Congregations across America call pastors to their churches in a variety of ways. As church polity varies, so do the approaches of calling a pastor. A bishop or other authority appoints some pastors. Sometimes an elder board decides who will be considered as the next pastor. Many times, however, the responsibility for recommending a pastor to a congregation falls upon a pastor search committee.

The search committee is typically comprised of lay leaders voted on by the congregation or nominated by some group in the church. Occasionally, the membership may include a current pastoral staff member.

It is this latter approach, the utilization of a pastor search committee, which I would like to address in this article.

The Pastor’s Perspective

In the past few days, I have heard from a number of pastors who have been contacted by pastor search committees. What I have heard from these pastors recently is consistent with that which I have heard for the past few years. The concerns and desires are very consistent from pastor to pastor.

So I am admittedly presenting a one-sided view, that of the pastor who has been contacted by a search committee. I am certain that members of pastor search committees could offer their unique perspectives as well.

The Pleas and Requests

When a pastor is contacted by a search committee, his life is often disrupted. Even if he has no sense of call to change churches, the very fact that a search committee contacted him at least causes him to pause. In some cases the contact is very disruptive to his life and ministry.

For that reason, pastors have shared with me a number of requests (and sometimes pleas) that they would respectfully ask search committees to consider.

Understand the potential disruption caused by your contact of a pastor. Most pastors at least pause and pray when they hear from another church. They often include their spouses in the early discussion. They may wonder if the contact is indicative that God may be leading them to another place of ministry. If a search committee contacts a pastor, at least be aware of the disruption that could take place. Perhaps it’s not best to send 200 inquiry letters to 200 different pastors to see if anything sticks.

Have a clear plan for the process of calling a pastor. Let the contacted pastor know that plan on the front end so he won’t be left wondering what the next steps are.

Prepare any questions before you contact the pastor. I have heard from many pastors who meet in person with search committee, as well as those who first communicate via phone or Skype. They are often frustrated at the randomness of questions asked, and how different members of the search committee don’t know what the other members will ask.

Do your homework thoroughly before showing up in the pastor’s present church. Many congregations recognize a search committee immediately when they attend a worship service. These church members soon become worried, frustrated, or angry at either the pastor or the inquiring church. The presence of a search committee can be highly disruptive. Many pastors do not even know that a committee is visiting his church. He too is caught off guard.

Communicate regularly and clearly with the prospective pastor. As long as the process is open, stay in touch with the pastor. Many times the greatest frustration is the lack of communication. One pastor recently told me that he resolved not to talk further with a church because he had not heard from them in such a long time. He assumed that they had moved in another direction. The search committee was shocked when they heard that information from the pastor several months later.

If the search committee decides to move in another direction, let the pastor know immediately. A courtesy call, even an email, will always be appreciated even if the committee concludes that the pastor is not a fit for the church. Many pastors have told me that they thought they were still under consideration, only to discover sometimes later that the church had called another pastor.

An Imperfect Process

There is no perfect way to call a pastor to a church. Regardless of church polity, mistakes and miscommunication will take place. But these suggestions by pastors who have been contacted by search committees could prove very helpful.

At the very least, they could help minimize frustration and disruption in the lives of pastors and the churches they serve.

 

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Comments

  1. Randy says

    I was contacted by a pastor search committee and went through an interview process with them. I never heard from them after the interview. I found out that I was not being considered further from a pastor friend who was talking to one of the staff members from the church at a bookstore in a random conversation. It was frustrating because I had been seeking God intently about the matter and the church didn’t even bother to let me know they had moved on.

    • Lee says

      Personally, I think that is a form of emotional abuse. To prevent this I believe its well within the rights of the candidate to ask for a follow up contact within a set time frame. At the end of an interview says something like, “Thank you so much for meeting with me, when might I expect to hear back from the committee?”

      Is that out of place?

  2. Alex Felton says

    Here’s a suggestion for search committees: why not go after a pastor (or like me student pastor) who is currently not serving rather than picking one in “baseball farm team” style.

  3. Preston Mitchell says

    One option that a search committee or staff may want to consider is to contract with a search company who’s mission is to help churches find qualified candidates for key staff positions. We will save time and money and present to the church 4-6 candidates for face-to-face interviews. In other words, we do all the calling, back ground checks, criminal checks, weeding out people who do not meet the qualifications of the church. When we finish with a candidate, we know all there is to know and we are confident that candidate can fill the role.

  4. James Kerr says

    Great article. I think churches getting back to the pastor in a timely manner is key. Knowing the steps either way or having a timeline is good to know.
    Preston. I would disagree with the scenario you suggest. I’m sure your company does a fine job and God can use your company. However, toojuch prayer is involved to hire out the process. I know your company will return with the most qualified but that is not always God’s choice!

  5. Preston Mitchell says

    I would say James that many search committees don’t get the man that God has chosen. Look how many leave after less than 2 years. Pray is a great part of our mission and most our our pastors stay much longer than the average. Also, God has given me 20 years of hiring people as an Executive Pastor at Fellowship. God can and does work through me in this process. Remember that we are merely walking beside the search team or church staff. We bring the best 4-6 candidates and THEY choose who will be the next staff member.
    Have you ever had an experience with a professional search organization?

  6. Tom Hocutt says

    What you shared are great suggestions! There are some of us Directors of Missions who do train Pastor Search Committees/Teams to do what you have suggested and more to keep the candidates informed.

  7. Tom Hocutt says

    What you shared are great suggestions! There are some of us Directors of Missions who do train Pastor Search Committees/Teams to do what you have suggested and more to keep the candidates informed.

  8. Tom Hocutt says

    What you shared are great suggestions! There are some of us Directors of Missions who do train Pastor Search Committees/Teams to do what you have suggested and more to keep the candidates informed.

  9. Tom Hocutt says

    What you shared are great suggestions! There are some of us Directors of Missions who do train Pastor Search Committees/Teams to do what you have suggested and more to keep the candidates informed.

  10. Tom Hocutt says

    What you shared are great suggestions! There are some of us Directors of Missions who do train Pastor Search Committees/Teams to do what you have suggested and more to keep the candidates informed.

  11. James Kerr says

    Preston:
    I have not had experience. Your statement about pastors staying less than two years against the longevity of your pastors may be a little skewed. First, the number of years includes denominations that move pastors around. such as the United Methodists. Secondly, smaller churches (80 or less) can barely afford a pastor let alone a hiring service. I am sure your service does a great job. Longevity does not necessarily dictate a right or wrong hiring of a pastor, though we both would like to see pastors stay longer.

  12. Fed up with the SBC says

    Pastor search committees are the greatest way that the failure of congregationalism shows itself in the SBC. Until search committees read Christ Brauns’ book When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search: Biblical Principles and Practices to Guide Your Search (recommended by Dr. Mohler & Dr. Moore), SBC churches will continue to decline because they don’t understand the necessity of finding an expositional preacher. I’ve been searching for a pastorate for a while and am embarrassed that I’m SBC. I’ve filled out numerous questionnaires for churches and only 1 has asked me to define what the Gospel is and what I believe about preaching. Perhaps it’s time to start following Paul’s example in Titus 1:5 and have other pastors place pastors in churches.

  13. James Kerr says

    Tom,
    I hear great things from the Albany area.
    Fed Up:
    I’m sorry to hear your frustration with your search. I hope your current pastor knows of your desire, sees your call to ministry, and is actively looking for you. If you are embarrassed to be SBC you, you may need to look to another denomination. Good luck and by that I mean, I hope God puts you where you can most glorify His Son. Endure this time of waiting and use it as an opportunity to grow in Him.

  14. Thom Rainer says

    Thanks to all for the great responses. I especially appreciate the give and take between you.
    James -
    The word from Albany/Sherwood is indeed good. Courageous is doing incredible. I’ll likely write about it in my Wednesday blog.

  15. Fed up with the SBC says

    Staffing company? How about talking to other pastors in your area. The New Testament gives us an example of a pastor appointing pastors for other churches (Titus 1:5). Local church autonomy will be the death of the SBC.

  16. James Kerr says

    Great article. I think churches getting back to the pastor in a timely manner is key. Knowing the steps either way or having a timeline is good to know.
    Preston. I would disagree with the scenario you suggest. I’m sure your company does a fine job and God can use your company. However, toojuch prayer is involved to hire out the process. I know your company will return with the most qualified but that is not always God’s choice!

  17. Brian says

    Pastor Search Committees are sometimes very predictable in the questions they ask. Good training for the committees are a must. Associational Missionaries can be very valuable in this training A prospective pastor needs to know what is expected of him as pastor so that he will not be caught off guard later.

  18. Lee says

    Very well written article. I agree, the committee has no idea what kind of emotions and distractions their contact causes. If the committee requests a resume, or responds with interest to a resume they should be very clear about expectations. Tell the candidate the the DATE you will be calling them back so they don’t have to wonder. Knowing your life may pick up and move can consume your thoughts and steal your vision for ministry in your current setting if you let it. Having clear set expectations with a date helps because the candidate can put it on a back burner until then and not have to think about it and wonder what the committee is thinking or doing. COMMUNICATE!

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