A church in pastoral transition is in an important and delicate season. How a church walks together through pastoral transition carries the potential of either unifying the body or dividing it. The weight on the shoulders of a Pastor Search Committee is intense. And they feel it constantly.
It is my joy, at the SBTC, to lead the department that specializes in Pastor Search Committee training and coaching. We train dozens of committees every year, help with pulpit supply, make interim pastor connections, and provide ongoing coaching through the process. Spending time with these committees is one of my favorite things to do. Most of the men and women I have met through this ministry are passionate about their churches, and are committed to finding God’s man in God’s time, with no exceptions.
Every Pastor Search Committee is different. Every church is different. We do train on a specific process, but alterations to that process are common and necessary to fit each church’s individual context. The purpose of this short article is not to describe the process or hash out those alterations. Rather, today I simply want to offer three common mistakes Pastor Search Committees make.
ONE: Reacting against their previous pastor.
It’s just human nature, really. Church folks have this tendency to want their incoming pastor to have none of the perceived faults of their outgoing one, especially when the previous pastor’s tenure has ended negatively (or when it is perceived as such). This tendency leads them to focus on what kind of man they do not want at the helm instead of what kind of man God does want there. So how do we keep from being mostly reactionary in a pastor search? How do we help committees lean in to what’s ahead instead of purely reacting against what’s behind?
We encourage committees to do the work of creating three profiles: Church Profile, Community Profile, Pastoral Profile. The Church Profile answers the question, “Who are we?” It takes a hard look at the demographics, passions, and history of the church. The Community Profile answers the question, “Who are they?” It considers the makeup of the community at large by running demographic reports, gaining school district insights, and evaluating economic and geographic trends. The Pastoral Profile answers the question, “Who is he?” This profile is prayerfully constructed based on the makeup of the church and the makeup of the community: “Who are we? “Who are they?” and “Who is the man who will lead us to reach them?” It is, admittedly, a month or more worth of work. But the committees who do this prayerfully and diligently are usually more unified in determining the profile of their prospective pastor. They tend to lean into the man God has ahead of them instead of reacting against what is behind them.
TWO: Lack of communication with the church body.
“Well, have you found our pastor yet?” That’s funny once or twice. But 3, 6, 12 months into the process, it’s not. The church usually, in some way, affirms the members of the Pastor Search Committee. They know who these men and women are, and they most likely had a hand in their selection. The members of this committee are acting as delegates on behalf of the church body. And the church body wants to know that there is forward movement.
I encourage churches to communicate with the church body at least biweekly. This is easily accomplished through a blog or printed statement. The committee should only stand before the congregation when there are significant things to report (and even then, this should never interrupt the flow of the worship service or take more than 3-5 minutes). Otherwise, biweekly communication is best accomplished in written form and located where the members of the church body know to find it – either digitally or in print.
What should they communicate? A short report of what the committee has been working on together. Specific prayer concerns. When they are opening and closing resume reception and how they are receiving resumes. When they have narrowed down to 10 candidates. When they are closing in on one candidate. Dates for the candidate’s reception and in view of a call Sunday. What should they never communicate?Names, locations, or current churches of candidates. Disagreement or division within the committee. Frustration with the process or with candidates. When there seems to be no progress.
Always keep things moving forward, and always communicate that things are moving forward.
THREE: Not reaching out for help.
You do not have to do this on your own. Your local association and your state convention have people who will gladly come train your committee and coach you through the process. As for the SBTC, this costs your committee absolutely nothing. It is a ministry of churches participating through the Cooperative Program.
Often these men or women have helped dozens of committees through this process and have personal wisdom on top of the departmental wisdom their organization possesses from years of service in this area. They can help your team avoid common pitfalls and give practical suggestions for process. They can listen to your specific needs and help you think through contextual issues. They can coach you through moments when you seem to be “stuck.” They can help you get resumes from good, reliable sources. They can encourage you and pray for you through the process.
The key is not to wait until you are stuck or overwhelmed to ask for help. As soon as the committee is formed, have someone from the local association or state convention come in to train the committee at your first or second meeting. This establishes the helping relationship early, and it will keep you from burning bridges you did not know existed. You do not have to do this on your own. You have a larger family of faith who loves you and is for you. Reach out for help.
Grace and Peace,