Most church members report a high level of satisfaction with their church’s current leadership, according to findings from the largest and most representative profile of worshipers and their congregations ever conducted in the U.S. In fact, only a very small number—3%—stated that they believed their pastor and congregation are not a match. That’s encouraging news for churches facing one of the most daunting decisions a congregation can make: finding the right pastor. In Leadership that Fits Your Church: What Kind of Pastor for What Kind of Congregation (Chalice Press, $19.99 paper, November 2012), authors Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce offer insights into making a successful match.
The book is based on findings from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey (USCLS), of which Woolever is research manager. The survey, funded by grants from Lilly Endowment, Inc. and the Louisville Institute, records the views of more than half a million people who regularly participate in worship. In addition, one key pastoral leader in each church responded to a survey about job satisfaction, sources of support and stress, compensation, and theological education.
The scope of the USCLS allows Woolever and Bruce to present a comprehensive portrait of pastoral leadership, drawing upon a large representative national sample of pastoral leaders, congregations, and parishes; a broad range of denominations and faith groups; the experiences of pastors in congregations of all sizes; and the opinions of both pastoral leaders and worshipers in the same congregations. “This book presents a 360-degree data driven view of all that is involved in congregational vitality: the values, commitments, experiences, and perceptions of members, lay leaders, and pastors,” says Woolever.
Leadership in the congregational context is particularly complex and difficult, the authors acknowledge. Yet most pastors who participated in the study reported that they are enthusiastic about their ministry and feel they’ve accomplished a lot. High ministry satisfaction can be a buffer against the high stress levels that accompany pastoral work, and can prevent burnout.
Woolever and Bruce show how a strong match might be made between pastor and congregation. They follow the pastoral transition experiences of three churches: mainline Protestant, Catholic, and conservative Protestant. They outline pastor and church types, then dig more deeply into the dynamics that yield a successful match.
The authors liken the dynamics that carry congregations forward to currents in a wide river. They map out the barriers to smooth pastoral transitions, offering insights into the “dams” or obstacles that congregations face when they seek effective pastoral ministry: “No pastor or congregations can be alerted ahead of time to all the bumps and barriers they are likely to encounter. All of us who care about congregations must climb in the kayak and make the journey down river.”
Leadership That Fits Your Church is the latest volume in The Columbia Partnership (TCP) Leadership Series.