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Pendulum Swing Syndrome: 5 questions to ask when hiring a new pastor

Thom Rainer headshot

The pattern is predictable.

The previous pastor did not visit enough. We need to get a pastor who visits a lot.

The previous pastor was not evangelistic. We need an evangelistic pastor.

The previous pastor did not like to counsel church members. We need a pastor who is good at counseling.

You get the picture.

Too often churches choose new pastors largely based upon the perceived weaknesses of the previous pastor. While the change in pastors may indeed afford the congregation the opportunity to make necessary shifts in ministry priorities, the church should be wise not to overplay this issue.

When churches become players in the pendulum swing game, they are prone to overlook other issues, some of which may be far more important than compensating for a perceived weakness. I have heard numerous church leaders and members bemoan the bad fit of the next pastor simply because they did not ask sufficient questions.

In order to make certain churches do not intentionally subject themselves to the pendulum swing syndrome, I urge them to consider carefully these five questions:

  1. What are the perceived weaknesses of the previous pastor? No pastor is perfect. No pastor can meet all the needs and demands of church members. Let’s get this issue on the table and in the open, so we can be certain we don’t overcompensate.
  2. What are the clear and pressing needs of the congregation right now? This question is different than asking what everyone wants. It is a high-level question seeking to find the critical needs of the church so that the next pastor may be a good fit. The church should move toward this profile rather than a perceived deficit profile.
  3. What are the greatest opportunities in the community? The transition period between pastors is a great opportunity to assess anew the needs and the opportunities of the community. Has there been significant shifts in the demographics of the community that would inform the profile of the prospective new pastor?
  4. How might an interim pastor help the congregation see more clearly? I am a huge proponent of intentional interim pastorates. That is why we began offering certification of them at Interim Pastor University. The interim pastor can offer an objective perspective of the past, present, and future to help the congregation avoid the knee-jerk reactions common with pendulum swing emotions.
  5. What strengths of the former pastor might be needed in the next pastor? The emotional reaction of a congregation is to seek characteristics opposite of the previous pastor, to address perceived deficits. But it is likely the previous pastor had strengths that would be important for the next pastor to have. Don’t always assume the next pastor should be the opposite of the previous.

Too many churches let the pendulum swing too far when seeking their next pastor. Such emotional responses can result in the next pastor just not being the right fit for the church. It happens too often. Then the church finds itself looking for yet another pastor, probably with the pendulum swinging back the other way.

It’s an unfortunate cycle.

Don’t let your church fall prey to the pendulum swing syndrome.

Originally posted at

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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