Regional Associations often bemoan the fact that the pool of qualified clergy is smaller than the open positions among the congregations within their charge. This leads them to conclude that there is little they can do to improve the way they facilitate pastoral succession processes. This is wrong for a number of reasons.
First, no process is perfect, and no fit is perfect between any individual and their work assignment including clergy and congregation. An 80% fit between clergy and church is as close to “perfect” as we are ever going to achieve in the best of circumstances. Our aim is to optimize the fit given the realities of the situation. Given that goal it is better to have the information that organizational intelligence provides in order to make that fit as close as possible. A 60% fit may not be ideal, but it is surely better than 30%.
Second, accurate information about a congregation becomes a recruiting tool that is more likely to attract the best candidates in a small pool. Of course, many pastors are going to be attracted to congregations that are clearly transformational and have the evidence to back up their claim. However, there are also excellent “rehab” pastors who are actually attracted to reinvention congregations if they are self-aware and ready to grow. Either way, the information makes a church more attractive to good candidates.
Third, optimal fit is only one aspect of the succession process. A second is having a well-conceived transition plan that sets the stage for the next pastor. The best fit pastor can fail if certain transition issues are not addressed prior to their arrival. Organizational intelligence can go a long way in addressing transition issues that, if addressed, make it more likely that the next pastor will succeed whatever the fit. Organizational intelligence can uncover ministry-killing patterns in the life of a congregation like clergy-focus, strategic-tactical dissonance, emerging conflict, member burnout, a mismatch between goals and community context. A transition plan can at least begin to address these issues so that a new pastor’s ministry won’t be doomed from the start.
Finally, good start-up plans can help the new pastor get oriented to the congregation so that unintentional missteps are avoided. Settled congregations need a different start-up plan from flexible ones. Worship-focused congregations need a different start-up from ministry-focused. A pastor who has integrated the organizational intelligence for a congregation into their thinking can help a congregation feel known and understood at the very beginning in ways that build trust early in the relationship.
Scarcity, fixed-pie thinking is the sure path to a self-fulfilling prophecy for both regional associations and congregations. There is a reason that the loaves and fishes story made it into the Bible.