In my journey with churches and pastors over the last 6 years as an itinerant preacher and church consultant, I have seen different churches and different kinds of pastor. It testifies of the beauty of the different facets of God’s gifts and plans for churches.
However, I have also seen some pastors join churches for a season, then somewhere along the way–the pastor leaves. The leaving may occur quietly after extended reflection, or it may occur over an explosive issue.
What happens on many of these occasions may be summarized as facets of a larger issue–the pastoral fit.
To appreciate the importance of the pastoral fit, one has to understand a key process of influence that occurs when a pastor enters a church.
In the first year, the pastor and church members get to know one another, and they often give one another “space” for different styles, personalities, mistakes to take place. In the second or third year, true “engagement” takes place. The pastor brings his/her gifts to bear in order to make change and bring growth. This causes a stress on the status-quo which the church members must grow along with.
In the fourth and fifth year, this is where real trust and influence just begins. If the “engagement phase” is navigated positively, people begin to work and partner with the pastor in a whole-hearted way that can bring positive change for years to come.
Long-term leadership impact usually sees its fullest in the fourth year and beyond. These time-lines are a little arbitrary and depends on a number of factors, especially size. Usually, the larger the church, the longer these time-lines are stretched.
Through this process, the first thing that can derail it–and often the top reason for a pastor not to continue is this issue of the pastoral fit.
But what exactly should we look out for?
I have summarized some thoughts gleaned from reading and observation of churches into the table below. This helps leaders and pastors consider the various aspects of the ministry and work through them to prevent a misfit.
(Please take a look at thoughts on how to use this resource at the end of the article)
I hope this Pastoral-Fit table will be helpful to you at some point.
For the pastor, it can help you reflect on your own season of ministry and where you are in your journey.
If you are a church board member whose church is exploring engaging a pastor, this information can give you a sense of what areas to interview and review more carefully to bring about a more constructive mutual conversation and sharing.
Also, reflecting on the aspects raised in the table can also reveal personal needs or the needs of the church.
There is no perfect fit. The best one can do is try to find the closest fit and to manage the existing differences or gaps. As we journey together, both as church and pastor, hopefully we change our attitudes about which are the really important arenas to us, and which we can compromise upon. Some degree of both are important.
God is looking for faithful shepherds to lead growing churches. Both pastors and congregation need to grow together. A good pastoral fit sets a foundation for entering seasons of deep, long-term impact for both pastors and churches!