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Five Common Pastor Search Mistakes to Avoid

Everyone in ministry will eventually be on both sides of a pastor or ministry leader search process and will need to know best (and worst) practices. Many search team mistakes are inevitable, yet most are avoidable. I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. These anecdotal observations come from 35 years of pastoring churches and pastors. Here are five common mistakes pastor search teams can avoid:

1. Communicating inconsistently

From the moment candidates submit their names or resumes for consideration, that church takes a prolific part of both their and their spouses’ attention. Not a day will go by that each candidate is not prayerfully considering God’s will for their ministries and families. Why then would a pastor search team allow weeks to go by without connecting with each candidate?

If you’re on a pastor search team, your answer may have something to do with how busy everyone on the team is. Holidays and “unexpected surprises” are other typical excuses.

These are all lame excuses I’ve heard before. The solution is very simple if you have a chairperson who will implement it:

  • Send everyone who’s not being considered a respectful rejection email immediately. Don’t make exceptions for unsolicited resumes, because you won’t remember everyone’s point of origin.
  • Have the same person on the committee send email updates every other week. Even if you have nothing new to share, let them know they’re still being considered and prayed over.

2. Waiting to talk about money

This is usually the most awkward part of the process for both the candidate and the committee. Perhaps that’s why it is often avoided until the last possible minute. Here are a few reasons to consider talking about money immediately after you’ve identified your primary candidate.

  • Your church may not be able to afford that candidate. It’s not uncommon for a church to think of itself through the rose-colored lenses of its heyday. Instead of guessing what you can afford, let us do the homework for you. The latest Compensation Study from Guidestone and Lifeway helps churches benchmark salaries and benefits based on current giving, attendance, and respective ministry positions.
  • Your candidate may not be able to afford your church. If their family budget doesn’t match your church family budget, you save everyone time, energy, and embarrassment by fully disclosing the salary package early in the process. If you’re of the opinion that money shouldn’t matter … how can I say this delicately … you’re wrong.

3. Forcing candidates to compete

This practice (or malpractice) isn’t as common as it used to be, but the temptation to have a “preach off” may surface at some point. Admittedly, there’s a fine line between comparing and competing. So how do you know when you’ve crossed it? You’ve crossed that line when…

  • Multiple candidates are asked to preach live sermons for the committee 
  • Multiple candidates make site visits to your campus

Although every candidate assumes they’re not the only one being considered, they become much more emotionally committed when they’re invited to visit your church and community. I would suggest saving the church visit for when you narrow your search to one primary candidate.

4. Avoiding hard, personal questions

It’s not uncommon for pastoral candidates to oversell (or lie about) their ministries, marriages, or anything else that makes them look better than they really are. That sounds cynical, but pride is a universal struggle that goes back to the garden of Eden. And pastors aren’t immune to it.

This is a common mistake because lay leaders are understandably reluctant to delve into the personal life of their future pastor. But you must dive in. Politely wading into the shallows is not only a waste of time, but it’s also a dangerous injustice to the congregation who asked you to represent them.

If you’ve narrowed your search to three to five candidates, a casual search through their social media feeds is sufficient. But once you’ve identified a primary candidate, jump into the deep end by searching both their social media feeds and their spouse’s, going back at least a year. I guarantee some of your church members will do this shortly after you make their names public.

Practice the same due diligence with your criminal and credit history background checks. Don’t hesitate to openly share this process with your candidates early on. If anyone balks, push the eject button.

5. Misrepresenting the vision of the church

Pastor search teams may also inadvertently bait candidates by overselling their churches. Shoot straight with them about both your challenges and opportunities. Pastors commonly complain that their search team didn’t give them an accurate description of who the church really was or who they hoped to be.

The search for a pastor is a high-stakes process. Avoiding these common mistakes will prayerfully make it less painful and more enjoyable for everyone.

This article originally appeared at lifewayresearch.com. For more insights on church and culture and practical ministry helps from Lifeway Research, sign up for their Daily Insights newsletter.