Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Pastor's Calling

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.


At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 9:28:00 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Was there ever a time when it was the norm for pastors to stay with a church for their entire career? It seems to me that this was the way of things for much of the history of the church, at least in smaller churches. But since about the time of the Industrial Revolution, there has been a progression toward more and more movement among pastors. Indeed, for most of my life the "norm" has been for pastors to stay in a position for about 3 to 5 years (average) and then be "called" to another church. Some denominations even make this a regular part of pastoral service. Yet, when I look at the New Testament I find that pastors seem to be called from among the flock and are - in some sense - expected to minister indefinitly in that area. How can a pastor minister effectively to the needs of his congregation when he spends the first half of his ministry just getting to know the people and the second half looking for a new post? Of course, the situation you write about, Alex, could well explain the phenomenon of people who go into pastoral ministry when they do not (from many outward appearances) actually believe in the literal truth of the Bible. For them it is a form of Social Services, with a "religious" twist.

I do not mean to criticize these men. They do difficult work, often without thanks or recognition. I am simply wondering about the idea of pastors moving regularly from one church to another.

At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


While I prefer to keep the same pastor for all time, providing I really like him, it's probably not healthy.

I believe that church's tend to get hooked on the pastor and not the One they are supposed to. Theoretically, it should not matter who the messenger is- just the Message.

Just my theory....

the Heckler

At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 1:46:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Heckler - I can agree, when there is a very charismatic personality involved. The tendency could be to develop a "personality cult". By the same token, too much familiarity might breed complacency or a hesitancy to confront problems with people the pastor may feel too close to. Overall, though, I have seen churches go into a period of declined after feeling like they have had their head cut off. In this area there are some very critical issues to consider for both the pastor and the search committee.

At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 2:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yup. And I'm sure you are familiar with Mickey's search and our pastor situation. Our pastor founded the church and was there for 25 years. He was unique. He was the kind of guy who was very, very careful to make sure that the flock knew that it was all about Christ and not to get attached to him.

And studies show that there is about an 80% chance that his replacement will only last 3 years. I believe that our church could easily fall into the 20% category here.

But either way you slice it, it's never a simple thing. I guess it is just a good policy not to get too attached to your pastor but for the pastor to act as if he will always be there.

the Heckler

At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 3:09:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

Tim & Heckler,

In the early years of the historical church, each church was governed by a small committee of elders. One might do most of the preaching/teaching but they were all called on from time to time to preach and teach.

Usually, one elder was chosen by the committee to be the primary pastor/leader. Other elders were expected to use their pastoral gifts also. I guess this kind of arrangement could help prevent personality cults from developing.
Many years ago I belonged to a church in which all the elders were required to be skilled teachers of adults. The level of Biblical discussion and problems solving was amazing to listen to in their meetings because these men knew their Bibles and their Lord.

Heckler - I hope your church finds a great pastor soon!

At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 5:22:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

"Of course, the situation you write about, Alex, could well explain the phenomenon of people who go into pastoral ministry when they do not (from many outward appearances) actually believe in the literal truth of the Bible. For them it is a form of Social Services, with a 'religious' twist."

As a matter of fact, Tim, RC Sproul says this is exactly why he was planning to go into the ministry. But while in seminary, Sproul met professor John Gerstner who introduced him to Jesus Christ. Now Sproul is considered to be one of the outstanding theologians of our time.

At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 5:48:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Alex - I am very familiar with RC Sproul and consider him to be both a role model and a contemporary hero of the faith.

There is another aspect of this topic I have been thinking about today. One church I attended, a few years ago now, connected a group of parishoners with one of the elders (several elders, each overseening a group of church attenders. Membership in the church was not necessary to be part of the group). The elders would then be responsible for regularly meeting with the folks in their care and ministering to their needs. The Pastor then oversaw the church as a whole. While there could have been a problem with little "camps" developing, it actually worked quite well. Part of the reason for this was that the church was comprised of people from a large agricultural area. Some church members came from as far as 40 miles away. This actually built a greater sense of unity and feelings of being connected.

I will pray for Heckler's church, as well as Mickey's, as they look for the right Pastor. Thanks for letting me weigh in so much on this topic.

At Thursday, September 15, 2005 8:40:00 AM, Blogger Mickey McLean said...

I have really enjoyed reading this discussion. Thank you, Alex, for addressing this topic.

As a member of an active pastor search committee, I have a special interest in the dilemna pastors face when they contemplate a move to another church. Not only do they have to discern whether God needs them somewhere else, they have to determine whether or not their work at their current church has been completed.

Unfortunately, even when a pastor sincerely tries to heed God's call, whenever he does move on to a bigger or better situation, his motives will likely be questioned by those in the congregation he left behind.

I have to say that I have gained a much greater appreciation for what pastors face in making their "career" choices through my work on a search committee.


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