Dear Pastor Search Committee,

[Note:  It’s a privilege to write reference letters for colleagues and friends.  Occasionally we in the church are invited to offer “charges” to new pastors or their congregations with advice and reminders.  Nobody has asked me to offer charges to sorority girls, retired pastors, or pastor search committees, but that’s my plan before leaving for vacation.]

compassDear Pastor Search Committee,

The truth is that you are the most important committee in the church.  Your choices will impact the future of your congregation for the rest of that congregation’s life.

No pressure or anything.  But here’s the good news:  God wants to direct you. Your job is to discern and listen and then act in faith, not in fear.

Having said this, I get that you don’t want denominational staffers to tell you what to do, but there might be some insights that we can contribute as entities who do this All The Time.  You don’t have to take this guidance, but honestly, we want you to have the best pastor possible and these tips will help.  You can find this out now or you can find this out later.  So please consider the following:

  • For the love of God, please don’t judge a pastor by his/her gender, hair style, skin color, accent, age, or (even) education.  Maybe she went to the local community college for a really good reason.  Maybe he studied at Harvard but he’s a jerk.  Perhaps he has fabulous hair, but he has the pastoral skills of a carrot.  Maybe she won preaching awards but she’ll stab you in the back.  Maybe he’s quirky and yet there is a holy aura about him.  I’ve written about pulpit candy before in this blog.  Don’t choose pulpit candy.
  • If you consider yourselves to An Amazing Church, congratulations.  But do not assume that all candidates believe you are all that.  If you come off as arrogant (“If we should deign to call you . . .“), if you believe that everyone will be clamoring to be your pastor, if you believe great candidates will come to you – beware.  The candidate you really want is not that shallow.
  • If you consider yourself to be a church with little to offer, stop it.  You deserve a strong pastor.  Keep in mind that your community needs a shepherd who will teach you how to make disciples and love people.  Don’t settle for someone without the energy to serve you well.
  • If several candidates have turned you down, stir up the courage to have someone contact the former candidates and ask what you could have done better.  Make it clear that you truly want to learn how you could be more hospitable, transparent, authentic.  And listen to those comments.
  • Give people space and yet keep them informed.  Don’t interview somebody and then fail to be in touch for a month.  Acknowledge receiving their resumes.  And when they come into town, do not insist they look at certain neighborhoods while simultaneously offering a salary package that makes that neighborhood out of their financial reach.
  • Tell the truth.  Don’t hide skeletons.  Don’t forget to mention the misconduct of your former pastor or the full financial picture of the congregation.  It will not be pretty – or fair – when your new pastor finds out the truth the week after her/his installation.
  • Don’t rush.  It’s better to have no pastor than have a pastor who’s a terrible match.

Your congregation deserves a pastor who will understand you, love you, lead you, admonish you, and challenge you.  Pray for her/him.  Your next pastor is out there but it might take a while for you to find each other.

Grace and peace, Jan


8 responses to “Dear Pastor Search Committee,

  1. Mark Twain “please accept my resignation” or was it “I refuse to join any club that would have me …” – Groucho Marx – the leader you really want … the congregation you really want to lead … very tricky and very important.

  2. How about adding:

    1. The presbytery really isn’t hiding the pif’s of the really good candidates to punish your congregation. There really aren’t that many 30 something pastors that won awards in seminary, have had a couple of very successful pastorates, and are able to come serve your congregation for minimum salary.

    2. How about something on what I have called PNC Fatigue. It leads PNC’s to settle for the least objectionable candidate when perhaps they need to start over with a new batch.

  3. Reblogged this on katyandtheword and commented:
    Thoughts on the Pastoral search process

  4. I. Just. LOVE. this. Particularly the “pastoral skills of a carrot” — because I have worked with them. ❤

    I was fussing to my mom about how I've waited and waited for a job. Her words to me comforted and encouraged… may they encourage us all:

    "Stay well, and keep the faith. Sooner or later the place that needs your particular skills will appear. The ones who pass over you just don't know what they are missing."

  5. I’m doing doctoral work on the failings of the current search process in many mainline denominations and some methods that might avoid some of these pitfalls – you’ve said in a few brief paragraphs (and in plain English) precisely what the problems are. Thanks for affirming a problem many choose to ignore!

  6. reading your posts continues to encourage me – keep it up. good words. hard words for some to read. but oh so necessary.

  7. Thank you for this. I echo Deb and Mary’s comments. I went to a church without being told they were in a lawsuit with a neighbor. That hamstrung the financial plans of that church for years. And please oh please PNCs, don’t string candidates along. I had two committees wait three (3!) months before telling me they weren’t interested. I could have told them that long before. Be considerate – please.

  8. Please don’t dismiss the great preacher or the marvelous pastor or the creative leader because s/he is gay. I include the UCC in this, too. We have great principles on paper but don’t always apply them locally.

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