Choosing a New Pastor

Choosing a new pastor HAS to be different than an episode of The Bachelor, and let me tell you why.

It was disturbing to recently see a handout that takes the reader through the pastor search committee process. While much was in order and took the reader through the logical and practical steps in the process, there was a disturbing and concerning section that I want to address. Perhaps just writing this is therapy for me, because once the committee begins its work, I have no influence whatsoever on how they conduct their business.

One block in the process is to “narrow the field down to 6-10 potential candidates.” Certainly this is all well and good. But the next step was to “check all references” which is not so good. I am a fan of checking references, but at the proper time. After checking references, then the field is “narrowed to 3-4 top candidates,” and then visiting and interviews take place. As I read this, all I could think about was The Bachelor TV show.

While I have only seen commercials and never the show, the premise is for a room full of women to be wooed and seduced by a handsome eligible bachelor. The process involves a series of dates, conversations, and decisions. The show is known for its famous scene of giving a rose to the ones that move forward in the process, eliminating those who don’t make the cut.

Point of clarification: the following is written in general masculine for simplicity in language. I do not want to write him/her for every pronoun used.

Doing this to a potential pastor is simply not right. Contacting references before the candidate is in serious consideration is premature. The candidate is now vulnerable to those in his current position, should they find out a search committee is considering him. Everyone in the candidate’s circles of influence begin thinking he is perhaps on his way out, asking questions, and damaging his current ministry, especially if he does not “get the rose” eliminating him from the competition.

The simple fact that he is in a “competition” is humiliating enough; imagine yourself being courted my someone. You’re interested and think this could lead to something like a life-long commitment, only to discover down the road he has been dating other people all this time and chose someone else over you. Besides, a potential pastor wants to know that God has led you to him, rather than you’re throwing the dice hoping for the best.

So, how should this pastor search be done? After all of the preliminary stuff like congregational survey and church profile, when the time comes to get to the business of looking at candidates, I suggest this process (beginning with much prayer and seeking God’s direction).

  1. Gather resumes from multiple sources: local association or state convention; recommendations from people you trust; sites like ministermatching.com, etc. Beware of resumes that come from churches, groups, or individuals whose theology, methodology, or ecclesiology is not a good fit for our church.
  2. Copies of these confidential resumes are distributed to committee members to read and review. Messages on tape or mp3 are distributed as well.
  3. Each member picks out their top ten candidates based on the criteria for which they are seeking.
  4. In committee, everyone explains their selections to the rest of the group, and perhaps narrowing the field by pooling the candidates that many of the members have in common.
  5. Once you get to the top five choices, the committee puts these in priority order, and agree that candidate number one is the first to pursue.
  6. A visit is made to that pastor’s church to hear him preach live; no official committee contact is made. Make sure to call the church (like any guest might) to make sure the pastor is preaching that Sunday, and ask the time of the service. And don’t sit together as a group; don’t be obvious.
  7. The committee then decides if they want to contact him for an in-person interview.
  8. If all is satisfactory after the interview, then the committee requests confidential references. These reference should be called, not sent a reference form.
  9. If there are NO red flags at this point, the committee decides whether to extend and invitation for the candidate to visit the church, in private with the committee rather than publicly. The candidate and spouse visit the church and see the community to get a sense of who we are, and get a little of our history and the flavor of the church. The candidate may decide at this point to continue in the process or feel led that this is not the place.
  10. If there ARE red flags in the references or the interview, the committee may decide to move toward candidate number two. We thank candidate number one for his time and consideration but communicate that the committee decided it is not a good fit for the congregation.
  11. My recommendation is to work with one person at a time until such a time that God closes that door.

Once a candidate is unanimously selected, the committee is responsible to organize a “visit weekend,” in public, gathering with various groups within the congregation at various times for meeting, greeting, and questioning. Sunday is preaching day at the church. Then at a called business meeting, perhaps later that evening, the church would decide whether or not to extend a call that the candidate.

This is not The Bachelor, and these are solid reasons why we should employ a different method to select a new pastor.

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