Having gone sleepless the last two nights, since my church’s pastor announced his upcoming resignation, I’m ready to share my brilliant plan for church leadership, pastoral succession, and the alignment of the stars. Allow me to trot these ideas out for you so that perhaps somebody can suggest any possible flaws in the plan.
First, I’ll note that our intrepid executive pastor and current HGIC (head guy in charge) Jeff shared a podcast from former Lifeway CEO Thom Rainer. In this five-year-old recording, Rainer speaks with church-leadership-search expert William Vanderbloemen, who brings a host of interesting tidbits to the table. One of his suggestions is that church’s tend to “hire too fast and fire too slow.” I’m not sure about the second of those, but when people hear my great idea, they’ll know that we can’t possibly hire too fast.
Vanderbloemen suggests that there are some age issues with pastors. He claims that if he looks at a long-time pastor and the growth chart for his church, he can with fair accuracy identify the pastor’s 40th birthday and 55th to 60th birthday. Essentially, he’s saying that most pastors really hit their stride at around 40 and that their effectiveness plateaus or drops off in the late 50s. Hearing that, despite my sleep deprivation, I had a flash of insight, developing my system.
We start by soliciting applications from any interested parties, but we immediately eliminate anyone who is younger than 36 or older than 40. The perfect candidate will be stepping into our pulpit on his 38th birthday. That will give him two years to get to know the church and make whatever changes he needs to effect before his performance magically jumps into overdrive at age 40. I know that this sort of move has the potential to raise issues of age discrimination, so we might need to create another rationale. Regardless, I think this move is utterly essential.
After we identify our candidate, we do not sign him up with an eye toward keeping him until he limps into his 80s. Instead, we offer him a contract that is understood to terminate when he turns 60. I realize that his peak years might end when he’s 55, but we have to hope that if he makes it that long, even a decreased effectiveness won’t be too bad.
“But wait!” you protest. “What if our pastor is super awesome even into his 60s?” I have a plan for that as well. We maintain the option to renew him on a year-by-year basis. At 61, maybe he’s still good, but at 62, we show him the door. I’m sure he’ll understand. There is a precedent for this. School bus drivers, in Missouri at least, once they reach 70 have to retake their test every year. Given the similarities between pastoring a church and piloting a bus full of unruly kids, this seems relevant.
Clearly, as William Vanderbloemen would surely agree, the way to find the perfect pastor is to follow not the Holy Spirit but data and science. In fairness, I don’t think that’s at all what Mr. Vanderbloemen would suggest, but it was fun to consider the idea.