Two Simple Questions for Finding a Great Pastor (for Search Committees and Anyone Else)

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?

The planning fallacy: Overcoming the frustration of underestimating how long work takes

Work is important to me, very important. I enjoy doing it, think about how to get more done, and feel antsy if I’m away from it for too long. This includes my work as a scholar and teacher as well as even just work around the house.6521248195_c7b7d4ce3a_b

There is, however, one aspect of work that frustrates me to no end—my inability to predict how long a given project will take to complete. Not only can I not accurately predict how long something will take, I routinely underestimate it—sometimes by a lot.

Looking out my window right now,

Sometimes we have to work on our own lives if we really want to love others

Back in the day, when I was in high school, I heard a sermon on love, and it had the punch line was that we should view ourselves as third in importance, after God and others. Being the clever high-schooler that I was, I wrote “I am 3rd” on my tennis shoes to remind me of the message (and also because tennis shoes cost a lot less back then so writing on them wasn’t a big deal).

6815417661_e7d7df488a_b

Now, getting high schoolers to think of anybody other than themselves is a noble if not perhaps futile cause. However, that message (and hundreds like it that I’ve heard over the years) can overlook an important point about the self and loving others.

If you want to have a meaningful life, should you think about the past, present or future? Yes.

The past gets a bad rap. We’re told to “let go of the past” and “not to live in the past.” Common wisdom roots us in the presence. We’re to live “one day at a time” and “be in the moment.” A recent study, however, suggests that thinking about the past, as well of the future, can give you a more meaningful life.

3875754514_7bbec6cb0f_o

Generally speaking, having a sense of meaning about life entails understanding why things happen. Life needs to make sense to us. (What is meaning?) As such, part of creating meaning is…

Tony Gill, of the Research on Religion Podcast, interviewed me about the SoulPulse study. We talk about both the long-term goals of SoulPulse as well as more technical methodological. As always, it’s fun to talk to Tony, and he has great questions (and is funny, too).10338745_716362898427298_4828598623355621070_n

List to the podcast here

Tony’s description of it: “On this week’s Research on Religion with Anthony Gill we talk with Brad Wright of UConn on a very interesting sociological study he is doing called “SoulPulse.” Great interview.
But what is more awesome is that you can participate in this study for two short weeks yourself by going to SoulPulse.org. They are very easy and fun surveys. No one calls you and your information isn’t shared for marketing or anything. It is all above-the-board social science.”

Appearance: Interviewed on Research on Religion Podcast
Format: Podcast

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

Maya Angelou

What’s the difference between meaning and purpose in life?

What’s the difference between meaning in life and purpose in life? Over the past several years, I’ve started studying the social-psychological aspects of both meaning and purpose, and I’ve used terms interchangeably. While they are related, even closely so, they are not the same thing, I think. So in this post I would like to explore their relative meaning.

When blog writers start a post with a question, they usually already know the answer. E.g., “Do you want to be more success?” Well, yes, most people probably do. Or, “How can you get rid of the unsightly hair growing on your teeth?” Chances are they already have a product to sell you that will do it. But here I’m asking a question because I would like to know the answer.

Happiness is mainly about getting what one wants and needs, including from other people or even just by using money. In contrast, meaningfulness is linked to doing things that express and reflect the self and in particular to doing positive things for others

Roy Baumeister et al. 2013

Meaning is, truly, a first world problem

A “first world problem” is something that people in wealthy countries complain about only because we don’t have more serious problems–like not getting enough containers of dipping sauce with our fast food order or having unheated leather seats in our cars or having a house so big that we need a second wireless router. (A list and video of them). These kinds of complaints serve as ironic pointers to gratitude, which is good. They are also funny, which may even be better. However, they don’t tell the full story about the consequences of living in wealthy countries.

Oishi and Diener. 2013. Residents of Poor Nations Have a Greater  Sense of Meaning in Life Than Residents  of Wealthy Nations. Psychological Science

Oishi and Diener. 2013. Residents of Poor Nations Have a Greater
Sense of Meaning in Life Than Residents
of Wealthy Nations. Psychological Science

It turns out that when it comes to experiencing meaning in life, the first world does have a problem.