I want to finish my series on the long term pastorate with some observations about how congregations often make bad decisions due to the emotional attachment to a former Rector.
1. Most write job descriptions based on “the skills not found in our former Rector.” For example, Fr. Smith was a beloved pastor who was very good at visiting the sick, making house calls, and giving one-on-one pastoral care. Unfortunately, Fr. Smith was not a very good preacher or teacher. In addition, after 22 years, most of his sermon illustrations had been used plenty of times. So, when the search committee gets together, they focus on needing a good preacher and teacher. What they really should have done was start by affirming the skills in the former pastor that they wanted to see continued. In other words, they wanted a new clergy with strong pastoral abilities who could preach well.
2. The longer the pastorate, the more novelty seems like a good idea. This could include such areas as age, theological perspective, personal characteristics and (as mentioned above) skills. Using Myers-Briggs topology, an INFP is followed by an ESTJ. Said in regular English, a creative, introverted intuitive is followed by an organized, extroverted administrator. This looks good in the beginning, but it is not going to wear well in the long run. (By the way, the tendency to seek opposites seems to almost always be the case in Episcopal elections.)
3. The grieving process for a congregation – even when people believe the former Rector has stayed too long – is three to five years. And, some long-time members may never successfully work through their grief! This is why I believe the Episcopal Church over-estimates interim clergy. The truth is that no interim ever stays long enough to work through these issues. This means that the new clergy person will need to see his or her first few years as part of the grieving process and transition before the new pastorate can really begin.
4. Lastly, we know from research that 50% of all clergy who follow tenures of longer than 15 years are forcefully removed within five years. The reason is, of course, all of the above. I often say that congregations fire the new clergy person in the 3rd to 5th year for carrying out the job description given them in the first year.
While these land mines are predictable, I still remain amazed at what a poor job most dioceses do in helping congregations negotiate these issues. I am convinced, however, that with careful intervention and guidance a congregation can navigate these issues and, given the chance, will go on to establish a good, long-term relationship with the next Rector.