One outcome of the Covid season appears to be an increase in pastors changing churches, and churches starting pastor searches. Call it “pent-up demand.” In many fields, people waited during the closures forced by the pandemic before making major purchases, changing jobs, or relocating.
Even in the best of situations, churches will need to call a pastor at some time. Pastoral transition is not easy, but the steps taken during this time directly impact a church’s future success. Even though each church situation is unique, here are eight steps that are common for most churches in leading an effective search process.
1. Prayer. Regular, focused prayer must permeate the search process. Searching for a pastor is different from a company seeking a new CEO. The pastor search is a spiritual process that requires spiritual tools. Inviting God into the search process enables the church to recognize that they depend on God to bring the leader God has called, not the leader they prefer. It places the Holy Spirit in charge of the process and strengthens the church through a time of instability.
Make prayer the first step you take and allow prayer to be a part of every other step.
2. Slow down. A common mistake that churches make in the first few weeks of pastoral transition is they rush. The temptation is to quickly form a search team and begin the search process, when the most strategic decision would be to pause, pray, and move slowly.
It is wise to understand that a search process may take longer than you expect. Some experts share that it may take a month for every year the pastor has served to find his replacement. This is an important process. The church should take its time to get this right!
3. Seek help. Enlisting an outside voice such as your associational leader or an IBSA staff member is a wise decision. Many churches contact IBSA during the search process asking for the pastor search guidebook. Sometimes it may benefit a church even more to request someone to help guide them.
I have kept an e-mail in my office that I received this past year from a church during a search pro-
cess. The quick e-mail shared this message, “We have decided to go at this alone.” Please do not go at the search process alone.
In a survey completed last year which collected responses from eight search teams, each team shared the importance of the outside voice that spoke into their process or shared their regret for not enlisting outside help.
4. Train the search team. IBSA has developed a training process for search teams that they study individually online, work through with a facilitator, or study as a group. The training process helps the search team understand the key parts of the search process and how to apply the principles to their church’s context. An introduction to the training process can be found on IBSA’s Pastor Search webpage, www.IBSA.org/pastor-search.
5. Communicate. In a recent survey of IBSA pastors who have been serving their church for less than two years concerning their experiences with the search process, pastors were asked to identify key things they would change to make the process more effective: 8-in-10 suggestions for improvement pertained to communication.
Often search teams struggle to keep the church informed during the process which leads to tension and distrust. Search teams also struggle in their ongoing communication with candidates. Many
candidates share that there is little or no communication with the search team after they send a
resume. Communicating effectively with the
church and with candidates is vitally important in an effective search process.
6. Take an inside look. William Vanderbloemen, founder of a search firm serving churches, uses the analogy of an organ transplant to describe the importance of making a good match between candidates and churches. Successful organ transplants happen because both the new host and the organ have been tested. Monitoring continues after the transplant to help fight against organ rejection.
A congregation needs to take a fresh look at itself as they begin a search process to rediscover the uniqueness of their church. A church’s culture, values, traditions, personality, and vision all help to determine what type of leader can be considered a good match. It is important to know the type of candidate a church should look for before they begin soliciting resumes.
7. Discover the right candidate. Search processes are cluttered with aspirational thinking. Churches tend to see themselves as who they once were or who they want to be, instead of who they currently are. This is also true with candidates. Candidates tend to put their best foot forward on a resume and seek to cover up weaknesses. This makes a good match difficult.
One church recently shared that “the candidate we interviewed wasn’t the candidate we received.” Most likely some candidates could share the same thing about the churches they interviewed. An effective interview process and extensive reference check can help the church to discover the “real” candidate and see if he is a good match for the church.
8. Onboard the new leader. Search teams are tempted to think that their job is complete after the church votes to affirm their recommendation of the new pastor. Working with the pastor in their transition and developing an onboarding process can greatly affect the success of the new leader. Beyond the outlining benefits package and giving access to the church directory, onboarding should cover all kinds of vital information about the church, how it operates, and its readiness for new vision and change.
Some search teams continue to operate for up to a year, meeting with the pastor, serving as his advocate with the church, and helping with settling in. The official celebration of a mission accomplished doesn’t come with a successful call and a positive vote, but many months later.
Associate Executive Director Mark Emerson recently completed a Doctor of Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation project focused on the pastor search process. He serves as lead contact for IBSA churches seeking help with their own pastor search.