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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pastor/Teacher --- "Stranger?"

Yesterday (Dec.9.2009) Les Puryear made the following comment on his blog:

“ I would like to see seminaries such as SEBTS begin to recognize that the majority of their students will minister in small churches, whether established or newly planted, and provide courses which will equip them to minister in the small church culture which is a completely different environment than is found in megachurches.”

The high turnover rate of Pastors in the vast majority of Southern Baptist Churches, and the damage it causes to the witness of Christ and the work of the local church in our communities, is something that I feel very passionate about. I am told that the average tenure of a Southern Baptist Pastor is around 2 years… (If anyone has the precise numbers on this I would love to have them posted)

If this inexcusable number is even close to being correct (and I believe it is) then it is a clear indication that we have a deep rooted, unhealthy, and systemic issue within our Southern Baptist culture of accepting as normal short term/unstable leadership in our small Southern Baptist Churches.

There are many factors contributing to this sad condition and I make no pretense of being in any position, or possessing sufficient wisdom, to address them all. However, there is one thing that that I believe to be ‘the’ major contributing factor in all of this, and that is the practice of most small Southern Baptist congregations of calling absolute “STRANGERS” to pastor their church.

Here is the comment I posted on Les Puryear’s blog that gives my basic argument on this issue:


Thanks for this post!

This gives me the perfect opportunity to vent about something that I am very passionate about… and that is that this whole modern system of calling a “stranger” as your pastor is completely unbiblical.

Can anyone give me just one example in the Bible where a congregation called a “stranger” as their pastor? Yet 99.9% of the time in Southern Baptist Churches, no matter how careful the search committee is, and no matter how long they take, that is exactly what they do. They wind up calling a complete stranger to fill the most important position in the Church. Would anyone dare propose to their congregation that they need to look outside of their own body for Elders, Deacons, Teachers, or general officers? I think not. So why do we do exactly that for the positions of Pastor, and then get all offended when they don’t work out, or move on to bigger churches? There is a real simple solution to the problem of small churches being used as stepping stones… “Stop calling strangers as your Pastor”.

Can anyone explain to me how any search committee can affirm with any certainty that someone from outside of their own local community actually meets the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7. How can they know if this handsome young stranger with the good looking resume and the perfect wife and 2 little children on the front row, is of a blameless reputation or is nothing more than wolf in sheep’s clothing? In truth they cannot, but if he grew up in this community, or lived there for a few years they would know. They may actually check the references listed on his resume, but does anyone truly expect to uncover anything that would disqualify someone by asking the people listed on a resume? No, not really, so they usually wind up never asking any questions whatsoever about the man’s qualifications. You will notice that 1 Tim.3:7 says that he must have a good reputation of them which are without (in the community). How can a “stranger” possibly meet this requirement?

Ok… I could go on and on, but I think you get my point so I will shut up now :-)

Les replied:

“Greg, I have never heard that perspective before.”

I know this perspective cuts against the grain of our accepted practices within our Southern Baptist culture, and as I said above I could go into a much greater defense of this position… But what I really would like to know is what some of you think about this issue?

We discussed this issue at length during our Bible Study time at our Wednesday night services last night, and one of our Elders made the comment that the church is to function like and be modeled after the family and no family would ever seriously consider going out and bringing in an absolute stranger to be their “Father”. I thought that was a very insightful comment.

So, what say you?


Gary said...


Can't address directly the 'turnover rate', but here is a what should be a frightening quote from a 2006 book entitled Who Shall Lead Them? The Future of Ministry in America, by Larry A. Witham.

The increasing conflicts in congregations has ... added to the dramatic turnover in ministry. The Southern Baptists have been fairly open about this, reporting in 1988 a peak of roughly 1,400 “forced terminations” — or firings — of pastors in one year. Subsequent surveys, conducted out of pastoral concerns for clergy themselves, found the number settling to under one thousand in 2000. It was found that fired pastors had served, on average, for just three months.

The primary cause has been “control issues regarding who will run the church,” reported the LifeWay ministry of the convention. Other factors included “poor people skills of the pastor” and a “pastoral leadership style perceived as too strong.” While some worry that a third of all Baptist clergy will experience “termination” in their ministry, an outside scholar notes wryly that “Since the relationship between pastor and congregation is said to be God’s will, there is much (deeply ambivalent) laughter about God changing his mind so often.” The LifeWay study also found that 45 percent of the recently fired pastors left Baptist ministry: “We would like to know why so many did not return.”

The "fired" pastors averaged 3 months...

Your idea has great merit. Call someone from the congregation who you know, trust, and understand how and why they were called, then send them off to school to fill in the blanks, so to speak.

It certainly has merit for the vast majority of small churches.


Greg Alford said...


Thanks for the quote/info... and "Yes, those are some frightening numbers!"

"Call someone from the congregation who you know, trust, and understand how and why they were called, then send them off to school to fill in the blanks, so to speak."

That is exactly what was said in our Bible Study time last night.

Grace Always,

Gabaptist said...

Bro Greg,
I believe your perspective applies to many new pastors. Problem is that the pulpit committees never go beyond the designated references. But, there are other factors to small church pastor terminations and disruptions. I say this as a small church pastor of 20 yrs and my father as pastor for 50 yrs.
1. Most Seminarians today come from megachurches or large county seat churches and usually start off in a small church. Hence, disallusionment.
2. Seminary grads try to move too quickly the first year without getting accustomed to the traditions of a small church; therefore, they make enemies too quickly.
3. Some are not even sure of the purpose of a pastor as their churches have a different definition.
4. Some recent seminary grads tend to be more theological than their pastorates. The small church operates on an older model of pastoral leadership and the 2 models clash.
5. Unfortunately, many SBC churches opt for firing rather than intervention due to the pastorate seen as a popularity position, not a covenant between pastor and people.

Just some thoughts. BTW, I have noticed that pastors that can make the 3-5 yr mark in their first pastorate tend to do well in the long run with this sort of ministry.

In Him,

Greg Alford said...


You bring up some very good points.

1. It has been my experience that “Disillusionment” in any man of God, regardless of the difficulties and often heartbreak he faces in the ministry, comes not as a result of how others may mistreat him, but comes from a lack of truly accepting the Sovereignly of God in his life. I hope that does not sound harsh... but the man of God is first and foremost called upon to place his “Trust” in his God, and disillusionment is profound evidence of a lack of trust. We never find the apostle Paul disillusioned, and if any man of God ever had cause for disillusionment it was Paul.

2) You mention that Seminary Grads try to move too quickly in their first year. I agree... and this alludes to the point I was trying to make in this post; if they have been hired from outside the local congregation they are still very much unknown to the congregation this first year... they are still yet “strangers”. I think every Seminary Grad should be required to spend at least one year internship under the care of a Senior Pastor in a local church (preferably a small church) as a requirement for graduation.

3) I agree 100%... The expectations and needs of a large church and those of a small church are vastly different. So much so that those who are gifted to serve in one will most likely not be successful in the other.

4) Yes... I dare say that I would most likely be a miserable failure if I were to attempt to pastor some of the churches your father pastored over his 50 years.

5) This is sadly true... many view the pastor as a “hireling”, and not member of the family. And I fear that because of this, a “hireling” is all they will ever have.

Interestingly... I think that if our churches were calling men from their own congregations or community then sending them off to seminary to receive any training they lacked; most, if not all, of the issues you raise would be far less frequent and severe.

Grace Always,

Les Puryear said...


Very insightful comments. I would like to talk with you. Please email me at


Brent Hobbs said...

Good post Greg. I think there's a lot of merit in the ideas presented in this post.

Greg Alford said...


Thanks,… Just trying to get us to “consider our ways”.

Grace Always,

Gabaptist said...

Bro. Greg,
Thanks for the reply. I think you and I have some very similar views. I also agree that the biblical model is to look within the local church to urge younger men to seek the call to preach and pastor. It has its advantages. There are some disadvantages too.
As Vance Havner once said, "the life of the party is the death of the prophet." Some types of familiarity does breed some contempt at times. I guess what I mean is that small churches that are family churches may or may not respect a family member, although there have been some excellent examples of this working in the past.
The Marshall preachers in early GA had 3 generations--Daniel, Abram, and Jabez over 60 years. Jesse took his fathers churches...all 4 met once a month. John D. Mell took his father's (PH)churches at Antioch and Bairdstown. Kiokee in GA was primarily a family church in its inception.
BTW, I recommend "The Small Church is Different" as a good read. Written by a more moderate Baptist, it is good at outlining the differences in church sizes and their "way of doing church."

Also, thanks Bro. Les for the comment. I'll be in touch on your blog soon.
In Him,
GA Baptist

Cap Pooser said...

This post validates what I have always said . Pulpit committees are God’s curse on churches who refuse to call pastors God’s way.
If you look at 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1, the qualifications for elders/bishops can only be known if the prospect has lived among the church for a period of time. Anyone can polish a good sermon, threaten his wife and children with certain death for any misbehavior for 72 hours, meet and greet, bluff through an interview and get a call. But if “Look out among you “ is good for the deacon, it should be good for the elder/bishop. (I find no office of senior pastor in the Bible) A person who is established in an occupation, proven in family and business, and observed and measured by the Biblical qualifications will make a good pastor. You don’t even have to send him off to seminary in these days. On-line education is a viable alternative. If you send him off for education, the likelihood of him returning is diminished.. W.B. Johnson discusses this concept in his book on a gospel church under the heading of plurality and parity of elders. Established business men in a plural eldership with parity would be ideal for small churches , especially in these days of inflation and high salary requirements. At least, that is how I see it. Regards, Cap

Cap Pooser said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greg Alford said...


Your comment posted twice so I removed the second one…

As always your comments are filled with much Biblical Wisdom. “Pulpit committees are God’s curse on churches who refuse to call pastors God’s way.” I shall endeavor to remember this one, and use it as needed in confronting the errant church of our time.

I agree with you that the title of “Senior Pastor” is not found in the Bible… and for that reason alone we should drop the use of this man made title in our churches. We at FBC Ponce de Leon have been moving away from the use of the title Senior Pastor for several years now, and have opted to use the title of “Lead Elder” instead. But old habits die hard, and I still slip up and use the “Senior Pastor” title from time to time.

FBC Ponce de Leon adopted a plurality of Elders several years ago and it was the best decision we have ever made! I don’t see myself serving in any church without a plurality of Elders ever again. I also agree with you that “Parity” among the Elders is also much to be desired, and this is something we have been working toward also. However, I have found that “Parity” among the Elders is not something you can just declare, it is something that must be worked toward… and for that reason we require all of our Elders to Teach/Preach at one of our primary worship services on a regular basis.

Grace Always,

Batchaps said...


This is a very intriguing idea that you have raised/proposed. At some point though the analogy of "Father" fails in an autonomous church system as no child gets to choose their earthly father.

But, practically speaking, I would opine that the typical church in the U.S. has merged "Constitutional Rights" into their Doctrine of Sanctification. By that, I mean that the idea that we are independent and accountable to only our own conscience. That being the case, do you really believe that the typical church-goer will submit to the authority of little Timmy who used to be in the Children's Choir? Especially in smaller churches that are organized around two or three major families. I do recall a passage about a prophet not being honored in his hometown.

I further would opine that the issue lies within the seminaries and every Warren wannabe. Trying to reduce Scripture down to formulaic models that produce "church growth" is over emphasized (perhaps some Profs are supplementing their own retirement by selling books they authored) at the expense of simply developing a strong biblical/theological foundation that would/will endure wherever God uses the individual.

Grace to you,


Greg Alford said...


You bring up (opine) some good points…

I agree with you that much of the dysfunctionality in the typical Baptist church in the U.S. today can be directly linked to imposing the ideology of the individual’s “Constitutional Rights” upon the structure, order, and function of the Church.

I do not believe that the typical church-goer will submit to the authority of “little Timmy”, nor should they. I believe the bible clearly teaches that “authority” in the church is to be held by a plurality of Elders and not by any individual. Furthermore I believe that until “little Timmy” has grown into a mature, seasoned, and proven “Man of God” the church has no business thrusting him into any leadership positions within the church at all… much less that of an Elder.

Since we are both “opining” here… I do not believe that any young man in his mid to early twenties coming out of Bible College or even Seminary today is qualified to serve as an “Elder” in the local church. Bible College and Seminary do not prepare one to serve as an Elder in the local church… “Only Life” can prepare one to serve as an Elder in the local church. The word “Elder” implies experience… and experience is not learned in the classroom. No, Bible Colleges and Seminaries produced “Teachers”, not Elders.

Now, before anyone goes all Postal on me, let me say that I am not dismissing the important work our Bible Colleges and Seminaries do… I greatly value the work of our Bible Colleges and Seminaries in preparing young men to serve in the local church and the mission field. However, preparing young men to serve is just that; “perpetration”. And until any young man has spent more than a few years in work of the local church or mission field he has no business being an Elder in the local church, much less the only Elder in the local church as is most often the case in Baptist churches.

Lastly, I do not believe that the systemic problem that most local Baptist churches now face in the U.S. (dysfunctional, unstable, adrift) can be solved by our Seminaries… No, until our local churches abandon the man made system of church governance they now cling to and return to the Biblical model of a “Plurality of Elders” no amount of preparation will ever give our young men the means for success in these churches.

Grace Always,

Marvin Merriweather said...

Okay, all this opining is good and well for intellectual stimulation. However, the rubber must meet the road at some point (that is, knowledge and comprehension must blossom into application). So here's my question for everyone: what do we do about this problem? We can gripe about the average local church's problems all we want, but griping or opining isn't going to solve anything. What can we as God's people do to help these fledgling churches and to address this pervasive problem? I am certain we all have broken hearts for these churches and desire to see the problem addressed.

Greg Alford said...


The need for “Reformation” in the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention of today is very nearly as great as it was in the Catholic churches of Luther’s day when he nailed his ninety-Five Theses to the church doors in Wittenberg.

One of the definitions given in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary for the word reform is; “ to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses.”

Abandoning God’s design for the way a local church is to function and be governed, and replacing God’s design for the governance of the local church with one derived from a modern political movement is no less an abuse than those found in the Catholic church with its Pope. Hyper-Congregationalism and Popery are both abuses of God’s plan for the local church and both have lead to great faults in the local church.

God’s word is very clear that the local church is to be governed by a “Plurality of Elders”… and this is the first step that every local church needs to take.

(Acts 14:23 KJV) – “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”

(Titus 1:5 KJV) – “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

Until a proper (biblical) foundation is laid in each local church it is pure foolishness to expect any semblance of long term stability.

(Matthew 7:24-27 KJV) – “24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

Ok, I’ve given what I believe to be Step #1. Anyone else care to add to the list?

Grace Always,

Marvin Merriweather said...


I find your answer to be insightful, thought-provoking, and most importantly, biblical. Good answer.

This is the type of discussion that is fruitful - one that points toward answers. Everyone can find a problem with the local church, but few dare to venture into the land of potential solutions.