Managing the Pastoral Search Process

Conducting a search for your church’s next pastor is a serious task. Fortunately, those entrusted with this complex assignment do not make the journey alone. They can count on support from their church board and membership at every step. What else is necessary?

A lot, in fact. Many churches have not had to manage a pastoral search process for ten, fifteen, or even twenty years. Search committee members—typically board members and actively involved lay members—often do not understand the multitude of tasks that make up the search process. Could your congregation step up to the challenge?

The Pastoral Search Journey

The Pastoral Search JourneyAs one church fills its pastoral vacancy, another congregation loses its pastor and starts its own search. You are at a pivotal point in the life of your church. Under-standing the journey is an important first step in starting the search process.

This journey has been going on for years. A previous pastor left, and your current pastor came and began ministry in your congregation. Many people in your church have known only the present clergy leader. He or she has been their pastor, preacher, counselor, teacher, leader, mentor, confidant, and perhaps friend. Members of your church have served with this pastor on committees and boards, as deacons and elders, as staff and associates. They have laughed and cried together, and have experienced God together.

The church board must determine whether your denomination has policies about the formation of a search committee. Find out specifics, so that your search process will be conducted according to church policies. This is the first station on the journey (chapter 1). The second is the board’s formation of the search committee, which now comes alongside the board and becomes active. The board focuses on caring
for the congregation while the search committee makes sure that the church knows what is happening during the pastoral vacancy. Many boards wisely find an interim pastor to help manage the congregation as well as fill the pulpit. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 cover these important parts of a search process.

The third station on the journey is the point at which the committee takes steps to develop an accurate church profile. Through self-study, surveys, and discussions, committee members identify the congregation’s strengths and weaknesses, its focus and direction, and the kind of leadership it needs in a pastor. They take this information and package it in ways that will capture the attention of interested pastors. This way station on the road is the key to getting the critical information that potential candidates will want to learn about your church. This important
task cannot be rushed. It is explained in chapters 5 and 6.

The fourth section of the road is the search itself. This is usually the longest part. The word of your vacancy and search will spread. Buzz about the potential of your church will help influence those who see your website and hear about it through social-media sites and other channels. Names will be collected, letters and e-mails sent, phone calls made, references checked, and, at each step, impressions will be made.

The field will ultimately narrow as some pastors drop out and others are added. Interviews will follow, and a select few will be invited to pay a visit to your church. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 cover this part of the search. Now comes the fifth stage of the journey—the decision and call. Depending on your polity, this part may involve one or several pastors. It starts with the visits by the pastor or pastors selected at this point. They present their best side, and so does the congregation. The board,
search committee, staff, and members all form opinions. The visiting pastors form opinions too. Meetings are held, votes are tallied, and a decision is reached. A letter of call is issued. This fifth stop on the search journey is explained in chapters 10, 11, and 12.

The sixth station on the search journey is a fork in the road. If the call is accepted, the road goes to planning for the installation of your new pastor. This task entails working out the details of the call’s acceptance, making transition plans with the interim pastor and the new pastor, and working with the new pastor on planning for his or her family’s move. This transition in covered in chapter 13. If, however, the
call is declined, the road turns back and returns the search committee at least to the previous stage and perhaps further. The search resumes.

Some may think the sixth station is the end of the journey, but there is a final destination. The seventh stage is to manage a good start-up for the pastor and the congregation. The board, pastor, and staff work together to plan the church’s ministry. This is an exciting time. God is good. He has directed the search efforts, and the hard work of the committee has paid off. Everyone’s hope is that this stage will last for years and that the church will grow under the leadership of your
new pastor. This too is explained in chapter 13

This Pastoral Search Website

The birth of this Web site and its related pastoral search team manual occurred in pastoral search team meetings. As we struggled with the process, we learned much about what we did not want to do and much about what we needed to do to be effective. We also found ourselves in an undefined process where we were on our own to define what we did, how we did it, and in what order we did it. Looking at the process with a critical thinking perspective convinced me of the need for such a tool. While written for managing a pastoral search, it can also serve any search team looking for second staff.

Churches of most denominations, as well as non-denominational churches, can benefit from the explanations and detail to the steps of managing the pastoral search process.