How To Manage Generational Differences During A Senior Pastor Search
By: Vanderbloemen December 7, 2017
When we visit with churches that are going through a senior pastor search, we often see a strong generational divide. Either the younger congregants feel as if the pastor search committee isn’t considering candidates who will bring the church “up-to-date”, or the older congregants feel that the committee is trying to force change while neglecting the church’s legacy.
The divisiveness of either tension can create a search process that is longer than necessary, and ultimately leave one of these groups feeling ostracized in the end. Navigating these tensions requires a concerted effort from your entire leadership team. Below are 3 strategies to help work through a generational divide during a senior pastor search.
1. Ensure the search committee is representative of your congregation.
Before you can ensure that your search committee represents the congregation, you first need to know who is in your congregation. For example, the use of congregational surveys to get a pulse on your church’s demographic is key. This will help you get a feel for the age range, race, theology alignment, and even familial structure of your congregation. This data can help you ensure that the search team is truly reflective of your church body.
Surveying your congregation is especially important for churches that are replacing a long-tenured pastor. Over the course of 15 or 20 years, your church and community’s demographics can change quite a bit. The needs of the community will be vastly different as time goes by. If your church desires to find a pastor who can help you fill the needs of the community around you, you first need to know what those needs are.
2. Be agile enough to embrace change while celebrating legacy.
Let me save you some time in your pastor search: you will not find the exact version of your former pastor. You may find someone who embodies some of the traits of your former pastor, like their teaching style or background. Ultimately though, your new pastor will not be the former. This means that there will be change, small or large. Set this expectation early and often so you can embrace the change with grace.
This being said, expecting change doesn’t mean you can neglect the legacy of the former pastor. Rather, make a point to celebrate the former pastor’s commitment to the church and reflect on the relationships they built. Commemorate their leadership and the guidance they offered over the course of their tenure. It’s important to understand that for many who have been at the church for a while, this pastor may have officiated their wedding, baptized their kids, or celebrated new grandchildren alongside that family.
Honor the pastor’s dedication to the kingdom, but understand that with the next season comes a varying degree of change.
3. Embrace the tension.
Tension occurs when energy, connected by a unifying object, moves in opposite directions. Your church body is that unified object, and generational tension is the energy that is moving in different directions.
Your church needs to recognize that you are not fragmented groups, divvied up by age differences. You are unified in Christ, young and old. And both sides must come to a place where they can embrace differences.
This tension is coming from groups of people who deeply care about the Body of Christ and want to see the best possible outcome for the church. Although it’s portrayed as not seeing eye-to-eye, both demographics want the same outcome from a pastor search: a pastor that has been called to lead them.
God’s beauty is often seen in the diversity of his Body. Through race, personality, gender, and yes, age. Though pastor searches these traits can cause tension, embrace them.
How has your church navigated generational differences during your pastor search?