What’s next for the Church?

by Daniel Overdorf 

What’s next for the church?  What will the coming years look like?  The short answer…I don’t know.  Only God does.  But here are a few things I feel in my gut – not an exhaustive list, but a few matters to consider.
 
 A THRIVING CHURCH IN THE NEXT GENERATION WILL BE:
 
1. Global.  Can you imagine if the Apostle Paul had access to air travel?  The internet?  Skype?  Thriving churches in the next generation will recognize their opportunity to participate in God’s expansion of His kingdom down every dusty road, in every metropolis, in every village.  As the world grows smaller, our opportunities for global impact grow larger.    
 
2. Diverse.  A year ago, I participated in the Metro Christian Convention in New York City.  I was one of only a few Caucasians in the room.  Around me, worshipping, stood brothers and sisters from every ethnic background imaginable.  I thought to myself, “This is what heaven will be like.”  Then I prayed, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  
 
3. Missional.  Rather than waiting for our communities to “come to church,” thriving churches in the next generation will actively engage people – actual people, not just stereotypes and labels – relationally and compassionately functioning as salt and light in their cities and neighborhoods.   
 
4.  Authentic.  Recent revelations about the abuse of power among Christian leaders have damaged our credibility and our mission.  Further, they have reemphasized the need for openness, honesty, transparency, and accountability in the church.
 
IN THE NEXT GENERATION WE WILL WRESTLE WITH:
 
1. Technology.  How does a church leverage technology but not bow to it?  As we move beyond websites to livestreaming and social media (and who knows what’s to come), how can technology advance the kingdom?  What about “online church?”  
 
2. Multi-Site Churches.  This recent phenomenon is mushrooming, and multitudes are coming to Christ through multi-site churches.  In some ways, they’re more consistent with the New Testament model than our typical approach.  Will the trend continue?  Will multi-site campuses be released from the mother ship?  What will this look like in thirty years?   
 
3. What Does it Mean to be “Non-Sectarian?”  Speaking from the perspective of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, how will we interact with others who are also laying aside (or at least deemphasizing) denominational ties, and who share our core beliefs, but who do not share our heritage or doctrinal distinctives?  How will we live out our ideal of non-sectarianism in this new environment?
 
4. The Relationships Between/Among:

  • The Church and the Government. How will the church and government relate?  How can the church influence the culture without become intertwined with it?  Speaking of the American church, how will we handle a loss of privilege and influence in our government?  
  • Christian Higher Education and Government.  As regulations from the government and accrediting bodies evolve around issues such as sexual identity and practice, discrimination, financial aid, and tax policies, institutions of Christian higher education may have difficult decisions to make, with significant financial implications, regarding their hiring, admissions, and discipline policies.
  • The Church and Christian Higher Education.  Because of the previous two points, the church and institutions of Christian higher education may have to rely on one another more than ever before.  Some current efforts are strengthening the bond between the two, such as residencies, teaching church programs, and semesters in ministry.  We will need to strengthen such efforts in the coming years to survive – thrive, even – in the next generation.  

What’s next for the church? I don’t know for sure, but I think it may involve matters such as these.  I do know for sure that it’s God church, He is sovereign, and His Church will thrive.  What we fear, He uses as opportunities for purification and growth.  In the next generation, the church will continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus as the hope of the world.

10 Commandments for a Pastor Search

by Daniel Overdorf 

Elders fulfill one of their most impactful roles when they hire ministry staff.  The wrong hire can lead to years of heartache, the right hire can result in years of fruitful and joyful ministry.  The following commandments (okay…they’re really just suggestions) can help.

1. Begin – and stay – on Your Knees.  Prayer is not just the first step in the process, it must weave itself through the entire process.  Engage the entire congregation in prayer.

2. Establish an Efficient Search Process.  Define the stages through which the search will progress.  As an example:

  • The elders appoint a search team.
  • The search team gathers résumés.
  • The search team checks references, performs phone/video interviews, then recommends the top two or three candidates to the elders.
  • The elders conduct phone/video interviews with the top candidates.
  • The elders choose a candidate to host for a face-to-face interview and visit.

3. Develop a Profile of the Ideal Candidate.  No individual will perfectly match the ideal, but developing a profile will give direction to the search.  Consider such matters as education, doctrine/beliefs, and the particular needs and personality of the church and community.

4. Assemble a Search Team.  Often, elders appoint a search team that includes a cross section of church members.  In other circumstances, elders prefer to serve as the search team themselves, or to commission existing church staff to conduct the search.  Each option is fine, but it should be defined and communicated. 

5. Get the Word Out.  Solicit recommendations from people who know ministers, such as professors, well-connected leaders, and workers from parachurch organizations.  If such networking fails to uncover appealing candidates, widen the search by posting the opportunity on ministry placement lists.  Most Christian colleges keep such lists, and consider online postings such as SlingshotGroup.org and ChristianStandard.com/help-wanted.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Consider at least a weekly email to all candidates still in the mix, even if just to say “We’ll be meeting next week…”  Appoint someone who is friendly and well-organized to handle this communication.  Also, provide as much information as possible to candidates about the church and community, perhaps an information packet filled with newsletters, pictures, bios of leaders, church history, budget, demographic information, and anything else that will be helpful.
 
7. Keep it Personal.  In this regard, churches should operate more like families than like businesses.  Families do not send form letters.  They do not draw conclusions based solely on résumés.  Instead, families talk, relate, interact, and ask questions.  Likewise, a personal search process gets voice-to-voice, then face-to-face, as soon as possible.
           
8. Host a Productive Visit.  When a candidate visits, plan the itinerary carefully to make it productive and enjoyable.  For example: pay all expenses, reserve a nice hotel room, stock the hotel room with a personal note and a basket of goodies, provide a car and a map with some free time to explore, plan some time for formal meetings but also informal gatherings.  Engage the help of someone who has the gift of hospitality. 

9. Reject as You Would Have Them Reject You.  At whatever point in the process you decide a candidate is not the right fit, remain personal and respectful.  Cold search teams hide behind form letters.  Caring search teams ask themselves, “How can we minister to this person?”  Through personal letters or phone calls, they’ll comment on the person’s strengths and promise to pray that God will guide them to the right opportunity.

10. Enjoy a Productive First Year.  When a candidate is hired, celebrate.  Allow time and resources for the new minister to transition smoothly.  And, don’t expect the new minister to “hit the ground running” too quickly or intensely.  That time will come, but first encourage the minister to settle his family into the community, to begin developing relationships, and to get his footing as a leader in your church.

Soon, we’ll no longer count the weeks or months but we’ll count the years our “new” ministers have served our churches.  May we begin a pattern in those early months that will stretch into those later years, a pattern of healthy partnership.

What Young Ministers Wish we Knew about Them

by Dan Overdorf

Each May, graduates march across stages at Christian colleges and seminaries nationwide to receive ministry degrees.  Then they march into our pulpits, youth ministries … and elders’ meetings. They’re educated and eager, but, well, they’re young.  They have new ideas.  They look at things differently than we do.  They say and do things that make us uncomfortable.  And we struggle to understand them.
 
In an effort to better understand our young ministers, I asked a number of them to answer this question:  “What do you wish your elders knew about you?”
 
I summarized their responses in no particular order:

  • I am a unique individual, not a generational profile.   
  • People trust you more than they trust me – your verbal support makes a difference.
  • Inexperienced does not equal ineffective.
  • It builds my confidence when you ask for my opinion.
  • When you let me try my new idea, you saved my ministry.
  • Finances are tight. 
  • When you invited me into your home, it made me feel like family.
  • I need your public support and private constructive criticism.
  • Being single doesn’t make me less of a minister.
  • I appreciate when you care about me as a person.   
  • I’ve given everything to serve the Kingdom.
  • We’re on the same team.
  • I am scared and need your encouragement more than I let on.
  • I need your help to grow as a leader, Christian, and person.
  • I pour my heart (and several hours of prep) into my sermons.
  • I have unique gifts and I need your help to develop them.
  • It hurts when people say, “You’re going to be a good minister someday.”
  • Being female doesn’t make me less of a minister.   
  • I need your trust.
  • I’m grateful that you took a chance on me.
  • I support you more than you think and I want you to succeed.
  • If you appreciate my teaching and preaching (and say so), others will too.
  • I am not the minister who came before me.
  • I proposed a change because I love the church and our mission.
  • I can serve best when your expectations are clear.
  • The gift for Pastor Appreciate Month meant the world to me.
  • I value our heritage and want to carry the baton to the next generation.
  • I felt supported when you helped pay for my master’s degree.
  • Sometimes I need to be alone with my family.
  • I feel appreciated when you treat me like a team member.

I once heard a long-time church member say, “I used to give my preacher a really hard time. He was a young guy who made a lot of mistakes, and he just didn’t measure up to what I thought he should be.  So I let him and everybody within earshot know what I thought.  Then I imagined myself at the Pearly Gates and God saying, ‘I sent a young minister to your church for you to encourage.  I have big plans for his future.  How’d you do?’”
 
“Right then,” this church member concluded, “I decided my job was to encourage and help him, not to criticize him and run him off.”
 
Young and old ministers need our support.  Our young ministers, however, need that support in extra measure.