By Preston Pouteaux
I heard about a church that had to call a new pastor. Now typically when a church is looking for a new pastor they will, among other things, ask for references. Typically these references are other pastors, other churches, and other respected and notable figures. This church, however, was not looking for a typical pastor; this church was looking for something more (and less).
The church, in their search process, asked pastoral candidates to submit the names and phone numbers of all of the pastor’s immediate neighbours. The references were the people who had lived next door to the pastor, the people they might run into each day. The church felt that these references—the neighbours—would give the best picture of their future pastor.
They wanted the kind of pastor that you’d love to have as a next door neighbour, and the rest would be built upon that. It was a bold and unusual way of deciding who their pastor would be.
What if you were called to be a pastor based largely on what your neighbours said about you?
Often when I share this story with groups of pastors, foul flags are tossed from corners of the room. “Whoa there!”Some pastors have built their career on leading a church, running programs, and delivering pitch-perfect sermons. Now they have to be good neighbours, too? Many simply don’t have time for that.
Yet for other pastors there is a sense of relief. The ill-fitting clothes of pastoral performance reviews and timesheet along with the fatigue of keeping the programs going was never what some pastors imagined. For those who stepped into a life of ministry, called by Jesus to love God with their whole being, and to love their neighbours as themselves, this new metric is like a breath of fresh air.
At Lake Ridge Community Church, where I’m one of the pastors, we will often have people approach us, interested in leading a small group, starting a new ministry, or heading up some project. Typically I’d be excited to take up offers like this and I would jump on a chance to “plug in” leaders in this way. But I am learning that people are not plugs, and churches are not receptacles. Mechanical metaphors simply don’t reflect the life and rhythms of church and discipleship.
I am learning that those who step up to lead may not be those who we need to lead at this time. So I’ve come to set a different standard for those who ask to lead a group or ministry project. I thank them for offering to serve, and ask them if they would first be willing to host five dinner parties at their home, spend time around their neighbours tables, and make half a dozen coffee dates with people in the community. Some take me up on the offer, and go on to foster rich and authentic work in our midst. Some scoff quietly; their journey takes much longer.
When I was first called to Lake Ridge Community Church, the church was still an infant. It was a very new church plant with a handful of committed leaders, loving the town of Chestermere and shaping some beautiful conversations. In the call process I was asked if my wife and I would have lunch with three people who were very new to the church, newer followers of Jesus who had no experience in “formal” pastoral interviews. So we didn’t have an interview, we ate together, laughed, told stories, talked long about Jesus, and the rest is history.
Not only did they play a big role in deciding whether I would be their pastor, but they recount that in that moment something also changed in them, they felt a new level of connection, too. It was one of the most memorable and beautiful experiences for me and set the tone for how I would be a pastor in their midst.
This “Pastor Next Door” metric resets the current paradigm and rethinks how we measure pastoral success. Next week, I’ll get into the details of what it looks like to measure my work using this metric.