Sunday, July 27, 2008

Pastoral Free Agency

It happens every year at the end of both college football and college basketball seasons. The big universities that have had a few losing seasons in a row will fire their coaches. They will then look at smaller universities and colleges to find coaches whose teams had winning records. The big universities will then offer those coaches a lot of money, power, and prestige. The coaches from the small schools will inevitably "take the money and run." This almost always hurts the programs at the smaller schools.

Considering the secular environment of college athletics, it is not surprising that big universities and coaches act as they do.

What is surprising is that churches and pastors often act exactly like what I have described above.

Every year any number of big churches begin to struggle with dropping attendance and poor finances. The real reasons for these problems can be numerous. However, many times the pastor gets blamed (this may be deserved or may not). Then he gets summarily fired. What are the big churches to do? Do they look within their own walls to find another pastor? No, they don't. The big churches look at smaller churches to find out which ones are growing in number. They look at number of baptisms. Search committees from big churches assume that big baptism numbers are automatically a good thing. They then offer offer those pastors a lot of money, power, and prestige. The pastors from the small churches will inevitably "take the money and run." This almost always hurts the small churches.

Within the body of Christ it ought not be this way. One problem with all this is that the big churches are giving far too much credit to the pastor. They act as if the pastor himself is responsible for the baptism numbers rising or falling. In reality, it is the entire church's responsibility to share the gospel. God will open the hearts He chooses to open, and those people should be quickly baptized.

Another problem with the above scenario is that it keeps churches from examining themselves to see what the problems are. If the pastor is automatically blamed for dropping numbers, then no other factors will be analyzed. It may even be a good thing for numbers to occasionally drop if this is God's way of purifying the local church.

Finally, there is the issue of the harm that this does to the smaller churches. It may be that God is moving in a wonderful way in a church with a faithful pastor. When this pastor leaves, it usually harms this church because it is automatically at a loss for leadership, teaching, and vision (not devoid of these things but certainly struggling with them).

Of course, most of this problem could be avoided if churches would follow the biblical model for leadership: multiple elders/overseers/pastors. When a multiplicity is in place, then the loss of one doesn't really hurt the church very much.

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