Good Search Committee Communication, part 2: starting commitments
How should a search committee communicate? Obviously it's going to be different along the various stages of the search process, but it starts with a fundamental commitment to doing it.
Appoint a SecretaryIf you're going to communicate well, someone must take the leadership on your search committee to do so. I recommend appointing one person to be the secretary for the committee; this simply means that they are in charge of any and all communication (internally and externally) that the committee has need for. The secretary can (and should) take notes for each meeting (not necessarily minutes, but those aren't a bad idea either) and make a regular report to the session, board, or other primary leadership of the congregation.
And the secretary should also be charged with the responsibility of communicating with each of the candidates that the committee interacts with. This sounds more daunting than it needs to be; as you will see, it can be fairly simple to do, even if there are a lot of candidates.
It's not a bad idea for the secretary to have an e-mail address set up specifically for the search process. This can be done through the church's existing system (something like email@example.com, for example) or you can opt to set up an address through G-Mail or one of the other free services. Having a separate e-mail address allows the secretary to compartmentalize the communications work for the search team, and also protects their personal e-mail address from getting added inadvertently to a mailing list. (Do this well before you begin receiving submissions of candidates' names, if possible.)
Decide on a Timeline/ProcessEven though the secretary will be in charge of communications, the committee as a whole should decide on the timeline and process by which they will communicate. It is important that everyone on the committee be in on this discussion, both so that they can know how much each candidate should have been communicated with, and so that they can all be accountable for the quality of communication from their committee. If everyone was part of the decision, then no one gets to say down the line, "We should have communicated more with them than we did"—which is only ever divisive and accusatory.
Be careful, as a committee, to find the right balance of communication. Too little, and you have failed in the process in an important way; too much, and you have overburdened the secretary and set him/her up for burn-out. I recommend that, in the early stages, communication occur roughly every 4–6 weeks, though it will need to steadily increase as time moves on. This is okay though, because as the search progresses there will be fewer and fewer candidates with whom the committee has to communicate.
Thus, a good timeline and process might look like this:
- Stage 1: Beginning—in this stage you're still forming the search committee, gathering information from the congregation, and/or assembling the search profile information; if you receive any name submissions at this stage, it is easy enough for the secretary (or the chairperson, if a secretary has not yet been appointed) to acknowledge them immediately.
- Stage 2: Getting Started—here you are beginning to receive names of candidates, but have not eliminated any of them yet; this is one of the busiest stages, because you will receive so many names—but you still need to acknowledge their submission in a timely manner (probably at least within a week or so).
- Stage 3: Early Progress—now you have begun to eliminate some candidates and have "culled" the list for the first round; you should keep those candidates who are still "in the running" in the loop, at very least by a quick note to that effect. You must also notify those who have been eliminated promptly that they are no longer being considered. And, if you receive new submissions, you should either acknowledge them as you did the rest, or inform them that you aren't accepting new names for consideration (which one should be determined by the committee).
- Stage 4: Middle—at this point you are actively considering candidates that passed the first round of elimination: listening to sermons, reading questionnaires, or some other form of evaluation; those who have been eliminated must be informed of that right away. Meanwhile, you should let the other candidates know that they have advanced to the next stage with you.
- Stage 5: Late-Middle—by now you are beginning to do phone interviews or some other evaluation with select candidates; your communication with this increasingly-smaller list of candidates should be growing more frequent. You're still keeping candidates that have been eliminated well-informed of their status, while also keeping up open lines with those that you are still considering.
- Stage 6: Advanced—you are in the process of bringing one or more "finalists" to you for in-person visits, interviews, and meeting with the congregation; the non-finalists deserve to receive prompt word that they are no longer being considered. Meanwhile, you're probably in touch with your primary candidates on a fairly frequent basis.
- Stage 7: Almost There—here you have extended a call to your candidate of choice, and are waiting for their response, for presbytery or another governing body, or simply for him to move to the area and be installed; at this point every line of communication should be wide-open with your (hopefully) soon-to-be pastor.
Some fundamentals to notice in the above: First, there is never a stage when communication levels do not remain high. The secretary of a well-functioning search committee will always have work to do. Second, you must continue to communicate with candidates that you have eliminated, to inform them that they are no longer in consideration. This is not some extra-nice touch; this is common decency and giving respect and dignity to these candidates. Third, the longer a candidate is in the process, the more communication they should receive from you.
To elaborate on this last point, let's move on to the next big decision.
Determine the Venues/Contexts of CommunicationCommunication in the search process should grow increasingly personal and intimate. It is fine to use a pretty impersonal means to communicate in the early stages; frankly, most candidates will simply be glad to have heard from you. But when you start to get into more advanced stages, you—by which I mean ALL of the committee—should both expect it to get more personal, and be open to that.
First, let me explain what I mean. Communication tools like e-mail and form letters are pretty mechanical. Sure, e-mail can be very intimate—but we all know that an e-mail from a search committee secretary to a candidate they only know on paper will probably not be anything close to intimate. And in stages 1–3 above, these are fine. In fact, I recommend it—not because impersonal is good, but because these more mechanical means will allow the secretary to do his/her job efficiently. (In future posts, we will provide some sample/template letters and e-mails that you might use in these early stages.)
Once you get past the first "culling," though, you really must begin to communicate more personally. If you reject someone in or after stage 4, they deserve to know why, at least in broad terms. And their rejection should come in a warm and genial letter or e-mail that was written specifically for them—not through some slightly-adapted template.
Likewise, after you have had a phone interview with a candidate, the most appropriate way to tell them that they have been eliminated is through a phone call. To simply send them a form letter or abrupt e-mail at this stage is both rude and cowardly. Let's treat each other with more dignity than that.
And it goes the same for candidates that you're keeping in consideration, if not even more so: You need to get to know him, and let him get to know you, and see your relationship grow over the weeks and months that you are considering each other.
This is why, by the middle or end of stage 5, I would recommend that candidates have the phone numbers of the secretary, committee chair, and at least one or two other committee members. He should be made to feel welcome to call on them and get to know them, and even ask about how the search process is going. Sure, search committee members will need to be careful that they do not share information that they shouldn't, nor should these growing relationships give way to "picking favorites" at the expense of the integrity of the search process. But there is nothing wrong with growing relationships at the later stages.
So, a good plan for contexts might look something like this:
- Stage 1: Beginning—form letters or e-mails are fine at this stage.
- Stage 2: Getting Started—form letters or e-mails are still fine.
- Stage 3: Early Progress—again, form letters or e-mails are still fine.
- Stage 4: Middle—now the communication must begin to get more personal; e-mails and letters are still fine, but should not be just a boilerplate form letter.
- Stage 5: Late-Middle—phone calls and personalized e-mails should be the norm; especially for rejections, a phone call is expected.
- Stage 6: Advanced—phone calls and casual personal e-mails ought to be happening with increasing frequency by this stage.
- Stage 7: Almost There—now you are beginning to really build relationships through every possible form of communication.
Now let me tell you why this is so important. With increasing likelihood throughout the process, this guy may actually be your future pastor! How important is it to you that your next pastor know you personally? How important is it that you know him? I both cases, I would say it is very important. Vital, in fact.
Beyond this, attentiveness to both the content and form of communication is dignifying and considerate. When your committee attends to this, you are demonstrating that yours is a congregation that any potential pastor should be eager to serve.
On the other hand, when you ignore the simple opportunities for communication, you are still communicating with him: however, what you are telling him now is that you don't care enough about basic courtesy to be bothered.
A Closing AnecdoteWhen I was in my last year of college, I had an opportunity to interview for a youth ministry position with a church in a city about 90 minutes away from where we lived. We went to visit them for a Sunday, and after worship and Sunday school went over to the home of one of the search committee members. The whole committee was there, along with the senior pastor and his wife, and we visited together casually for most of the afternoon. As the day grew long, someone realized that we still had a 90-minute drive home and offered us a gracious opportunity to begin our goodbyes.
On the way out, the senior pastor walked us to our car. He spoke of how well he felt like things had gone that day, and the last thing he said as he shook my hand goodbye was, "I'll be in touch with you as soon as there is something to tell."
I never heard from him.
For years I joked with Marcie that their search must have stalled, because I still hadn't heard anything from him. The truth is, though, that pastor looked me in the eye and made me a significant promise that he didn't keep. In retrospect, I'm relieved that I was never in a position where I had to decide whether I would want to work under a pastor like that.
Search committees are infamous—notorious, even—for poor communication. You can distinguish yourselves as an outstanding church simply by being different, through extending basic dignity and consideration for the candidates you consider. Please do it!
Was it an effective placement?
I've had others ask me if we regretted it. "Was it worth it?" they would say. I've asked the same question.
Those who have followed my paradigm of "effective placements" might similarly ask: "was it an effective placement?"
Let's get to the heart of these questions. When we ask things like this, what we really want to know is: how could God be pleased and well-served by a church closing?
The truth is, I don't know the answer to the "how" question; not exactly, anyway. But I do know the answer to a more objective question: WILL God be pleased and well-served by a church closing?
As I said, I don't know how He will serve His purposes through such an event. But I can imagine it will include some of these things:
The work of discipline in a family, where the husband had abandoned his wife and children.
The home visitation of an older couple, who reported that it was the first time ever that their pastor had been in their home.
The counseling of a member whose 20+ year struggle with self-doubt and spiritual confusion was eased, if only a little, through the course of multiple counseling sessions.
The introduction to many in the congregation of the importance and value of a richer, fuller worship service—that worship was more than "just" a sermon with some buffer activities around the margins.
The act of disciplining the spouse in another couple who was fleeing the marriage unbiblically.
The bedside care of several who were dying and in need of a pastor, and the subsequent funerals conducted for the sake of the grief of their families (and the congregation as a whole).
The ministry to a single mom who couldn't see her way forward, and who needed to be assured that the messes in her life were cared for by Jesus.
The care of a divorcée who struggled with learning to trust anyone again.
The mounting weekly benefits of the ministry of Word and Sacrament, including a handful of baptisms.
The conducting of several weddings, plus the pre-marital counseling that attended them.
The challenging, encouraging, training, and support of elders and deacons.
That was just during my tenure here—and I'm certain that more of the above (and other things too) occurred before my ministry began.
And that's just the things I know about. There are surely countless others that I do not know now, and may never know this side of glory.
Which is to say: I'm confident in this, above all else: this was an effective placement, because God used me as He would do and did much in our midst in spite of me. I served the "full term" of my ministry here, even though that term was briefer than I or anyone else thought or hoped it would be when I accepted the call.
That's all that I—or anyone called to ministry—can ask.
Good Search Committtee Communication, part 1: why it matters
To a pastor in transition, the above situation seems foreign, if not inconceivable. That’s because pastoral search committees, as a category, have a reputation for being fairly horrible at communicating with candidates. And I have yet to encounter or hear about one that defies this reputation consistently, if they have any kind of process in place at all.
(This means that I don’t have any one particular church or experience—so no one should take this personally. Actually, scratch that; everyone should. This is very personal, and not just to me: it is personal to every pastor who is in transition, along with their wives and families. It’s personal to the people on the search committee and reflective of their perception about just how important it is.)
Search committees: this post (and this series) is for you.
What’s going on with your candidatesBy a certain point in life, all of us have had job interviews. Some of them may have been more informal, while others required the greatest of poise and decorum. We heard back from some right away, while others made us wait.
The point is: somewhere in everyone’s personal history, they know the mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges of having to wait to see whether this job will be the next one for us.
Your candidates are going through this, too. Whether they are currently in another position as a pastor or associate/assistant pastor, without a call, or approaching graduation from seminary, they are wrestling with the same challenges.
Only maybe a little more. The pastoral transition process takes longer, and in some ways is much harder, than the process of many other professions.
The timeline of a pastoral transitionIn many secular professions (by which I mean simply, “not a profession working in ministry”), the timeline for a transition can be as simple as this:
- Professional feels it is time to move on from his/her current position, or is fired/laid off/“downsized"/let go
- Professional contacts those who might help him/her find another position (recruiters, friends with similar positions in other companies, etc.) and asks for help
- A new opportunity arises
- Professional submits his/her name for the new opportunity
- Professional interviews for new opportunity
- Professional is offered a position with new opportunity and decides whether or not to take it; OR
- Professional is NOT offered a position with new opportunity, and explores other opportunities
Let’s assume the same starting-point for a pastor: he has determined that it is time for him to move on to another pastorate. What happens next?
He will probably spend several months waiting for a position to come available that likely is a good fit. This is because the positions that are currently open are already well-along into the process of considering other candidates.
He may submit his name for several positions as they come available, and will wait another month or two still. This is because church search committees typically receive between 50 and 150 applicants for any position.
He might finally hear from a search committee that they are interested in exploring with him his fit for their position, through a questionnaire or possibly a brief phone interview; this time of exploration may take another several months. This is because search committees are almost always done by volunteers, who can only devote a few evenings or weekend afternoons a month to the process—and they are also still considering as many as 20 or 30 other candidates at this stage.
He might then be asked to work with them on the next stages of their consideration—such as a phone interview (a second one), another questionnaire, or possibly an in-person visit with just the search committee; this time will take perhaps as little as a few weeks, or as much as another couple of months. This is because, while the search committee has culled their list to only a dozen or fewer candidates, they are still considering several candidates; meanwhile, the volunteers on the committee have begun to tire out, and their efficiency in the process is understandably suffering.
Now assume that he gets the invitation to be the main candidate—now he will be asked to come for a visit (probably several weeks in advance) and spend a weekend with the congregation; thus, he may wait for as much as a month or more before the next phase can be completed. This is because the logistical aspects of the process take time, and travel arrangements can’t be made for just a few weeks out without substantial cost.
If you’re following so far, this pastor’s timeline has added up thusly:
- Waiting for a likely position: 1–3 months
- Submitting his name and waiting: 1–2 months
- Initial search committee processing: 2–3 months
- Advanced search committee processing: 3 weeks–2 months
- Invitation for in-person candidacy: 3–6 weeks
If this pastor is efficient in his own process, he may have more than one of these going at the same time (up to a point)—but if he is attentive to fit and not just submitting his name willy-nilly to every open position, he may not!
But remember this, too: it’s not unlikely that he’s also already been through this once or twice with other congregations, and at some point (maybe half-way through, or maybe all the way at the end) it reached a conclusion without this pastor receiving a call. In such situations, it can be well over a year from the time when a pastor first decides to seek a new call until he actually has one, even if every search committee is as fast and efficient as the minimum timeline above.
I know one fellow pastor who searched and candidated with other congregations for four years before he actually received a new call—all the while waiting, and striving to serve his current congregation faithfully until he was called elsewhere.
This is actually a good thingAll of this process is actually good for the church; it should take a while to find the guy who will be the next pastor! I am in no way advocating that the search process should speed up, or be cut down in some way to make it happen faster.
What I want you to see here is two key points.
First, this process is long, elaborate, and exhausting. It’s not the same as any other professional transition process. (Probably the closest analogue in a non-church setting is the teacher/professor who seeks a new position with another school, university, or other academic institution—and must usually wait until a certain time of year to make their transition.)
Second, with a process this lengthy, good communication is a must. Think of it this way: I often counsel candidates to treat each opportunity as if they will be the next pastor of that congregation, and seek to minister to them throughout the process. What if search committees took the same approach—and sought to communicate with each candidate as if he were to be their next pastor? (One of them likely will be!)
I wonder if the communication breakdown that often happens would be different?
In future posts in this series, I’ll explore how it could be different. Stay tuned.
Tim Keller on, "why plant churches?"
Here's a series of audio messages of PCA pastor and church planter Tim Keller on the question, "why plant churches?" If you're considering church planting as the next direction for your ministry (or for the first step out of seminary), this series of videos may be helpful.
Networking at work: case study #3 from my experience
One of the important parts of my networking in particular, and my placement process in general, was to keep in regular contact with a group of friends who prayed for me, offered me feedback and advice, and generally served as brotherly support through the difficult time that candidacy and placement is.
After seeing the process go to very late stages, then watching it fall apart suddenly, one of these guys-- Bryan, a former classmate who graduated a year and a half ahead of me-- shot me a quick e-mail:
Sorry that things went south in the end. That stinks, and I'm praying for you about it.
A guy I work with might be able to help you find some good leads. I was talking to him this morning about how things fell through at this latest position, and he said you should call him. Call me in the next couple of days about it.
When I called, Bryan reminded me that the Senior Pastor at the church he served had left about a year before, and they had recently called an Interim Pastor: Dominic Aquila.
If you don't know who he is, here's a quick run-down: he has been involved in leadership at different levels in the PCA for decades, in addition to pastoring several churches, and had also be instrumental in starting New Geneva Theological Seminary in Colorado. At the time that Bryan and I were talking, Dominic was also serving as Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCA-- a position that cemented his prominence in the denomination.
Suffice to say, Dominic is also a well-connected contact. I e-mailed him about finding a time to talk, and he also asked to see my resume and Data Form, which I sent along. When we talked a few days later, he had studied both of these, and was well-acquainted with what sort of role and position I was seeking. He worked through the "vacant pulpits" list with me, and made some suggestions of which ones to call (and which ones to avoid!).
A couple of months later, I was anticipating the General Assembly in June and hoping for some good networking opportunities then. I e-mailed Dominic and asked if he might have a few moments to meet with me at the Assembly, which he responded that he would. (Remember, he's the outgoing Moderator, so he had his hands full with stuff-- but he made time for me, nonetheless.)
When we met up again, he suggested several opportunities, including my current church. Within a few days of returning from General Assembly, I contacted the Ruling Elder who was leading the search at this church, and mentioned that Dominic had encouraged me to call. We agreed that I would send my resume and Data Form to him. After we talked, he hung up and called Dominic, as well as my friend and former professor Phil Douglass, and asked them about me.
The next thing I knew, I had an invitation to come and interview. No sermon recordings, no phone interview-- just the word of two men who had become an important part of my network, and a glimpse of my resume. That was enough.
And here I am. I interviewed, gathered a lot of information, preached and led worship, and enjoyed a covered-dish dinner with them. As we left, Marcie and I were both convinced that this was where the Lord was bringing us-- a sentiment that was reciprocated the following Sunday in the congregational meeting.
One of my favorite writers on church and ministry is Thom Rainer. His son Sam is a pretty astute guy, too.
Between now and Monday, you can get a copy of their book Essential Church? for free, as a downloadable PDF e-book.
The urgency of the preaching moment
In the front pews the old ladies turn up heir hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six-year-old a Life Saver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president of a bank who twice this week has considered suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high school teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee... The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a river boat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this moment he has them in the palm of his hand. The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening to it... Everybody knows the kinds of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them.
Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth. New York: Harper and Row, 1977, pp.22-23. (Quoted in The Power of Speaking God’s Word by Wilbur Ellsworth, Farn, Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.)
Networking at work: case study #2 from my experience
I grew up in a prominent United Methodist church in Columbia, South Carolina. My mother and step-father are still members of that church, and are quite active. Naturally, there are a number of people that my mother sees regularly who knew me well as a child, and who often inquire about how and what I am doing lately.
So it didn't come as a surprise to me one day when mom mentioned, "Our good friends the Harleys in Sunday School asked about you, and I told them you were looking for a position as a pastor. They were very interested in that."
Me: "Were they? That's thoughtful! Please tell them thanks for their interest."
Mom: "Well, they asked about where you were looking, and I mentioned that you were a presbyterian. And they said, 'Oh, our son-in-law is a presbyterian pastor.' I said, well, you were a PCA presbyterian-- because I know it's a smaller denomination. And they said, 'He is too! Maybe he could help your son!'"
Me: "Wow-- that's great, mom. Where is he a pastor?"
Mom: "They said he was in Mississippi."
Me: "Oh-- there are lots of PCA churches in Mississippi. Do you remember his name?"
Mom: "It was sort of a strange name... was it... Ligon?"
Me: "Ligon Duncan?"
Mom: "That's it! Their son-in-law's name is Ligon Duncan!"
And so, that is how I happened to spend a couple of hours in two different conversations with Ligon Duncan, who is certainly one of the most prominent people in the PCA, not to mention his involvement with leadership across the Reformed and evangelical world. Dr. Duncan was very gracious, and took great interest in my placement.
How much information is too much? (part two)
Probably the most valuable idea that he sent me is this: There is such a thing as too much information.
Here's a summary of what he found in a big-picture observation:
- The candidates who received the quickest responses submitted only basic information in the first round. My friend said, "it was like they baited the hook just enough to interest the team member responsible for correspondence"-- no more, no less.
- On the other hand, those who sent in a thick, fat packet of information didn't receive responses. There was, as my friend said, "no sense of 'teasing' or 'flirting.'" When you put it all out there, the search team isn't left with anything to wonder about.
So, what does that mean? I admit, the idea of "basic" information vs. a "fat packet" is a vague distinction. Fortunately, my friend was able to offer more insight:
- Basic: a short inquiry, perhaps without even a Ministerial Data Form. Maybe even without a resume. But certainly no more than these.
- "Cluttered" packets: included more than a resume and MDF, such as lengthy philosophy of ministry papers, family photos, and other "extras."
At first blush, this seems to fly directly in the face of everything that I've advocated for an information "packet." I don't think so, though: these are still important things to have available.
Here's why: as I've mentioned before, the candidacy process can be sort of like dating; this first exchange is kind of like asking for that first date. A cover letter, along with a resume, may be just the amount of information you want to offer in that first step. Let them know you're interested, and give them enough to get interested as well.
But as the relationship progresses, you'll want to give them more-- and that's when things like a brief biography or a very short statement of philosophy of ministry may be helpful. You can almost count on them asking for a recording of a sermon-- but it may not be something that they need until later in the process.
(Following the "candidacy as dating" metaphor, you might even think of sending the "fat packet" with everything you have on the first contact as being like a "one-night stand.")
Maybe this would be a good way to summarize: your cover letter, resume, data form, and other information will effectively amount to love letters to your future congregation. You don't want to overwhelm them, nor do you want to offer too little. Just enough is difficult to know for sure, but it is always what you strive for.
Networking at work: case study #1 from my experience
In college, a man named Henry led me through discipleship for several years, and we became good friends. He eventually served as the best man in my wedding, and has remained a source of treasured advice and input over the years.
At one point in my candidacy, I was visiting with Henry during a trip to my hometown. Henry knew that I was seeking pastoral placement, and asked about my progress. After hearing my report, Henry asked, "Would you mind if I made a phone call on your behalf?"
I said, of course not, and Henry pulled out his mobile phone and quickly found a number in his speed-dial.
"Hello-- this is Henry."
"We're well, and I hope you are too. Hey, we're going to spend the week after New Years' at the mountain house, and we'd love it if you two would come and burn some firewood with us."
"Great! I'll call you with details next week. Say, I'm sitting here with a friend who is looking for an opening for a position as a pastor. Would you be willing to talk with him, and point him in a helpful direction?"
"That's great-- thanks so much, Luder. I'll give him your home number."
And when Henry hung up, he wrote down for me the home number of Luder Whitlock, longtime President of Reformed Theological Seminary and now President of Teleios, Executive Director of Trinity Forum, and probably one of the top 10 most well-connected men in the Reformed and Presbyterian circles.
It turns out that Henry and Dr. Whitlock have been close friends for years, and Dr. Whitlock was glad to be a phone call away for me. He suggested a few leads for me, and also committed to praying for me in my transition and ministry regularly. What a blessing!
How much information is too much? (part one)
First, some background on the church: they are a PCA church, but they aren't hardcore PCA in the way that many seminarians are. This is vitally important to realize: they are committed to the PCA because they believe in the importance of associating with a denomination. They are biblically conservative, Reformed in their theology, convinced of the practice of infant baptism, and are essentially presbyterian in their government. So the PCA is a good fit-- but to them this means that they affiliate with their regional presbytery and attend General Assembly; they occasionally receive other support from the PCA's offices in Atlanta.
But here's a key take-away: their search team (and, as my friend said, about 98% of their congregation) has very little sense of PCA identity. This means that tossing around acronyms like MNA, RUF, RUM, and MTW* meant little to nothing in that setting. Likewise, although the church sends support dollars to both Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, when my classmate interviewed then his search team (a different one from the Senior Pastor one) was under the impression that Covenant Seminary was an undergraduate institution.
This is a part of the information exchange that many fail to consider. The key question becomes: What am I assuming about this congregation (in the language of my resume, Ministerial Data Form, etc.) that I ought not? A candidate must realize that a lot of this sort of information is not helpful to their cause of presenting themselves as THE candidate for this position. In many ways, it might hurt them.
It also begs a question of motivation: why are all of these acronyms (or even the names they stand for) cluttering up a resume or data form? In many cases, they may be there for valuable information: if you served for two years as an intern with Reformed University Ministries, then that is directly relevant to your ministry experience.
On the other hand, be careful not to let all of this stuff become what one writer calls "cruft"-- which is essentially the literary version of the stuff you scrape off your plate when you're done with a meal.
One scottish pastor commented about his sermons: "the last thing I do is go back over my manuscript and cut out all of the cleverness." We might do the same if we want to clear our resumes, data forms, and other documents of cruft.
Stay tuned for part two, where I talk about the rest of the insights my classmate offered me. Really good stuff.
*All of these are "agencies" of the Presbyterian Church in America: MNA= Mission to North America, RUF= Reformed University Fellowship, which is the local establishment of RUM= Reformed University Ministries, and MTW= Mission to the World.
I'm a big fan of writer Malcolm Gladwell; I think he's not only one of the best writers around, but also one of the smartest guys writing. He recently gave this speech at the New Yorker Conference for 2008 (in addition to his books, Gladwell is a regular columnist for the New Yorker).
Gladwell's premise is that we are stuck in patterns of faulty hiring criteria, mainly because we are so focused on the hope of certainty of a good fit. He calls this idea a "mismatch problem."
I think this is spot-on, and I think it applies to pastoral searches as much as anything else. How many mismatches are there because churches considered the wrong criteria? Or because some Pastor seemed like a "solid candidate" only because of his awards in seminary or the big downtown church where he interned?
Don't get me wrong: the guys I know who won awards in seminary really deserved those awards. And I did an internship at one of the big (well, not downtown) churches, so I believe that they are valuable experience. But these aren't the sorts of credentials that indicate a good fit, are they?
Here's a question for you, my 10s of readers: what if the ONLY materials a search committee gathered about candidates were references? How would that speak to the mismatch problem?
(Go watch the video now, and be prepared for a great speech-- in spite of his crazy hair.)
Bits and tidbits
A few articles, posts, and other such have come to my attention recently that those in transition (or considering it) may find interesting.
- How a Presbyterian Minister Should Resign. Good thoughts here on the way that a resignation is approached-- not in a strictly businesslike manner, but with care and consideration for one's responsibilities as a Pastor and Presbyter.
- PCA Ministerial Glut. Back in January, the "Warfield List" had a brief discussion (now fizzled out, alas) on how there are "too many" candidates for ministry and what to do about it. FWIW, I don't agree with most of the conclusions drawn, but my 3 or 4 readers will recognize a couple of themes that are burdens of my heart. (HT: Heidelblog)
- Finding a new job, when you're on the road. A good (brief) article from the NY Times "Shifting Careers" column. There are meta-themes here that working Pastors (and even seminary students) will be able to apply.
- The Unclutterer blog has been doing a good series on moving lately-- good advice. Catch their posts here, here, and here.
- The secret to success in ministry. A good little reflection from PastorHacks on why devotional life is important for Pastors (also has good application in seminary, BTW).
- Speed mentoring. Interesting concept-- wouldn't this be fascinating to see done at a General Assembly? (HT: 43Folders)
- The Business. Rands in Repose does it again-- this time discussing salary negotiations. As with all of his posts, this one is focused on the process in the context of the world of IT-- but there's a lot of application to be gleaned for the pastoral candidate. (I especially appreciate his advice on gauging your worth.)
Revisiting Transition Principle #2
My second key piece of advice for those in transition was to take time to get to know the people and businesses near the church.
I'll stick with this advice, and think it is valuable part of a good transition. l will say, though, that the ways that these opportunities may manifest themselves are more than I initially suggested.
For example: one of the best opportunities I've had to get to know the people of Hickory Withe is through attending the Hickory Withe Community Association meetings. These monthly meetings are very well-attended and have presented me with some new relationships with key members of the community.
Another qualification I'll mention: I haven't taken advantage of as many of these opportunities as I could have, so far. Not nearly as many. And that's just fine-- because my primary focus isn't on the community at large, or on the town of Hickory Withe. It's the members and regular attenders of Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. The goal of getting to know the "neighbors" of the church is important, but it is a fairly distant second place to the first goal of knowing my flock.
My friend Bob Burns gave me advice unto that end before I left St. Louis, and he's right. Focus on your people first...