Friday, June 22, 2012

Pastor Search Team Final Installment: Don't Hire the Best Man. Hire the Right One!

I've seen it many times.  A search team discovers a candidate whose vision and passion matches that of the church.  The "vetting" process is seamless.  He has a track record that proves he is a man of integrity.  He has worked in contexts like their church before and thus has experience that will benefit them well.  Contextually, there is no better match for them than this man.

But within their stack of resumes, there is another man with a higher-earned degree, or more "ministry experience," or the endorsement of a denominational executive or famous pastor!  So they hire him because, after all, he is the "best, most qualified" candidate.

And in doing so, the committee usually makes a huge mistake!

My friend Eric Geiger says it best in this post, when he says "the "best" leaders when not in sync with the values of the ministry/organization unintentionally lead her in a plethora of directions. . .A pastor or search team commit they are going to "hire the best and let them run."  They search diligently for the best staff members, driven by a faulty assumption that putting the best people in a room around the same table will be best for the church.  The leaders run, as they were told they would be able to do, and they run in a multitude of directions.  And they take the church with them"

In the end, even the "best" candidate will not serve the church well if he does not fit the context.  As a church consultant friend of mine loves to say; "The church must fit the pastor, and the pastor must fit the church."

So how can you determine whether a candidate meets the qualification of contextual fit?  Here are a few areas to examine:

1. Doctrine.   I serve 60 Baptist churches, all of whom draw the lines in different places when it comes to theology.  To be sure, our network of congregations is thoroughly evangelical, with a high view of Scripture, and exclusive view of Jesus, and an aggressive view of our common mission, and the willingness for our churches to work together around these emphases is what makes our missionary work so potent.  But once you get inside those churches, you discover some very different beliefs when it comes to issues of secondary priority.  I've often chuckled at the fact that, though I direct missions for this entire network, there are individual churches in that network that would have never ordained me to ministry!

With all this in view, it is important that a search team understand the unique theological identity of their church. For example, when it comes to eschatology, I personally hold loosely to Covenant theology, and find Dispensationalism to be problematic.  I have dear friends who are Dispensationalist, and I have no axe to grind when it comes to this issue.  Nevertheless, if I were to be invited to interview at a church, and saw "Left Behind" in the church library and prophecy charts all over the walls outlining multiple "comings" of Jesus, I'd need to be honest with that church about who I am and what I believe.  Conversely, it probably wouldn't be wise for that committee to pursue a guy like me.

Other churches might not care where a candidate is on these issue, but may care deeply about others.  The job of the search team is not to find someone doctrinally identical to the congregation, but anyone they recommend as pastor should at least be doctrinally compatible.

2. Vision.  Often when serving as an interim pastor, I will do "vision casting" exercises with the congregation.  Ultimately, I believe that God grants His vision for each local church, and places that vision in the hearts of His people, and my role as an interim pastor is to draw that vision out of them, get it in writing in a way that builds consensus, and then give that document to the search committee with the following simple instruction:  "Go find a man who says what is on this document!"

This doesn't mean that the pastor cannot himself be a visionary.  One of the reasons congregations need pastoral leadership is to help them refine and process their identity and future direction.  But if there is a mismatch between the vision of the pastor and that of the congregation, such is a recipe for disaster!  I'm not sure where the idea came from that a pastor's job is to "instill vision" into the people, but its pure nonsense!  The church is a priesthood, and God has given His vision for their future to ALL of them!  Sometimes it may be difficult to get them to see it, and that is where pastors come in.  But pastors are not the "dispensers" of vision.  They are the executors and guardians of it!

In light of all this, search teams need to search for a man who, with integrity, communicates a personal calling that resonates with them.  Ask a candidate what God has called him to do.  Ask him what that looks like in a congregational context.  If his answer excites you to the point that you find yourself saying "God is calling US to that too," then this may be a candidate you want to pursue further.

3. Environment.  Simply put, is this candidate accustomed to doing ministry in the environment where your church is found?  This is not a hard rule.  I've seen God use quite a few "southern boys" here in the northeast to build His Kingdom effectively.  In a very real sense, I'm also an exception to this rule.  I grew up in a rural, blue-collar, lower, middle-class household, and I now do missionary work in the third most affluent county in North America!  Still, it is legitimate to ask whether a candidate has the capacity to "make it" in your environment.  So if you are in a transitioning part of the inner city, think twice before hiring someone who has only done ministry in suburban mega-churches, even if he has a Ph.D. and the endorsement of Billy Graham! Conversely, if a high percentage of your mission field are white collar professionals with graduate degrees, a guy who has spent all his life ministering to rural folk may not be the best fit.

Again, this should be seen as a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule.  But a pastor will not serve you well if he cannot thrive in your environment.

4. Culture.  Every organization, including the church, has an organizational culture.  How is the church governed?  How are decisions "really" reached?  What are appropriate and inappropriate ways to get something done?  Where are the "third rail" issues that can't be addressed?  Every search committee should know the answers to these questions, and be able to communicate the culture of their church clearly to pastoral candidates.  Additionally, search teams should know whether the church needs a culture-preserver, or a culture-maker.  Those are two completely different kinds of leaders!  If you bring a culture-maker into a stable environment where there is aversion to great change, he will likely destroy the church, even though he may be a good man.  Prayerfully make up your mind as to what kind of man is appropriate relative to the culture of your church.

A few final guidelines may also be helpful here as you continue to search for a pastor:

1. Develop a profile.  Search Team members should be able to clearly communicate who they are as a church, and what kind of man they are searching for.  The most successful search teams I've witnessed developed a profile of the kind of pastor they felt the church needed.  BUT, they did not develop that profile around the more common measurements (education level, years in ministry, etc.).  Instead, they identified particular spiritual gifts, skills, and passions that would be necessary to lead their church.

2. Stick to the plan.  Along the way, emotions will run high.  Some candidates by virtue of winsome personalities will tempt search teams to speed up the process, or to "skip" steps they have agreed on.  Usually that's a big mistake.  If the Holy Spirit is indeed leading you toward a particular man,  patient commitment to the process will confirm His leading.  He is not the author of confusion.

Additionally, if emotions overcome discipline in a search process, the same scenario tends to happen once the first controversial decision has to be made.  I've often warned candidates  who told me "this committee is REALLY after me!"  by saying "careful!  They tend to get rid of you the same way they call you!"  And its true.  Conversely, if a church is deliberate, thoughtful, and prayerful in calling a man, they will most likely take the same approach to conflict later on when that same man has to make a hard decision.

Stick to the plan.  Its the right thing for your church, and for its next pastor!

3. Spend more time on your knees than around a boardroom table.  Spend time in prayer alone.  Spend hours in prayer together.  And spend time in quiet so you can listen to God....together!  The Holy Spirit WILL guide you, and He WILL guide the next pastor of your church to you, if you will be obedient to Him, and consistently seek His guidance.

I hope this series will prove helpful to those who are charged with seeking a pastor.  If you are one of those churches, I pray God blesses you for your faithful adherence to His will, and that He will send you a pastor who truly emulates Paul's picture in Ephesians 4 when he says "and He gave . . . .pastors and teachers."  Ask Him for what you seek, and then seek for what you ask.  And in His time, He will send you His gift; a man who will lead your church into the future God has for it.

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