Are pastors “experts”?

Writing for the Alban Institute, Landon Whitsitt asks some provocative questions: to what extent are clergy “experts” at running a parish, and why don’t search processes focus much on a candidate’s administrative skills?

From where they sat, wasn’t I the one who had just spent three years at a prestigious theological institution where I learned not only theology and biblical studies but also all manner of practical concepts? Wasn’t I the one who had worked in campus ministry and as a student pastor in a church plant geared toward postmodern young adults? Wasn’t I the one who had been ordained to work as the program director for a world-recognized interfaith organization? Wasn’t I the expert? ….

We want our pastors to be experts in practical matters like leading worship, education, pastoral care, administration, and community organizing. And yet, typically, decisions about whether the candidate is qualified to fulfill a congregation’s expectations in these areas rest upon a very few number of conversations with a search committee, one sermon before the congregation, and parishioners’ feelings about whether they connected to the candidate during the three to five minutes they talked to her at the “getting to know you” reception the day before in the chaotic fellowship hall.

This scenario doesn’t bother us, however, because we assume that if the candidate can make a strong interpersonal connection, answer the search committee’s questions to its satisfaction, and deliver a well-prepared sermon, then they must be “exactly the person we’re looking for.” Their interpersonal skills and successful delivery of a dynamite sermon translate, in our minds, to a perceived ability to excel in administrating the church’s day-to-day activities and to effectively guide church boards and committees in carrying out the congregation’s broader ministry. I think it is not far from the truth to say that congregations vote on a pastor based primarily on her preaching skills and then are shocked if she’s not a great administrator.

He also notes a certain disconnect between the ways in which clergy are trained and the realities of the jobs that most of them do.


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