Both churches that called me as their pastor followed the same process: they elected a search team who listened to my sermons, checked some references, interviewed me, and then presented me to the church as their next pastor. In my case, the process worked—but that’s not always the case. Below are some of the issues in searching for a pastor, followed by a few practical suggestions:
- The search team is “dating” potential pastoral candidates—which means they often talk about only their good stuff. They’ll wait until the church and the potential pastor are “married” before they let him see their blemishes.
- They sometimes turn the process into a “dog and pony” show. That is, they line up candidates, hear all of them preach, and then let the church vote on their favorite. In that case, the process often lacks an in-depth look at the candidate.
- The search team has no training. They haven’t read about search processes, nor have they sought outside guidance. They’re trying to figure out the process as they go—which is not a good sign to a potential pastor.
- Prayer is too often only a perfunctory part of the process. In some cases, they pray very little until they’ve actually picked the candidate and are ready to present him to the church. That’s late in the game to be intensely praying.
- They sometimes decide that the past is no indicator for how a person may lead in the present. For example, they’re convinced by this candidate that he will lead the church to growth, despite the fact that both of his previous churches declined under his leadership.
- It’s difficult—if not impossible—to really know a potential pastor until he’s in that leadership role. No matter how many questions you ask and how many references you check, you don’t know a person until you’re “married.” This is one reason many churches are now finding their staff within their own local body.
So, how do we address these issues?
- Get some training, perhaps through your denomination. At the same time, talk to other churches that have more recently gone through the search process. Learn from them.
- Focus on only one candidate at a time. Avoid the possibility of the vote’s becoming nothing more than a popularity vote among several candidates.
- Saturate the process in prayer. Spend significant time seeking God’s direction. Don’t choose a pastor in your own power.
- Do your homework. Vet the candidate well. Talk to his references, and push them to be honest with you. Check the growth pattern of his previous churches. Complete a background check on him.
- Look within your church body. God may have already placed that person in your midst. Ask Him to guide you through His Spirit to the right person.
- Ask theological questions – or enlist someone theologically trained who would be part of the process. Don’t assume a potential pastor’s theology; intentionally ask questions about it.
- With the leadership of your church, enlist an interim pastor whose presence will give you more time to search for the next pastor. A rushed decision doesn’t always turn out well.
What would you add to this discussion?