Need a seminary graduate with ministerial experience who is eager to serve as senior pastor of a church with 1,000 members or more? No problem.

A posting for such a position can draw anywhere from 50 to 200 applicants, said Don Goehner, president of the Goehner Group, a California-based consulting firm for Christian organizations.

But need a senior pastor with the right combination of preaching talent, administrative expertise, and people skills to succeed?

Despite a surplus of job seekers posting resumes on websites such as ChurchStaffing.com, finding such a pastor can be extremely difficult, said Goehner, whose firm recently searched for lead pastors for three large evangelical churches.

"The seminaries are not preparing guys to pastor large churches," Goehner said. "Usually, where these pastors fail is not in their preaching. … It's in the issue of management."

The mere existence of pastor search firms—which can earn $40,000 or more for a successful hunt—underscores the difficulty of filling such positions, said John Cionca, professor of ministry leadership at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul.

"A lot of it depends on how flexible you are," Cionca said. "If you're looking for someone who is a complementarian, a premillennialist, and 40 years old with senior pastor experience who is also a member of your denomination, then that is almost impossible to find."

Cionca and other Christian leadership experts agreed that there are few available pastors with the experience and skills necessary to lead large churches.

Serving in such a role has become much more complex, said Scott Cormode, professor of leadership development at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

"We ask more of our senior pastors than we once did," he said. "Once upon a time, it was appropriate to be the benevolent despot. … Now we expect a congregation of that size to be much more programmatic."

Kenneth Carder, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, said, "There is a vast difference in the organizational culture of a church with 200 to 300 members and that of a congregation of 2,000. The scale of management and organizational leadership shifts significantly, and there is little aid offered to help pastors transition."

Theological schools increasingly emphasize the importance of specific training in leadership, administration, and finance, said Cormode, who 10 years ago founded the Academy of Religious Leadership, a professional society for seminary professors who teach topics a student might study in an mba class: managing change, administering programs, and handling personnel and conflict.

The problem is that churches usually look first for preaching and teaching skills in a senior pastor, and only after that ask about administrative capabilities. "That is understandable and appropriate," Cormode said, "but it creates problems."

Last fall, the 1,200-attendee Laurelglen Bible Church in Bakersfield, California, formed a search committee for a successor to its longtime senior pastor.

The church's dream pastor will be a well-versed biblical scholar who is also a strong manager able to lead a staff of 18. "We really want God's man for this place," said John Penrose, an elder and executive pastor. "We're not just looking for a warm body to fill a pulpit."

Smaller churches also face a difficult challenge in filling pulpits, experts stressed—but for different reasons.

"Larger, wealthier suburban churches have candidates looking for them, so their questions are about finding the right fit," said Mark Parker, assistant vice president of Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tennessee. "In smaller or more rural contexts, the churches are the ones seeking a candidate … because they cannot afford to pay a full-time salary.

"Is there a shortage of ministers? Yes. But it is also an issue of distribution—where is a minister willing and able to work, and can he afford to work there at the salary the church is offering?"



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Previous Christianity Today articles about seminaries include:

Seminaries: Not Just for Pastors Anymore | Derek Cooper offers an insider's guide — and reflections on what schools need to do better. (February 9, 2009)
Stocks Squeeze Seminaries | Financial crisis may claim more evangelical schools in 2009. (January 12, 2009)
Retooling Seminary | Northern Baptist's new strategy: to reach more students with less. (August 17, 2007)

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