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What a Pastoral Search Committee Really Needs
- Joe McKeever
The only method I can find in the Bible for seeking a new pastor is to ask the Lord repeatedly (maybe 10 days?), then narrow it to two candidates, offer up a this-is-it-Lord prayer and then flip a coin. That seems to have been the system the disciples used in Acts 1, but if anyone thinks that is presented as a recommended formula, it’s news to me. (And btw, I am not one of those who thinks the disciples did a wise thing there in the Upper Room. But it’s merely my opinion.) There is no scriptural precedent for pastor search committees that I know of. Yet, they are a necessary evil, if I may be permitted to say. The alternative seems to be bishops appointing pastors or church bosses hiring them. Both methods have been tried and found wanting. But so has the search committee system been found to be flawed. There is no foolproof method. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). These days, some churches are hiring firms to conduct the initial searching and culling for them. If they have found this system to be an improvement over the spontaneous-committee-of-the-untrained, I haven’t heard. Pastors eventually conclude that search committees come in all shapes and sizes, all theologies and philosophies and agendas. Ministers learn to take what they say with quite a few grains of salt. Committees often function like the local chamber of commerce, giving their community and church the glamour treatment to the point that even their own members wouldn’t recognize it. They make promises they never follow through on, and ask all kinds of ridiculous questions they ignore once the questionnaire is returned. Not all, of course. Once in a while, a pastor discovers a gem of a committee. I once told such a team, “The Lord is not leading me to your church, but I want all six of you in my church forever!” Alas, those are the exceptions. Strange committees abound… A search committee once asked me to “list all the revivals you have preached in the past 10 years and the number of conversions from each.” After replying that I did not have that kind of information, I added: “Frankly, you should be skeptical of anyone who does.” They never replied, which is a reply in itself. One wonders what was in back of such an unreasonable request. Were they burned by the previous pastor’s inattention to evangelism? Is one member of the committee strong-arming the others to follow his own agenda? I quickly came to dislike letters from search committees that said, “If you wish to be considered by our church, please complete the enclosed application and return to us.” Anyone who filled those things out probably did so with misgivings since it made him appear needy and as though he were seeking a church. I asked some friends to complete this: “Dear Pastor, Our Search committee liked you very much. However…” Among the usual answers were three said to have been actual letters the three friends received…. –We liked you, but we enjoy our interim pastor and have decided to wait a while before deciding on a pastor. –We liked you, but you have a really large family. –We liked you, but we have someone already picked out and just needed to make it appear we were actually looking for a pastor. And the one almost every pastor hears in one way or the other, numerous times in his lifetime, “We like you, but your wife doesn’t play the piano.” How dare a pastor marry a woman who doesn’t sing or play the piano? Whatever was he thinking of? Tongue firmly in cheek. The best search committee The most effective search committee is one that has been properly trained. They have read their denomination’s printed materials on how to conduct their search and pulled in a veteran minister or two to complete their education. After I retired, more than one search committee asked me to sit in a meeting with them and a) talk to them about how to go about their work, b) caution them on mistakes to avoid, and c) open myself for a time of questions and answers. Almost any pastor I’ve ever heard of would be delighted to be asked to help in this way. To say it is a rarity is unnecessary. The point of this is to say to search committees the following: –Do not begin your search until you are properly trained by competent leaders. –Do not allow any one person—whether the chair or the biggest contributor or the oldest—to dominate the proceedings of your committee. –The chair should establish up front that each person on the committee will be heard, and that there will be no bullying tactics. If someone violates that, they will be removed and an alternate moved into their slot. –The committee should agree they will recommend no pastor without a unanimous vote. If they cannot be unanimous after a respectable period of time, they may need to ask the church to replace them with another committee. –Complete confidentiality is required. Anyone found reporting to outsiders on what goes on in the meetings will be replaced. (I once came close to moving to a church and found out later I was black-balled by the former pastor. Two members of the committee were telling him everything that happened in their meetings. I gave thanks the Lord did not allow me to walk into that situation.) As soon as you decide a particular pastor is no longer a candidate for your church –Take his name and information out of your file. Retire it to an inactive file along with all the others you have ruled out. The point is: Do not keep returning to him once you make the decision. –Should you write and inform him? Answer: Only if you had written him earlier to say he was being considered. But if he has received no communication from your committee, nothing more is required. However, if you had informed him previously that he was being considered, once the decision is made that he is not a candidate, a letter should follow immediately. The letter needs to say, “Our committee thanks you for allowing us to consider you as a possible pastor. We have decided the Lord is leading us elsewhere and wanted you to know. God bless you in your ministry. Please pray for His leadership as we continue to seek His will.” Something like that. –Do not tell anyone whom you have ruled out. It’s no one’s business. –Do not speak disparagingly of pastors you have visited and found to be inadequate. Even if you emerge from this experience with stories galore, keep them to yourself for a period of time, then never divulge a name when relating some of your bizarre experiences. And pray no pastor is blogging about the bizarre experience he had with your folks. This article originally appeared here.