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If you asked a few hundred church members from multiple churches what characteristics they were searching for in a pastor, what do you think they’d say?

You don’t have to wonder. Thom Rainer asked that question a while ago and published the top ten responses on his blog. Here they are:

  1. Love of congregation
  2. Effective preaching
  3. Strong character
  4. Good work ethic
  5. Casts a vision
  6. Demonstrates healthy leadership
  7. Joyous
  8. Does not yield to critics
  9. Transparent
  10. Models evangelism

When I read the list, I smiled. For three reasons.

First, it’s a really healthy list. Church members aren’t looking for super-pastors, they want basic pastoral competence, honesty and leadership. That’s what they ought to expect.

And when you look at some select quotes from church members that Thom included, their expectations look even healthier and more balanced than most pastors might have expected. Here are a few:

  • “I don’t have any expectation that my preacher be one of the best in the world...”
  • “No pastor is perfect...”
  • “I don’t want either a workaholic pastor or a lazy pastor…”
  • “(Your) supporters are in the majority. Please don’t let the minority critics dictate how you lead and serve.”

Second, I smiled when I recognized that none of the following expectations made the list:

  • Administrative Prowess
  • Great Fundraiser
  • Facility Management
  • Church Growth Strategist

It’s not that pulpit search committees won’t be looking for some of those attributes. They will. Especially for bigger churches. But it makes me smile when my suspicions are confirmed that the skills many of us obsess over aren’t what matter to the average church member.

Third, I smiled because it lines up with my own experience. It’s the basic job description of a small church pastor! It’s what most of us do every day.

Churches want their pastor to offer a basic level of care, competence and integrity. They’re not looking for perfection or greatness.

As it turns out, what church members are really looking for in a pastor … is us!

So Where’s the Pastoral Disconnect?

Surprisingly, this list caused a mini firestorm among Thom’s readers, most of whom are in the ministry.

He got a lot of comments on it. Over 90% of them were positive, but 5 to 10 percent were shockingly negative. Here are a few excerpts:

  • “That’s right everybody, just keep piling on the expectations :/”
  • “You’d have to be five or six people to master all the traits on the wish list churches have.”
  • “Impossibly schizophrenic…this list exactly reflects the causes of stress and unrealistic heartache I wrestle with as a pastor. …Thanks for sucking the mojo right out of my soul.”

Oh my.

So what’s going on here?

I think such deeply negative comments speak to the pain that these pastors are already carrying with them. They’ve been hurt. Deeply. They need our prayers.

I get that pain. I’ve felt that pain. There was a time in my ministry when this list would have triggered my pain like it triggered theirs. But I’ve come to realize that the expectations on this list aren’t the cause of that pain.

Pastoral pain is often caused by our own obsession, not just to lead a healthy church, but to drive it to massive numerical growth as well. But very few church members expect or want that. It’s mostly self-imposed by pastors.

If those ten character traits were read without prior pain and without the underlying expectation that you have to do those ten plus grow a huge church, I don’t think pastors would feel as burdened by them.

Doing those ten adequately, but not super-humanly, in my current church, at the size it is now, with no expectation that the church has to get bigger to be successful is what pastoring a healthy small church looks like.

What People Want In a Pastor

If you still doubt that this is a reasonable list, take another look at it and answer this question. Which character trait would you remove? Good work ethic? Love of congregation? Strong character? Effective preaching?

No pastor is great at all ten. But greatness wasn’t asked for. Or expected. Yet basic competence in all ten is needed to lead a healthy church, even if the pastor equips others to do the parts they’re not as good at.

People want their pastor to be their pastor. To lead by example. To have integrity. To help them grow in their faith. And to love them along the way.

If we stop trying to do what they’re not asking us to do, that’s not a burden. It’s a privilege. And a joy.

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Kathleen Elder

commented on May 7, 2016

Kathleen Elder

commented on May 7, 2016

Yay! Well said pastor. Well said.

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