Search For A Pastor

search for a pastor: Every church must eventually start looking for a new pastor at some point in its history. Of course, deciding to conduct a pastoral search is a serious choice. No matter why the leader has left or is departing, change and transition are a part of church life. Therefore, any search for a new pastor must be thorough, intelligent, and efficient. I’ve assisted congregations in managing the transition and leadership shift that results from looking for, discovering, speaking with, and appointing a pastor. The tips I frequently give to church elders, deacons, and boards involved in the process are included in this page.

You can also find topics like “pentecostal churches seeking pastors” along with extensive write-ups that include topics like “how to find a pastor for a small church”

pentecostal churches seeking pastors

Form a Pastoral Search Commitee

No one should take this task on in their own capacity. It is wise to form a pastoral search committee that brings in different voices, perspectives and experiences.

This committee is a selection of people in the church who have the short-term focus of serving the church by searching for a pastor. As part of this remit, they develop the process, develop a job description, deal with applications from potential candidates, interview and decide. They lead the process. Sometimes a church board forms the committee, but sometimes it is made up of a selection of people from the church.

Make sure you have people with hiring experience, or at the very least, interviewing experience. Business owners and those with corporate or managerial experience will bring insight and clarity that is very much needed to ensure steps taken are wise steps. Key influencers in the church should be involved, but not too many – the more voices, the harder it is to find agreement. Instead, aim for between six and ten people who can act as a pastor search committee but are also accessible to the rest of the church to canvas opinions and hear concerns and questions. Too small, and you’ll get overwhelmed. Too big, and it’ll become indecisive and bureaucratic. Ideally, have an odd number. It avoids any stalemates or stand-offs if you are voting for outcomes.

Consider if this committee needs any input or presence from external parties, such as denominational or network representatives, long-standing leaders who know the church, or even a specialist church leadership consultant.

If you have a committee that is diverse and varied – which is healthy and good – then finding a unanimous decision isn’t always straightforward or easy. But that’s OK! Compromise and talking through differences will ensure wisdom prevails.

The diversity of the committee should be reflected by who is part of it. Ideally, the voices and opinions of different ages, genders and levels of involvement in the church should be able to be heard by the committee. What the over 60s look for may be very different to the under 40s, for example.

A good rule of thumb is to look at the demographic makeup of your church, and then look at your pastor search committee. If the profiles don’t look similar, then you may need a rethink.

Establish Roles

From your pastoral search committee, you need to fill three essential roles.

Firstly, appoint a chairperson. They are responsible for leading the committee and overseeing the searching for a new pastor. They may schedule meetings and keep things moving forwards.

Secondly, determine a secretary. They will take minutes, notes and agendas to document and record discussions and decisions.

Thirdly, choose a communications lead who can oversee any interactions or updates with the church and candidates. They ensure everyone is kept up to date with the process.

Manage The Timeline Wisely

Don’t be too quick to make a decision. Internal pressure from voices of people who ‘need’ a pastor or the common events that always surround leadership transition (people turnover, momentum slowing, complaints rising, giving decline) will seem to be even more serious to some. Don’t get pressured when searching for a pastor by offering the position too quickly to someone. It’s better to make the right hire slowly then make the wrong hire quickly.

Be Transparent

Searching for a pastor isn’t the purview of a select few; it’s a whole-church matter. Irrespective of your structure and personnel, your pastoral search committee or your key influencers, church members will be invested. They care who could be the new senior leader! So offer regular communications, especially at key milestones such as shortlisting, interviewing, interest level and so on.

Give updates as well, even if there is nothing to update. It helps keep people informed.

Some of these communication pointers also apply to potential candidates! Let them know how their application has gone. Did they get rejected? Shortlisted? Invited? Make sure they know!

Clarify Your Expectations

What are you wanting from the incoming leader? Search for a pastor is a lot more than just advertising and hoping for the best. It’s a strategic and significant decision, as this person is going to be shaping your leadership culture for potentially years to come!

Do you want a visionary leader? Relational and pastoral? Purposeful and catalytic? Methodical and strategic? Reflective and spiritual? Proactive culture-shaper? A pragmatic organisational builder? A gifted teacher-preacher? An evangelistic motivator? A manager who can develop leaders?

Sometimes I speak with churches and the answer from them is ‘yes’ to all the above! Whilst they are all valid desires, no one person can do everything. We all have leadership strengths and weaknesses, and this is true of any incoming leader. Using tools such as the Leadership Leanings or FiveFold Flow Assessments can be incredibly insightful for all.

So don’t expect someone to be at the same level of gifting and skill as Jesus! It’s not realistic. Knowing the difference between essential and desirable qualities is key.

Pray

Before choosing his disciples, Jesus prayed. There is a principle here for us too. Let’s make sure that our searching for a pastor is done with prayerfully informed wisdom and decision-making.

You’ll want to pray about your pastoral search process. The selection of the people for the pastor search committee. What type of candidate to consider. And don’t forget the church!

Prayer isn’t a ‘once-and-done’ thing. So factor in repeated times of prayer so that you yourself, anyone else directly involved, and the church, can partner with God in the process.

Determine Transitional Leadership

Whilst you are in-between leaders, you’ll need to decide what to do in the gap. This is especially true regarding preaching.

Some churches may be well-stocked in people who can step up in. They may be former ministers or people with relevant skillsets and experience in the congregation. Some churches even bring in interim preachers. The important thing is that the leadership vacuum is filled whilst you are searching for a pastor. This will help you from rushing a decision to fill a gap.

Consider The Story Of Your Church

Healthy churches have defined mission, vision and values statements. It’s important that these inform your process as you are searching for a pastor. Why? Because it will shape the kind of candidates you consider.

Other factors to consider include your doctrinal distinctives, location and size. Urban, suburban and rural churches are all very different, so the experience of candidates matters. It’s the same with small, medium and larger churches.

Different candidates have had their own stories and journey. Be mindful of these as you see if they could complement the story of your church.

But it isn’t just the past and the present you need to consider. It’s also the future. What’s the vision of the church? Where is the church at right now in terms of its health and wellbeing? What skills and gifts are needed to get you from today to tomorrow? Don’t neglect these questions as you consider what the needs of your church are.

Define The Role

Before you can begin searching for a pastor, you need to know what you’ll want them to be responsible, empowered and accountable for. A clear job description helps clarify the type of leader you are looking for and influences the kind of candidates who will apply.

Essential information to include in the role profile and job description could be:

  • Required academic qualifications
  • Ministry experience
  • Essential skills
  • Role expectations & requirements
  • Doctrinal beliefs

For example, will they be leading a team? Will there be pastoral or administrative duties? How much preaching and teaching will they be expected to do? Know what you are asking candidates to fill.

Review Candidate Applications

As you receive applications from interested parties, you need to begin shortlisting. This whittles down applicants so you don’t need to interview every single candidate.

Using the criteria you’ve established for the role, review the applications and see which candidates fit the requirements you’ve specified. For each application, as a committee make a recommendation using a simple traffic-light system:

RED to reject the application. This is for candidates who don’t fit the requirements for the role, whether that is skills, experience or academic qualifications. It doesn’t matter how strongly they feel called – follow your standards.

AMBER to pause and come back to if you are on the fence or can’t decide. Perhaps they fulfil the requirements, but only just. Maybe there is a question mark over one area. Sometimes reviewing other applications helps frame how you should respond to these. If you have lots of stronger candidates, amber candidates can become red. Likewise, if you don’t feel there are many viable applicants, ambers could become green (see below).

GREEN for shortlisting. This is for applicants who meet your requirements. The next stage for them would be interviewing.

Arrange Interviews

For an effective pastoral search, at a minimum aim to have a good number of candidates to interview. I’d recommend between four and six. Ultimately, you are comparing the candidates against two things – the job description and each other.

Interviews should be formal and professional. For such a significant position, it should not be an easy or simple process. You aren’t just looking to see if you like someone, although that is important. You are asking them to show evidence that they can meet each and every requirement of the job description.

I’d recommend conducting a panel interview with the candidate. This is is when three to five people collectively interview the applicant and take turns to ask questions. They each take their own notes, which are compared afterwards in a debrief where everyone can share their perspective. People who have been part of the pastoral search committee are ideal for this role.

Essential areas to ask questions in and around during a thorough pastor search include:

  • Experience
  • Views and opinions. Current sermons or writings can help with this.
  • Personal life
  • Family life

You may also want to invite candidates to visit the church one weekend and have them connect with ministry leaders and key influencers. You can gauge how well people respond to them and gather impressions and opinions.

If the role requires preaching and teaching, have them preach to the church. It gives both the people and the candidate an opportunity to size each other up! Listening to a sermon and ‘watching’ a sermon can present two very different pictures.

Asking candidates for references, referrals and recommendations are essential. Follow-up on these. Always ask for at least two! Excellent and confidence-boosting references can include former pastors, line managers, board members or elders. The more recent the referral, the better it is. Don’t hire people until all references have been received. You don’t want to discover someone has been disqualified from ministry after they’ve been given the job!

Don’t be afraid of conducting second interviews as well when searching for a pastor, especially if there are a couple of candidates who are standouts. You want to give yourself as much information as possible to inform your final decision. Ask different questions in the second interview or have different people conduct the interviewing. Otherwise, you’ll just go over old ground and not learn anything new.

Making Your Decision

After interviewing the candidates, it’s time for a decision to be made. Different churches have different policies regarding decision-making. Is there a church vote? Will the committee decide or do they make recommendations? Is the existing leadership deciding, whether that is elders, deacons or a board? How do you decide who has been the successful candidate from your pastor search?

Don’t seek a unanimous decision. You’ll very rarely get everyone in full agreement. Instead, aim for a significant majority – two-thirds is a good gauge. It is a large enough figure to show groundswell support, yet isn’t a marginal or slight majority like 51% which could lead to tension and disunity.

Once you’ve decided, and the candidate has accepted, it’s time to negotiate the transition process with the incoming leader including timescale, relocation if applicable, and priorities. Then, support your new leader! Your quest for searching for a new pastor has been completed!

Final Notes

Sometimes your pastor search will benefit from an external perspective. An objective and experienced voice can be invaluable when navigating a pastoral search. I’ve helped a number of churches navigate leadership transition, handover and succession. If that is something you’d like to talk through with me about, you can connect with me here.

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