At a previous church, the letterhead was changed at least once a month. It was a running joke. The pastor was pretty temperamental and prone to having tantrums. Any leader who displeased him in any way was likely to be stripped of their title and subsequently have their name removed from the church letterhead. We laughed about it, but it’s really not that funny.

Churches – especially small churches – have a way of putting people into positions they don’t really fit in. Sometimes, it’s one of those cases where someone volunteered to fill a vacancy, and the pastor didn’t want to hurt her feelings so he appointed her.  Or sometimes, it’s a matter of the pastor choosing his friends and family, or those who have “the look” (or the “talk”), or those who are the most popular and can draw in the biggest crowd.  Usually, it’s just a case of working with what you have. Sis. Jane may not be a good choir director, but she’s on time for every rehearsal, and knows all the latest choir songs, so it just seems like a natural fit. This doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, but it could actually be detrimental to the foundation and stability (and image) of a church.

I often advise new pastors to refrain from assigning titles and roles for 6-12 months. Though it’s difficult to do, I tell them, just sit back and watch the leaders emerge. A leader will step in when he sees a need, and do the work. A leader doesn’t wait on a title, a paycheck, or a coronation. A real leader just does what needs to be done.  He or she WILL emerge. But many times, pastors of new churches are overzealous in their attempts to get the ball rolling, so they assign roles based on who is supportive, who is faithful, who is… there. Eventually, this leads to chaos, frustration, instability, and hurt feelings. The “leader” is frustrated in the struggle to fulfill an assignment s/he isn’t called to handle; the people experience chaos because they’re trying to submit to someone who isn’t equipped to lead. Then, a few months later, the person rightfully assigned (by God) to this ministry area emerges, the pastor realizes his/her mistake and has to make some changes, which inevitably hurts somebody’s feelings.  The congregation then feels a sense of instability because of all these leadership changes. Nobody comes to church to play a game of tag.

It is crucial that any person assigned to any leadership role be a good spiritual fit, relational fit, skill fit, and passion fit.

Recently, I read an EXCELLENT article called Selecting the Right People is Key to Successful Leadership.” In it, Dr. Rick Ezell discusses five things to look for when selecting leaders:

  • People who are called – “called people are not trying to promote themselves, but a higher cause
  • People who have character – “no matter how gifted, trained, or seemingly mature a person is, the true usefulness of those attributes will be determined by character
  • People who are committed – “have made a mature, consistent commitment to Christ and His kingdom’s purposes.
  • People who are compatible – “turn diversity into unity. They turn an audience into an army.
  • People who are coachable – “are aware of their own limitations and inadequacies and eager to learn and improve.

It’s pretty hard to gain momentum when you’re constantly stopping to regroup, realign, and readjust. Not to mention, turnover is expensive: it costs time and money to retrain, and it puts undue stress on the people who have to learn to work with a new leader. And how dumb is it to change your letterhead every other month? What message are you sending to the congregation and community?

I urge pastors and others in senior-level leadership to seek God for each and every vacant position. Get some advice from a consultant. Talk to these candidates. Find out whether they are qualified. Ask them about their vision. Take notes. Go to a quiet place and pray.

As a friend put it, if you get a new Sunday School Superintendent every six months, this might be a good time to seek God. You can’t just say eenie-meenie-miney-mo.