4 Considerations When Replacing A Long-Tenured Pastor
By: Sarah Robins
Though any Lead Pastor transition is an important one, replacing a long-tenured Senior Pastor often carries a lot more weight and is filled with nuances outside a normal pastor search. Right now, as the Baby Boomer Generation reaches retirement age, we are seeing an increase in these long-tenure pastor retirements.
We’ve walked alongside hundreds of churches during this holy crossroads, and we can tell you that a pastor search like this is so important to get right. Here are four things to consider when searching for a new pastor after a long-tenured one.
1. The Pastor's Legacy
What is the legacy that this pastor has set for the church? How does the community view the church and this pastor? What will they be remembered for in the years to come? These questions are not just important in celebrating the outgoing pastor’s legacy but will help you get a better understanding of the church’s values and expectations for the new pastor.
Maybe your pastor put a large focus on and financial backing toward international missions. If so, the church needs to consider this when looking at pastor candidates. If your church has spent the last 20 years focusing their efforts toward a certain ministry, the church needs to be prepared to either shift this focus or look for candidates with the same heart for that ministry.
Another example may be the way your pastor has interacted with the community for the past 20 years. Have they been invited to speak at important events and ceremonies in the area? Does the community call on their wisdom and the church for guidance in tough times? If this is the case, and the church wants that legacy to live on, you need to be looking for this quality in your new pastor. Not just someone who can lead from the pulpit, but someone who will be a leader in the community as well.
2. The Spouse & Family
The spouse is an important factor in any church staff hire. While every church’s expectations for the spouse’s involvement in ministry is different, a candidate's family still plays a big factor in a smooth transition. It's the same with an outgoing transition.
Take a hard look at what the church’s interaction with the outgoing pastor’s spouse and family has been for the past several years. Were they very involved in ministries within the church? Or was their focus on an outside ministry or their family? How visible were they at church-wide functions? Whatever the case may be, your church has lived and grown with the spouse and family just as much as the pastor.
When you have a real understanding of the tenured pastor’s spouse and their function within the church, you can then use that as part of the lens when looking at potential candidates. Whether you want someone with a similar mindset as your former pastor’s spouse or not, knowing where you’re coming from will give more clarity as you move forward. As you learn what your church's expectations are for your new Pastor's spouse, be sure to communicate those during the interview process.
3. The New Pastor’s Compensation
I spend my days interacting with pastor search teams as they try to discern the best pastor search process for their church. When working with a church that’s replacing a long-standing pastor, one of the most common issues they face is compensation.
More often than not, they assume that they will be able to pay their new pastor the same or less than the outgoing pastor. This, unfortunately, is usually not the case. Again, this is a generalization, but if your pastor has been with your church for 15, 20, or 30+ years, their salary probably hasn’t increased the way it should have over time.
Think about a founding pastor, for example. They planted the church on a tight budget and probably went without any salary increases for years. That became the norm, and the church never caught them up to a salary range that matched current ranges. Now the church is looking for someone a bit younger with great experience, and they think since they’re hiring someone younger that candidate will “cost less.”
But chances are that the cost of living and the current norm for Senior Pastor compensation ranges has changed quite a bit since you last evaluated your outgoing pastor's salary. No matter how young your new pastor is, your church needs to be offering a salary that allows them the freedom to focus on the ministry and not worry about finances. You can’t forget that you are trying to attract someone new and wonderful to your church, and salary is a part of this.
Before you begin the search for a new pastor, take a good hard look at compensation. Enlist help from a third party to get an objective look at competitive salary ranges for pastors in churches of your size and in your part of the country.
4. Generational Shifts
While generalizing individuals based off their generation is a generalization, there are some trends that are important to follow as culture evolves, and the younger workforce comes in with different priorities, expectations, and goals. As you think about who will follow your out going pastor, it's important to remember that Gen X and Millennials don't function the same way as Baby Boomers do, so consider these differences as you prepare for the next season of leadership at your church. One big difference we're noticing in these generations, is that they're much less likely to stay with one church for a lifetime.
So how can we find success in a pastor that only stays for 5 to 10 years? We can shift our focus from how long a pastor stays to what their ministry is accomplishing. Leadership should be asking if this leader has the potential to grow in discipleship, community involvement, or other goals your church might have.
We tell churches regularly, “Know thyself.” The advice listed above is a large part of that, and we hope it's a strong starting point for an often scary new venture. Change is always hard, but it's always important to prepare for who's coming next.
What are some other challenges when replacing a long-tenured Pastor?
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