Thursday, January 09, 2014

Looking for a Pastor? Here are Some Things You Shouldn't Do.

When a pastor leaves a church for any reason, the church will typically engage in a prescribed process to have him replaced.  Churches who belong to traditions that employ an episcopalian or presbyterian structure of governance often depend on their "mother ship" to send them another pastor.  But in the world of congregational churches like those I serve, that duty is typically the responsibility of a search team. 

Our Association is currently experiencing one of those seasons when there are a lot of vacant pulpits, which means that I'm working with more pastor search teams at once than perhaps at any other time since coming to Maryland.  Being on a search team for a senior pastor or other staff minister is a heavy burden.  Much is at stake, and yet too many who serve on these teams feel ill-equipped for the challenge.  

Though there is no "magic pill" for ensuring that you always call the right person, there are some traps in the process that need to be avoided.  Two years ago I wrote a book designed to help search teams avoid these pitfalls, and what I'd like to do here is summarize the content of those pages.

If you are currently serving on a search team, or know someone who is, what is below is just a start.  The resources you need transcend both what is below, and what is in my book.  But when seeking a pastor, all of the following should definitely be avoided--for your own good, for the good of pastoral candidates, and for the good of your church.

Over the years, I've seen 5 common mistakes that Teams seeking a Pastor usually make.  These are things a Search Team should never do, but almost always do. 

1. There is a fine line between communication and confidentiality, and Search Teams cross that line repeatedly.  Most Search Teams understand that confidentiality is important, and they also get that the congregation needs to be kept "in the loop" on the search process.  Unfortunately, clear guidelines are often missing on how to strike this balance, and the result is that many Search Teams say things they shouldn't, and keep to themselves things that need to be said!  

2. They use people with their process rather than using the process to find the right people.  In other words, too many Search Teams become slaves to a process, rather than using that process as the tool.   The process becomes the end rather than the means, and this causes too many Team members to burn out, and too many good candidates to get burned!  Effective search teams make the search process work for them.  They aren't mastered by it.

3. They ask hypothetical questions when they interview.  Any idiot with the IQ of an eggplant can answer a hypothetical question in a way that makes you think he is an expert on every subject!  On this issue, many Search Team "handbooks" are no help either, as many of them are filled with questions that are philosophical and hypothetical, but never allow the Team to see for themselves what kind of man they have sitting in front of them.  If you want valuable and informative answers from a candidate, you need to learn how to ask the right kinds of questions. 

4. They assume the important stuff, and as a result, fail to ask the hard questions.  Nearly 40% of pastors have had an extra-marital affair since the beginning of their ministry.  37% regularly struggle with pornography.  More than 50% admitted that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living (Translation:  They are in it for the money!)  Some list degrees on their resume that they never received--from institutions they never attended!  The most important questions are aimed right at issues like these, and they come right from the texts of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Unfortunately, many times these questions are never asked because a committee assumes that the title "Reverend" means they have a morally straight guy in front of them.  If you want to serve your church well as a search team member, you can't just ask the right questions.  You also have to be willing to ask the hard ones--and expect a straight answer!

5. They don't consider contextual fit, and often hire the "best" candidate instead of the "right" candidate.  The guy with the highest earned degree, the longest run of experience, or the best "track record" in ministry might be the "best" candidate in a stack of resumes, but that doesn't mean he is right for your church.  Don't just look at the candidates.  Look at how and if they will fit the environment and organizational culture of your church.

Again, you can learn more about how to avoid these "landmines" by ordering my book here, or get it on Kindle here..

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our church just went through the process last year. All of your points are right on target. At best he pastor search is an in exact science. At worst it is a popularity contest. Most committees struggle with all of your suggestions.

We had a process also and at times would lose sight of using the process instead of letting the process work for us.

The search process is a necessary yet painful ordeal. God willing I have served in that capacity for our church for the last time.

Thanks for your well thought out article. I am sure your book is equally as good.