One of my roles as an Area Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky is to assist our churches when they seek a new pastor. In the eleven years I've served in this capacity I have seen changes in how many of our churches search for a new pastor. Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay, has identified seven new trends in the pastor search process which he describes in his blog. I predict we will see more churches follow these trends in the future for a variety of reasons which will lead to denominational churches becoming less connected to their denominations. This will also lead to more pastors coming to churches with little or no knowledge of the denomination to which their church belongs. It could be an interesting study for someone to examine how this will impact denominational churches and denominations over the next 20-30 years, but for the purpose of this post I want to focus on a few things pastor search committees that utilize these trends should consider.
There are a number of web sites today that allow churches seeking a pastor to post information and invite persons to apply for the position. These same sites often have a section in which pastors seeking a new place of service can post their resume in the hope that a church will contact them. I know at least one church that called a very good pastor that they found from one of those sites. I also know that anyone can post a resume on these sites, and some of them might be persons a church would not want as a pastor. If a church does a pastor search on one of these Internet sites or receives resumes from persons who read their information on these sites, it is imperative that a thorough background check be done early in the process. I would recommend not only criminal and credit checks, but I would insist on references from persons who knows the person both personally and professionally. Not only would I check every one of these references, but I would also ask the references if they could direct me to other persons I could contact.
Rainer notes that many search committees review candidate's Twitter and Facebook postings, read the blogs and/or web pages the candidates may have, and check out the candidate's current church's web page. This seems to be a good way of getting to know how the candidate thinks about various topics and how well he or she communicates. What if the candidate doesn't do social media? That will tell you some things about the person that may need follow-up questions. Why doesn't he or she use social media? How does this impact this person's ability to connect with younger generations? If the candidate is uninterested in using social media how might this impact the church's use of such technology if this person becomes the pastor?
Rainer admits he was surprised by how much search committees depend on the candidate's current church's website to give them information about the pastor. These search committees should also know that candidates will be looking at their website for information about them as well. Churches that do not have a website or one that is not current may send a very negative signal to candidates. If I was interviewing with a church that did not have a website or one that had not been updated since 2009 I would have a lot of questions for that committee.
Another trend that was identified was that search committees now ask more questions about leadership than they do about a candidate's theological beliefs. While I believe that leadership questions are very important, so are the questions about a candidate's theological beliefs. A church is not hiring a CEO; they are calling a pastor, a spiritual leader, and his or her theological beliefs are critical to the health and well-being of the congregation. I would urge churches to not compromise here. You must not accept a pastor with a weakened theology in order to get one with strong leadership gifts.
Denominational leaders...are you seeing the same trends in your churches that Rainer has identified in his blog? Pastors, what was your experience when you were meeting with search committees? If any of my readers are currently serving on a pastor search committee I would be quite interested in hearing what you think of Rainer's comments and my suggestions.