3 Better Ways to Pick a New Pastor

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"How churches select pastoral staff is sometimes just weird—and counterproductive," says Thom Schultz.

How churches select pastoral staff is sometimes just weird—and counterproductive.

Some years ago, I agreed to serve on a search committee for a new pastor. We began by establishing a set of traits and abilities our congregation needed in a pastor. It was a well-considered list.

But before we could find and interview even one candidate, we were cut short by a self-appointed group of members who campaigned for the current associate pastor. And I do mean campaigned. They set up a card table at the entrance to the sanctuary and solicited signatures on a petition. They printed and mailed flyers advertising their man. They declared a “Wear Red for Ed” Sunday.

The group demanded a congregational vote. Ed’s red-clad supporters (and dozens of recruits I hadn’t seen in church in years) showed up in sufficient numbers to tip the majority for their man. Ed was promptly named senior pastor, and the search committee was dismissed.

Following Election Day, the church hemorrhaged members, including most of the long-time lay leaders. It was a grotesque and messy way to select a pastor.

But I’m afraid this isn’t the only kind of oddity we see in typical processes for selecting pastoral staff.

A common practice is to parade candidates in front of the congregation for a Sunday inspection. The prospective pastors preach a sample sermon. And congregation members use this one-time performance as their primary or sole determiner of their vote for pastor.

The sermon show is a poor litmus test—for multiple reasons. It’s terribly unfair to judge a pastor’s overall worthiness on one sermon. It’s impossible to pick a sermon topic or style that connects with everyone. And, good pastors do far more than deliver a 20-minute weekly speech. To judge them solely on the delivery of one sample sermon, is sort of like choosing a car based solely on the sound of its horn.

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Thom Schultz Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

More from Thom Schultz or visit Thom at http://holysoup.com/

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  • YZ

    Background check and references play very important roles

  • Rawhitfield72

    I think these are great ideas to consider. We too often select pastor or staff on basis of performance rather than fit. Think about Moses, if he was selected based on performance he would have never been able to do what he did. We are told he was not an eloquent speaker at all.

  • David Buffaloe

    Good article.

  • nick

    are you suggesting three better ways than what the Lord told the apostle Paul? Hey i have a great idea, turn in your bibles everyone to 1 Timothy chapter 3 and Titus chapter 1, thats how you find a new pastor. No idea from a sinner is better than what God requires, you should be ashamed of yourselves, get out of facebook and get your face in the book.

    • Peter

      Uh… What happens when you have 200 candidates that meet those qualifications. you still need to somehow choose…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R2YLW3YPZNUPBRMWGYKCRJT32Y Mike

    Or you could be United Methodist and have the district superintendent do the job for you.  Downside is, you get what you get for at least a year, like it or not…

  • Revralph123

    Prayer, Prayer, and more prayer

    • Nancy Lembke

      Couldn’t agree more

  • Lew Button

    Then there is always racquetball. This is a very effective way to determine leadership styles and it provides good exercise. If the candidate doesn’t show up or is always trying to get out of the way so he/she doesn’t get hit–reject.  If the candidate takes over the court and you intentionally hit him/ her with the ball–not a good candidate. I could go on but,,,. Certainly more effective than many other ways.

  • RBV

    I’d propose this is still too consumeristic. It has a “we’re buying a pastor” vibe to it, which is a common problem. The pastor, and his/her family, is also interviewing the congregation. This is a partnership, not a purchase. The process needs to reflect that partnership. The interviews go both ways. A congregation should never go into a hire thinking they are bringing someone in for them; the Church, in it’s local subset, should go into this process asking God who god’s partnering up, and how to proceed. The servanthood goes both directions. And yes, we do a predominantly poor job with this process these days. We’ve been in it for 12 years- haven’t seen it done well but a few times. Lots of room to grow. Respectfully, this doesn’t challenge the status quo- this is the status quo.  And we need to change that.

  • Nancy Lembke

    Wow – another example of how “man’s ways ” take priority over “God’s ways”. The next to the last sentence “spend abundant time in prayer ” should be the first, middle, & ending “better way”. When we think we know God’s will without pressing into God’s Presence, we are heading for more troubles.

  • jim

    I still lean heavily toward, “choose from among yourselves.”  It is difficult to know the character of a man from 1500 miles away.  It takes time to develop meaningful relationships.  No amount of interviewing, observing, checking references, etc. will ever replace doing life together for several years or watching a man “grow up” and “grow in Christ.”  I find it hard to accept that the shuttling of pastors between congregations every few years has any positive effect on overall kingdom growth.
    Christ willing, I hope to do weddings, baptisms and dedications for the grand children of the youth who are presently with us.  I think continuity of relationships matters.

  • James

    The guidelines for picking a Pastor is found in Acts 1:21-26. It is the Word of God and not mans interpretation.