Thursday, January 17, 2013

When you talk with a pastor search committee

When a Baptist minister, and others whose denomination's polity include pastor search committees, meets with such a committee it is often a time of great stress.  The minister is usually seeking a place to serve as a pastor and wants to give a good appearance to the committee.  The committee wants the church to look good to the candidate.  It is very easy in such a tense environment for both sides to leave out important information about themselves or fail to ask good questions of the other party.  When this happens it is not unusual for serious problems to appear within a few short months as one or both learn that this is not a good fit.

In over thirty years of ministry I've only had seven ministry related interviews.  The first one led to a twenty year pastorate at Hebron Baptist Church, and the last one brought me to the region staff of our judicatory.  The five in between were with pastor search committees, and after those interviews I realized that God was not leading me to that place of ministry.  Most of the time I made that determination after I completed asking my questions of the committee.  In one case, had I failed to ask my final question that I asked of all pastor search committees it is likely that I would have gone to a place that would have very quickly turned into a major train-wreck.

My experience has been that many pastor search committees do not ask many of the questions they should ask.  During most of my interviews I was surprised at how the committee failed to ask what I would consider to be some of the most important questions.  Many of the committees I've met with never even asked me to tell them about my salvation experience or my views on biblical authority or how I would lead someone to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  In my current role I often try to assist pastors in trouble with their churches because they and the search committees who interviewed them failed to ask important questions.  A good pastor and a good church can sometimes be a poor fit for one another, and this always leads to problems.  These are problems that could be avoided if the committee and candidate were more upfront with one another and asked the questions that need to be asked.

After my second interview I developed a list of questions that I've asked every search committee since.  These fill up two typewritten pages and are almost always more questions than the committee asks me.  Sometimes during the interview some of my questions are answered before I would ask them, but I have usually found that I have to ask most of my questions if I want to know the answers to them.

I ask many of the common questions that most, I hope, pastoral candidates would ask, but I add a lot more.  One of my favorite questions is "What organizations in the church are the most active?"  That answer can tell you a lot about the priorities of the church.  I ask about their church growth goals and what specifically are they doing to achieve those goals.  This tells me if they are engaged in ministry or sitting back waiting on a new pastor to grow the church.  I ask questions about church indebtedness and if they are having problems making their budget.  I want to know where most of the church members and attenders live.  Asking that question of one committee revealed that most of the membership of that church had left the neighborhood several years earlier and returned only on Sunday morning.  There was little to no ministry in the immediate area.  That's important to know.  I ask about the church's relationship with other churches in the community and their relationship with their denomination.  My final question is "Are members of all races and cultures welcome to attend and become members of this church?"  I encourage you to reread the last sentence of the second paragraph and you will understand why I was extremely glad I ask that question.

Sometimes pastors are so desperate to go to a new place to serve they purposely don't ask the questions they should.  They assume this place would have to be better than where they currently are serving.  That is not always the case.  Ask the questions that are important to you so you can find as much about that church as possible.  If your questions reveal answesr that send up a red flag be glad you found it out now rather than six months into the new pastorate.

If you want to learn more about this process and see the entire list of questions I ask pastor search committees you will find it in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

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