Changing times, changing needs

New church development pastors must be humble, teachable, authentic

August 15, 2011

BAJA CALIFORNIA, Mexico

Twenty years ago, the ideal candidate for a church-planting pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was a 34-year-old married male with two kids or more, a dog and a mortgage. He was a charismatic leader who could draw people to himself, according to research done at the time.

“That’s not necessarily the only person we are looking for anymore with this generation,” said Craig Williams, associate for the PC(USA)’s Western Office of New Church Development. “We need people that have gifts in teambuilding, in community development and that not only have vision but are able to translate that vision so that others can articulate it as well.”

Planters still need to be able to articulate vision, but rather than it just being his or her own vision, leaders need to listen to and discern the community’s vision.

“The challenge for us in planting these new communities is how do we find more people who are willing to direct, assist, encourage and hold the vision — yet not make it about them?” Williams said.

There is also a shift away from a hierarchical model, consistent with a Reformed understanding of the priesthood of all believers.

“In some ways our culture as Presbyterians is well-suited for this shift — as long as we are not regulatory,” Williams said. “In the past we have seen ourselves as regulatory rather than mission agencies, not to encourage the mission of the church but God’s mission in the church.”

Along with a team, Williams has been leading potential new church development pastors through a three-day assessment process aimed at discerning giftedness for ministry in this area. The potential pastors are taken through psychological inventories such as the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment and the Gallup Assessment.

“But we are also watching to see, how do they interact with people? How do they function in a group? Do they bring out the giftedness in others?” Williams said. “One of the main things we look for is ‘teachability’ — are they learners?”

“We are also looking for people who are willing to stay in culture and help to be salt and light in the midst of it, not over and against it,” Williams said. “We’ve got to find some way to support people so that they can stay in the world where they are rather than pulling them from that as soon as they begin to follow Christ.”

Authenticity is another characteristic essential for a pastor of a new missional community.

“We need people who are able to not be perfect, but be genuine in their faith expressions,” Williams said.

But underlying the traits of humility, teachability and authenticity there is one essential — has the person ever started anything before? Williams is quick to point out that it doesn’t have to be something in the church, and it doesn’t have to be a success story. What is important is how resilient the person is in the midst of the challenge.

“What we are saying is, ‘OK, you’ve got a passion for this, but tell me how your practices match up with your passion,’” said Williams. “If you are not already out there making friends with people who are not yet followers of Jesus, then how on earth do you think you can start a new community?

“Ultimately there is no fool-proof way of assessing, but if they have missional behavior in their Christian life and they can describe it then they are halfway there to being potential church planters,” Williams said.

Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.

  1. And this is different from the traditional pastor model, how? All the items mentioned are things good pastors have been trying to do for generations.

    by Jim Browne

    August 16, 2011

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