We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, July 5, 2013

Measuring Successful Pastorates

Measuring successful pastorates these days is a tricky business.  A successful pastorate is measured not only by what happens during the years that a pastor serves the church.  It depends also on what happens after the pastor leaves.  There is a class of pastors who are apparently successful during the years they serve, but they build that "success" on their own personality.  The next pastor is left with a challenge that only a few successors can meet, namely picking up where their charismatic predecessor left off.  Eventually, the chain of charismatic pastors will break, and the church will go into decline.  Even a relatively competent pastor finds it very difficult to follow a pastor who has built her success on her own personality.

It is the churches that suffer.  A charismatic pastor attracts people who are "there" for the pastor, not for the church, and often these folks become leaders in the church.  Once their "beloved pastor" leaves, these folks lose interest very quickly.  They may wait around to see what the next pastor is like, but they are seldom satisfied with the successor to their idol.  And they bail, usually quietly, sometimes noisily.  The successor and the church are left holding the bag.  The church is weakened.

Now, "back in the day" churches could go through periods of boom and bust without incurring permanent damage.  That is no longer the case, at least for mainline churches. Today, it takes only one failed pastorate to send a church into a permanent tailspin.  In our more complex age, an apparently successful pastorate built on the personality of the pastor is dangerous to the health and future of the church such a pastor serves.  All of the excitement and growth is but a prelude to decline, sometimes even disaster.  The longer the charismatic pastor serves, the more dangerous his pastorate is to the future of the church.

A successful pastor today is one who leaves the church she serves stronger.  It's members are committed to the church, not the pastor.  They have been given the space to exercise significant leadership for themselves.  People are attracted to the church because of the quality of its life, not the charisma of its pastor.  Dollars will get you donuts the church has a good number of active small groups, which take responsibility for themselves as a matter of course.  Today's truly successful pastor leaves a congregation built on the strengths of the congregation, which over the years have been cultivated and enhanced.  The church is charismatic, rather than the pastor.  The Spirit, that is, works through the medium of the whole church, not just the personality of the pastor.  A charismatic mainline church has every opportunity to grow, depending of course on its locale because it will in and of itself be attractive to others.  Pastors who work with their churches to the end that the church will be charismatic are ones who are more likely to have successful pastorates because when they leave the church has the strength and commitment to carry on.

Measuring successful pastorates these days is a tricky business.