You Can’t Know Who You Need Until You Know Who You Are

Amanda is young, smart, talented, educated, resourceful—and beautiful. A successful career could easily be hers. But Amanda’s deepest aspiration lies in another direction. She would like to meet someone special, get married and have a family. She has caught the eye of two young men, Lance and Clem.

Lance tells Amanda, “I don’t have much, but I know where I want to go in life. I know my abilities and my strengths and I especially know what I’m passionate about. I’ve chosen a career path for which I’m well-suited. I’ve sought educational opportunities to prepare myself for this specific career, and I’ve done extensive research into the opportunities available in the field. I also have given a lot of thought to my values and I know that devotion to family will always come ahead of financial success.”

Clem, on the other hand, says, “Well, Amanda, I’m a boy and you’re a girl. What more do you need to know?”

With which of these two will Amanda pursue a deeper relationship, leading possibly to marriage?

What seems so obvious with regards to courtship often gets muddled past recognition when the subject is a church looking for a minister. A minister leaves, often under less-than-ideal circumstances. In the aftermath, the church leadership dreams about attracting a top-tier candidate to their pulpit. They want someone young, articulate, personable, passionate, well-educated, wise, energetic, humorous, creative, and deeply spiritual. What they don’t understand (but soon will) is that supply of top-tier candidates is severely limited and there are many congregations that would love to hire them. Very quickly, the discussion among the leaders goes from, “Who is our ideal minister?” to “Who is out there who would have us?”

Churches that rush into the selection process may find a minister more quickly than others, but the chances of securing a quality individual are remote. A church would be far better off to accept a longer “in-between” period and use that time effectively to mold their congregation into a church to which a top-tier candidate might be attracted.

What are top-tier candidates looking for as they consider churches? At Interim Ministry Partners, we have observed several factors that are not deciding criteria. Among them are salary, prestige, the size of the church, and geographical location. Rather, top tier-candidates are looking for churches that know who they are. They have clear and compelling answers to several key questions:

  • “How has God gifted us and to what is he calling us?”
  • “What is our mission in this community and in the world beyond our doors?”
  • “What are our core values? What values would we like to develop?”
  • “Where do we believe God is leading us and how clearly do we envision that future?”
  • “What kind of leadership will be required to get us there?”
  • “What skills and abilities do we need in a minister to help us reach our potential?”

Most top-tier candidates have had experience with churches that could not answer these questions. They poured their heart and soul into the ministry, only to see the church flounder and drift. They realized that their considerable talents were being stymied by the lack of compelling leadership and they have no interest in repeating that experience. In fact, more than a few of our very best ministers have left ministry altogether because of this frustration.

Of course, any time is a good time for a church’s leadership to take stock of their congregational identity, values and mission and to discern God’s call upon the church. To accomplish this, churches often hire a high-priced church consultant. The consultant makes a weekend visit to the church, follows up with a written report, and may be available for phone consultation for a time afterward. But the interim season offers a unique—and better—opportunity to accomplish this vital task.

Interim Ministry Partners connects churches to ministers who have a proven track record of building healthy churches, who know how to walk with churches through the process of self-discovery and leadership development. He is more than a “talking head” in the pulpit; he is an on-site consultant, committed to making repeated visits to the church. He will guide the church through much of the same material that would be covered by a church consultant. But his continuing presence allows him to follow up more effectively and to mentor leaders to stay on track once he’s gone.

If your congregation is currently “between ministers,” you do not have to settle for whoever is out there who would have you. You can dream of hiring a top-tier candidate—someone who will be a long-term blessing to your church. But to attract him, you will need to slow down and concentrate first on issues that are not directly related to the search process. That is the opportunity of the interim season. It will take time. And it will take money. But in the end, you will be far more satisfied with the result.