Monday, June 18, 2012

Pastor Search Teams, Installment Four: NEVER Assume!

Six years ago, the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, FL was shocked to the core when the congregation discovered that Pastor Steven Flockhart had knowingly provided false information on his resume.  Pastor Flockhart resigned immediately, and the church was faced with a very difficult and uncertain way forward.

Palm Beach First Baptist is a large church, and so this situation attracted lots of attention from the media.  But FBC Palm Beach is not the only church that has faced a difficult situation like this.  And almost every time these sorts of situations occur, they do so for one reason:  The Search Team assumed things that they shouldn't have!

We are in a series of posts here that deal with the common mistakes made by Pastor Search Teams, and the fourth biggest mistake I've seen them make is that they simply assume too much about the candidates they interview.  Sometimes these assumptions are due to a fear of asking hard questions.  Other times they are simply due to naivete on the part of the committee.  Nevertheless, Search Teams do a disservice to their churches if they assume any of the following:

1. The Accuracy of the Resume.  When you get serious about a candidate, check the educational credentials on his resume with reality.  The best way to do this is to ask the candidate to contact the institutions where he studied and have official transcripts sent to you.  If a candidate is unwilling to do this, it should make you wonder why.

Unfortunately, "padding the resume" is as much of a practice among the clergy as it is among other professions.  If a man claims to have a doctorate degree, then it is incumbent on the search team to determine if he actually does.  Too many churches have secured a pastor with no degree, or with a degree from a "degree mill" or unaccredited institution.  Am I suggesting that formal education is necessary to be a pastor?  Not at all!  Some of the most capable pastoral leaders I've met have served their churches with only a high school diploma.  This isn't about how educated he is.  Its about his integrity!  If he doesn't have a formal education, is he comfortable enough in his own skin to be OK with that, and to be honest with a committee?

Resumes can also be inaccurate when it comes to the "track record" of a candidate.  If he claims his former church tripled in size, there is an easy way to substantiate that claim.  Someone on the search team should get in touch with leadership at his former church to make that determination.

The point is that just because a resume looks good doesn't mean the candidate is any good!  Charlatans abound, even in the Southern Baptist Convention!  If you want to find a good man who is God's man in the midst of that, you can never assume the resume is an accurate picture of the man.

2. That "Reverend" Means "Righteous."  The chair of the search team was shocked at my advice, to the point that he sat back in his chair with his mouth open wide.  One of our churches was getting really serious about a man they were looking at as pastor.  The references had checked out.  Nothing negative could be found.  "That's great," I said.  "Now, the next time you all get together with this man, have the women take the wife out for a nice lunch.  When they leave the room, look your candidate in the eye and immediately ask him when he last intentionally looked at pornography."

30% of pastors polled admitted they have had an extramarital affair since the beginning of their ministry.  47% struggle with pornography.  A large percentage struggle with consumer debt, to the point that bill collectors are constantly calling.  It is an unfortunate truth that some pastors have horrible credit ratings that are the result of poor, undisciplined choices.  Just because a man is an ordained minister does not mean that his life is blameless, or that he is qualified to be your pastor.  Secure his permission for credit and criminal history background checks.  When you call his references, ask them for three other people, and then do that two more times!  Once you get "three deep" into references you will then get an accurate glimpse of who you are talking to.  Ask hard questions of the man you are considering entrusting with the pulpit of your church, and do it before he assumes control of that pulpit!

3. That Perfection is a Requirement.  Performing a thorough background check and asking hard questions doesn't mean that past sins can't be forgiven, and it doesn't mean that you should automatically disqualify someone who has a blemish on their record somewhere.  All of us have a past.  As I once told a search committee years ago as an interviewee, "If you look long enough and dig deep enough, you will discover something about me that you don't like."  The point here is that you want honest answers from pastoral candidates.  A past doesn't knock them out of the running, but lying about their past should!  Get honest answers in the beginning.

4. That All Expectations will be Met.  Statistically, the first people to be disappointed in a new pastor are the people who served on the committee that called him.  Usually, this is because there are unspoken, and even subconscious expectations placed on a candidate during the interview process.  These subconscious expectations--"mini-visions" of what this pastorate will look like from the perspective of search team members--form a sort of spiritual mine field of which the new pastor is sometimes totally unaware....until he steps on one!

This doesn't happen because the pastor is a bad man, or because he is less than what the committee as a whole thinks.  It happens because, regardless of how careful you are during the search process, there WILL be miscommunication, and as a result some incredibly high and often impossible, and unspoken, expectations will not be met.

The big idea is this:  If you are part of a search team that is getting ready to invite a pastor to come to lead your church, prepare yourself for disappointment, and learn before it happens how to deal with it yourself rather than dumping it on your new pastor!

When you narrow it down to a single candidate, your actions and investigations should be as serious as your intent to know him better.  Don't assume anything!  You and your church will be well-served by your thoroughness.

In a few days, I'll post the final installment of this series, which will commend the following principle:  Once you have found a "good" man, you need next to determine if he is the "right" man for your church.  Contextual fit is paramount to a long-lasting and healthy relationship between congregation and pastor, and that subject is coming up in just a few days!

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