By Alexander Samuels
Why do pastors choose to leave their current churches in order to minister at a different church in another community? Is this a completely human decision? Is the idea of following God's calling just a Christian myth?
On Monday, The Christian Post posted an interesting article titled . . . "God's Calling Not Top Reason for Church Movement, Says Study" (hat tip to Robert L. Cobb at News! For Christians), which was based on a study by Ellison Research featured in the October issue of Facts & Trends, a magazine for pastors and other ministry leaders published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Ellison Research found in its study that the No. 1 reason Protestant pastors moved to a different church wasn't because of God's calling; it was simply because they wanted to live or minister in a different community. This probably comes as a shock to many pastoral search committee members. It somehow removes the mystery. Perhaps it changes the way committees search for a new pastor.
Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, told The Christian Post, "People who work in real estate, manufacturing, marketing research and other careers change jobs in order to move to a city they prefer, get a promotion, start a new company, find better working conditions and make more money, among other reasons. This study shows ministers take new jobs mostly for these same reasons."
The second most popular reason for a pastor moving to a new church wasn't answering God's call, either; it was because of a promotion. Let's face the facts. People love to be recognized, and pastors are people, too. What was it that Jesus said about this? "Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'" (Matthew 20:25-28). Does the potential pastor who wants a promotion want it in order to be a better servant?
Only 12 percent of those interviewed for the survey believed they had received God's call to their current church. A "call," in this case, speaks of a strong, compelling desire. Paul speaks of such desire in 1 Corinthians 9:16 when he says, "... for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!"
C.H. Spurgeon, in addressing his students in the Pastor's College, warned, "If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way. . . . If on the other hand, you can say that for all the wealth of both the Indies you could not and dare not espouse any other calling so as to be put aside from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, depend upon it, if other things be equally satisfactory, you have the signs of this apostleship."
Paul and Spurgeon certainly seem to advocate God's calling as being an important factor in choosing a pastor. Now, granted, God can use the circumstances in a pastor's life to nudge him in the direction where He wants a pastor to be, and it is possible that a pastor may only feel that nudging from God as just a feeling that it is time to move on.
But what about the poor search committee? They don't want someone who just wants to move or is seeking a promotion. They are looking for the anointed shepherd of God who is called to be their church's pastor. The lesson here, I think, is that churches must realize that they can't interview and select a pastor as they would a CEO. If a church wants a true shepherd, called of God, then the search committee, the Elders and the church must pray for godly discernment in making this selection. They must pray that God will be merciful and send a faithful preacher of the Word - not someone who has simply selected the ministry as his profession.
Alexander Samuels is a regular contributor to Carolina Christian Conservative.
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