Saturday Afternoon Book Review (Wade Hodges)

I was very impressed with the deadly serious honesty in Wade Hodges’ e-book, Before You Go: A Few Sneaky-Good Questions Every Minister Must Answer Before Moving to a New Church, about pastors leaving churches and what they need to think about. So I asked Wade to write something up for this blog about why he wrote that book, and here are his reflections:

From Wade Hodges

I occasionally get a comment on my blog that perks me up like a shot of caffeine straight to the vein. This one is from an elder and search team leader in a church currently looking for a new pastor.

He writes:

“. . .the new pastor has no idea what he or she is stepping into. The person running the search could be a real power broker that makes back room deals to get things done. Being on this side of a search process, a pastor is really a sitting duck not knowing all the politics and the players. It really is a pretty big act of faith to accept a call to a new church.”

It’s bracing to hear someone “on the other side” acknowledge what seasoned pastors already know and what naive pastors desperately need to learn before they put themselves and their families in church environments hazardous to their long-term spiritual health.

Pastors and former pastors, What is one question you wish you had asked before moving to your current ministry?

I wrote Before You Go in an effort to share insights resulting from my own naivete in working with two churches, as well as from conversations I’ve had with pastors who are convinced that moving to a new church is the best way to relieve frustrations with their current ministry. I suggest a number of probing questions that will benefit both pastors and churches as they navigate the complexities of the search process.

I ask two kinds of questions in Before You Go. I begin with some introspective questions designed to get pastors to focus more on the kind of people they are becoming rather than the kind of church they want to lead.

Most pastors change churches for the wrong reasons. They end up just as disappointed in their new church as they were in their previous one because they fail to address the changes they needed to make within themselves before they moved.

If you can’t answer the question of how you will be different in your new setting, you’re not ready to move on and shouldn’t expect much to change except your zip code.

The second kind of questions deal with the specifics of the church the pastor is considering. During the interview process, pastors are interviewing the church just as much as they are being interviewed by the church. I’m amazed at how little thought most pastors put into the questions they ask the search team during the interview.

Consider the search process a great opportunity to play the role of detective: asking questions, chasing leads, and following hunches. Every church has a few secrets that don’t make it into the opportunity description packet, some of which will have a huge impact on your ministry if you accept the job. You owe it to yourself and your family to do some digging.

Ultimately, there is no way of guaranteeing that things will go well in your next church. You can, however, increase the likelihood of having a productive ministry, while also diminishing the level of regret you’ll experience if things turn sour, by asking (and answering) as many great questions as possible before you go.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • JRS

    “They end up just as disappointed in their new church as they were in their previous one because they fail to address the changes they needed to make within themselves before they moved.”

    This is a very curious statement to me. Is it evidence based?

    Take this out of the church setting. When someone moves from company A to company B are they often disappointed because they failed to make the changes they needed to make within themselves?

    Granted no pastor (no person!) is perfect, but why the assumption that the challenges and frustrations of working in a church are because of the pastor’s problems?

    There are many possible explanations for the struggles of pastors. Their personal formation is only one of them.

    And arguably not the most important.

  • Penny Nance

    I was just fired by my previous church because of a few power hungry people. Yet I realize that before I go to my next church there is some internal work that I need to do. I know that I didn’t do everything right and really want to learn from my mistakes. I will be buying the book and reading it!

  • Dana Ames

    JRS,

    The church isn’t a business. It’s much more complicated relationally than simply going to a job every day.

    The challenges and frustrations of working in a church are certainly not entirely because of the pastor’s problems. But even in situations where the problems don’t arise because of the pastor, the pastor’s reactions and input are definitely influenced by his/her problems and issues, as well as strengths.

    I think personal formation is actually the most important component. My experience is that self-aware pastor who is practicing the classic disciplines in the love of Christ tends to exhibit more emotional health and personal honesty, which helps the pastor deal with whatever human situations come up. If a pastor is not such a person, there’s emotional wreckage left behind.

    Dana

  • http://faithoncampus.com Guy Chmieleski

    I appreciate Hodge’s desire to get pastors considering both sides of the equation.

    Having worked in some toxic setting before, I know the kind of toll it can take on you — and the sort of “detoxification” that needs to take place before you are able to make an honest attempt in a new context (without a chip on your shoulder or distorted filter through which everything is processed).

    I’ve also interviewed, and been interviewed, enough to know that it has to be a good fit for both sides — both parties need to ask the right kinds of questions — because one side could simply be looking for a way out of their current context (or to fill a vacant position on staff).

    This is the kind of book that needs to be read while pastors are still in a healthy place — before the need to ask such difficult questions arises — otherwise it’s probably too late (at least for this time around).

  • PastorM

    I simply find it amazing that God’s work gets done through every dysfunctional pastor and dysfunctional congregation–often in spite of both pastor and congregation. That’s not to deny at all that about which you write–just an observation that God continues to work in wonderful ways.

  • http://brianmetzger.blogspot.com/ Brianmpei

    My question: Please tell me about the last major conflict your church leadership faced and the details about how it was dealt with.

  • http://jasonsmith.wordpress.com jason smith

    I have followed Wade’s blog, but not read the book. I think this is important.

    This is such a niche book. But, oh so important for pastor’s and for people who might participate in a search committee.

    I just changed churches in the last year and my new church was expertly guided through the process by a large church in our “denomination.” I felt the expertise and felt like I benefited greatly from it. Also, because I knew myself better than I did, say, 4 years earlier, I asked better questions, and knew what I was getting myself into. A senior leader from the large church had given significant leadership to the leadership team and board of directors at our small church for six months, so I was able to ask him candid questions and see land mines (and am still). I think pastors, with their egos, think they can “fix” anything and because they have weak or semi-weak conflict resolution skills, are unprepared for the personalities they will face in established churches. It is great to have resources like this to give yourself an education before you get started.

  • Jim

    In my experience, no matter where I have gone I have always taken myself with me. While that’s not the whole thing, it’s pretty basic to it.

  • http://www.thebrooknetwork.org Mel Lawrenz

    Pastors must always be careful about two things that get thrown their way: flattery and criticism. One of the best bits of advice I got from an older pastor is: take both sappy flattery and withering criticism with a grain of salt. Too many pastors up and quit their churches because they generalize the harsh criticism of a few, and too many pastors go looking for places where people will consider them heroes.

  • PastorDee

    I found that my reasons for leaving from my first two calls were less along the lines of my discomfort than the simple fact that I had grown and was ready for more of a challenge. Particularly in the first or second Call where one is the “junior” staff, there is a point where you have been mentored and are ready to take on a bigger role in servant leadership.

    When one gets to the next level of change (i.e. from senior staff to senior staff position) then yes, you need to look at where you are struggling and need either re-training or reinforcement. I also was able to tell a prospective church what I knew I would want a team to help do (I’m NOT good at children’s ministry, even if I have ovaries!) and where I wanted accountability (I CAN handle finances and budgeting, but saw the need for the Church to own more of the decisions.) I was also up front about pay and benefits issues, which, though there is a denominational “standard” for senior pastors, was being ignored. Housing allowance, educational funds, sabbatical after 7 years… yup. I brought them up. To not discuss it early on and then be hurt that they ‘didn’t think of it” is a shared mistake.

  • jill

    having gone from the “candidating” phase through to being hired twice with my husband I can say we would not approach that process the same again. In the first church we were young, ill-prepared, and unable to see what should have been very clear warning signs that there was a lot of unhealthy tension and poor boundaries with expectations placed on each Pastor’s wife. The second time around we set better boundaries on this from the beginning and it has made for a healthier marriage and family life. Be very, very cautious that questions which may appear to be “getting to know you,” questions directed at the pastor’s wife are not actually questions designed to see what ministry slots she can fill. Other than politicians running for office, there is no other profession I am aware of where the spouse is also expected to “interview.”

  • abs

    “They end up just as disappointed in their new church as they were in their previous one because they fail to address the changes they needed to make within themselves before they moved.”

    There is a great book by Edwin Friedman called “Failure of Nerve”, which echoes some of these ideas from a family systems theory approach. He sites lots of examples in all areas of leadership, from clergy to business to parenting, in which leadership in any organization is essentially boiled down to the leader and his/her self-differentiation within the system.

    Its well worth the read.

  • http://www.wadehodges.com Wade

    Failure of Nerve is a great book. Friedman’s fingerprints are all over Before You Go.

    Thanks for all the great comments.

    RJS–My statement is based on anecdotal evidence. I’ve been a pastor 14 years and I’ve got a lot of pastor friends. You are right that pastors are not unique in this area. I’ve gotten feedback that what I wrote in Before You Go is applicable to a number of professions.

  • http://www.wadehodges.com Wade

    Sorry…I meant JRS.


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