What makes an “experienced” pastor?


In our parts, we’ve watched some difficulties in the call process. There are a lot of churches here, and a lot of turnover. The congregations don’t seem to be particularly difficult, but in the short time that I’ve been here, I can’t help but notice the perplexing trend that matches take a long time to be made, and then people don’t always like each other after they are.

There are many explanations as to why that is. The one I hear the most often is that in D.C., we attract a lot of power-hungry pastors, and power mongers don’t make good pastors, in general.

A friend says it’s all in the experience, that these search committees are looking for the wrong things. Since Susan O also mentioned a problem with how committees define experience, it made me wonder, What are we looking for? What should we be looking for? What is good experience? What experience is seen as bad?

As a young pastor, I’ve always been perplexed because I’m always told that I don’t have enough administrative experience. I point to my years as a business manager, but they mean in a church. I point to my years as a solo pastor, but they mean in a church with more than one pastor. I talk about being non-ordained staff in a church with multiple pastors, but they mean as ordained clergy. Which always leaves me scratching my head, wondering, What exactly do churches want in terms of experience?

On the other hand, I also know a pastor who was an Associate all of his career, and when he applied for Solo positions, he was told that he needed…experience. Which left him perplexed, “How am I going to get this experience if no one will hire me?”

So, I’ve sought a lot of counsel on this and I’ve received a lot. Here’s the most interesting (not necessarily the best, just the most interesting):

You have to be on a multiple pastoral staff. Churches like to see that you can work with other pastors.

Earn a doctorate. Congregations just like to call their pastor “Dr.” (I was surprised in a recent conversation with an Episcopalian priest that this is not an understood requirement for them. What about other denominations?)

Become a pastor on the East Coast. The world is run from the East Coast.

As for what churches should be looking for, I’ve heard this:

Churches ought to be looking at the statistics. The committees don’t look enough at the statistics (in the PCUSA, the membership, giving, and attendance stats of each church are on the denominational website. Sometimes they’re bogus, but it can be a warning sign if the church has done a swan dive in the ten years that a certain person has been pastor).

Churches should be wary of a pastor who has too much education.

So what do you think? What are churches looking for? What should we be looking for? What sort of advice have you been given? What are the reasons that you’ve been turned down for positions that you’ve wanted? Shouldn’t chaplaincies count as valid experience? What about the experience gained in a prior career?

Overall, I think there’s way too much emphasis on experience in our denominations (is this just because I’m relatively young?). We hear so much about experience, and hardly anything about potential. If I were searching, I’d be much less interested in where a pastor’s been and much more excited by where (s)he is going.


7 thoughts on “What makes an “experienced” pastor?

  1. I think a lot of churches are looking for someone who feels and looks experienced rather than someone with specific experiences. Pulpit-candy if you will.

    You can write me off as a disgruntled Associate if you want, but what I’d like to know is why “experience” contributes to a senior Pastor make twice what an Associate makes. I guess Associates only do half the work.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post, I think that all of the above can be somewhat true at times. As a United Methodist, that earning a doctorate may have some impact and being a pastor on the east coast really has no bearing within the appointive system in which the UMC operates.

    However, being on a multiple staff has some impact on “experience.” Sometimes, I honestly think that when someone is talking about experience they may actually be talking about age. They may not want someone to whom they react either consciously or unconsciously as too young. What do you think?

  3. Shawn, no, no. “Pulpit candy” is pure genius. In one day, I’ve already quoted you three times on that one.

    Andrew, I’m sure age has a lot to do with it… consciously or unconsciously. It kind of goes back to Shawn’s point. It seems to be a lot about when a pastor looks experienced. I’m just wondering if experience should be the most valued asset for a pastor.

    I mean, we’re learning more and more about the value of the long-term pastorate. But in order for a pastor to stay in a position for 30 years, (s)he has to be hired when (s)he’s 30. I wonder if that happened more back in the day…

  4. This is the one of the beautiful post I have read in this day, I think every pastor should read this article atleast once to memorize what actually a Pastor is and I thank the author for sharing this beautiful article through this post.

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