Recently, the chair of a search committee presented his candidate before the governing body with the words, “We really did have a real search.”
I rolled my eyes. Yeah right. We all knew the truth. It was just another sham.
Have you ever fallen prey to the fraudulent pastoral search? Do you know what I’m talking about? Between me and my husband, we’ve been caught up in it… well, I hate to say just how many times.
You see, in our denomination, to ensure fairness, there’s a process. A good process, where people are reviewed, interviewed, and selected. The pool of pastors needs to be wide-ranging: male, female, differing ethnicities, etc.
But sometimes… well, sometimes everyone knows that the church is really going to hire the non-ordained interim, or the pastor’s seminary buddy, or that particular someone that the job description has been written for. Everyone knows it–except for the other candidates.
We have this process, and so we set up a committee that half-heartedly meets. The members ask around for good candidates, and the pool begins to come together. Then the phony interviews begin.
Now, is there anything wrong with knowing that you’ve got the right person for the job, before the search begins? No. I don’t think so.
The thing that I hate about it is, it was many years ago, but I’ve been caught swimming in that pool of candidates too many times. I’m at my church, minding my own business, not planning on any sort of a move, when I get a call from out-of-nowhere, asking me to apply for an exceptional position. And so I go into that excruciating discernment process with my family. I begin to pray, asking God if I could get some divine light on the messy decision.
When I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to do, then, I figure that I’ll put together my resume. I become open to uprooting my family and moving. And after a couple of weeks of gathering all the data, sweating over essay questions, cajoling references, buying that really expensive resume paper, and putting together a decent sermon tape, I hold my breath. I hope. I imagine, a little.
I prepare for phone interviews. After they go really well, I look at houses on Realtor.com (after all, they contacted me). I begin to check cost of living calculators and I let myself dream (just a little bit). I hold off my vacation time, because I’m not sure if I’ll need it for a visit. I let the summer slip away, without taking time off.
Then, those quick couple of months go by, and I don’t hear anything. And when I begin to ask around, I find out that they hired X–the person they had in their back pocket all along. In fact, they hired him, like, a month ago.
Finally. I figure it out. I got all caught up in a big, fat sham.
Six months after the hire, I get an embarrassed, apologetic “Dear John” letter. (“All of the candidates were exceptional…. We had a really hard time making a decision…. God bless you on your search….”) Usually, I’m very grown up about it. I ceremoniously burn the letter, but I don’t even make any voodoo dolls. I might, perhaps, mutter an imprecatory prayer upon the committee. One from the Psalms, of course.
But… the more I think about it, in these cases, this system that’s supposed to establish fairness, really isn’t.
So what are we to do? I wish that all candidates had one of those highlighters–you know, one of those markers that they use at the mall to determine if a twenty is real or not–that we could use on the inquiry letters to find out if they’re counterfeit. Is there any way to let the churches who have pre-determined their pastor, just hire that person?
Would deleting the frauds dismantle the “fairness” of the system? Has there ever been a time when a committee hired the outsider instead of going with the predestined pastor? Should I (as a young experienced woman) just be thankful that there’s a system in place–one that at least protects my right to get in on the phone interview? Or, should we ditch the fraud altogether and only hold the real searches?
photo’s by brianblackden