I recently met with the search team of a church in our area that is seeking a new pastor. Most of them had never been through this process before, so I was grateful to pray with them and assist.
Having been contacted myself, as well as watching my father (a pastor for over 35 years) go through this a few times, I have observed the good and the not so good approaches. Here are some basic thoughts I shared with those men about the process of searching for a new pastor. I believe these considerations, though certainly not exhaustive, can help guide any search team in the right direction as they develop their plan for securing the next Pastor.
One candidate at a time.
Don’t create a competitive environment in your church by bringing in multiple candidates for the church family to review. This can create confusion and division. Choose one candidate, from a list of resumes or recommendations, that your team has researched carefully, prayed diligently over, and are 100% unified in bringing in for a visit and presenting to the church family. You may need to do a few phone interviews to help you determine the right candidate to bring in, but certainly keep one at a time in front of the congregation.
Establish a point man.
One man from the search team should be the communicator with the candidates. It can get extremely confusing to a candidate if he is constantly hearing from multiple men on the team. The point man should communicate regularly to the team, the candidate, and the church as to the process of their search.
Do your homework.
Review the resumes carefully. Research the candidates current ministry (his trends…his philosophy…his ministry and life focus). Review their website and blogs. Look into their social media accounts (when hiring church staff, this is the FIRST place I go). Watch or listen to his messages online. Can you envision him as your leader and pastor? If he is a Lead Pastor, consider visiting a Sunday service at his current ministry. Of course, if you choose to do this do so without disruption to the current ministry. Attend only as a guest. Do not, under any circumstances, talk to his church family as to why you are there. And, please, the entire committee need not go – this is too obvious and suspect.
Communicate clearly and with full disclosure.
There are things about your church the candidate needs to know beyond the basics of your church loving the Lord and serving Him. Be prepared to give full disclosure about these areas:
- Are you a pastor-led church? Will you follow the pastor as he makes decisions for the church? Will he have authority to hire/fire staff…set the vision…make necessary changes?
- How will you take care of him and his family? What will his salary and total pay package be (there’s nothing spiritual about holding out on this information, and the package should be flexible to meet the needs of his family)?
- Be clear about doctrinal and philosophical positions.
- Is their division in the church?
- Where is the church spiritually? Stagnate? Growing? Digressing?
- What does the church need in their new pastor?
- Have you revealed the financial statements and budget items to him?
Just be sure that every question has context. Don’t expect the candidate to know the purpose behind the questions. He needs to know why you are asking him about particular areas. And remember, it’s not just about you asking him questions. He will have questions too. Be honest and upfront in your responses.
Bring the candidate and his family in for a weekend visit.
This should be an all-expense paid visit. Make it nice. Put him in a hotel room, provide money for meals, and schedule meals with church leadership. Make it an informative visit for both parties.
Schedule a time for the candidate and search team to visit, ask questions, and share their heart. Prepare these questions from the search committee in advance. Be sure you have a plan (Note: In my opinion his wife should not be part of the questioning. She is his life partner, not one to be evaluated by a committee of people. Get to know her through meals and fellowship).
If your church has other staff, schedule a special fellowship where the candidate can spend time with the current staff and their families. He may also want to have one-on-one time with them as he considers the status of the church staff. Allot time for this in the schedule.
With all the planning, be sure to give him and his family some free time to explore the area. It is important they have alone time together as they pray and envision themselves potentially living and serving in your city.
Of course, have him preach in all your services.
Retrieve questions from the church family prior to the weekend visit. Collect the questions and review them. Have the search team point man, only, ask the questions in a Q& A session following the evening service. Make it light, but informative – both laughter and seriousness. This is a good time to see his personality as well as educate the church.
If the search team feels led of the Lord to present this candidate as pastor to the church, do so within two weeks. Don’t drag it out. But regardless of whether you present him to the church or find he’s not a good fit, respond to him quickly and efficiently. He must move on, and so do you.