Reflecting on the decrease in placement
(If you're not the video-watching sort, you can read a transcript here.)
The bottom line for everyone in the video is: the ratio of available candidates to available opportunities continues to be less favorable for candidates. (An argument could be made that a glut on the "market" of many qualified candidates is, in some ways, less favorable for churches seeking a pastor, as well.) Or at least, the number of seminary graduates that are finding placement into pastoral ministry is at a low—not an all-time low, as the video pointed out, but a low point nevertheless.
One candidate, Brian Brown (a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary) comments at one point: "I was always thinking there’s going to be a job at the end of this, you know. That was the hope and that was—and that’s the desire. It’s still the desire." He later comments on how he is following a call from God, and that demands a certain faith and faithfulness. Another CTS grad, Allen Sipe, talks about how being a pastor isn't just what he does, but it's who he is.
I think these are sentiments shared by most seminarians—certainly most of those who plan to become pastors (rather than matriculating from seminary into PhD study, say, or simply planning to re-enter the secular workforce). But clearly many otherwise called and qualified candidates are coming out of seminary and not finding a particular call to a ministry position. What can be done?
If you've read much of what has been written on this blog, you will know that I/we believe strongly that simply "sending out resumes" is not enough. There is a certain work-ethic that must accompany any placement, and especially an effective one. And part of that work must include exercising one's network as much as possible. I continue to find that, more and more, the "network" of the Body of Christ is vital to the search and transition process, from both sides of the equation: more churches are simply not "casting a wide net" by using the various lists and services, but utilizing the network that they have to find candidates.
(A disclaimer here: the PBS video presented many of the featured graduates as having "sent out a bunch of resumes" and did not represent any further efforts on their parts. I am in no way either assuming that this is all they did, nor trying to cast these folks as being to blame for the struggles they have each had to find placement. I do not know, nor can I know, what the reasons are for why they have not found placement; I assume that each of them has faithfully explored every possible avenue toward finding placement, and that for reasons that remain mysteries to us God has not seen fit to put them into a pastoral call.)
Another change that I believe will be increasingly present in the climate of pastoral transition is the need for bi-vocational and non-traditional pastoral calls. While the traditional pastorate will prevail for the foreseeable future, I think it will continue to decline in frequency in lieu of more non-typical options. I already see and read about this occurring in church planting situations, especially outside of the denominational mainstream; I'm convinced that we will see it increase and expand into other areas of pastoral ministry, too. (I'm not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so don't stone me if I'm wrong!)
Of course, one thing that is off the radar for many Christians—even seminary-trained ones—in the U.S. is that Christianity is on the rise in Africa, Asia, and South America in unprecedented levels. Dr. Bryan Chapell (President Emeritus of Covenant Seminary) has said that "we are in the midst of the greatest expansion of the church in history." What many don't realize, even if they are aware of this growth, is that this represents an opportunity for pastoral ministry. Those who believe that, without a doubt, they are called to pastoral ministry could consider moving to a place where there is a great shortage of pastors and taking up their calling there. The problem is that there are no mechanisms (that I know of) to do this at present—maybe a major ministry opportunity for Doulos Resources (or a ministry like ours) could be connecting candidates with international opportunities to serve as pastors.
Another direction that this conversation could go is this: perhaps the reason that both seminary attendance AND pastoral placement out of seminary are in decline is because more churches are exploring "non-traditional" ways to recruit and train their future pastors. There is a sense among some (mainly those who aren't "company men" but are outside of the traditional seminary model) that the existing model for pastors-to-be to move away from their homes and jobs for 3–4 years, then flounder about looking for a call, is going to die (or all but die) in the next couple of decades, in favor of more localized, organic training in "on the job" arrangements. Probably bi-vocationally. I think this makes a lot of sense, and the institutional church (locally, denominationally, and otherwise) must begin to plan and prepare for accommodating this.
I don't have a lot of answers, but I think the questions this kind of discussion raises (and should raise) are important. What do YOU think?
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Infographic on recruiting
A few take-aways from this are helpful:
- My guess is that the average time looking at a CV (or resume) spent by a search committee is slightly more than the 5–7 seconds listed above; however, I would guess, too, that it is not more than 30 seconds for the first time they look (in other words, if you don't make the first cut, that's all the time you may get).
- A lot of this stuff has already been covered on this blog (see Removing pebbles from the path...); however, here's further verification that those warnings are true (at least in the world in general).
- I still maintain that finding opportunities via networking is the best way to go—precisely because of the notions mentioned above.
Things NOT to do during transition: apply for every position
There's a lot of good stuff to mine from this article; while it is obviously written for those working in a more corporate work environment, much of what is said applies to pastoral transition too (if indirectly). The one I want to focus on today is #2 on Foss's list: "Applying for jobs (blindly) when you're not an obvious on-paper match."
I think this is one of the bigger problems that pastoral candidates (and, consequently, search committees) have to deal with. And I think that because, when I have interacted with search committees—and especially committee chairs—about this question, they often tell me so.
Here's a typical scenario of what I mean: during a season in which I am candidating (such as right now!), I usually try to find potential opportunities through my network of contacts; invariably, though, I will see some on the various lists that are out there that appear to be intriguing at first glance. In these cases, my next step is to get in contact with the search committee chairperson: I want to find out if the position would be a strong potential fit for me and for them.
Often, when explaining this reason for calling or e-mailing, the chairperson will first express gratitude, and then surprise. It seems that search committees receive a lot of resumes from candidates who, it seems to the chair, have never stopped to consider whether potential "fit" should influence the decision to submit their names for consideration!
What happens when a candidate doesn't bother to consider fit? Wasted time: it wastes the candidate's time— because they've spent time writing an e-mail and attaching files, at minimum. In some cases, the work that goes into taking the first steps of submitting one's name are much more involved. If a candidate has so much spare time on his hands that this waste is not a big deal, there are still many better ways to spend it fruitfully toward an effective transition.
And it wastes the committee's time— because now they have to consider this candidate's resume, discuss it, and take the time to respond (negatively). If it were once in a blue moon, that would be one thing; add three, four, a dozen, or more candidates who are poorly suited for position to the mix, and you have a recipe for a committee that is fatigued, discouraged, and disenchanted with the process on the front-end of it. (Oh, and by the way: if you think it's no big deal to discourage a search committee like this, you've just proven how poorly suited you are to be their pastor!)
This is not to mention the wasted energy, emotional investment, and so on that inevitably results from every time you chip your name into the hat. It costs a lot to NOT consider fit!
How should you go about determining "fit" and avoiding the blind mass-application? Here are few ideas...
- Don't worry about casting a wide net. Early on in my research on the topic of pastoral transition, I thought that guys who had not submitted their names to at least a dozen or more churches were either being lazy or settling too quickly. As I've studied this topic over the last decade, I've come to realize that this can also be the mark of a careful consideration of what a good "fit" looks like. (This doesn't mean that a candidate shouldn't think outside of the box in terms of what he really is fit to do; there's a difference.)
- Remember that fit-ness will ultimately determine the effectiveness of your future ministry. If this is so (and my research certainly has demonstrated that it absolutely is), then you need to be all about this from the start. I was just talking with a fellow pastor over the weekend who recounted how tempting it was at one point to simply accept any position, because he knew he needed a job; fortunately for him (and for his church!), his wife was a voice of reason, reminding him of the need to follow a sense of clear calling, not simply gaining a paycheck.
- Actually read all of the information you can find. I would hope this would be pretty self-evident from what I've already written on doing church research (see "What do you do first?"); just in case it isn't—or in case you haven't yet read that post—hear this: your first steps are to learn about this potential congregation. Try to figure out whether you are a good fit, and whether they are a good fit for you (see comments below on what to think about "fit"). If you've read up on a church thoroughly, and talked to others you know in that area or region about the congregation, and you still think you'd be a good fit for them, you are ready for the next step.
- Get in touch with them. I always do this, and I've never yet regretted the time spent. It usually starts with a simple e-mail to a key person (the search committee chair, the current or previous pastor, an elder or leader in the church, etc.) saying, "I'm interested in the position, and I'd like to talk with you briefly about it to determine whether it would be worth the search committee's time for me to apply." (If they are unresponsive or uninterested—which will be rare—that may be indicative of fit, as well...) Then just have a conversation with them. Ask them what you should know that the information you have can't tell you. Ask about the circumstances of the previous pastor (if relevant). Ask what kind of person they are seeking to fill the position. Ask about the leadership and what sort of leadership style they will expect from the new guy. Ask whatever you think you need to know to determine whether it's a congregation you could be content serving for the next season of your life and ministry.
- Now, you may apply. If you've made it this far and you still think a good fit could be there, by all means send your resume and other information along!
What are you thinking about to determine whether the "fit" is good or not? Just a few ideas...
What are their convictions and preferences?
Who are they? And are they folks you can pastor?
What is their stated "vision" and does it fit with you?
What challenges have they faced in the recent past that you will have to deal with?
Are there any keywords or key phrases that describe particular convictions that you have, that they also clearly share? (Conversely, are there particular convictions expressed that you know will be a struggle for you to go along with?)
These are just a few. There are definitely others (probably a couple of blog posts' worth of "fit-ness" questions could be developed).
In closing, here's a quote from the late William Still on waiting for the right fit (which I have posted before):
You must know or be seeking decisive assurance that you are called by Him to minister the Word; and you must eventually, before you begin, be so certain of this that you would die at the stake for your knowledge.
[Then] you must be willing to wait His will. Some of the most fruitful ministers I know in Scotland have had to wait years for their God-given appointments. And I might add that some have to wait for years in what I call a preparatory ministry, which is often more for their own personal good than for what an unwilling evangelistic people bargained for. You must be sure that you are in the right place. Only one thing kept me in my pulpit when all hell was let loose against me: it was the knowledge that God put me there, and there I had to stay until God took me out. I have hurled this more than once at my enemies with, I assure you, devastating effect!
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.
Removing pebbles from the path…
When we think about these kinds of issues, we have to keep two things in mind: (1) while God looks at the heart, man often looks at appearances; this is not only a fact of life, it is a necessary reality in the search process (when search teams aren't yet able to know—much less consider—the heart of a candidate yet). And, (2), when you're a search team with 75, 100, 150, or more résumés in front of you, inevitably you will look for any and every reason to eliminate a candidate and move on to the next guy. This, too, is a cruel fact in the pastoral search process.
So what are the pebbles that you can easily remove from your path? Any of these…
- A goofy picture of you (or of something else) on your social media page
- Misspelled words in your information packet
- An e-mail address that suggests you don't take yourself seriously
- Not bothering to get the addressee information right (wrong or misspelled name, etc.)
- Evidence that you copied and pasted the e-mail/cover letter/other material
- Obvious grammatical mistakes
- Using Comic Sans, Papyrus, or other "casual" style font/typeface on your documents
…and a world of other possibilities.
These are so easy—yet, they are so easily and frequently overlooked. I see résumés and other materials regularly that make me wonder, "Did they even bother to proofread this?" And I get connections from would-be candidates ("would-be" because no search committee has advanced them beyond the initial stages) on Facebook with ridiculous pictures on their profile.
When I was teaching in seminary, I had a student who's e-mail address was something like "packer-fan@…" That was 11 years ago, and that former student is now a lawyer. I can still reach him via "packer-fan" but now he also has an address with his name and nothing cute as his main contact. He grew up, and it shows.
So what should you do? How do you "clean it up" and get things in proper order?
Some of these deserve their own post (I'll probably do something like "Facebook for Pastors" down the line). But some of them are simple.
Set up (or just start using) an e-mail address that shows you are serious—and that you take yourself seriously enough to be their pastor. You don't have to register a special domain; Gmail or Yahoo are fine. But avoid stuff like "WonderBob@gmail…" or "wildcats_rule@yahoo…" These were fine in college. Now it's time to move on.
Check over your social media profiles. Make sure that your profile pictures are you, or at least you with others—take down the pic of the sports team logo, the cartoon character, or that funny mash-up your friend did where he pasted your face onto Richard Simmons' head. (You can leave these in your photos, if you want, but just not as your profile picture.) And make sure that your other information is accurate and, again, taking seriously the fact that people are going to be measuring your potential as their future pastor, in part from what they see on Facebook (and Twitter, and LinkedIn, etc.).
Use a traditional serifed font. Sure, Times New Roman is a bit dull, and you're probably tired of looking at it after all of the papers you've typed. But there are many great traditional typefaces that are quite beautiful and functional at the same time: Garamond, Minion Pro, Georgia, Goudy Old Style, and Baskerville are all great alternatives to Microsoft's default. (One study determined that Goudy Old Style communicates trustworthiness the most of all typefaces; isn't that something worth communicating?) And yes, it's perfectly fine to use the same typeface for all of your documents—preferable, actually.
Proofreading your documents. And get your wife, girlfriend, roommate, or best friend to proofread them, too. That goes for cover letters and e-mails as well, if possible.
Listen to your voicemail greeting. This one is easy to overlook; most of us forgot what our voicemail greeting sounded like 5 minutes after we recorded it (and that may have been years ago)—but a search committee chair will probably hear it the first or second time they call you. Is it clear? Does it have loud music in the background? Have your friends hacked your phone and recorded something silly? Change it if you need to, but be sure you know what they are hearing (and that it is something you are okay with).
These are good starts. What are some "pebbles in the path" that YOU'VE seen?
Where "vision" fits into transition
I recently blogged (on my other blog) about what happened in the church I most recently served in Arizona. One of the things that "happened"—or rather, didn't happen—was the articulation of vision.
As I laid out in that post, and won't re-cover in the same detail here, my first and biggest mistake in how I served that church was related to vision. In the case of Dove Mountain Church, they didn't have a clear vision which the congregation was united behind. This was evident in the early phone interviews (honest hems and haws in response to questions about vision), and it was clear when I visited for my interview weekend. Both in the phone interviews and during a congregation-wide Q&A time over my weekend visit, I was asked point-blank: "What would your vision for our congregation be, should we call you as our pastor?"
Candidate-Pastors, when you hear this question or something like it, you must discern which of the following you are dealing with:
- Do they have a vision of their own, and they are seeking congruence and compatibility? OR
- Do they have NO vision, and they are relying on you to bring it?
If the former, then your work is clear: you need to ascertain what their vision is, and decide whether YOU believe that your own vision is a good fit. A good search team is doing the same, and if you and they all agree that your vision is compatible with theirs, you'll be off on the right foot.
If the latter—and they lack a clear vision—your work is also clear: you must state YOUR vision clearly, succinctly, and in a way that can be easily conveyed to others in their congregation. In this case, you are effectively asking them to buy into your vision as part of the process of calling you to be their pastor. (This, in addition to the other things they are committing to in calling you—but that's material for a future post.)
So what is a vision? What are they looking for in asking the question I was asked?
A vision is a simple declaration of where we are going, why we're going there, and what we're going to do when we get there. Or you could think of it as stating who we are and who we want to be.
This is where my trouble arose: in response to the question above, I said, "I won't know that until I get here and discern what this congregation's vision is."
That's an acceptable answer IF the congregation already has a vision. If they know who they are and where they want to go, then it is perfectly fine to say, "I'm comfortable leading you into the greater fulfillment of your existing vision." Be sure, however, that you understand very clearly what their vision is, and that it is truly the vision that the whole congregation shares. It's still probably better if you can show them your own vision (in your own words) and help them to see how they are two different statements saying basically the same thing; in that case, you can
determine how clearly the existing vision is understood by people on the search team, in the leadership, and in the congregation as a whole.
But if they don't have a vision—or, worse yet, they have a vision that only part of the congregation has committed to—then you absolutely must state your vision for church ministry. Do so uncompromisingly; be crystal clear that this is what you believe God has called you to do in His church. (Be flexible with the wording, of course, but steadfast in the principles.) If it's not something you're that committed to, then it's not really your vision—it's just A vision. State YOURS; if they aren't able to get behind it, then you will eventually find it to be a poor fit.
On aging and succession planning in ministry
Congregations: do you have an aging pastor? Has your leadership had frank discussions with him about how he (and they) are planning together for how this will inevitably take place?
I would strongly urge pastors (especially aging pastors) to watch this video together with their leadership as a discussion-starter for this needed conversation.
What’s going on here?