needed. However, problems arise when a pastor search committee reduces their search to a single characteristic or trait.
When this happens, the search committee may inadvertently shoot themselves in the foot by overlooking other significant issues observed in potential candidates. They’re tempted to ignore red flags because a candidate is strong in an area where the previous pastor was weak. The result is that the pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction, and the church often suffers for it.
Here are five common scenarios when a search committee may implement a Pastor Search Pendulum Swing. Please note that while these are hypothetical scenarios, many churches experience them regularly.
- Evangelistic Pendulum Swing. The previous pastor did not champion evangelism. At the end of his sermons, he never gave an evangelistic invitation, and the church rarely baptized anyone. As a result, the search team chose to look for a new pastor who focused almost solely on evangelism. However, they failed to consider that most of the new pastor’s sermons sound the same or that he tends to avoid conducting hospital visits – both of which place him at odds with many church members.
- Pastoral Care Pendulum Swing. The previous pastor rarely made hospital visits, even when church members were facing major surgeries. This omission of pastoral responsibility frustrated the church. Therefore, the search committee called a pastor who was comfortable primarily serving in a chaplaincy role. Unfortunately, they were willing to overlook the fact he had a history of indecisive leadership or that his theological convictions were much different from the church. They were just happy that their pastor loved them and would visit them often.
- Preaching Pendulum Swing. The previous pastor’s sermons may have been shallow or hard to follow. He never used an outline, and his messages had little to do with the biblical text. He seemed to preach his opinion more than the Bible. Therefore, the search committee decided to call a pastor who spent most of his time in his study to preach well-researched and well-crafted sermons. However, he never had time to develop relationships in the congregation or the community. He seemed distant from everyone, and he came across as cold and unloving.
- Personality Pendulum Swing. The previous pastor was an introvert who despised small talk. He would much rather walk out of his office at the beginning of the service and step back in as soon as the service was over. When he resigned, the committee wanted a pastor with an outgoing personality, and that’s exactly who they found. Everyone knew it when the new pastor walked into the room. However, the committee didn’t take the time to consider the fact that he had trouble listening during the interview process. He enjoyed hearing himself talk, but not others. He often cut others off mid-sentence. After his arrival as the new pastor, it doesn’t take long for the congregation to grow tired of his inability to shut up and listen occasionally.
- Family Involvement Pendulum Swing. The church was sad when their previous pastor resigned. However, they were excited about the future because the former pastor’s wife rarely participated in church activities, and they wanted an active pastor’s wife. During the interview process, their new pastor commented that his wife would be highly involved. The committee was satisfied with his response. They did not ask for elaboration during the interview, but they soon learned that the new pastor’s wife liked to be in control. She quickly took over several ministries without permission, causing many church members to become upset. Some ended up leaving the church as a result.
Every pastor has strengths and weaknesses. So does every church. There may be times when a previous pastor was weak in some areas that caused problems for the church. In those situations, the search committee needs to search for a pastor who is stronger in those areas. There’s nothing wrong with doing so.
However, if you’re serving on a pastor search committee, don’t swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Remember that every potential pastor has both strengths and weaknesses. If a pastor candidate is strong in an area where your previous pastor was weak, don’t allow that to be the only criterion up for consideration. Don’t overlook other issues. Don’t ignore red flags. Do your due diligence, examining any candidate’s overall fit with your congregation. It may cause you to pass on some pastor candidates and make the search take longer than you’d prefer, but you will save yourself and the church a lot of problems in the long run.