By Mike Hess
One of the most perilous and sensitive times in a local church’s life is when that church is without a pastor—especially if this time drags on longer than the congregation expected. I’ve had countless conversations with pulpit committees and chairmen of search teams who were deeply discouraged and concerned about their churches’ future. They’ve often expressed to me how the process of looking for a new pastor has instigated unnecessary, divisive hemorrhaging within the church body.
Let’s be honest here: the interval when a church is without a pastor can potentially be one of the most discouraging seasons in a church’s life. It’s not exactly common for us to hear testimonies from church members saying, “God is so good to our church. It’s been so encouraging and such a blessing to be without a pastor. It’s provided so much stability and guidance to our church.”
On the contrary, it’s typically a time that most would say goes on for far too long. Allow me to give some encouragement here if you and your church find yourself in this God-ordained position. Listed below are five encouragements for you and your church if you’re going through a pastoral transition.
Take some time right now to consider that Jesus Christ—the Son of God, the Second Person of the triune Godhead—is the ultimate head of your church (Col. 1:18–20). He loves your church far more than you do. He shed His own blood for your church (Acts 20:28). Through the roller coaster of emotions that result from being involved in this process, you must constantly remind yourself of these truths.
Be sure that your search team meetings are saturated with prayer and Scripture so that you keep the process entirely God-focused. God can be entrusted with your church’s future. Keep looking to Him, even when the circumstances seem daunting and discouraging. After all, the goal for finding a pastor is the same goal for everything else in church life: to please our Heavenly Father (2 Cor. 5:9).
Wherever you were serving faithfully when you had a pastor is where you should be faithfully serving without a pastor. Stay consistent in your attendance, serving, giving, and ministry obligations and in intentionally encouraging your church leadership. I realize that in most churches, attendance begins to waver when there’s a pastoral vacancy. But in reality, that shouldn’t be the case. We should faithfully attend and serve at church because of Who God is, not because of whoever holds the office of pastor.
All too often the chair of a pulpit committee will tell me that his church’s attendance and giving have substantially declined due to the church being without a pastor. Your continued faithfulness as a member demonstrates your faithfulness to both your Savior and your church.
As time without a pastor continues to linger, there will be a strong temptation to cut corners or to justify bringing a man on who does not clearly meet the qualifications of a pastor spelled out in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. My prayer is that the number of pastoral scandals involving moral failings in recent years has taught us the imperative of meeting Biblical qualifications.
You will never regret choosing character over giftedness. Pastors, like all other Christians, are growing in the Lord and honing their craft. Over the years as the Lord tarries their growth in preaching, leadership, and shepherding will be made “evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15). Trust God with that process and insist on faithfulness over flashiness.
The beauty of congregational polity is that it involves every single member. Be sure to consistently share with the congregation where the search committee is in the process. Frustration grows with a lack of communication. This doesn’t mean that every update will be the most encouraging one or be news that everyone wants to hear, but those in the church body who love their church dearly will appreciate being consistently updated. Try giving a biweekly update during announcements in the public service, your church website, and social media platforms.
Take advantage of being a part of a fellowship of churches that has its own pastoral referral database. Every potential candidate in the database has said he is in full agreement with the GARBC articles of faith. As an association of churches, we are well-equipped to provide counsel, guidance, and résumés from our doctrinal perspective and ministry philosophy. The availability of our pastoral referral program is one of the greatest benefits of being a GARBC church.
I consistently meet with search committees, church leaders, and potential candidates as I try to give wise direction to churches without a pastor. This is an honor and a privilege for me. Take advantage of this resource as a church. You are not better off tackling this process alone. You’re better off locking arms with doctrinally aligned churches who can leverage their resources to help other churches find their next undershepherd.
Consider again the fact that Jesus loves your church. He is the head of your church. He is the One Who will provide for your church. Going without a pastor can be discouraging. It can also provide another opportunity to trust in God’s faithful character.
Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.