A highly gifted man I know has just moved to pastor a new church. He’s a good preacher, down to earth, warm and greatly loved – and in the decade he’d been at the previous church it had more than doubled. He’s left multiple services, a packed church, a growing staff team and a building development well on the way to breaking ground.
So the church is looking for a new pastor. What they want is someone to do it again. They want anther highly relational leader who will, by the same practices as the previous guy, continue the church on its growth path. They loved him, and they want it to happen again.
The trouble is, it wouldn’t happen. I’m convinced that even if they appointed the same man again it wouldn’t happen. Why? Because the church has already reached the limit of what that style of leadership can achieve. That style is based on everybody personally relating to a single leader, and there’s a limit to how far that can be stretched before even a highly relational leader can do no more (I think it was Rick Warren who made flash cards of the church’s membership so he would know everyone by name – even he maxed out at 2,000. But if you find another Rick Warren, hire him). The old pastor grew the church to around 700, and that is a remarkable achievement.
What they need is someone who will be relational and personable, but sees networks of relationships as critical, and actively encourages multiple horizontal relationships within the church. Everybody needs to know lots of people.
As so often, there are only three futures: the new leader will have the different style necessary to take things on further; the new leader will have the same skill set as the previous minister and the church will plateau at best or, given the highly gifted nature of the predecessor, decline into a relational pattern that is more sustainable for that style; or the pastor will start to burn out, like an engine driving fast in a low gear.
By the way, the pastor who left went to lead a smaller church in a big city: over the next decade, he’ll probably grow that church substantially too.