Five Pleas from Pastors to Search Committees

On occasion, I provide updates on issues and strategies regarding pastor search committees. 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. Specifically, I want to share the perspective of many pastors about the process. On numbers of occasions, pastors have shared with me some challenges they have experienced with search committees. In this article, I present them as five pleas from pastors.

  1. “Consider carefully how you first contact me.” It can be highly disruptive to my present ministry if you just show up at my church. And remember that if you send an email to me at my church, others may read it.
  2. “Please stay in touch with me.” I can feel like I am in limbo if I don’t hear anything from you for a long time. I would rather be told that you are moving in another direction than not to hear anything.
  3. “If I am called to your church, please let the congregation know the issues you and I agreed upon.” For example, if you are letting me hire my own staff rather than it going through a personnel committee, please let the church know this change is taking place before you present me.
  4. “Clarify both the strengths and the challenges of the church before I come.” Do your best so I will not be surprised by the major struggles and challenges. I can deal with them better if I know about them in advance.
  5. “Understand that if I come to the church, my entire family will be a part of the transition.” So please talk to my spouse about the issues, challenges, and opportunities. Include the entire family, not just me.

At any given time in a year, as many as 50,000 congregations are searching for a pastor. The implications of the challenges and possible misunderstandings are many. These pleas from pastors are sound and reasonable.

Let me know what you think about these five pleas. Next week, I will address the pleas of search committee members to pastors.

Stay tuned . . .


  1. John Estes says

    Thanks Thom. I am currently serving on a search committee. These items are a big help. I will be sharing them with the committee this afternoon.

  2. says

    I’ve been through the call process (as a pastor) several times, and I’d say that’s a very good list. I might suggest one more item: “Please clarify at the outset what your call process is, and stick to it.”

  3. Ricky Ray says

    Here’s one I think could be added. When you answer my questions, tell me how things are instead of how you’d like them to be.

    Thanks Thom.

  4. Becky says

    I’m a children’s minister that has recently moved to a new town and ministry after a four year search for a new place of ministry! In those four years, I am sure I sent out a 100+ resumes and some were sent out by the state convention office. While some acknowledged that I sent the resume, most never even said a word. I just never heard from them at all. Some would send written interviews or questionnaires. I filled out these questionnaires, get them back to the church by the deadline, and then nothing! I also had several Skype interviews and some face to face interviews, but then heard nothing back from the church. Like you stated in the article, I would have rather heard the “no thank you” than be left in limbo. I remember encouraging my former pastor to be sure to contact ALL the men who sent in resumes as we searched for a new youth minister after we found ours. It was not something he had thought to do before I mentioned it to him.

    Thanks for the article!

  5. Mark says

    Having applied for many jobs in the private sector, government, and academia, please let the applicant know if he/she is no longer being considered. Too many people find out that they are no longer under consideration when they see the selected person’s picture on the website as having just been hired.

    If you publish an advertisement for the open position, please describe all the experience you desire of applicants. Please do not hold back secret criteria which are not publicized yet are mandatory.

    Please do not be shocked if I find out information about your church and particular members using google and private message boards that you did not know existed. I may decline to reveal my sources. (I know of many organizations that were shocked to discover just what was being discussed on message boards about particular people and their competence or lack thereof.)

    Please do not expect the applicant’s spouse to be a person hired for free. The spouse may be a professional with his/her own career who may not be at every church event.

  6. Anonymous Pastor says

    6) Be up front about salary and benefits. It may not seem “spiritual,” but we need to know whether we can support our families on what the church can pay. And, please, by all means, don’t make the candidate have to ask! (Yes, some search committees don’t share the financial info unless specifically asked by the candidate.)
    7) Don’t send an email asking for more information (sermon CDs, etc.) without identifying which church you’re with. We like to know which church it is, even if you’re in the early stages. We want to pray specifically, and we want to do our homework, too.

    Apologies for the anonymity, but it’s hard for pastors to say these kinds of things without people thinking they’re out looking for another church.

    • Jeff Glenn says

      I agree 100%! I recently spent nearly four months talking to a search committee who wanted a “full-funded” pastor only to discover their budget wouldn’t support one. Even more recently, I was contacted by another committee and told them upfront what had happened. It may not be “spiritual” to discuss such a topic so early in the process, but it IS needful. We pastors have to make a living, after all! (I’m smiling as I write this!)

  7. Adam says

    Be honest. If a candidate asks a direct question, give a direct answer. Don’t tell a candidate you’re open to change and then dig your heels in after he’s called. Also, be upfront as to why the last pastor left.

    In response to Anonymous, I have had committees actually get offended when I asked about compensation.

  8. Jackie says

    I am currently seeking a church to pastor and point two is right on. It’s hard enough searching for a church and on top of that most churhes never let you know anything. I have the upmost respect for those churches that send a letter or an e-mail to let you know they are moving in a different direction.

  9. Greg says

    Having just gone through the arduous process of finding a new ministry work to serve, I can say I am appalled at the poor hiring practices of churches of all sizes. I might add: know your hiring strategy before you start – don’t make it up as you go. Don’t promise a follow-up interview without following through. Don’t ask a candidate to spend a lot of money to visit with you if they are not a serious candidate. Don’t tell them you are looking for “X”, and then hire “Y”. Don’t tell them you’ll call back unless you plan to call back. Be consistent with the manner in which you communicate (if all previous communication has been by phone, don’t send a rejection by email). Don’t tell someone they are the top, or only serious candidate if they are not (this puts a serious hold to serious pursuit of other opportunities). I could write a book – but this is enough for now! Or, perhaps you SHOULD do these things so that when the right opportunity does come along – as it did for me – the candidate can realize how blessed they are that you didn’t hire them.

  10. Stephanie Files says

    From a music ministry family, let me please add that if you are searching for a music minister candidate it is hard to prepare a video without informing the entire congregation that you are looking to move on, and then please realize that the minister is limited by his available musicians, the current church’s view on music, and the quality of recording device available. If a congregation doesn’t allow drums an contemporary music it doesn’t mean the minister isn’t capable of utilizing those options. Likewise – I could write enough to fill a secondary blog post on the unique position of music minister.

  11. says

    Personally I think #4 should be #1. And in all caps. Bold, even.

    If you’re interviewing a candidate who is young, he may not have the perspective to ask the questions which would reveal those. And the committee may not know, or want to admit, what the church’s weaknesses are. I’d think it’s in everyone’s best interests to get those on the table right up front.

  12. says

    Here’s one I would recommend: don’t take up too much of the someone’s time (interview, travel, etc.) unless you are reasonably certain you have narrowed your focus to this single candidate.

  13. Joe Pastor says

    It’s already been stated, but I’m going to state it again for emphasis: Search committees – Please communicate. Treat someone else how you would want to be treated! I get it that you feel bad telling someone “no,” but if you’re on a search committee, it goes with the territory. Find a kind and respectful way to say it, then please say it in a timely manner.

  14. William Arnold says

    Two things I have dealt with regularly: Let me know your timeline: I have had several opportunities I preferred that contacted me back months after I had already taken another position. Also, please don’t call me to “discuss the details of the position” and inform me that your entire search committee is in the room for the interview. I have had that happen twice. You feel like a jerk when they tell you about the position and you aren’t interested but 15 people gave up their lunch to be in the room to listen to your interview.

  15. Russ says

    Just want to say that an article on this topic is long over due. I totally agree with your list, and with many of the other suggestions in the comments section.

    May I stress the need for honesty and transparency in the interview process on both sides. It’s so discouraging to think you understand the whole picture, and then a few weeks or so later (after you accepted the call), you realize they left out a large portion of the real problems.

  16. Mark says

    Also, if the applicant says that he/she is conducting a “quiet search,” please respect that and do not disclose the person’s name to anyone. That person might be looking to leave their current position but knows that if information of such is leaked, they could be fired immediately.

  17. says

    Having served as a Transitional Interim Pastor @ 3 churches, I always purposely set aside a specific time of prayer for the search committee members before they start their work. This involves the whole church in the process. Other things I do include:

    1) I would consistently remind the search committee (and the congregation) that they are not looking for a hireling, but the only man on the planet that God is calling to to be their pastor.
    2) I encourage the committee to ask each applicant how the Holy Spirit led them to apply for the position. You would be amazed how many applicants do not answer that question and withdraw from consideration.
    3) When the pastor is selected, I always ask the committee to tell me how the Holy Spirit led each of them to the person they plan to call.
    4) At the end of the process, if there are 2-3 candidates that could do the job, time to start over.
    5) As a TIP, I do not look at resumes, suggest candidates, or try to maneuver myself into getting the position. From the first day as a TIP (and every Sunday afterward), I remind the church that I am there to help them until they find their pastor AND I am not him!

  18. James says

    To things:
    1. Smaller churches need to take advantage of resources that are out there. In the sbc, your dom can be ( or maybe should be) a great resources. If this is the third search in two years, your doing it wrong. Ask for help.
    2. Be honest about the problems of the church, we will find out soon enough anyway.

  19. Geoff says

    On two occasions I worked through the process with a church in search where I ended the process. The church was shocked! They couldn’t believe someone would back out on their church. I told the chair of the search after the fact that I was interviewing me as much as they were interviewing me. They said they had never thought of it that way. For a lack of a better way of putting it, because they were paying well they assume no one oriole back out on them.

    Churches- we interview you as much as you interview us.

    • Another Mark says

      I have also done this, once was to the church one of my mentors was serving as the Sr Pastor of. I come to interview with them after they had asked for my resume on their prior search and hired another individual and asked for me to apply again. When I did they knew my salary and one elder who controlled the purse strings knowingly low balled in a way that my family could not survive with. When I spoke with my mentor the day after the interview, to decline and remove myself from the process. He fully understood and was as upset about the lowball offer as I was.

      But because my mentor was there I knew what problems to look for from the start and to see how this church would react to me and treat me, especially the problem people. The elder who controlled the purse strings just happened to be that problem person who pushed for the other candidate the year before and got his feelings hurt when that gentleman resigned, over a lack of his own maturity (I knew him as well before he was hired).

  20. says

    Search committees need to make sure they follow current HR laws and regulations. They should review/ update their employee policies and manual. There should be alignment between what the committe and pastor or staff member agree on and what is in print in the employee policies and manuals.

    Churches are liable just as any business or corporation.

      • says

        Mark, I totally agree, just make sure it is a Lawyer who is current on employment law and the laws and regulations that apply to religious non-profits and churches or better yet, hire a Employment Law Attorney who specialties in working with Churches. The regulations and rules change almost weekly.

      • Another Mark says

        One common issue I am seeing more often is requesting a photo of the pastor and even more so a family photo. This is not appropriate nor is it legal according to the EEOC. If you want to know what I look like you have my pertinent, you can look me up and be legal but don’t ask for our photo or drop us out because we don’t send one for your illegal request.

  21. Terry says

    Although I am United Methodist and appointed–not called–I think most of these words of advice would also work in my system. Thanks for sharing them. I hope I won’t have to use them for a long while. Starting my third year and hoping for at least 4-9 more. (I want to get all the kids through high school) I can hope in my system, but it’s never promised.

  22. Chris says

    For a future article, could you offer suggestions for seminary graduates or others trying to make a transition in their ministries on how to get connected with some of these churches and search committees. Other than sending your resume to the state convention with 1000s of others, using seminary placement offices that are notoriously ineffective, and blindly doing google searches, it is difficult to get plugged in to the right circles in the SBC.

  23. Mike Cooper says

    Great list. The addititions suggested are extremely relevant, especially the “not knowing where one stands in the process”.

    I am trying to lead our church through this process as we are seeking a youth & family minister for our church, and it has been an interesting journey for our search committee.

    We are trying very hard to be sensitive to the candidates who have submitted their names to us.

  24. Howard says

    1) Don’t be surprised if we have already spoken to your former pastors by the time you interview us. If one left on bad terms, you have to trust that the pastor you want is able to objectively filter any “bad reviews” he might have given about your church.

    2) Please, no horse races. If you are serious enough about us that you are bringing us in for an interview, we’d rather not find out you are doing the same thing with two or three others.

  25. Scott Beaman says

    As a pastor who is still looking for a congregation that fits, I anticipate your next post, as committees are not very forthcoming as to why they rejected you. Blessings to you and your ministry.

  26. Craig says

    I agree about churches communicating back to people in the search process. I am sure churches get overwhelmed with attempting to communicate to 100+ people, but the people that sent in resumes need some type of communication. If a church is going to take the time to post a position, they should be willing to take the time to send one mass email to those that are no longer being considered. I contacted one church four times attempting to get a response. The church never communicated. Obviously, they did not want me, but could they not tell me? Thank you for your excellent posts!

  27. Chris Russell says

    I would also mention that it is crucial for the search committee to communicate with the congregation. If the congregation doesn’t understand how things are going to work then they may get discouraged when things aren’t going how they think it should. I have seen this pull a church apart.

    Many times the pastor has to help clean up the mess if this isn’t done right.

  28. john says

    most of us who have served as pastor for some time have met a wide assortment of committee types.
    some of us have spent money to travel to churches to preach in view of call and not been reimbursed for expenses and others have overpaid us (by our judgment). its all about committee awareness and who is going to train them after the preacher leaves. we need some method of making committees aware of how they should act with candidates. perhaps committees could share some stories of the way candidates communicate with them.
    But in the end its still all about listening to God (us preachers) and being aware we may not be communicating very well either.

  29. says

    I would encourage all search committees to keep in mind that getting the “total opposite” of the pastor they had before may not be what God wants for that church. I have seen a lot of churches look for an older pastor because things did not go well with a younger one. Contemporary methods are immediately thrown out in favor of traditional…or vice versa. God may want the church to continue on the path blazed by the previous pastor…just with a different leader.

    • Another Mark says

      And often times the next pastor will have an easier time doing the things that they want to do because the church has already heard that idea and has been softened up to it by the prior pastor. One of the best things I have heard an old timer pastor tell me about a church that I had applied at that he knew well was “They have always had the right men, at the right time, in the right order. Had any of the men came in a different order it would not have worked out for them.” Unfortunately for some of us this means that God is using us to prepare the soil and we won’t see many fruits from our labor, but the next person may be successful.

      The best part of that conversation with my mentor was when he told me “It is just like what XYZ is doing here. He is able to get many of the things you asked for and pushed for years done because they heard it enough from you that they are ready now that XYZ is here.”

  30. Richard says

    As part of a search committee seeking a Grow Pastor, I can say all of your points are valid not only for Pastors but for filling staff positions. There is an additional piece to the puzzle when the Pastor is in place and uses a search committee not only to recruit a candidate but ultimately to provide himself with “political” cover. In our case, this additional piece has added a layer of complexity to our search that has made finding a candidate difficult. It has been a real learning experience for us all.

  31. Kathea says

    I would add as a former PK (and part-time worship leader), please include the kids in the process as appropriate. You bring the whole family in for an interview or trial sermon/service/choir practice but then essentially ignore the kids? And don’t just dump them off with some random adult to babysit while mom and dad do the interview.

    A. It’s scary. You are in a completely new environment and with strangers. Mom and Dad are in another room. If you are old enough, you understand that a new job is on the line. It’s tense for us too. We know this could be our new home.

    B. Include us because the kids are as much a part of the package as the spouse is. Odds are we are going to be at every event, working in ministry and joining the fellowship of the church. If the kids are old enough, make sure there is time for the family as a whole to talk with the search committee.

    I was 12 when my dad was called to his last church. I appreciated that there was one dinner with the committee where my sister and I were included and even got to ask questions and had a few asked of us. (Favorite things and the like…nothing heavy.)

  32. Rich Behers says

    Do not lie! Do not lie! Do not lie! Do not lie about why the former pastor left and do not lie about the compensation package. Both happened to me. I was told the former pastor’s health was bad and he couldn’t keep up with the demands of the church, so he resigned. The truth was he was fired. The salary package include a phantom number regarding a parsonage. This caused unnecessary conflict at the beginning of my work there. This was my second church after a very happy and blessed ministry in the West Palm Beach area over eight and half years. Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.

  33. Bryan says

    Great stuff. I would add a couple, some of which others have mentioned:
    – Have a time line for each step of the process, share it, and stick to it. If you ask me to
    fill out a questionnaire, please let me know when you will tell me if I moved to
    the next round or not
    – I am interviewing you, too. Please don’t be offended if I have a questionnaire for
    you to fill out (and I do !), or when I ask certain questions.
    – PLEASE use your denominational leaders if you belong to one. They have done this a lot and can
    offer you a ton of wisdom and guidance and make the process much, much better

  34. Kevin says

    Regarding #2 and comments regarding communication–yes, yes, 1000 times YES. Most search committees are so poor at this. Please acknowledge receiving the applicant’s resume (I’ve had at least once where I found out later a church had not). I know not communicating is standard practice in the marketplace, but that doesn’t make it right, and the church should be different. Communicate the process and timeline. Don’t promise to get back and then never do so. Remember these men are brothers in Christ and potentially your future pastor. Treat them with the “one anothers” of the NT.

  35. Greg D. says

    Hi Thom and others,
    I followed this post back in the summer and was drawn back to it. I have a question about what to do after the initial interview. How long should a pastor wait until they follow up with a search committee? Should they follow up? Should they just wait for the search committee to get back? What if all a search committee said was we’ll get back to you?

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