I told Wes a few years ago that we ought to write a book on the pastor search process. Not that we’re experts on the process. We’ve never even been on the hiring end of the process. But we know what it’s like to be on the other side, from beginning to end, with big churches and small churches, with churches who have it down to a science and with churches who are still learning. Many, many times in the course of meeting search committees and communicating with churches, we’ve longed for the ability to tell them how they could make the process easier on candidates, thereby making the whole process easier on themselves.
Why am I sharing this now? Because we are blissfully happy at our church and have no intention of ever speaking to another search committee if God wills it so. And we pray He does! So this is a good time to share it without anyone thinking we’re about to head out. We’re not, y’all. You’re stuck with us, MBC!
So, here are some of the thoughts we had…
– Let your no be no. Once you’re no longer interested in a candidate, please clearly let him know. A letter, a call, an email — anything is better than nothing. Don’t leave the poor pastor hanging, waiting and hoping that he still has a shot. Believe me, your courtesy and your time in this is SO appreciated.
– Show us your warts, we’ll show you ours. Guess what? Your church isn’t perfect. And guess what? Neither is the guy who wants to become your pastor. If there’s conflict, turmoil, or bad history in your church, it’s best to be honest about it with your prospective candidates. Most likely, the guy you’re interviewing has already called your Director of Missions and your last pastor, asking the tough questions and getting honest answers. You’re probably doing the very same thing — calling references, checking the candidate out online, and doing everything you can to find out his backstory. Committees and candidates should do one another a favor and put all the cards out on the table so that they both know what they’re walking into.
– Your website actually DOES matter. The first impression your prospective pastor will have of your church, beyond your initial contact, is your website. If you don’t have one or if yours hasn’t been updated since the last pastor left, you’re communicating that you don’t care about reaching anyone under the age of 50. Along the same lines, if your website has a huge American flag and the phrase “God bless America” or “one nation under God,” we’re going to assume that you’re more like a political organization than a church. If your website has only pictures of fellowships and parties, we’re going to assume that you don’t do much in terms of ministry. If your website has pictures of the same three kids doing every activity at your church without any other children, we’re going to assume you don’t have a lot of children coming to your church. You communicate A LOT with your website. Make sure it accurately portrays who you are as a church.
– Be clear. Tell your candidate how this process is going to go. Tell him what the steps are. Tell him where you are in the process. And if you have ten other guys you’re “dating” alongside him, please — TELL him that. Leave no room for confusion or lack of clarity. It’ll go better for you both if you know where you both stand.
– Do discuss finances. Chances are good that the guy you’re interviewing isn’t in this for the money. Because if he was? He would be doing something besides ministry. So, don’t hold back on discussing compensation and benefits with some unfounded fear that doing so will encourage greed. And on the same topic, know that it’s not unspiritual for a candidate to be concerned about these things. A man who wants to live Scripturally wants to provide for his family, and you don’t want the kind of man who will blindly throw himself into a situation that would lead his children into poverty. Be honest, be upfront, and be unafraid to give the man the bottom line. Waves of tension will roll off everyone present when you do!
– Understand that you’re just hiring him…. but you’re getting her, too. Don’t expect that you’re getting two for the price of one if your candidate’s wife has ministry skills. Understand and respect that she may have obligations and responsibilities that will keep her time occupied in other ways sometimes. (Especially if she has small children at home. Or a career. Or, God bless her, BOTH!) Understand that he’s the one you’re hiring… but that she comes with him. Treat her like you would treat a visitor to your church from the very beginning, allowing her to find her own place in ministry as a church member, rather than thrusting her right into every obligation you think a pastor’s wife should fill.
– Don’t trash your last pastor. The man could have been the devil himself, but pointing this out to the candidate you’re interviewing won’t help a thing. He’ll just (rightly) conclude that in a few years (or less), you’ll be saying the same things about HIM. Would you want to walk into a situation where people talk about one another like that? Not unless you’re crazy. (And you don’t want to hire a crazy man, y’all.)
– It’s not life changing for you… but it is for him. Will your life really change when this guy is called to your church? Will your life be uprooted and moved? Will your experience any major shifts in your goals, plans, and directions? Likely not. But this will be a life changing move for him. Respect that and give him time. Answer his questions. Show some empathy. Understand why this can’t be a quick decision. And affirm, affirm, affirm when his calling matches what God is calling your church to. And six months down the road? Affirm it again. And two years down the road? Affirm it again. And…
(Oh, and once you call him? Give him a giant book of pictures of CURRENT church members and their names. God bless the woman who did this for us at MBC. We were spouting off names in no time at all!)
What about you? Any other hints you’ve picked up over the years?