You have met the person of your dreams, and after knowing them a month, you are ready to marry them. Most people on hearing the last sentence would raise prudent caution. Friends would ask you to slow the relationship. They might even try to talk you out of the hasty engagement. It is not because they want you to ruin your happiness. No, like many in our culture they believe a rushed engagement is unhealthy and will lead to future unhappiness.
Similarly, many congregational churches use this “speed date” method to hire their next pastor. To be fair, not all congregational churches use this approach, but many churches and pastors reflect this “speed date experience.” It goes something like this:
- Pastors do not know who to contact for their next pastorate.
- They then submit their resume to churches, friends, and resume mills.
- A church does not know who to call for their next pastor.
- They appoint a Pulpit Search Committee who obtain a lot of resumes from other churches, friends and resume mills.
- A plethora of resumes arrive, and an elimination process begins.
- Some committees are very prayerful and spiritual. Others are more technical and worldly.
- Finally, a select few ministers get an interview.
- Next, a committee contacts these pastoral candidates to begin the interview process, usually by phone and later in person.
- The church usually talks to one minister at a time; while some churches speak with many ministers at a time.
- Before the minister receives an in-person interview, the committee will “covertly” travel to the minister’s church to hear him preach. Often these covert attempts fail because churches are quick to realize when a committee has arrived.
- If pleased with the preaching, the board contacts the minister to begin the formal in-person interview process.
- After many interviews, the committee makes a recommendation to the church, which is often approved.
- The church’s approval allows the church to have a meet and greet with the pastor and the family. Usually, this time occurs over dinner and is followed by a Q. and A. time.
- If no issues arise, the minister will preach a “trial sermon” for the congregation.
- After the sermon, a church will vote yes or no on the prospective minister. Sometimes the vote occurs immediately after the service; other times it happens at a later date.
These steps explain the interview process descriptive of most congregational churches. Some churches include additional steps; some remove some of the above steps. Each church is different, but most follow this general format, which occurs over a 1-3 month period.
1-3 months is a short time frame for any group of Christians to determine if they want to enter into a “ministry marriage” with another. The fact that so many congregational churches follow this protocol explains why so many churches and pastors end up hurt. If neither side is not damaged, then at best there is a delay in their Gospel effectiveness. When pastors and churches do not know the best traits or the worst behaviors of each other, it is tough to determine if there is a great fit for a future ministry marriage. However, both sides can take some simple steps to remedy future hurt and increase their missions capacity:
Build Ministerial Relationships
Congregations should network with other ministers. Not only does it build relationships for future ministry collaboration, but they may also discover their next minister. Now, this approach should not become a means to oust their current pastor. No, it is a forward thinking approach that provides future options when the current pastor leaves.
Also, they are not necessarily poaching other churches Senior Pastors. Rather, their relationships may be with an Associate Pastor or other position on a church staff. Either way, these relationships allow both the minister and the congregation to know another than waiting on a stack of resume’s to arrive.
Develop the Next Pastor
Arguably, a biblical approach is for each congregational church to train the next pastor from within the church. In I Timothy 1:2 Paul writes, “To Timothy, my true son in the faith.” Timothy was a minister Paul trained in Ephesus who remained in the city to shepherd the Christians there. Ephesus knew Paul, they knew Timothy, and there was no one better to lead the people spiritually so the Gospel could continue to be emphasized.
By training the next pastor from within, both the church and the future pastor already know each other well. Together, they know the other’s true core values versus their aspirational values. As a result, a relationship of trust is established faster allowing their ministry marriage to focus on missions and the Gospel faster.
Now, nepotism is a concern towards this approach. While no method is perfect, there might be nothing healthier than the concept of a church raising up their next leader. If nothing else, churches will prepare future ministers for other congregations. Churches who may not have the means to develop their next ministers.
Pastors Should Do Their Homework
Like churches, ministers should network in advance too. When this approach is not done, pastoral candidates must research any church where they apply or when a church contacts them. As they perform their background checks, it is important to rely on multiple sources. For example, they should talk with other area ministers. They should call the Director of Missions, Bishops in the area, ask to speak to former ministers, etc. No matter the approach, multiple forms of research are necessary because some sources will not give the full truth. Remember, doing homework helps determine the right fit and allows for the Gospel to be emphasized sooner.
In closing, even if plenty of time were given to know both the candidate and the congregation, the interview process is complex. Despite these complications, we can take some measures to better the success of any ministry marriage. Success is not just about avoiding future hurt; it is about maximizing a ministry’s Gospel reach. Churches are Kingdom Outposts to the world. They are meant to be lights to the world who are hurting. Therefore, let us seek the best ways to find great ministry fits. Not only does it avoid future ministry pain, but it provides the hope of Jesus Christ to a hurt world who needs His healing. Let us then seek healthier approaches towards hiring future pastors. It will minimize hurt by creating ministerial marriages that strive to emphasize the Gospel above all else.