When “Fit” Is Code for Something Else

Yesterday, I wrote about “good matches” between congregations and pastors or SONY DSCbetween people looking for spiritual community and those communities.  But – to be honest – sometimes saying “It wasn’t a good match” is another way of saying “This person/church/community wasn’t ______ enough.

Another way of putting it, in a most personal way:  “You aren’t the right fit.”  Yes, we take it personally.

Maybe this code for:

  • “You are too old.”
  • “You are too young.”
  • “You are too black.”
  • “You are too white.”
  • “You are too female.
  • “You are too male.”
  • “You don’t look like our next pastor should look.” 

I get it that Pastor Nominating Committees – for example – are looking for someone who will “fit” into an existing context.

Let’s say that all the other pastors on a church staff are all male.  Chances are you are especially seeking a female – at least if we are talking about a Mainline Protestant congregation.

Or what if you are trying to expand the racial diversity of your staff and you don’t need another white person?

Or what if your staff is comprised of several people over the age of 50 and you really want to hire someone under 40 for some age diversity?

Or what if everybody on staff is an extrovert or a Type A personality or a Myers-Briggs “J” and you badly need an introvert/laid back/”P.”

It hurts to hear “You just weren’t a good fit” or “You weren’t what we were looking for.”  Ouch.   We can’t exactly change who we are.  And we live in such a litigious society that we can’t exactly say, “We didn’t need another white, female 60 year old.

Consider, though, that we in the Church are in the Holy Spirit business.  We need to recognize that the person we are looking for is not always the one God is guiding us to call.   

But in the meantime, here’s some unsolicited advice to those who interview candidates for church jobs – or any job:   Please don’t speak in code when turning someone down for a position.  Please don’t say, “You were not a good fit” or “You were not what we were looking for.”

Gentle readers:  What would be a better thing to say when a church nominating committee has decided to say “no”?



6 responses to “When “Fit” Is Code for Something Else

  1. If it was concrete-more of a certain kind of experience – name that. If is that you found a candidate that better met or exceeded all of the stated skills/experience of the position, say that.
    Happens in the rest of the work world, too. And it may be true to say that the person did not fit or meet the needs of the position and team/congregation. You can also say as little as possible – still won’t mute the sting.

  2. Having recently been rejected by a LOT of churches… I’m honestly not sure. I think I appreciated most affirmation and blessing accompanying rejection, but that got a little old, too. I agree that sharing the concrete gifts of the person called and demonstrating their perceived fit might help.

    Having also, ultimately, rejected a church- I spoke of the way in which the role to which I was being called and the context in which I’d be serving were different and more energizing at the present moment. I wonder if a church spoke in terms of energy… If that would be better.

  3. Nothing really takes away the sting for the one not selected. But I think its helpful for the person not selected to hear something like, “we are looking for someone with more particular experience in/with ______.” Or, “your gifts and skills [name them here] are excellent but we are actually looking for someone with skills in this area ______________ and those don’t appear in your skill set.” Or “As we listened to your deep sense of call and vision for ministry, [name it here], it doesn’t seem that this position or this congregation will help you live into your call and vision.”

  4. Pingback: Jan Edmiston: When “Fit” Is Code f...

  5. Very good. You left out “You are too liberal/progressive.” “You make us uncomfortable because you speak differently about faith.” “You don’t confirm us in our old ways.”

  6. Haha–I love Dennis Maher’s reply, although all gave good points. It’s a tough one. I’m coming in from a slightly different perspective, since my experience here has been to seek volunteer work in order to keep my kids and me from becoming homeless after a kidney donation and slowly forming disability alongside public housing requirements. I just know that in order for churches to be true churches, volunteers need to be included and tolerated for their brains when their bodies wear out, or else it teaches their children and fellow community members that they’re not really human anymore and shouldn’t be heeded at all, even in their own life choices needed for their family’s survival. I pray to God that when these non-pay situations arise, church staff will be bold enough to at least speak of what Dennis Maher offers and do so on paper so that we are given a way to speak out about the unmet needs in the community we are ready and willing to serve in the ways that we can. No use treating the living as if they’re dead even when it’s free. And gosh, if that’s happening to us freebies, my heart really goes out to you whose income depends upon being accepted for your gifts. It’s hard to find churches who accept gifts. Bummer. Let’s try to fix that.

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