The Four Levels of Scrutiny of Pastoral Search Committees

In a previous post I noted different trends among pastoral search committees. As I stated then, I am using the phrase “pastoral search committee,” even though it does not apply to every congregation. Some churches receive pastors through an appointment system from denominational leadership. Some pastors are chosen from a body of elders. The methods of pastoral selection are numerous.

Every church, however, searches for a pastor in the course of its history. After speaking with dozens of search groups, I’ve noticed a pattern in how they are evaluating prospective pastors. There is nothing new in what they are evaluating. What is new is how they are evaluating.

In a significant number of searches, perhaps a majority, the pastor search process takes place in four layers or levels. While each is important, the church assigns the greatest value to the first. The process is more subjective than objective, but the result is a clear definition of priorities in how a church evaluates a prospective pastor.

Level 1: Biblical, Theological, and Preaching

  • Does he meet our theological and biblical beliefs?
  • How does he respond to theological “hot button” issues?
  • Does his practice match his beliefs?
  • Is he an effective preacher?
  • Would his preaching be well received by our church and community?
  • Does he have several podcast sermons for ready listening?

Level 2: Background Information

  • Does a legal background check reveal any issues of which we weren’t aware?
  • Does a credit check reveal any financial concerns of which we should be aware?
  • What has he communicated in the social media via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other channels?
  • What do his references say about him?
  • What do others who aren’t references say about him?

Level 3: Leadership and Relational Skills

  • Is he an effective leader?
  • How would his leadership style fit at our church?
  • How does he handle conflict?
  • Does he have healthy relational skills?
  • Does he lead his family well?

Level 4: Previous and Current Church Experience

  • Did he lead his church to healthy growth?
  • Was he a missional leader in the church’s community?
  • Does his past experience indicate he understands culture and contexts well?
  • What were his primary emphases at previous and current churches?
  • Did he relate to other church staff well?

My simple point in showing four different levels is to demonstrate that most search committees have clear priorities. Rarely, however, are these priorities articulated. They know they will not find a perfect pastor. Since some imperfections will exist in all candidates, the search committee is much more likely, for example, to accept a Level 4 flaw rather than a Level 1 flaw. All of these issues are important to the pastor search committee; some are just more important than others.

Do you see similar patterns as shown in these four levels? What would you add or subtract?


  1. Ron says

    And sadly many search teams hide their skeletons in an attic closet. Teams must know they are as much on trial in the process as anyone. The congregation has DNA and a personality that must be presented to candidates honestly or else problems will manifest themselves later.

          • Ron says

            True. If there were only a way for candidates to do “background checks” on the church talking to them. I’ve found previous staff are hesitant to be forthright about many things after they leave, which is probably good at times. It just stings when a minister goes into the relationship only to find out a few months in that what they were presented is FAR from reality. If it only happened once, I could count it an anomaly (sp?), but when it happens 3 times (All traditional, established churches)… well…

            I do think ministers need to be much less anxious to have a job and churches need to be more patient and wait for God’s chosen one for them. It would be good if everyone was transparent and know where the landmines are than step on them out of ignorance. More than once at more than one church I’ve had people come tell me things AFTER I went to a church that would have resulted in serious discussions before accepting a call.

            Maybe I think in terms of a rose colored world, but the process of churches calling ministers and ministers accepting these calls needs an overhaul.

  2. David (NAS) Rogers says

    Unfortunately some churches don’t know what theological or biblical belief issues to ask questions about. They are either unaware of differing perspectives or they operate out of a stereotyped image of what the beliefs are. Some are so desperate for a pastor they just decide by personality and preaching charisma. They then become shocked at the resulting teachings that were never asked about.

    • Thom Rainer says

      David –
      Sadly, you are right. The search committees that contact me fortunately are more adept at asking good theological and biblical questions.

  3. says

    Enjoy the various aspects you have listed here. These could be replicated across numerous organizations. I would imagine a variety of churches wouldn’t have this mindset. It would be more, here is the open position, apply for it, send in a resume, and a video/audio presentation of x # of lessons.

    This is a great window.

  4. About Ready to Give It Up says

    I’m approaching my 200th resume in almost 2 years looking for a church. Is this typical? Seems like it doesn’t matter about the level of scrutiny committees have, I never measure up.

    • Thom Rainer says

      About Ready –

      Find two or three trusted pastors. Ask them to look at your resume and to hear your story. Listen carefully to their guidance and wisdom. Don’t give up. God is not done with you. I prayed for you this morning.

    • Ron says

      It took me 29 months to be called to a position (SBC). To a great degree, the reason you aren’t in a ministry position weighs heavy with search teams. My suggestions are: Keep on praying, keep on writing, keep on doing ministry, keep on sending resumes. God is the one who will make the connections in His time.

      It might be good also to ask God what He is teaching you… showing you about yourself… and revealing His will for you. Moses was in Midian 40 years, Paul was in the desert 3 years, Joseph was seperated from his family for at least 17 years. One lady I know prayed for 50 years for God to save her husband. I am confident that as God has called you, He will sustain you, and in His time provide a place of ministry (Which might be different from what you’ve done in the past).

      Praying for you today my brother.

      • About Ready to Give It Up says

        @Ron – I currently serve as an assistant pastor, and my church knows I’m looking and is supportive. They’re actually perplexed. Thanks for your words and prayers.

  5. David F. Bays says

    Bro. Thom when a Church is contacting me, I usually ask other Pastors in the same Association to tell me what they know about the Church that is considering me. I also go to other people in the community and ask them what they know about the Church. Many Churches will hide things from the Candidate. They have a right to check me out and I also have the right to check the Church out. People in the community will tell you honestly about the Church. One thing many Pastor Search Committee never ask the candidate to share with them their Salvation experience.

  6. Chuck Lawless says

    The issue about social media (level 2) is a big one. I wish all young pastors (and seminary students) would realize that what they post today could come back to haunt them tomorrow. One more thought for level 4– I would also want to ask a candidate why he is interested in leaving his current position. Thanks for the good info, Dr. Rainer.

  7. About Ready to Give It Up says

    I should add something helpful to the comment thread.

    I’ve had enough committee interviews to realize that (typically) the first question they ask is not only the most important in their minds but also conveys, 1) why the last pastor left (or was asked to leave), or 2) the weaknesses of the last pastor that contribute to committee and congregation dissatisfaction. I’m sure my evaluation isn’t always the case, but this has happened to be the case several times now.

    • Hal Dixon says

      I think you’re right. I was floored several years ago when a committee member asked me if I conducted funerals! I came to find out there was some issue with the previous pastor either refusing to do a certain person’s funeral, or refusing to attend. I did not get that information from anybody on the search committee, however.

  8. John says

    My issue is the lack of integrity of search committees. I am not saying all committees lack integrity but I have dealt with committees that lack integrity. This is what I’m referring to: You are a candidate that the committee has narrowed down and have either been told or written to in a letter that you will be notified if you are no longer a candidate. The committee doesn’t follow through on that. That really bothers me as a Pastor. We live in a world that lacks integrity and our churches need it most.

  9. Shawn says

    One of the categories I would add is intangibles. It seems no assessment will be able to clearly articulate what the Spirit gives in discernment. Does the man love Jesus more than the world? Does he take great care and concern for his wife? Do men strive to live the faith he lives? Do non-Christians respect his life? My initial thought is that many men could check out in testing, and fail at a heart level. Are we surprised by the amount of pastors checking out of ministry, when we hold performance standards by letter, and not by heart?

    (I am in no way disagreeing with the assessment and testing process. Just wanting it to be more thorough!)

  10. Cindy McCord says

    I was very glad to come across this article today. I was recently selected to serve on our Pastor Search Committee and we are in the baby steps of beginning. The article and your comments are helpful and I am going to share the article with the other search committee members.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Greg –

      Female ministers and pastors are welcome on this blog. My doctrinal position is complementarianism, which holds that the lead or senior pastor office is reserved for males. I, therefore, speak true to my doctrinal beliefs.

      This blog has Christians from many doctrinal nuances participating. I hold to perseverance of the saints, for example, that, in simple terms, means a true believer can not lose his or her salvation. There are many on this blog who disagree with me on both doctrinal issues, but feel the freedom to interact with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

      That is one of the major reasons I love hearing from Christians of many backgrounds. We don’t abandon our convictions, but we do our best to come together where we can make a positive difference for the Kingdom.

      Thanks for asking the question. It is a fair question to ask in light of my responses.

  11. Mike says

    I could not find an email so am just commenting here.
    I am amazed that out of all the listings in the four sections the name Jesus Christ is not mentioned once. There is not one thing about how Jesus leads the prospects days, his family, influences his choice of sermons over those of man. There is nothing about Jesus being at the center of all of his preaching, a calling in a sermon, how Jesus influences his management, visitations and all other church responsibilities. Not one mention of Jesus Christ….amazing. Now I realize that not all churches/denominations are “evangelical” in their worship but of all of us that call ourselves Christian, Jesus Christ is the starting point of who we are, why we are in churches, and the center of the lives we lead.

    I would have to say this should be page one. Once a list of candidates is found that would fit on this page then page two should be the background checks, thanks to today’s world, and then move on to the other three areas.

    Just an observation. Thanks for hearing me out. I hope you all have a blessed Easter.

    • Leighton says

      Well, brother Mike, the list does start with the question, “Does he meet our theological and biblical beliefs…” and one could argue that “theology” (the study of God/Christ) and “biblical beliefs” (views concerning the inspired Word of God which teaches of Christ) might sufficiently indicate the intent of Christ being ‘mentioned.’

  12. Mike says

    Thank you for your response. I did note the content you mentioned. In the search for a pastor we shouldn’t have to try to interpret a line that “might sufficiently indicate the intent of Christ being mentioned” My primary point is, regardless of what type of worship a church exercises, any search for a pastor or any high office should start with Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that He is the church and we are to take His message to the world. The very first section should be the potential pastors relationship with Jesus and their history of using that relationship to tell about Jesus, to lead and inspire the congregation. Once this section is satisfactorily cleared then move on to the other questions. My comments are meant to add to the thinking for this type of activity and not to be critical. Thanks again for the reply. God Bless and have a fantastic week.

    • Leighton says

      I think it was the “amazing” comment that lead me to believe you were amazed that the author failed to mention Christ, when indeed the mention of ‘theology’ (the study of Him) and the bible (the inspired Word written about Him) were the first two things on the list. I’m not upset or anything, so please don’t read that in my words. I agree with the sentiment of what you are saying, but it might be best to give the author that benefit of the doubt given the content of not only this post, but the many others he has authored. I think all of us who know Dr. Rainer know he is a very Christ centered individual. Hope you have a fantastic week as well!

      • Mike says

        Thanks for the replies. I would not indicate that Dr. Lanier is anything but a Christ centered and serving individual. My comments were addressed to the lack of Jesus Christ by name and just that, comments on a subject not Dr. Lanier’s faith, background, etc.. Thanks again for sharing our comments. God Bless you and Dr. Lanier in all you do.

  13. Alma says

    I just heard about other pastor molesting a child in his church office. My question is how often does anyone check up or get background check on priest, pastor, etc. That they can do this to children

  14. says

    I am late to this party, but it seems to me like the Titus/Timothy character qualifications should be front and center, and other people should probably be asked about these directly. Does he pick fights? Is he hospitable (I think many might hide behind a label of introvert, but you can be a hospitable introvert)? How does he feel about money? What is his reputation with non Christians in his current community? I know many of these would show up in your second level (how many pastors could be disqualified for being quarrelsome on social media) but these are biblical requirements. Those should be added to the level one list.

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