Pastor Search

Why Does It Take So Long to Call a New Pastor?

12-18 months. 

That’s how long it takes for the average church to call a new pastor. Of course, some searches are much shorter, lasting only a few months, while others are much longer, lasting 4-5 years. But for most churches, the process lasts for 12-18 months.

Whenever I share this reality with a church, there’s usually at least one person who balks at the idea. They just can’t understand why the process takes so long. In business, 12-18 weeks is a long time for a staff vacancy to remain unfilled. 12-18 months seems unfathomable. 

So why does it take so long for a church to call a new pastor? Here are six reasons:

#1: The Process Involves Volunteers

In most churches, the search process is led by volunteers. Volunteers who have full-time jobs. Volunteers who have family commitments. Volunteers who have hobbies. Volunteers who can’t devote as much time to the process each week as a paid employee would be able to do. In short, volunteers have a life outside the church.

Unlike a businessperson who can devote several hours each day to finding a replacement for a vacancy on their team, Pastor Search Committee members find it difficult to devote more than one or two hours each week to the search process.

For this reason alone, it’s a wonder that the search process doesn’t take even longer!

#2: Spiritual Warfare

When the sheep have no shepherd, they become easy prey. As Paul said farewell to the Ephesian elders, he warned them, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).

Therefore, another reason the pastor search process takes so long is that Satan and his minions will do everything they can to prevent the church from calling a new pastor. He will frustrate the plans and strategies of the Pastor Search Committee. He will seek to divide the congregation. He will attempt to convince church members to slack off in their attendance and service during the interim period. 

Make no mistake. The pastor search process is a spiritual process, and the spiritual forces of darkness will do everything they can to disrupt the process and delay the calling of your next pastor. Therefore, the congregation must join the Pastor Search Committee in combating the enemy’s attacks through prayer and putting on the armor of God every day. (Click here for four specific ways to pray during the search.)

#3: Unexpected Setbacks

As described in more detail in The Church During the Search, the pastor search process will not go exactly as planned. There will be surprises. You can count on it!

For example, the top candidate may withdraw his name from consideration at the last minute. The church may not approve the Pastor Search Committee’s recommendation. Several members of the Search Committee may resign for any number of reasons.

These are only a fraction of the potential setbacks a church may encounter during the pastor search process. Each of these setbacks will delay the process, and if a church faces more than one setback, it could set things back several months.

#4: The Process Itself

The pastor search process itself is long. The Pastor Search Committee must navigate five phases of the search process, each of which includes tasks requiring significant amounts of time. If the Committee wants to be thorough and intentional during each phase, they cannot rush the process.

For example, the Search Committee and the congregation may spend several weeks preparing themselves spiritually for the task ahead. They could spend months studying their church, community, and the characteristics most needed in their next pastor. They could review hundreds of resumes and listen to dozens of sermons before conducting the first interview. They could spend weeks praying before deciding between their top two candidates.

By its very nature, the search process is lengthy. The church that rushes the process will likely pay the price later.

#5: Financial Constraints

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” In 1 Timothy 5:17-18, he writes, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” In other words, churches should be as generous as possible in financially compensating their pastor(s).

Unfortunately, many churches do not receive sufficient tithes and offerings to support a full-time pay package for their pastor. This financial constraint significantly limits the Pastor Search Committee’s pool of candidates to those with another income source. When a church in a rural setting is conducting a “bi-vocational” search, the candidate pool is further limited to those who already live within a reasonable drive of the church. A candidate’s likelihood of relocating for a bi-vocational position is low, especially in rural settings.

For these reasons, financial constraints can prolong the search process for several months or even years.

#6: Inexperienced Mistakes

As mentioned earlier, the pastor search process involves volunteers, many of whom have never been on a Pastor Search Committee. Even for those who have, it could have been years or possibly decades ago. The reality is that every member of the Search Committee is incredibly inexperienced in the pastor search process.

As a result, the Search Committee is prone to make mistakes. Many of those mistakes are minor, but some missteps could significantly delay the process or even cause irreparable damage to the church. That’s why it’s critical that Search Committees remain in regular contact with an experienced consultant or coach to help them avoid any catastrophic mistakes. A general rule I offer Search Committees is this, “When in doubt, call me!”

Patience and Understanding

The pastor search process is lengthy. It’s made even longer due to the factors described above, resulting in the average search lasting 12-18 months. If your church is in the middle of a pastor search, I hope this post has helped you understand why the process takes so long. Feel free to share this post with your fellow church members to help them understand as well. Equipped with this understanding, I pray that your church will patiently trust the process and wait on the Lord to reveal your next pastor in His perfect timing!

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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