Thursday, June 07, 2012

Pastor Search Team Installment One: A Failure to Communicate!

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate!"  So said a young Paul Newman in the 1967 classic movie "Cool Hand Luke."  That statement could easily sum up many of the reasons why Teams assigned by their churches to search for a secure a pastor so often struggle.

We are in a series of posts here that deal with the five primary areas where Pastor Search Teams blow it big time, and talking about how to avoid those common mistakes.  In the introductory post I said that the line between communication and confidentiality is not often well-sensed by search teams, and as a result teams sometimes say things they should keep to themselves, and keep secret things that should be shared.  This happens when the team is communicating with pastoral candidates, as well as when they are communicating with the congregation.

As is the case with any search process, appropriate confidentiality is very important.  At the same time, leaving considered candidates or the congregation totally in the dark is also unacceptable.  Often, in the attempt to keep everyone "in the loop," search teams send out too much information, or worse, information that is conflicting and/or confusing.

Conversely, pastoral candidates that have made it into the "top tier" category can sometimes feel like they are left totally in the dark.  At the same time, search team members struggle to balance the extremes of never communicating with a candidate and getting a candidate's hopes up (or putting them down) unintentionally.  Three basic principles are involved when it comes to striking the right balance in this area:

1. One--and ONLY one person speaks for the entire team.  It doesn't matter if a search team is made up of 3 or 10 people.  They are all different, they all perceive differently, and even if in agreement, they will often communicate differently.  Therefore, a spokesman should be chosen from the first meeting, and that person should be the only person who speaks on behalf of the entire search team.

This is especially important when we are talking about communicating to the entire congregation.  Too often, rumors get started and false information spreads because three different team members communicated four different perspectives to five different people in the church!  The message of the team is much more clear, and much more consistent, when the congregation knows who the spokesperson is for the team, and thus looks to that person to speak for the team.

When I'm consulting with search teams, I often exhort them to "refer, refer, refer."  When someone comes with a question about the search, the default answer of every person on the team should be "talk to our spokesperson.  He/She will best communicate where we are and represent us all.  I can only represent myself."

2. Keep communication open with pastoral candidates.  This principle has two sides to it.  On the one hand, just because someone sends the team a resume doesn't obligate the team to communicate with that person in any way.  However, once the team has initiated communication IN ANY FORM with anyone wanting to be considered, you are obligated to regularly update them on where you are unless and until the point that they are no longer being considered for the role.  I know of too many stories where good men and their wives and families were brought to the church for an interview and made to think that an invitation to preach "in view of a call" was imminent, only to have the search team cut off all communication with them afterwards.

For some of these men, they were kept clueless until they learned through some other channel that someone else had been called as pastor of the church.  In a few instances, they have called my office because a church in my Association did not follow-through, and I had to be the one to tell them "the position has been filled."  This is unprofessional and unChristian behavior!

Once you make contact with a candidate, keep them updated--regularly--on where you are in the process.  When you prayerfully decide that you will no longer pursue someone as pastor, let them know this as clearly and as soon as possible!  If you can't stomach a hard phone call, don't be part of a search team!

3. When it comes to communicating with the church, tell them nothing about candidates, but everything about the process.  On a few occasions, I've seen pastor search teams reverse this order.  The less clear the process, the less patience a congregation will have with the search team, so be clear on this.  Give them a thorough outline of the process, and follow-up with regular updates regarding where you are in that process.  This approach lets the congregation see that progress is being made.

At the same time, there is only one name that should be heard by the congregation throughout the entire process, and that is the name of the man the search team intends to present as the pastor!  Search teams that have loose lips are violating a confidentiality that could cause problems for candidates at their current church.  Even worse, "name-dropping" as a way of determining the congregation's attitude toward a number of candidates isn't a search process.  That's a beauty contest!

So in general, communicate as much as possible about the process you are employing to find a pastor, and as little as possible about the candidates who will be involved in that process.

And speaking of process, too many search teams become slaves to the search, rather than utilizing the search to find God's man.  I will speak about how to avoid this mistake in the next post!

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