14 Mistakes Search Committees Make

I’ve work with a number of pastor and staff search teams as they vet possible candidates for their open positions. I’ve also spent a lot of time listening to candidates talk about their varied experiences in the process. Here are several mistakes I’ve seen search teams make:

  1. Including the wrong members on the committee. Just because a person is viewed as a leader doesn’t necessarily make him or her a good search team member. Members ought to be godly prayerful Christians, good team members, and trustworthy believers.
  2. Praying too little. I’ve seen some committees that prayed a lot when their work started, a little during the actual search process, and a lot more once they’d narrowed their search to one person. Significant prayer is essential during the entire process.
  3. Not checking accuracy of the resume. You’d hope that all Christian candidates have only truth on their resume, but that’s not always the case.
  4. Not doing background and credit checks. Again, I wish neither of these reviews was necessary, but we live in a fallen world.
  5. Not asking theological questions. I’m amazed by the number of candidates I know who are asked only 1-2 (or zero) questions about what they believe. A general, “Do you believe the Bible?” is not sufficient.
  6. Asking theological questions too late in the process. When the search committee doesn’t ask these questions until strong relationships have begun to develop, it’s too easy to let debatable responses pass.
  7. Not checking references. I admit that few people include negative references on their resume, but you can still learn about a candidate from others.
  8. Rushing the process. In my experience, it’s taking longer and longer to find pastors and staff members. The longer it takes, the likelier it is that the committee will want to settle. That’s dangerous.
  9. Not being honest with the candidate. Most churches are not as healthy as search teams seem to think they are. Withholding significant information in the search process will only breed frustration later.
  10. Spending too little time with the candidate. Sometimes this issue is the result of an overall faulty process, but the more time the search team spends with the candidate, the better.
  11. Failing to keep the church informed. The work of the committee is to be confidential, but the committee should still keep the congregation in the loop. At a minimum, they can then pray more pointedly.
  12. Failing to keep the candidates informed. Even if the committee decides not to pursue a particular candidate, they still owe the candidate a response. Leaving people hanging is unkind.  
  13. Overreacting to the previous leader. Too often, a church responds to one negative leader by next calling the exact opposite type of leader. That option is not always the best solution. 
  14. Assuming the only possibilities are people who’ve submitted a resume. God might be working in someone whose resume is not yet available. Committees that don’t consider asking someone whose name has not been submitted might miss an opportunity.

What other mistakes would you add to this list?

37 Comments

  • John says:

    As someone who has been searching for what God has for me for a while I have big one to add – I think most people don’t understand how hard can be to get a full time ministry job. For example, I was once asked, “Why were you bi-vocational?” Then they said something to the effect as wondering if it was I did not want to fully commit to a church role. I wanted to say well it’s because I had my choice of hundreds of full positions with churches begging me to work there, but I said no so I could put greater stress on my family. I obviously did not say this but it seemed like the assumption was that getting a full time ministry position was easy and I just choose not do it for some reason. Unfortunately, that’s not my only example of hearing something like that. I still live in the same city as the seminary I graduated out of and I know a lot of our churches are filled with seminary graduates who never found a full time ministry position. So sometimes search committees don’t know the reality that it can be very hard to “break into ministry”, and thus can sound naive or condescending at times when they look at candidate working a secular job to provide for his family as negative thing while they wait for God to move them.

  • Skip Cook says:

    A committee that requires a 100% agreement on the candidate. This allows one person to control who they want to choose as their next Pastor.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Skip.

  • Marty says:

    Chuck, thanks for this accurate list. I want to hi lite #12 as I’ve worked with our seminary students. They will often begin working with another search committee because they assume the process is dead, only to be contacted again after months of silence.

    Another that I would add is the search committee not getting to know the prospect’s spouse and family. The family is a team. I’ve seen one case where a minister’s wife hurt the effectiveness of her husband’s ministry.

  • Joel says:

    Chuck, I wrote on this subject almost 4 years ago. 10 years of consulting with Search Team’s motivated me to put the mistakes into print for the good of future searches. A summary is here. http://joelrainey.blogspot.com/2015/03/five-things-pastor-search-team-should.html

  • Robert says:

    Talk to your D. O. M., the D. O. M. from the candidates area, and check beyond the references listed on the resume.

  • James says:

    Pastoral candidates should also do a thorough investigation of prospective churches. Now after pastoring two “pastor-eater” churches, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Ask lots of questions. Call Directors of Missions. Call former pastors. Pray for discernment and wisdom. Seek lots of counsel.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, James.

  • Ronnie Germany says:

    I’ll like to see the Search Committees not be so diversified worrying about “special interests groups”. I’ll like to see the focus on if the prospective Pastor preaches on Salvation and not on social issues. This world needs the Lord. We needs to see revivals.

  • I remember speaking with an Interim Pastor after he was placed on the Search Committee (PSC). He wasn’t my initial contact. An elder on the PSC sent an email stating that a contact would soon be made. After a month I emailed the elder, assuming that they perhaps changed their direction, asking for a candid evaluation of my resume and my references. He informed me that he had resigned from the church and PSC and was surprised that no one had contacted me. Of all people the Interim Pastor sent me a pretty curt email pretty much stating that I should never expect to hear from PSC – even as this stage in the process. I deleted all files and emails from this church.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Blessings, Sunny.

  • F. M. Wilson says:

    Being so caught up in the charisma or flashiness of a good speaker that you don’t look at them deep enough to see the real person has some serious character flaws. Con artists can sell anything, especially themselves.

  • Greg says:

    Talking to more than one candidate st a time.

  • Adam says:

    There’s also the issue of hiring staff pastors and the senior pastor’s responsibility in it. I would add for staff positions that the senior pastor should spend time with the candidate. I should’ve realized the 2 hours with him over two weekends would be indicative of what was to come. Friends of mine warned me this isn’t adequate. After I was hired he would sit in his office, watch soccer, and blog on a MLS website. Then he started a PhD. There was no relationship or mentoring, which is what I hoped for. Also, the senior pastor should be honest about the church polity and any ad-hoc committees the staff will be a part of. It just so happened a lay person was over a systems team telling myself what to do, as I answered to this gentlemen every month and wrote goals and ministry action plans for him not the senior pastor. This completely blindsided me and should’ve been addressed up front in the interview process.

  • At the SBC church I attend, we voted on a pastor the same day the Free Will Baptist Church voted on him. The Free Will won and took about 25-33% of the church with him. I became chair of the next PSC, started with prayer and pretty much made sure we did most of the 12 items, some better and some worse.

  • Simon Peter says:

    This has to do with honesty. Many churches use the line “low pay to start, but will grow as the church grows”. When the church grows, the promise goes away. We as the church must make sure we pay staff a fair salary that reflects the community, both full and part time. Churches that promise higher pay and don’t deliver when the church grows are essentially liars. Pastors by and large aren’t in it for the money, that’s for sure, but churches take advantage of that too to the negative nth degree. Churches should not call full time staff unless they can offer a fair wage. Most do not.

  • Eric Fannin says:

    I think that some search committees try to find the “perfect candidate” rather than finding a good fit. They can wear themselves out and discourage the church by taking too long to find a candidate who doesn’t exist.

  • Janet says:

    Put promises in writing. My husband was promised a paid sabbatical after seven years. The church was in financial straits by then and promised to give him the budgeted amount when the economy was better. By the time we moved to another church, none of the members of the PSC committee or personnel committee who made these promises was still at the church and the current committee did not want to honor the commitment.

  • I have often wondered where God fits in when we create a questionnaire for members to fill out on what their preferences are in a preacher/ Young, Old, ThD or DD, etc. I have felt this possibly eliminates “God’s Man.

  • Marc says:

    How do you uncover immorality that was obscured at prior church engagements in the vetting process?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      It’s obviously hard, Marc, if previous churches knew little or nothing about the problem. Sometimes, references also know nothing. 

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