NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Congregations across America call pastors to their churches in a variety of ways. As church polity varies, so do the approaches of calling a pastor. A bishop or other authority appoints some pastors. Sometimes an elder board decides who will be considered as the next pastor. Many times, however, the responsibility for recommending a pastor to a congregation falls upon a pastor search committee.
The search committee is typically comprised of lay leaders voted on by the congregation or nominated by some group in the church. Occasionally, the membership may include a current pastoral staff member.
It is this latter approach, the utilization of a pastor search committee, which I would like to address in this article.
I have heard from a number of pastors who have been contacted by pastor search committees. What I have heard from these pastors recently is consistent with that which I have heard for the past few years. The concerns and desires are very consistent from pastor to pastor.
So I am admittedly presenting a one-sided view, that of the pastor who has been contacted by a search committee. I am certain that members of pastor search committees could offer their unique perspectives as well.
THE PLEAS AND REQUESTS
When a pastor is contacted by a search committee, his life is often disrupted. Even if he has no sense of call to change churches, the very fact that a search committee contacted him at least causes him to pause. In some cases the contact is very disruptive to his life and ministry.
For that reason, pastors have shared with me a number of requests (and sometimes pleas) that they would respectfully ask search committees to consider:
— Understand the potential disruption caused by your contact of a pastor. Most pastors at least pause and pray when they hear from another church. They often include their spouses in the early discussion. They may wonder if the contact is indicative that God may be leading them to another place of ministry. If a search committee contacts a pastor, at least be aware of the disruption that could take place. Perhaps it’s not best to send 200 inquiry letters to 200 different pastors to see if anything sticks.
— Have a clear plan for the process of calling a pastor. Let the contacted pastor know that plan on the front end so he won’t be left wondering what the next steps are.
— Prepare any questions before you contact the pastor. I have heard from many pastors who meet in person with the search committee, as well as those who first communicate via phone or Skype. They are often frustrated at the randomness of questions asked, and how different members of the search committee don’t know what the other members will ask.
— Do your homework thoroughly before showing up in the pastor’s present church. Many congregations recognize a search committee immediately when they attend a worship service. These church members soon become worried, frustrated or angry at either the pastor or the inquiring church. The presence of a search committee can be highly disruptive. Many pastors do not even know that a committee is visiting his church. He, too, is caught off guard.
— Communicate regularly and clearly with the prospective pastor. As long as the process is open, stay in touch with the pastor. Many times the greatest frustration is the lack of communication. One pastor recently told me that he resolved not to talk further with a church because he had not heard from them in such a long time. He assumed that they had moved in another direction. The search committee was shocked when they heard that information from the pastor several months later.
— If the search committee decides to move in another direction, let the pastor know immediately. A courtesy call, even an email, will always be appreciated even if the committee concludes that the pastor is not a fit for the church. Many pastors have told me that they thought they were still under consideration, only to discover sometimes later that the church had called another pastor.
AN IMPERFECT PROCESS
There is no perfect way to call a pastor to a church. Regardless of church polity, mistakes and miscommunication will take place. But these suggestions by pastors who have been contacted by search committees could prove very helpful.
At the very least, they could help minimize frustration and disruption in the lives of pastors and the churches they serve.
Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at ThomRainer.com.