My wife is on a pastor-search committee this fall and that has got me thinking about how one would predict if pastor will be highly effective. The role of pastor requires so many different skills—it’s part theologian, accountant, counselor, teacher, property manager, and so on—that it might be difficult to know what, exactly, to look for. Having the right pastor, however, makes all the difference for how well things will go for a church. Over the years I’ve seen churches falter because of different shortcomings of the pastor. Perhaps they could not teach effectively or were abrasive or were mired in their own sin. This makes the work of the search committee vital. What, then, should they look for?
After interacting with a potential pastor, one can ask two simple but powerful questions:
1) Do I feel loved? Presumably most pastors believe that they love the people that they lead, and I assume that they do. The key issue, then, is whether they can convey that love in a way that other people feel loved. This is not at all easy. Effectively communicating love requires clear motivation, strong interpersonal social skills and a fair degree of mental health. Not everyone can pull it off, but it’s so important. Think about the people with whom you interact. How many of them make you feel loved? It probably isn’t many, but I’ll guess that you are eager to spend time with them. This type of person makes a good pastor.
2) Do I feel inspired? The promise of Christianity is that it leads us to something bigger than we are, that there is more than life than taking the trash out on the right day, saving money for retirement, and eventually dying. The problem is that our vision for a bigger life is routinely swamped by the minutiae of everyday life. We look to pastors to turn our eyes upward, to what ultimately matters. Conveying vision to others requires recognizing it oneself and having the verbal skills to communicate it to others. The people that I know who communicate this kind of vision naturally attract followers. This type of person makes a good pastor.
Notice that these two questions ask about how we react to people. This makes them easier to answer because we only have to identify our own perceptions. This also makes them potentially more accurate. If, in a group such as a search committee, most people feel loved and inspired by someone, that is probably a good sign for how the congregation as a whole will react. And if a church feels loved and inspired by their leader, there’s potential for vitality and growth.
Easily the most effective pastor that I’ve ever met epitomizes these two qualities. Whenever I talk to him, I find myself afterwards basking in his warm concern for me as a person and feeling excited about what could happen in my life and the church. This is love and inspiration.
When people leave one church for another, it can be due to something missing in these two areas. Maybe they don’t feel loved by the people at the church, perhaps due to interpersonal conflict or just plain neglect. Or, maybe they don’t feel as if anything is happening, that there is nothing to rally around.
The importance of love and inspiration dovetails nicely with psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Right above physiological needs and safety is the need for social belonging, which entails love. At the top of his hierarchy is self-actualization which, like inspiration, regards realizing potential. Maslow’s hierarchy regards our basic needs in life, but it also fits well with what makes organizations flourish.
Obviously there is more to being a pastor than just loving and casting vision. Still, it’s difficult to imagine a highly successful pastor who can’t do both well. So, want to predict how effective a pastor will be? Start by asking yourself two simple questions.
What do you think? Are these useful questions? Are there other simple indicators?