For a decade I had the privilege of working for a company that paid me more than I was worth (how often do you hear anybody say that?). The company also gave me freedom to grow and develop skills that helped its bottom line. The owner of the company gave these same pay and growth opportunities to the entire leadership team. As a result, the company grew from one store to multiple stores with annual sales of about $250 million. But looking back I now see the owner’s real genius was his policy of always striving to promote from within the company. He even promoted a couple of employees who were good workers but their readiness for management responsibilities was doubtful. And guess what happened, most of the promoted employees rose to the occasion and became the leaders the company needed. These policies resulted in the formation of a tight group of leaders utterly committed to the success of the company. We supported each other and worked together. Turf wars were minimal because everyone understood the interdependence of each department. The employees worked hard to grow the company because it meant more opportunities for advancement. Excitement was in the air.
Lately I wonder if the church in America is shortchanging itself when it comes to building tight groups of leaders. How so? Well, after decades in the church I’ve been blessed to experience the leadership of some extremely gifted pastors . . . and almost all of them came from some faraway place. I understand that within any church congregation there isn’t always a candidate with the education and experience to step into a pastor’s vacant position. I understand and greatly appreciate the advantages of new blood and fresh vision for a church. I get it. But I’ve noticed there has been a shift in the philosophy of doing overseas missionary work. These days, missionaries go to other countries where they establish a ministry and do their job while also training up local people to eventually take over. The idea being that the missionary will not stay there forever. I wonder why the church doesn’t take the same approach here in America. I can’t recall ever attending a church where the senior pastor was from the local community and came up through the church. Maybe that’s just because I live in Northern California where it especially seems like everyone is from somewhere else.
I’m sure there are exceptions to my experience, but what is this distasteful tendency we have to think the most gifted and qualified person is someone from outside the local community? I think the problem is that we tend to write people off too soon, especially those we know because we know their shortcomings. I don’t think Jesus wrote anybody off, and he certainly knew their shortcomings. I think Jesus saw potential in people like the Apostles. He gave them assignments and—with only one exception—they rose to the occasion.
I wonder what the church would look like, how many epic blunders could be avoided if it strove to promote from within (and I don’t mean nepotism). Just some things to think about for anyone on a search committee charged with filling a ministry leader’s shoes.