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2 more perils of the internal candidate

| by Brian Thorstad

In a previous post, “4 perils of the internal candidate,”I wrote about the difficulties which accompany the church staff member making himself a candidate for the position opened up by the departure of the senior pastor.

In too many cases, good churches stumble into these situations without any knowledge of the perils. Here are the four which I wrote about:

Peril #1 – The internal candidate who is eventually chosen for the position may be unable to lead effectively because of the emotional whiplash created by his changed position. 

Peril #2 – The internal candidate may become an icon for a faction in the church

Peril #3 – The internal candidate may not be considered in an honest and evenhanded way.

Peril #4 – Savvy external candidates for the senior pastor position will not consider churches which have rejected internal candidates on the staff. 

The following are two more perils of the internal candidate:  

Peril #5 – As a result of the third, some mismatched internal candidates are selected by the church in order to avoid a lengthy search process or to avoid conflict. I’ve heard both of the following:

“Why look elsewhere when we have a pretty good candidate right here in front of our noses? I’ve served on a search committee and it was a lot of work!” 

“I suppose we’d better just vote for Brother Jones so we don’t have trouble.” 

Peril #6 – The candidacy of the internal candidate may turn out to be seriously divisive. Do you remember the “Vote for Pedro” campaign from the movie, Napoleon Dynamite?In the second-worst internal candidate scenario I’ve heard of, fans of the associate pastor literally put up signs, placed  tables in the hallways of the church building and gave away buttons and bumper stickers in support of their man. 

Worse yet, the rejected internal candidate goes away mad and starts a new congregation. Those who follow are folks who believe that the candidate was “God’s man” for the job who was grievously mistreated by the leadership of the mother church by being turned down.

This means that a new church is born which is all about the rejected candidate. This is hardly what God has in mind for church plants. Can this be said to be a church built on the foundation of Christ, as in 1 Corinthians 3? While the new church may eventually “right itself,” it has a lot of work to do before it becomes a healthy congregation that God will be pleased to bless.

Here’s an alternative. Before the senior pastor resigns, the church board prepares the church for potential internal candidates by establishing a policy—any individual who “puts his name in the hat” for the position pledges himself, before he is officially considered, to leave the congregation, quickly and quietly, if he is not selected for the position.

It will never work for him—except in the rarest of circumstances—to remain in the church after his rejected candidacy. It’s like trying to continue in your office job, as if nothing has happened, after your failed romance with the person in the next cubicle.

Those who have seen these scenarios play out repeatedly say that it’s just a matter of time before the rejected internal candidate will leave the congregation. The sooner he leaves the scene, the better it is for everyone involved.

Instead of confronting the disappointed candidate with the need to move on after the fact, why not warn him up front that this will be the expectation.

This may not solve all of our internal candidacy problems, but God will be glorified if it prevents some of them.  

Brian Thorstad

Brian Thorstad is a Redevelopment Transitional Pastor. He is the author of Heaven Help Our Church! (A Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches) and Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches.

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