Top 10 suggestions for Pastoral Search Committees

The author of this article is available for consultation with search committees and pastoral candidates.  Please contact if interested…
A second post on this topic can be found HERE

I’ve been on the “candidate” end of the Pastoral Search process far more than I like to think about.  I searchthink it was all in God’s scheme of things (of course it was) but I’m quite tired of the process and hope and pray to never go through it again.

But in those times I’ve seen TONS of things that I wish the Search Committee folks (all good people) would do differently.  It sure does help to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes – so here’s my suggestions for those currently engaged in working on a Search Committee, or considering what the entire process should look like…

1. Don’t advertise your opening until you are REALLY ready!

Unless you’ve organized your committee, clarified what you are looking for, developed a call-back/contact system, etc. – you are going to be SWAMPED with the process and want to give up sooner rather than later.  AND you are probably going to take a lot longer at the process than you ever dreamed.  It’s not uncommon for committees to get over 100 resumes for 1 position!  Be ready before you actually begin or the process will overload you from day one!  Trust me on this…


There is nothing more frustrating to a potential candidate than to spend a ton of time putting together a good resume, mailing it out, copying sermon CDs, etc. and then NEVER HEARING PEEP #1 FROM THE PLACES HE’S SENT HIS STUFF!  Have some common Christian courtesy and develop some sort of way to respond to ALL candidates in a timely fashion, even if they really had no business sending you a resume in the first place.  In my thinking that’s about as rude as picking up the phone when it rings but refusing to say “Hello.”

3.  Be very clear about your process.

Once you start talking on a bit more serious of a level with a candidate, verbally walk them through the steps that you plan on taking in investigating a possible fit between your church and the candidate.  Candidates are in need of some timeframes – remember, they may have sent out numerous resumes and be talking with numerous churches at different levels at any given time.  Their response to you will be better – and more helpful to you – if they know where you’re going and how long you think it will take to get there.  When things change, let the know that too.  You’ll all be much happier with the way things go…

4. Let EVERYONE know the outcome.

Do you like to be left hanging????  Neither do candidates who have taken the time to send in a resume.  Type a quick e-mail and let everyone know of your final decision.  Divide it up among your committee members so it doesn’t take so long – but do it.

5.  Talk about salary, benefits, moving expenses, etc. EARLY in the process.

Believe it or not, Pastors have to make a decent wage too, and for many candidates God’s leading quite often will come through the knowledge of whether or not their family can live on what your church is able to offer.  You will save yourself time, energy, frustration, and a lot of pointless consideration of candidates who were never a possibility (and most importantly, not God’s choice for your  position), if you reveal your financial particulars way up front.  And if you decide not to do this and a candidate asks about the financial piece of the puzzle, don’t assume that he’s materialistic and corrupted by “mammon.”  Like I said, sometimes God shows His direction by whether or not the position will provide for the needs the Pastor’s family has..

6. Be honest about your church’s baggage – and don’t think your church doesn’t have baggage.

Whoever your new Pastor turns out to be, he’s going to do a much better job from the start if he has a “heads-up” about the problems he’s inheriting.  For whatever reasons, some churches feel that they should they hide those things throughout the candidation process.  Maybe they think they will have a better chance of getting the “right guy” if they don’t scare him off with all the messy things going on in the life of the church.  Or it could be that they are simply embarrassed by the mess things have become.  Let me turn that around for a minute – Don’t you think it’s more likely that the “right guy” will show up if he knows all your junk, dysfunction, and needs, and COMES ANYWAY???  And don’t think your church doesn’t have any baggage either.  Churches that think that are usually the ones who have Visa and Passport stickers ALL OVER their baggage, cause they’ve taken it with them everywhere they’ve gone!

7. Don’t have outlandish qualifications or requirements for your position.

While I’m not naive or stupid enough to think that just anyone can lead a church (or a large one for that matter) I also don’t think God limits Himself to the things we often do.  It makes me kind of crazy when I read a posting for a ministry position that says, “Must have 3 to 5 years experience leading a church of 3000 or more.”  or this one’s even better – “Must have at least 5 years leading a small group program of 200 or more groups.”  (I actually saw that one).  If you set up these kinds of “requirements,” that means that probably 98% of the candidates out there DON’T fit your expectation.  Said another way, You are LIMITING your pool of fish to the top 2%, which are the biggest, most experienced, most well-paid, and probably the most content already!  Consider this:  There are some greatly gifted, Spirit-controlled, fresh NEW leaders out there that God is raising up for ministry to this and the next generation.  Do you want to set yourself up to not even consider those up-and-coming tools God has in His toolbox?  Think about it; Chuck Swindoll, Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels – they were once the leaders whose name nobody knew.  Are you willing to take a chance that the next one God has those kinds of plans for, may be in that stack of resumes on your desk?

8. Talk to the candidate’s spouse somewhere along the way.

It has always bugged me that the most important person in my life, the one who knows me and my ministry better than anyone else, has often not even been asked one question in the search process.  Does that make much sense?  I’m not saying you need to interview the spouse as if she’s being hired too – that’s not my point and is a wrong approach. But you do need to get a sense for how supportive the spouse is, what her opinion of the guys is, how healthy their marriage is, what type of relationship they have with their kids, etc.  Those are some HUGE areas that trip up many pastors.  Don’t you think you should find out what problems there are on the front end instead of hiring the guy and going to church some Sunday only to discover that that Pastor Smith’s wife never has been happy that her husband is a Pastor?

9. Don’t let one “negative” response from an isolated reference ruin the “positive” responses of many  others.

Candidates naturally give you the names of people that they think will speak highly of them.  That’s just how the process goes.  But sometimes, unbeknownst to the candidate, stuff happens that sours one of those people on them.  If you’ve called 5 references, 4 of which were outstandingly positive, and then one of them seems to be disgruntled with your candidate – consider this:  If the candidate is all THAT bad, why would 4 out of the 5 be saying otherwise?  It could be that something that happened in the way the candidate left his last position was not to that person’s liking.  It could also be that there’s a misunderstanding between the two of them that the candidate has no clue about.  If you get the negative 1 and the positive 4, call back the 4 and ask them specific questions about the concerns of the 1.  You’ll be glad you did.

10. Give your candidate an opportunity to respond to the negatives you hear from references.

There are always two sides to a story and the truth is usually somewhere in between.  If you only take a  negative report from one reference and don’t allow the candidate to respond, you are probably doing yourself and the candidate a huge disservice.  Often the issue the reference is upset about is one that the candidate can adequately explain.  And he’ll likely be able and more than willing to provide you the names of other people who know about the situation the reference is upset about, who you can talk to in order to get a more fully-orbed picture of what the truth is.


I’ve recently published my first book – “The Elder Training Handbook” that covers one method of identifying, assessing, and training men for church Eldership.  If you’d like to get a copy for yourself, go to the FREE tab at the top of this blog.  There you’ll find options for the free E-book download of the ETH, as well as an option to buy a hard-copy and have it shipped to you.


24 thoughts on “Top 10 suggestions for Pastoral Search Committees

  1. In addition to your list, I would also add that the committee should develop a better questioning program for the people given as referrals. Having been on that end a few times, I have been bothered by the standard questions of: what are the pastor’s strong points, what are his weak points, etc. Sometimes the referral may not have a close enough relationship to answer these questions and the committee may not know that from their questioning. Or the person being questioned may feel uncomfortable to give negative answers, so the committee may not get the information they need. To be able compare notes from one referral to the next and between candidates, I think committees should work on a grading scale and include “Do not know” as a response. That would be less stressful on the people being questioned and people can usually give a grade to something instead of an paragraph. I also think part of the process should include a question asking about the person relationship to the candidate. Maybe the person is just a pew sitter or maybe they had lunch with the family every week. That could have some impact on the responses the committee receives.


    • I think you are coming on too strong and you apparently have a lot of issues with previous churches.
      I have been on the candidate side and I have come to accept that many have regular jobs and they have family commitments just as much as you do. Your brashness brings more divisiveness.
      Can’t wait on God’s timing?
      Does waiting really hurt? I’ve waited, but I’ve taken time to serve while waiting. If one really doesn’t get back at all, I just tell them – sorry, i have no interest. Then with common grace, I just ask them to remove me from the applicant list.

      Any church that puts artificial worldly requirements like 5-10 years of pastoral experience, I just don’t bother at all. I just look for one that says: “willing to learn, able to submit, and open to God’s calling”. Married should not be a pre-requisite either. 1 Corinthians 7 becomes a legality, not a Pauline concession as intended.

      • Hi Justin, thanks for the comment…

        Sorry my exhortations sound too strong to you. I just feel that committees (whether they have jobs and families or not) need to know what it’s like on the other side of the equation – for the sake of being more considerate to the candidates as they do their difficult work. The Pastor in me wants people to see where they can grow and be more Christ-like in life, so naturally that applies to a process like this as well. Please understand, I’ve done plenty of waiting, and have trusted the Lord in that process just like you suggest. His will is best, and what I want, and He does use inconsiderate search committees in that process. It IS God’s timing is most important and reigns supreme, just as you suggest. But that doesn’t solve the problem of the committee being inconsiderate or unkind to a candidate. My posts on this issue are simply hoping to make some committees aware of the possibility of their own sin (yes, I’d call it sin to ignore a candidate) so that they can make needed changes where applicable. For many search teams it’s a blind spot they don’t know they have… so how are they going to learn about it and make changes if nobody tells them? It’s not divisive to point out sin… it’s called exhortation, and is actually a loving thing to do. If it feel brash to you – I’m truly sorry about that. Perhaps I can work on my approach?

  2. Pingback: Finding Our Place » Top 10 suggestions for Pastoral Search Committees

  3. Pingback: Pastoral Search Committees - Ask These Questions! « the passionate follower’s journal

  4. I really like what you wrote. I have a new one to add to that. I had a seach committee schedule a phone interview and then never call for the interview! They sent an email in the middle of the night saying that they changed their mind. I understand people are people but come on that is downright rude.

  5. I had a church who checked with a reference and then asked that reference with a secondary reference without letting me know that was part of their process.

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