Posting your "ad"
I've talked before about some utter failures (and about some slightly more subtle problems) with some of the "want-ad" like venues. Today I'll point you to some really solid advice from Pastor Mike Abendroth (host of No Compromise Radio), who spoke earnestly and truthfully last spring about "Want Ads for Pastors."
Pastor Abendroth speaks with some irony about some of the foibles and mis-steps that some search committees have made—some of which are not nearly so obvious as the failures I point to above, but may actually come across as good and legitimate criteria to ask for; indeed, some of the things he describes may be part of YOUR criteria for seeking a new pastor.
After exposing these follies, however, Pastor Abendroth has some excellent and useful words to search committees about what you really SHOULD be looking for: a man who will faithfully preach the Word. Period. The other things are all secondary concerns.
If you are on a search committee, I think you may find this fairly brief (25 minute) podcast episode well worth the listen. Click here to listen to Mike Abendroth's podcast on "Want Ads for Pastors."
Desperation and the job search
(Read the whole article here.)
"…If a job candidate comes across as someone who desperately wants to get back to work (or wants to change jobs), we reject them. Which leaves candidates who are currently unemployed (or are in bad jobs) in the weird position of having to pretend that they are fabulously wealthy and just want to get a job to get them out of the house for a bit."
With regard to pastoral transition, my evidence is only anecdotal—but if accurate, then this bears out with pastoral searches, too.
One search committee member told me about how one candidate seemed tired and worn down by the process, and that was a big mark against him. I asked her, "do you know how long he had been looking for a position?" and she said she thought it might have been over a year. Is it any surprise that he appeared weary and worn?
(To be fair, the committee I just referenced recommended another candidate for more reasons than just this—but this was the stand-out reason she gave for what made him less favorable.)
This is a hard part of the process. Unless a candidate makes the foolish mistake of simply jumping at any opportunity that is available, then inevitably he has had to do some digging and research, and probably some waiting, for an opportunity to arise that is a good fit.
So, here's a bit of advice to both sides of the equation.
To CandidatesIt's hard, but do your best to present yourself as fresh, confident, and eager (but not over-eager)—even if you have been worn down by the search process! Don't mislead or misrepresent yourself to search committees; let them see you as you really are. At the same time, do everything you can to be well-rested before your interviews and visits. Trust in God that His timing for your transition is perfect, and exhibit that trust in how you speak about your willingness to accept a call.
To Search CommitteesBe aware that the men you are interviewing may have been in a season of transition, and don't judge them solely on how "fresh" they are, how much they seem "desperate," or whether they seem content in where God has them right now. They may be very discontent or quite weary, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they can't serve your congregation faithfully and with real energy and contentment! (And realize that whether they can do these things is often more dependent on YOUR congregation, and how healthy and peaceful it will be to serve in, than it is the candidate's current circumstances!)
Summing upThe article I linked to above has a great wrap-up that I'll borrow here as well:
"Your first priority should be hiring someone who can do a fabulous job, and sometimes that person is desperate for a job. Don't reject on that basis alone."
Search Committee humor
Thanks to (PCA pastor) Sean Lucas for the cartoon!
Wacky Transition Stories #2
In this series, we're sharing stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"
So, here's Wacky Story #2, which came to us from a member of the search committee in this account...
The search committee for Covenant Church had been very efficient in their work, and within about four months had identified a strong candidate, who we'll call Fred, who they were prepared to present to the congregation. They invited him (and his wife) for a visit, and Fred spent about four days with the committee, the session, the diaconate, and the congregation. He got to know the church very well, and indicated to everyone his willingness to come serve them as pastor.
A week after his visit, the congregation held a meeting and voted with a very strong majority to extend Fred the call as their next senior pastor. The search committee chair communicated this to Fred, and they began to discuss his terms of call and the other logistics related to his call as their pastor. Once all of these were essentially settled (within about another week), Fred again indicated his interest but also stated that he wanted to pray about it with his wife, and seek the counsel of some others.
A week went by. Then another. A member of the search committee e-mailed Fred, who responded vaguely that he was still praying about it. Another couple of weeks passed.
Finally, the presbytery meeting where Fred's call as Covenant Church's new senior pastor would be approved was approaching. The search committee chair called Fred, who still maintained that he was prayerfully considering it. Fred told him that he would let them know what his decision was at the presbytery meeting.
The day of the presbytery meeting arrived, and Fred didn't even show up! The search committee chair called Fred from the presbytery meeting, and Fred said bluntly that he wasn't taking the call.
Needless to say, by this point the members of the search committee—and many of the members of the congregation—were having their own doubts about whether Fred was the right guy for them, as well. There was a certain amount of relief in the final conclusion of it, but it also led to doubts and some second-guessing for the next candidate (who did take the call).
* * * * *
Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at: email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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!
We're doing another survey. And we need your help!
If you are a pastor in any church tradition, or of you are an elder (or a church leader that is the rough equivalent to a presbyterian elder), there are questions on this survey for you! Please fill out the survey and help us with our research.
Oh, and we're doing a drawing of all of those who complete the survey for a $25 Visa gift card. If you want to win free cash, then fill out our survey!
Here's a link to the survey, which is online:
Thanks SO much for your help!
Wacky Transition Stories #1
In this new series, we'll share stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"
So, here's Wacky Story #1, which came to us from a ruling elder who served as the chair of the search committee in this account...
Community Church in York, South Carolina is a small, 50-member congregation that has been around for a little over 60 years. Their pastor had received another call, so the congregation formed a search committee led by one of the elders (call him Joe). This committee was active and diligent in their work to evaluate candidates and begin the process of narrowing the list down to a few. Meanwhile, several qualified men in the region served Community Church in their weekly worship service by providing pulpit supply.
One particular preacher, who we'll call Tom, became a regular; he was a seminary graduate with some ministry experience, and had been ordained by their presbytery; however, he was currently without a call, and was therefore available to come fill the pulpit for Community Church on a regular basis. Tom had a good rapport with the congregation in general, and had submitted his name to the search committee as a candidate to be the next pastor—but, for a variety of reasons, they had eliminated him fairly early on in the process. He took it well, and continued to serve them regularly in preaching.
After several months of consideration, the search committee began to turn its attention to one candidate in particular, whom we will call Bill. They really liked the way Bill had answered his questionnaire, and when they did a phone interview it went really well. Bill and Joe had also had several phone conversations one-on-one, and a friendship had begun to form between them. After further consideration, the committee decided to invite Bill to spend a long weekend with them, interviewing, leading worship, and preaching.
The interview weekend came, and Bill and his family arrived on Thursday night. They spent time with a wide variety of congregants, including a lengthy interview with the session (all of the elders together) and another extended conversation with some other leaders. Bill seemed at ease leading their worship service, and his sermon hit the mark pretty well. When Joe asked around, he couldn't find anyone who didn't seem favorable to Bill as their candidate—it looked like they had found their next pastor.
The congregation was scheduled to meet and vote the following Sunday. The process was supposed to be simple: they would call to order, pass out ballots, and cast their votes. There would be a few minutes before the votes when they could have some discussion, if they needed it. Joe didn't think they would.
So he was surprised when, after asking if there were any questions or discussion, someone stood up and asked, "Why didn't we consider Tom to be our next pastor?" Joe began to explain that Tom had, indeed, applied—and then another member cut him off angrily, saying, "How come you never told us that!?" The discussion quickly devolved into an emotion-filled, multi-sided debate: some wanted Tom and were angry that he wasn't the candidate; others didn't want Tom, but were still frustrated they didn't know he had been a candidate. Others didn't care about Tom at all, and couldn't understand how the vote for Bill had become an argument about someone else!
The meeting went for nearly two hours. In the end, Joe was able to make a full explanation that Tom had been given a fair consideration, and had been eliminated for a variety of reasons (which he was grilled about in the meeting). With the hope that questions about Tom were behind them, he asked if they wanted to go ahead and vote on Bill, or wait until the following week. The general mood seemed to be that they wanted to go ahead and have the vote.
Clearly, though, the spirit of enthusiasm for Bill had been tempered severely by the debate about Tom. When the votes were counted, only 55% had voted in favor of Bill.
Bill declined to accept the call, such as it was, because he recognized the problems associated with taking such a barely-legitimate call. Bill continued his search with other congregations, and Community Church eventually called a different candidate to be their pastor.
* * * * *
Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at: email@example.com.
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.
Another question for search committees
Here's a new one that I am definitely adding to the list: What is their view of church membership?
This deserves some elaboration. Most people have some idea of what their expectations are regarding church membership—the degree of commitment, participation, responsibility, and so on that is to be expected of someone who joins the church as a member. And many people assume that everyone has roughly the same view as they do!
This is a mistake. DO NOT assume this of the church you are interviewing with.
My own view of church membership is a fairly high view; I believe strongly that commitment to, participation in, and accountability from the local church is an essential element of our spiritual health, and indeed our salvation. Like Cyprian (3rd century church father), I believe that "he cannot have God as his father who does not have the church as his mother." I think that the Bible declares—and orthodox believers through history have affirmed—that God uses his church so primarily for outreach and evangelism that, as one confession says, "there is no salvation apart from the church." I believe that a healthy and growing Christian will invariably have an active and committed presence in a local church. And I believe that, once someone has committed to a local church in membership, they should have very good and specific reasons to leave that congregation for another.
Now, I'm not under any illusion that my view of church membership is the dominant view in our 21st century western church, or even within my denomination. But I learned in one congregation how I mustn't take for granted even the assumption that most (including fellow PCA members) are "pretty close" to the same view.
I'll give you an example of how I learned this. I knew the pastor that preceded me at from seminary, and after I moved to town we had lunch a few times. In one of those times, we were talking about his ongoing sense of connection and affinity with the congregation, and I said, "I know you still think of yourself as a '[nickname for the church member].'" He looked at me with surprise and said emphatically, "I AM a [same nickname]!"
Now, this conversation took place over a year and a half after that pastor had left the congregation; during that time, he had only returned once (during my installation, and at my request). Though he had been in contact with some members, and others had followed him to another congregation, his relationship with the church I now served had no ongoing formal or regular connection. And yet, he thought of himself as a part of that body in a form no different from how any other member thought of themselves.
The analogy for how this pastor seemed to view his connection came to me later. I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1999, and in the 15 years since I have only been back on the campus twice. I haven't attended one of my alma mater's sporting events in over 20 years, though I occasionally watch them on television (maybe two or three a year); I do check the scores on a regular basis, but at best I could be described as a tepid fan. I am still in contact—through Facebook and Twitter—with a number of my classmates, but here again it has been years since I saw most of them face-to-face. Likewise, I occasionally read with interest some news about some aspect of the school's leadership, academic development, or other recognition. And yet, in my sense of self-identification with the university I attended, I still think of myself as a "Gamecock."
That's about how this former pastor was in relation to my congregation: he was a fan—and surely a devoted and deeply-invested fan. But he was merely a fan, nevertheless. And he had succeeded in teaching many of the congregation (including most of the leadership) that church membership essentially meant being a fan.
In the end, this led to severe and sometimes devastating consequences, relationally, as my expectations AND theirs were not met. They wanted to be fans; I wanted a deeper and more lasting commitment. The bottom line: our views on church membership were very different.
Notice: this extended to much of the leadership as well. It's one thing when many lay-level members have a different understanding of what you expect from them as members; there's always room to grow, and a committed leadership can shape a culture over time that will affect consistency across the whole congregation.
In my case, the leaders and I were at odds (not all of them—and not all members in general either; but enough). What this tells me is that there was a major area of ill-fitness that I missed (and they did too) when considering whether I should be their next pastor.
I won't overlook this again—and I urge anyone else who is in candidacy to explore this topic with the congregations they are interviewing with.
The dirty secret of churches wearing out pastors
I thought of that this morning as I read this piece from pastor and blogger David Foster (HT: Mark). Pastor Foster does a great job of exposing what he calls the "dirtiest little secret" of the American church:
"that we regularly, relentlessly, and without mercy beat-up, chew-up and spit-out our leaders."
Rev. Foster correctly diagnoses (and describes, more than I've reproduced here) five ways that many churches abuse their pastors:
- We starve them.
- We have outrageously unreasonable expectations of our leaders.
- We strip them of power.
- We let pretend leaders bully them.
- We leave them in financial peril.
Quite pastorally, Pastor Foster also offers five well-articulated antidotes to his diagnosis in the same post:
- Let's pay them a livable wage.
- Encourage them.
- Give them time off for vacation, for training, for restoration.
- Stop the complaints you hear about them at their source.
- Give them a safety net.
Even those congregations that don't regularly fall into the traps of the first five would do well to regularly re-evaluate their diligent attention to these five solutions. And congregations that are in transition would do very well to take a hard look at both lists; what an opportunity, in this season of change that is already upon you, to make healthy changes for the better!
I would encourage every church member, and especially every church leader, to read David Foster's blog post.
Singleness in ministry and transition
A long time ago, I blogged briefly about a couple of struggles that singles might face (see "Singleness AND Carelessness?"); my aim, however, was not to fortify the underlying rationale that makes it difficult for singles in ministry, but to point it out as something that singles would be wise to be aware of. According the the Times piece, these difficulties still remain-- and if anything, they are getting stronger.
The article focuses on Mark Almlie, a pastor (age 37, never married) who is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and has experience as a pastor. Mr. Almlie, who has also written on this topic for Christianity Today's popular blog Out of Ur (Are We Afraid of Single Pastors? and part two) argues that, biblically, singleness is equal, if not preferable, to marriage as a quality in a future pastor:
Our married pastors need to preach the goodness of singleness in accord with 1 Corinthians 7 (consider emailing this post to your senior pastor). Denominations should write position papers affirming singleness as equally biblical as marriage. And pastoral search committees need to stop listing marriage as a requirement in their job applications.
Finally, prominent Evangelicals concerned about the importance of marriage need to avoid obscuring the importance of singleness. Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Seminary) recently wrote: “From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible assumes that marriage is normative for human beings.”1 The Bible makes no such assumption. In 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, Paul argues that both marriage and singleness are normative for Christians.[ref.]
I don't disagree that singleness has its own dignity, nor that Paul is arguing that singleness has its advantages when it comes to ministry; in my own experience, I remember being a single Youth Pastor and reveling in my freedom to devote as much time as I wanted to my ministry pursuits (and, likewise, reflecting some years later on how marriage could sometimes require turning aside from ministry for family matters, and seeing the validation of Paul's argument). Neither do I disagree that the church in general has done a disservice to singles, and made them to feel like second-class members. I'm certain that I have participated in that, in spite of my heightened sensitivity from my sister's long-time singleness.
But I don't fully agree with Mr. Almlie's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7; I don't believe that Paul is arguing (contra a huge chunk of the rest of Scripture) that singleness is equal to marriage and normative for a believer. Frankly, I think he takes that point too far, and perhaps discredits himself in so doing. While some Christians are obviously single, and while this shouldn't leave them without a sense of belonging or place in the community of Christ's church, Scripture does teach that marriage is normative. If marriage is normative, then singleness cannot be-- for they are clear opposites.
However, he has a solid point when it comes to the biblical rationale (or total absence of one) for excluding singles as viable candidates for a given pastoral position. And I think Mr. Almlie's points to that end are solid and valuable:
The bottom line is that it is not about being single or married. It’s about being called and gifted by the Spirit to minister to people both like and unlike us (race, gender, marital status, etc). I plead with search committees everywhere to reflect on the implications of 1 Corinthians 7 before overlooking your next single pastoral candidate. They deserve to be evaluated on their excellence, not their marital status.[ref.]
What's interesting is just how uniformly pervasive this problem is. In all of the church profiles and other documentation concerning what sort of candidates a congregation will consider-- in all of the ones that I have seen-- I can't remember ever seeing one that checked single as a preference, or even that indicated no preference. All of them indicate a desire for a married man, and most prefer "married with children".
Some of this is due to poor biblical exegesis: verses such as 1 Timothy 3:2, which speaks of an Elder being a "one-woman man" (as a fairly literal translation) leave many with the assumption that the prescriptive texts about the qualifications of officers require that he be married. This rules out widows, also-- can you envision a man stepping down as pastor solely because his wife passed away? Oh, and it also rules out Paul and Jesus.
Some of it is due to really lame reasons and excuses offered by inconsistent thinking and irrational fear. Mr. Almlie testifies to his own experience here:
When I press people on why they think single pastors are treated with suspicion, 99 percent of the time I get a list of fears rather than actual evidence:
“What if he’s gay?”
“What if he flirts with all the single women at church?”
“What if he tries to steal a married woman for himself?”
“There must be something wrong with him because he’s single.”
“Aren’t single pastors more likely to molest our children?”[ref.]
Ironically, as Matt Steen (another single pastor) points out, all of these can be struggles for married men, just as much as for single men. "Many interviewers seemed to fear that he might 'do something stupid, like get involved with a student,' he said. 'I told them that I understand the concern, but that I’ve seen married pastors make the same mistakes.'”[ref.]
Some of the problem is due, sadly, to a notion that a married pastor is a "two-for-one" bargain, and an unrealistic model for congregations. Witness the example I posted about a few months ago: "Wife to Assist". From the Times piece again: “Sometimes, parishioners have an unspoken preference for a happily married male with a wife who does not work outside the home,” Cynthia Woolever, research director at U.S. Congregations, wrote in a 2009 article. “She also volunteers at the church while raising ‘wholesome and polite children.’ ”[ref.]
Whatever the root, it's a problem that needs to be rooted out. Search Committees, take note!
Ministry Reality Check
There is a lot to agree with in this article, and it certainly portrays some of the great difficulties of ministry very accurately. What I love, though, is Cho's call to love, care for, and pray for pastors. His goal isn't simply to complain and say, "look how tough pastoral ministry is!" That would serve little purpose, and might even be sinful (Philippians 2:14-16).
No, Cho wants to urge congregations AND pastors to devote themselves to healthy ministry. Here's what he says toward the end:
"Churches must seek to honor and care for their pastors and staff and build healthy structures to ensure such care. Similarly, pastors and their families must make choices to be holistically healthy! We must rest, Sabbath, enjoy God, love the Scriptures not simply for the sake of sermon preparations, be in deep friendships and community, exercise, work on our jump shot, continue to be a reader and learner, love and honor our spouses, nurture our children, laugh and have fun, eat healthy and drink good refreshments [use your imagination here], examine and repent of any possible addictions, and [add your contribution here]."
This is great advice-- and I'd love to see more search committees folding a self-examination step into their search process, wherein they took stock of these kinds of questions.
At the same time, pastors and especially seminarians aspiring to be pastors would do well to read this article as a reality check of how difficult ministry can (in some ways) be.
Search Committees' evaluation of sermons
The article is excellent, and highlights one of the real struggles that surely most Search Committees face: how should a candidate's sermon be evaluated?
Chris offers four great questions, and describes what to look for in each. His questions are:
- Did the sermon preach a bullet?
- Did the sermon preach a biblical bullet?
- Did the sermon fire a biblical bullet?
- Did the sermon fire a biblical bullet aimed at the life of the listener?
The summaries of the questions are taken from his book, and these are really good questions for sermon evaluation. Great stuff, Chris!
Read about Chris's excellent recommendations for evaluating sermons in his article, "Churches Looking for a Pastor Should Watch for More Than the Splash."
When the Word Leads Your Pastor Search
From everything I've seen (including a handful of reviews on the web), it appears to be a valuable and much-needed resource for search committees, Sessions/boards, and other leaders as they labor in congregations that are undergoing a pastoral search process. Brauns's focus on biblical principles for guiding the search process (and for selecting proper candidates to present to congregations) is refreshing in a time when the criteria often seem careless or arbitrary.
I've read part of the book, and look forward to the rest. You can download a free chapter at the book's website, or get a copy on Amazon. (The Kindle edition is only $5.99!)
Search Committees: take note!
9Marks articles on transition
They are all very good. Here's a run-down of the articles included:
Leaving Your Church Well: An Interview with Michael Lawrence. This is an informative interview, offering one pastor's reflections on his experience with transition. (I think it's important to keep in mind the fact that this is one guy's experience.)
Prepare the Church for the Next Guy by Matt Schmucker. A good list of things to do that will accomplish what the title suggests. This particular list is written from a Baptist perspective, and will have less application in other contexts.
Book Review: Handle That New Call With Care by David Campbell (reviewed by Bobby Jamieson). This is a helpful review; there are a lot of good books on this topic, and I appreciate the objectivity in this review.
What's Wrong With Search Committees? Part 1 of 2 on Finding a Pastor by Mark Dever. This is standard Mark Dever fare: good insights and sound wisdom, served up with a slightly abrasive tone. If committee members can read through the abrasiveness, they'll find some good warnings here.
What's Right About Elders? Part 2 of 2 on Finding a Pastor by Mark Dever and Bobby Jamieson. A very interesting counter-point to the previous article, here arguing for Elders (instead of more broadly-based Search Committees) conducting pastoral searches. He makes some strong points, though I question how practicable this approach is, especially for larger congregations.
What Not To Do When You're The New Guy by Walter Price. Very solid advice from a seasoned pastor, useful in pretty much every transition. Definitely worth reading.
You Might Have The Wrong Candidate If... by Dennis Newkirk. Skip the opening half of this article; the real meat is in the last half (and especially the last third). But the stuff there is really good stuff. Committees, please take note!
Tips For An Interim Pastor by Jonathan Leeman. Generally some good advice here. The writer's points of reference were fairly short interims, and those with a longer interim tenure (six months or more) might take much of this with a grain of salt.
Staying To The Glory Of God: One Preacher's Death Wish by Jeramie Rinne. This piece is a good challenge to consider long-tenure pastorates, which I agree is not seriously considered often enough in today's pastoral climate.
Staying For The Glory Of God: The Sibbes, Simeon, And Stott Model by Mark Dever. Another good challenge to consider staying longer.
Click over to the 9Marks site through any of the links above and check out some of these articles. Thanks, Adam for pointing these out to me!
"Wife to assist"
I recently saw a profile for a church, after a friend who is in transition forwarded it to me, where they are seeking a solo pastor. They describe themselves as a congregation this is mostly older, with a substantial need for pastoral visitation. No big surprises so far.
Then they say that they are looking for a younger pastor: a man with young children, whose "wife can assist" in the pastoral duties and visitation!
There are so many problems here that it's difficult to know where to start, but let's start with this: NO wife who is taking care of young children will have any time to "assist"!!!
Furthermore, my advice to candidate-pastors anywhere and everywhere is this: if any church states, or even implies, that they expect to get a "two-for-one" deal with you and your wife, run away as fast as you can. That is absolutely not the role of a pastor's wife, and should not be the expectation (or even request) of a congregation.
Search committees: please, think through these statements and priorities according to biblical perspectives!
Part of this form has a place to rank "Pastoral Strengths Desired"-- things like Preaching, Evangelism, Youth Work, Community Service, etc. At the very bottom, there's a place for "Other" and a blank.
One of these congregations had ranked Other as one of the highest (ranked 7 on a scale of 1 to 7), among maybe three that were similarly ranked. What had they indicated as "Other" that was such a high priority?
No Indoor Pets.
Really? That's one of your top three strengths desired? Really?!?
On the one had, there's an honesty to that, and I acknowledge the truth of that self-report. But on the other hand, I have real concerns about the degree to which an incoming pastor has opportunity for real and meaningful gospel ministry in a congregation that is choosing their next pastor in large measure by whether they will bring indoor pets to the manse/parsonage.
There's revitalization where difficult circumstances can be overcome by gospel priorities-- and then there is a context where spiritual barrenness has already set in, and the congregation is past the point of no return. I counseled my friend to pass this one by.
Churches: if you're finding things like this turn up as priorities in the process of searching for a new pastor, you should serious rethink whether you are indeed ready for a pastor who is coming to invest energy, time, and intellectual and spiritual resources in your well-being.
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part four
In this (final) installment, I want to think about planning for succession.
The biggest, and most important, aspect of planning and preparing for effective pastoral succession is this single concept (let's say it together, class):
- He celebrates the history of the congregation, and acknowledges God's faithful work through those who have served in leadership (pastoral and other) throughout that history.
- He talks openly and comfortably about previous pastors, not being threatened by their memory or what God accomplished through them.
- He thinks in the long-term, asking questions (of himself and of the leadership) regarding how the decisions they make today will affect the saints who will be a part of that congregation in one, two, several generations from now.
- He trains leadership for the long-term, incorporating both historic and future trajectories in the way that they disciple and train current and future leaders.
- He casts a vision before them that has lasting and healthy implications, not one centered around himself or any one particular leader's strengths.
- He constantly seeks to move to the periphery in leadership, placing the focus of all ministry on Christ and His redeeming work instead on of himself or any other leader.
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part three
Now, let's look at some strategies for the newly named Senior Pastor for an effective transition into the new role.
I recommend three essential steps toward moving forward into the new role as Senior Pastor.
- Deal with changing relationships. The new Senior Pastor already has existing relationships with the staff, leadership, and congregation; that's one of the real benefits of this sort of hand-off. But those relationships have been defined, at least in part, by his former role as an Assistant/Associate Pastor. That role is gone, and the relationships MUST change along with his role. Sometimes this will mean frank conversations, or even open discussion of it in a congregational meeting, during Sunday School classes, etc. At other times, the leadership needs to proactively step in to run interference for him (for example, when someone wants him to continue to fulfill one of the duties of his former role). It may mean changes in leadership structure, and even leadership personnel-- in fact, it may even result in staff changes. The important part is that EVERYONE involved in leadership be on the same page about what the new Senior's role now is, how he will fulfill it, what the "chain of command" is, what things he won't do any longer, and other details such as these. I think it would be helpful for the new Senior Pastor to lead a retreat of his staff and leadership in order to work through all of these.
- Recruit mentors. The odds are good that the new Senior Pastor has never been in this sort of position before-- even if he has served as a Senior Pastor before, it has likely been in a smaller congregation with substantially fewer responsibilities. (Very few men who have been Senior Pastor of a medium or large church move into Assistant or Associate roles in other congregations.) It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the new Senior will encounter questions, issues, and puzzles that he may need some assistance figuring out. A mentor-- a seasoned pastor of another congregation, for example-- may be invaluable in such a setting. They are also great for prayer support, general encouragement, and simple fellowship and accountability. In my Presbytery, our Church Care Committee has begun working to put these sorts of mentoring relationships in place with ALL newly-installed Senior Pastors. What is more, because this sort of transition (from Assistant/Associate to Senior in the same church) is atypical, it may be worthwhile to find someone else who has been through a similar transition. I e-mailed a leader in my denomination about this, and he provided me with a list of a half-dozen pastors who had made this transition. I'd be surprised if most of them (if not all) weren't willing to offer counsel to someone else venturing into these waters.
- Own it. As I pointed out before, one of the tangible benefits of this kind of transition is that there is no "honeymoon" period wherein substantial changes and progress are more difficult; instead, in this kind of transition the new Senior can hit the ground running. So he should. As I suggested in part two, if the church is moving in a healthy trajectory, then the new Senior ought to already be asking, "what's the next step down that road?" And he should be ready to lead the congregation in taking it. For example, a pastor I know recently made this transition, and he knew that the church that he served essentially needed revitalization (even though it is a larger congregation). Knowing that I have a particular interest in that subject, he asked me for some "summer reading" recommendations, and we also talked about the value of taking his staff and Session to a conference on church revitalization sometime soon. He's owning his new role, and leading them in the next step toward greater congregational health. Not every such church will be in such need of revitalization-- the next steps will be different for every congregation. But the important part is that the new Senior Pastor not tarry in owning and accepting the leadership that has been given to him.
New resource posted
A few years ago, I wrote a few posts on how a church can prepare for a new pastor; these posts were themselves the result of a series of sermons and Sunday School classes I taught on the subject at a church I was serving in pulpit supply at the time. After I had written these, and received a good bit of positive feedback on them, I re-formatted them into a single article form, and added a few things as well.
That article, entitled "When the Pastor leaves...", is now available here, via the Doulos Resources Transition Tools section. It's in PDF format, and you are free to copy and distribute it in quantity to your congregation, if you wish. (There is information about the Creative Commons license on the Transition Tools page.)
I hope this will be helpful to others. I have had it posted on another website that I'm associated with for several years, and it has consistently been one of the most popular downloads on that page. I thought it would be good to make it available here as well.
[Download "When the Pastor Leaves..."]
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part two
- In part one, we considered why the hand-off is valuable. In this post, I want to consider the question, "Should the Associate/Assistant become the Senior?"
There are numerous circumstances in which the answer to that question ought to be a resounding, "YES!" and only a few in which the answer ought to be, "no." Think of it this way: below are some diagnostic questions about the Assistant/Associate Pastor which suggest reasons why the answer might be, "no." If a Search Committee can answer all of these questions in the negative, I see little reason why he should not be the primary choice for the next Senior Pastor. Furthermore, even if one or more is answered in the affirmative, this doesn't necessarily mean that he should NOT be the next Senior-- only that further consideration may be necessary.
- Was the Assistant/Associate Pastor hired for a specific niche in ministry? It isn't uncommon for a church to bring on an Assistant or Associate Pastor for a very specific aspect of ministry. I don't mean something like, "Pastor of Adult Nurture" or "Minister to Families"-- these are broad enough to incorporate most, if not all, of the qualifications that a Senior Pastor would require, and are not a factor. But if your Assistant/Associate's title is, "Pastor of Junior High Guys," "Sports and Leisure Ministries Pastor" (I'm not making that one up, folks), or "Counseling and Grief Minister," it may be that they are too "niche" to easily make the transition. (It may also be that such a niche Pastor may not have the training, giftedness, or experience to be a Senior. Or he may-- that's not the point; the point is that his ministry among YOUR congregation has possibly been to narrow to effectively transition directly into the Senior Pastor role.)
- Had the previous Senior Pastor been the Senior for a long time? Very often, a long pastorate by one Senior Pastor can lead to difficulty in adjusting for the next Senior Pastor-- as I discussed here. (This isn't a deal-breaker for the sort of succession I'm talking about; in fact, I think that good succession planning can be the solution to this problem.) If the Assistant/Associate being considered has not also been around for a while, it may be difficult to execute an effective hand-off. If he has been on staff for a couple of years, it's probably not going to be a factor-- and if he has been around for only a year but was brought in with an eye toward effective succession, it should be fine. But if the previous Senior was there for 15 years and the Associate has been there only six months, there may be difficulty in such a transition.
- Did the previous Senior Pastor leave under difficult circumstances? Having a pastor-- any pastor-- leave under difficulty can cause instability in a church that should give way to further consideration about what is next. Here again, I believe that good succession by an existing Assistant/Associate Pastor may actually be the most healthy way to go-- but only if a couple of other factors are properly addressed:
- Was the Assistant/Associate a part of the difficulties that led to the previous Senior's departure? It isn't always the case, but sometimes a Senior's failure is due to factions and rifts that split off in support of other leadership, including an Assistant or Associate Pastor. If the Assistant/Associate was a part of such a circumstance, naming him as the new Senior will likely further the division in the church, not re-unify it for health and vitality. (And if the Assistant or Associate was actively involved-- in other words, he encouraged the division-- then he probably ought to be let go.)
- Has the congregation faced the circumstances surrounding the previous Senior's difficult departure honestly, and with repentance? When a church has problems enough for a pastor to leave poorly, everyone has some fault. Further, certain individuals within the congregation need to be rebuked and brought into accountability, with discipline if necessary; others need to be sought out for individual apology and asked for forgiveness. If the congregation has not owned its sin and sought repentance and forgiveness for it, they are not ready to be led yet. Better for the pastoral staff that remains to urge them toward the healing and health that comes with such repentance FIRST, and THEN work on who will be the next Senior Pastor.
- Will the outgoing Senior Pastor remain in the area and involved in the life of the congregation (or has he)? Obviously, this is a factor in ANY new Senior Pastor's ministry-- a former Senior who lingers around can be a blessing of support, encouragement, and understanding of complex and history-filled circumstances. More often, however, he presents a difficulty for the new pastor in the newest of circumstances. With a succession, however, the problem becomes more complex: it is too easy for the members of the congregation to continue to relate to the former Senior Pastor as if he is still the Senior, and the new Senior Pastor (who was the former Assistant/Associate for the other guy) as if he is still the Assistant or Associate Pastor. (And if you think that sentence was confusing written out, just think how confusing it can get on a relational level.) Here again, this doesn't HAVE to be a deal-breaker-- but it certainly presents a context where executing an effective hand-off is harder and more complicated.
As I said before, an affirmative answer to one or even most of these does not necessarily indicate that it won't work! Only that further thought and consideration-- and probably a lot more pro-active planning than is usual-- will be required.
If, on the other hand, you have an existing Assistant or Associate Pastor, you're looking for a Senior Pastor, and none of the above apply, then why aren't you considering your Assistant/Associate as your primary (and maybe your only) candidate?
Special Circumstances: the Assistant/Associate Pastor becomes the Senior, part one
- Why a "hand-off" is valuable
- Should the Associate/Assistant become the Senior?
- Strategies for the newly named Senior Pastor
- Planning for succession
Why would a church, or a search committee, consider naming one of their Assistant or Associate Pastors as their new Senior Pastor? Maybe a better question is, why wouldn't they consider it?
I'm often surprised that this is not considered a more viable option than it is. After all, in every other area of our lives, we would expect this to be the case: a hard-working employee might get first consideration for a promotion to management. A natural leader on an athletic team will be named as captain. An effective Sunday School teacher might be nominated for a church office. In almost every circumstance, it is not difficult to imagine that someone who proves their capacities in one area will be seriously considered in a similar area.
Why is it so difficult to imagine the same thing happening with a pastor? I can see three reasons that immediately commend giving serious consideration to an Assistant or Associate Pastor for any church that is seeking a Senior Pastor:
- His abilities are known. Quite often, an Assistant or Associate Pastor has already demonstrated his abilities in most, if not all, of the areas of responsibility that the Senior Pastor might have. In many cases, he was what I call the "dump guy"-- in other words, everything that the Senior Pastor didn't have time for that week got dumped on his desk! Which means that he likely has a broad range of competencies, the capacities to handle many things competing for his attention, and the ability to get done the most important parts of ministry. You've probably heard him teach plenty, and unless the previous Senior was a pulpit despot, you've heard him preach a good bit, too.
- His weaknesses are known. This one might be more important even than the first, because these are the things that are difficult, if not impossible, to get a sense of in a typical candidacy process (with resumés, interviews, etc.). You already know where he's going to be a disappointment! What is more, you've probably already gotten over the disappointment he'll bring in those areas, and have accepted those weaknesses along with all of the strengths and abilities that make him a good Associate Pastor. In short, the "honeymoon" ended a while ago-- and you're still together, even though you have a clear sense of what his ministry among your congregation will really be like. How much is it worth not having to go through those disappointments again?
- His character is known. By this I mean, he has already earned the trust of the congregation, or at least of a significant part of it. No new Pastor, be they a Senior or Assistant, fresh from seminary or a well-known name in the denomination, has enough credibility to instantly have the trust of a congregation. Sure, there will be some who got to know him through the interviews and like him a lot, and there may even be some who know his name from a conference where he spoke or an article he wrote for the denominational magazine. But if he is new, most of the congregation will not grant him their explicit trust right away. Meanwhile, your existing Assistant or Associate has already done the groundwork to earn their trust, and he now has it. Which means that real ministry can actually happen.
Now, I know what you're thinking: of course, your next Senior Pastor won't be one of those who leaves in around two years. Of course, your next Senior will have true, lasting impact almost right out of the gates. Of course, your church isn't anything like the average church out there.
But if your congregation would name an Assistant or Associate Pastor as the new Senior, you've just done two things to counteract those two statistical points. First, you've all but guaranteed that he'll stay longer than the statistical average, because he's already been there for a little while, and now he'll stay longer than he might have otherwise. Second, you have just shaved off however many years he has already been there from that 5-7 year turning point: his real impact as your Senior Pastor will come a lot sooner, because he already had gotten through the "honeymoon" and earned the trust of the congregation.
There are some circumstances when the existing Assistant or Associate would NOT be a good fit for the Senior Pastor role; I'll consider these in part two. Barring them, however, I would challenge you to think in these terms:
If your existing Assistant or Associate Pastor is not fit to be considered as the next Senior Pastor, then what justifies keeping him on staff in his current capacity?
Stuart Briscoe on choosing candidates
One added benefit of the [Elmbrook Church] Study Center became evident over the years as more and more people who would never have gone to seminary completed the training we offered (all the time supporting themselves in their secular jobs and pursuing their ministries in the church. This meant that when we had a vacancy on the staff or an opportunity to develop a new ministry, we didn't have to look very far for a suitable person to give leadership. "Look under your nose first" became a rule of thumb as we built our pastoral team. Added to this, we had a system of internships in which young college students who had shown gifts and aptitudes compatible with ministry were invited to spend a summer working with us at the church. Over the years a number of them found their way into pastoral ministry or missionary activity. Little tributaries were flowing in many directions.
I am not at all enthusiastic about modern methods of "recruiting and hiring" in which resumes of hundreds of people are gathered, endless procedures of vetting and interviewing ensue, various "candidates" are displayed, and eventually one person survives the process. While one church is satisfied and one pastor is happy, many ministries are disrupted, dozens of ministers are distracted, and most of them are disappointed. This issue came to a head early in my ministry when I presented someone as a suitable member of the pastoral staff to the church leaders. One of them asked me, "How many people have you interviewed for this position?"
"One," I replied.
"One?" he questioned, startled. Then he added, "How can you possibly know he's the best person for the job?"
"I don't," I freely admitted. "But I know him, I know his heart, I know what he can do and what he can't do, and I think I know where he can grow. In addition he knows us and he has no illusions about what he's getting into. So why look any further? He may not be the 'best,' but he's one of ours and certainly good enough. And why should we have the best anyway?" I happen to believe good enough is good enough-- and in a fallen world, there's no such thing as perfection.
[From Flowing Streams: Journeys of a Life Well-Lived by Stuart Briscoe. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, p. 133.]
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.
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.)
More on Highrise
I wasn't the only one to recognize Highrise's benefit to ministry: 37Signals recently featured a write-up about a pastor who uses it, and unpacks how he does so. Useful information.
Highrise: A new way to keep up with opportunities
Web-based applications are the "next big thing" in computer technology-- in fact, they are already the big thing. If you've heard of "Web 2.0" then what you've heard about is, among other things, web-based applications. (Blogger, which publishes this blog, is a prime example of these.)
One of the companies doing a great job of developing these "web apps" is 37Signals, who also put together several other very useful applications. Their latest offering, Highrise, is sort of a "CRM" (Customer Relations Management) application: when large enterprise companies need to manage thousands of sales contacts, vendors, wholesalers, etc., they employ CRM solutions of enormous scale. While useful for the data tracking they offer, most of them are kludgy (i.e., not easy to use), far too big/powerful/feature-filled, and costly for small-scale (read: individual and church/small non-profit) usage.
Enter Highrise: it is something like CRM for the rest of us. You can "manage relationships" just like big business, but with an easy interface and no unnecessary functions.
Here's how I have used Highrise to track candidacy opportunities:
- Each new opportunity becomes a "Case"-- think of this as a collection of contacts and actions.
- Each contact related to that new opportunity is entered as a new contact (self-explanatory).
- Just like with my paper-based system, I set up tasks for following up with these cases and contacts.
With Highrise, however, some substantial differences emerge: I can set up reminders for tasks that will trigger automatically, for example. I can have an e-mail of today's tasks sent to me every morning, and/or when tasks are due. I can also have reminders sent via SMS (text) message to my mobile phone.
Highrise also works well in conjunction with e-mail. For example, I do a lot (a majority) of my correspondence by e-mail, and I can forward e-mails to a "drop-box" e-mail address that will then add each e-mail to the appropriate contact page. (I can also blind-copy-- using the BCC field-- each e-mail I send to this dropbox.) For that matter, you can build Rules in your mail client that will automatically forward incoming e-mails from certain addresses-- and you can set it to forward them to the dropbox. No work necessary!
It is easy to set up an account with Highrise, and also easy to add new contacts and cases. If you have it available, you can upload contact information via vCard and
The real benefits are that Highrise keeps a running account of what follow-up needs to happen, and keeps me informed of that. It also streamlines the process of keeping notes and information about opportunities, since it has ready-made fields for these.
Like all of 37Signals' applications, Highrise has a free level available. With the free level, only one case is possible, so you can't set it up exactly as I described here. If you want to set things up as described, I recommend the $29-per-month "Solo" plan (remember, expenses for job searches are tax-deductible, a few pennies of this will come back to you!). Otherwise, you can simply use it to manage the contacts you have-- you may not frequently have multiple contacts per opportunity anyway.
A further benefit: getting familiar with Highrise during candidacy means that you'll already know how to use it when you need similar relationship management for ministry-- to track visitation, etc. (By the way, you'll probably find that Backpack or Basecamp-- two of 37Signals' other offerings-- are useful in ministry for group projects and such.)
Effective Search Committee Rejections, part one
One of my oddities related to my overactive interest in pastoral transitions is my collection of "rejection" letters. (I have a whole file full; if you have a good one you'd like to share with me, please send me a copy! It will go to good use.)
Here's a letter that I acquired recently that is about as good as it gets. I've removed any identifying marks, though I seriously considered giving public kudos to this search team for their great work. I've also added my comments about what makes this a great letter.
I've written before about so-called rejection-- I don't think is is such a bad thing in the big picture sense. Nevertheless, a lot of search teams botch this part up big-time, and can do damage to even the more thick-skinned candidates that they communicate with. Whether they fail to get some details right or tip their hand that they didn't really give serious consideration to the candidate, I consider this part of the process-- closing up with candidates that are no longer in the running-- a key index of whether a search team is doing things well overall.
This team (from the fictitious High Mountain Presbyterian Church) did not botch it up. They showed in their letter that they cared about the candidate, even though he wasn't the man for them. They gave real and useful reasons for why they went a different direction. And they showed a true submission to God's leading in the way they discussed it. All of these are marks of a good, healthy search process.
For those who have never received such a letter, you should know that this is a really prime example of what to do RIGHT in this situation. In the future I'll post some counter-examples to demonstrate.
More like it
What strikes me about this church is that their focus is on people. They are interested in me, my family, and who we are; they show clear evidence of caring for one another in significant, if subtle, ways. And this comes through in the way they are handling/pursuing candidates: they are more concerned about who the candidates are as people and how they fit (or don't fit) into their church.
One of the search team members commented that he couldn't keep up with more than one candidate at a time! And there is something to be said for that, as well: search teams already contribute a substantial amount of time and energy, and asking them to juggle a handful (or dozens) of candidates in their mind, keeping them straight and maintaining opinions about each may be asking too much. Again, this is about people-- not about processes or paperwork. And to protect their team from having to focus on multiple candidates is consistent with their value of people, too.
I understand why most churches employ a system that considers many candidates at any given point-- even down to the final few. Most of the rationale, however, strikes me as pragmatic rather than intentional accomplishment of a specific goal.
While this church might not be intentional about their process, the end result is much better.