Pointers for Pastor Nominating Committees

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Maybe it’s the economic crisis that’s bringing a whole lot of stress to our jobs and making them unbearable. I don’t know, but it seems like I’m getting a lot of off-line emails about queries, frustrations, and excitement that comes with the search for a new pastorate. So, I thought I’d put some guidance out there for the committees who are calling pastors. 

Be timely. I know that Pastor Nominating Committees are made up of volunteers, but I don’t know how many times I have seen committees drag their feet, going through the stack of hundreds of resumes, and it takes them so long that all of the good candidates have lost interest or found other jobs.

If you’re on a committee, you might be looking at that stack, thinking that you have so many possibilities. But, there might only be a couple of people who are right for your church. If you do take a long time on different steps of the process, make sure that you keep in close contact with the candidates whom you are serious about. No one likes to be left hanging.

Beat the bushes. In the Presbyterian Church, we have a Call Referral Service, which is kind of an on-line dating service for pastors and churches. It will generate a great deal of paper for you. And it works too. I received my last two jobs through CRS. However, often the best information comes from good, old-fashioned word of mouth. A lot of churches realize that they are really great, and they figure that all of the good candidates will be beating down their doors. But, it doesn’t always work that way. Committees will still need to work hard to find the best qualified person.

Check the stats. (PCUSA churches can find them through this link. Search for the congregation, then for congregational statistics.) I know I am going to get a hard time from my pastor colleagues on this… and please feel free to take issue on this point. I just bring it up because I’ve seen it happen too many times. A great church calls a handsome, tall, intelligent pastor who just happened to have the last three congregations implode while he was there. Or, during the eight years when he was ministering to the congregation, the attendance dropped to one-quarter of its previous size. Then, when the same thing happens to calling congregation, they are shocked.

I say this, not because those stats are completely accurate. I followed a pastor who did a bit of number finagling. Everyone kept telling me how much the attendance had increased, but the denominational stats did not tell that story. When I dug a little deeper, I realized that there was a significant difference between the actual numbers and the ones that were reported.

Also, growth does not solely depend on pastoral leadership. There are many, many factors that go into it.

But, nonetheless, the stats can be good warning signs or they can be hopeful. Of course, if there is a problem, you will want to talk to the pastor. There can be many explanations for a dramatic drop in numbers (i.e., the town’s main industry closes down or the session finally let the pastor clean the rolls).

Understand the Google generation. If you’re looking for a pastor who is under the age of thirty (or sometimes older), and you Google his or her name, you might be appalled by what you find. You may find a blog with free-flowing thoughts, complaints, and even misspelled words. You might find some pictures on Facebook of her at a social event. You might find a lot of things that you may not have wanted to see.

Is this because the pastor was immodest? No. It is just that when people are under a certain age, they have a different idea of publishing information on the web. Their lives have been chronicled there.

Maybe you don’t want to know all of this about your pastor. Maybe you want your pastor to stand up in a robe, in a high pulpit on Sunday morning, and you don’t want to know that she might have a social life, or thoughts about anything other than the 4th chapter of Matthew. You may not want to know that she is capable of typos. Should this deter you from hiring her? No.

If your church has on its information that you want to grow, or that you want to attract young families, then realize that there is a shift in accessibility. Many younger members aren’t looking for the untouchable pastor. They are more comfortable with someone who is accessible. So while this might seem scandalous to some, it can actually be a great asset.

So what would you add? What do you wish you could have told the committees who interviewed you last? What mistakes do you see them making? Feel free to comment anonymously, if you need to.

photo by eGabrielle

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10 thoughts on “Pointers for Pastor Nominating Committees

  1. All Good Points, and from this side of the search I would add……As a PNC, PLEASE get everyone on the same page. It is so disconcerting to have a great initial phone interview only to have the dreaded e-mail saying…”Thanks but no thanks”. Only to find out the committee wanted this or that or more experience. Additonaly I would add, please understand the difference between Call and Vocation. (ref. Parker Palmer), we take our calling very seriously and emotionally so HWC. (handle with care)

  2. Stats are very important and no PNC should ignore congregational trends in a particular parish. Churches should also check that their own stats are accurate, too. Some pastors come to a church that has inflated its own numbers where she or he is expected to perform miracles.

  3. So where does call fit into those wise suggestions? You know. Call. Not call as in CRS, but call with a capital “C,” that thing that comes in dreams and visions and inexorable urgings that are not our own.

    I last interviewed at a congregation that was, both on paper and in person, just absolutely perfect. I really, really, liked them. They felt the same way. Theologically and demographically and interpersonally, all was in alignment. We were totally plug-and-play.

    But though they were and are a truly wonderful church, I’d come to realize during the process that Call was not there. The pastor they ultimately chose was, in fact, great. She was the one “called” there.

    What are the ways that a PNC can engage in collective discernment of the movement of the Spirit in their decisionmaking? ‘Cause to my eyes, that’s the most important thing.

  4. Good question. I wonder how many of the committees spend time praying, or sitting in silence, listening for God.

    I know one of the major reasons I felt called to Western is that the PNC chair prayed. I had just come from an interview with a liberal congregation that told me that their membership did not pray in public, and they would be horrified if their pastor ever tried to teach them how to pray. It was obviously not the place for me.

  5. Buzz,

    Your comment made me wonder, when is email acceptable? When should applicants get a letter? When should they get a phone call? With so much happening electronically, I wonder if we’ve lost a bit of civility in all of this.

  6. The Rev. Dr. Anonymous’ comments about “Call” are especially important. Three and a half years ago while I was in process I was shocked at how one PNC in a different state handled things so ineffectively. What I mean by that is after an engaging telephone interview and hearing from my references that they too had very engaging conversations with PNC members, when it came to the onsite interview it was like they all had decided and it didn’t matter that my wife, son and I had traveled across the country for the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely did the right thing by flying the whole family out, but when we got there it was like they didn’t have any questions and in fact told me that if I didn’t say “yes” then they would simply ask their number two, who indeed they ended up calling, in part because of my negative response.

    I am glad that God Called me to Southern Idaho (even though I would have never dreamt that I would live here when I was going to Seminary in Virginia), but I still can’t believe the way that some PNCs can treat the decision to call like so much shopping.

    Another point I’ll share is that PNC’s can do creative things, that is, if their COM’s aren’t too dictatorial. For instance, when I did my initial interview here in Southern Idaho it was during the middle of the week when they flew my family and me out here which meant there was no way for a neutral pulpit. Instead, the PNC asked for two or three different videos of me preaching in my previous call. For small presbyteries using technology may be a better way of handling things than the way we’ve always done things.

    The last point is that just as PNCs are flawed and imperfect, so too can candidates be. I must confess that I sent an email of “thanks, but no thanks” to a PNC that had flown my family and me out for a weekend and still to this day I regret that poor etiquette. Perhaps if we clergy want to be treated with respect we all should remember that when we are engaging PNCs we are not only doing it for ourselves, but on behalf of all clergy who are in process or who will be in process in the future.

  7. Timely follow-up is critical.

    I have been in a new call for 8 months now. Two weeks ago I received the “Thanks, but No Thanks” letter from another congregation. I am very happy where I am. It is a call in every sense of the word. I read the letter with a chuckle, and it certainly made me feel I made the right decision.

  8. I think the single biggest mistake PNCs make is a lack of “triangulation” regarding references. In other words, PNCs talk to references given by the candidate but who gives names of anybody who doesn’t like us? Committees need to find third parties whose names are not supplied by the candidate so they can hear independent, non-involved opinions. And it shouldn’t be the Presbytery exec or someone else in a judicatory. No offense, but many of these folks rarely know what is going on in a particular congregation. It should be someone who has first hand knowledge of the person’s character, abilities and accomplishments. Many a disaster could have been avoided if a PNC had done more homework on the candidate (and vice versa!).

  9. Pingback: Jan and Carol… — Kairos Blog ...

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