The Real Reasons Your Search Process is Taking Too Long

I wish I had objective data on the length of time between pastors. I can say anecdotally the time is much longer than it used to be. A whole lot longer.

To be clear, I know we cannot presume on the call of God. I get that. But, all things considered, more and more churches are struggling because they are going longer periods of time without a pastor. Attendance often declines. Budget giving often declines. Morale often declines.

So why are search committees and appointment processes (I will refer to all search entities as search committees for simplicity) taking so much longer? I see six clear reasons.

  1. There are no longer ready-made networks to provide a steady supply of pastors for churches. Denominations and other networks could provide a list of names in the past, many of whom could fit most churches in that network. Today, churches are different more than uniform. Communities are more diverse. The “denominationally-groomed-and-ready” pastor just does not exist today.
  2. Search committees are often poorly equipped to find pastors. They typically do not know the right places to go and the right people to ask. They don’t have time to devote to seeking applicants and culling through resumes. Most don’t know the profile of a best qualified applicant.
  3. Search committees often still use old paradigms. Advertise in denominational or network publications. Wait for a flood of resumes to arrive with mostly unqualified candidates. Go to a candidate’s church to hear a sermon. Go through resumes one by one in an excruciatingly slow and painful process. Wait. Wait. Wait.
  4. Many search committees don’t use a search firm. I’ve heard all the reasons not to do so. Some think it costs too much. But most churches save a lot of money and time using a search firm. For example, during prolonged interim periods church giving usually declines—which can lead to financial struggles. Other churches think the search firm chooses the pastors for them. No, the search firm finds qualified candidates for the church to choose
  5. Search committees often represent a cross section of the church rather than the most qualified members. I understand the sentiment to have every group in the church represented. Unfortunately, such representation is not often commensurate with qualification. And an unqualified search committee is most often a slow search committee.
  6. Some search committees and churches don’t think it is spiritual to find a new pastor too quickly. In most cases, a church should be able to get a new pastor in six months or less. God is really able to work that punctually. There is nothing inherently spiritual about taking a year or two years or more finding a new pastor. In fact, in many cases it is really bad stewardship to take that long.

Many churches are simply taking too long to find a new pastor.

As a consequence, many congregations are struggling without a leader to guide them.

> Read more from Thom.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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3 Destructive Assumptions Made by Pastor Search Teams

Recently, I heard of yet another downtown “First” church repeating the painful cycle of pastoral transition just a few years after replacing their long-tenured senior leader. It seems to be the same story with a different church name: church reels over their perfect replacement candidate, for a beloved pastor of 15+ years, who turns out to not be so perfect after all, and then leaves for another church, or gets asked to leave after a few years of dysfunction and/or less-than-desired results. 

Meanwhile, half of the congregation sits confused because things seemed to be going well enough, even if congregational growth had noticeably slowed down a bit after the first few months. While another half of the body sits pining for the “good-ole” days, dreaming of their old pastor reborn and the way things used to be.

And smack dab in the middle sits a pastor search committee tasked, yet again, with finding “God’s right” leader… but not like the last right one.

The principle of insanity immediately kicks in, with the assumption that searching in essentially the same way, with essentially the same people (even if their names are different) will yield different results.

And honestly, more often than not, it does… and therein lies the problem.

When asked, most of the congregation will attribute the previous seven or so years of transitional expense, missional confusion and stalled growth as “just a part” of getting to the eventual right pastor, and ascend to a point three years down the road when the church is again vibrant and effective. Few will admit to a decade lost and grieve what essentially becomes ten years of inward congregational focus and lost community impact.

Every church in a season of pastoral succession is susceptible to a needlessly extended period of transition and the resultant loss of missional momentum. From observance of this vicious cycle, here are three destructive assumptions made by pastor search teams:

1. “We cannot pursue any new ideas or invest in long-term strategic initiatives until the next pastor gets here.”

The resulting mistake is the hiring of a positional leader to come in and tell the church what their vision is and define what they should do next. Positional leaders like this are attracted to a vision vacuum they can fill – likely having exhausted their ideas and resources at the current church, and will gladly come to yours to do the same. Leaders beyond this positional kind are often called to a visionary people they can lead and celebrate Great Commission impact alongside.

Action 1: Remember true leaders love active vision. They recognize that a church that waits on and wants their new pastor to be the singular visionary voice will likely not be easily led toward that vision.

2. “We should develop a list of pastoral qualifications rather than define congregational convictions.”

The resulting mistake is the search of a candidate based on past accomplishment or present answers, rather than future alignment.This is because the elevation of the radical minimum standards of Biblical eldership becomes a pinnacle of maturity in the church that only a select few might attain. Most of the early Church leadership would not be candidates for a search team today, and it is likely that Jesus himself might have a hard time making it past the first round for many churches. He would definitely blow it in the interview stage, asking really personal questions of the committee and being disproportionately focused on those not in the church yet, unconcerned with making members happy. We like the thought of making disciples, but most congregations have never taken the time to define that actual process or describe the resulting output of a discipleship culture.

Action 2: Hire to culture not just to resume. Skills are developable and experience can be deceiving, but a close attention to alignment in discipleship ethos and practice yields a greater chance to break the cycle.

3. “We will find a candidate who will simultaneously protect the status quo and grow the church.”

The resulting mistake is the painful realization that sustaining what-is becomes a surrender to what should be. Most churches in a season of pastoral change are not there by chance. They have watched a pastor leave sooner than everyone expected for a new, apparently more effective calling. Or they have felt a pastor stay longer than anyone realized, in a safe, but steadily less effective office. Tension arises when what is actually revealed to grow disciples by a church stands in direct opposition to what is revered by most of the members of the church.

Action 3: Choose conviction over comfort. Growth that matters rarely comes without pain, pressure and some degree of change. A congregational willingness to release the next pastor to lead-out toward God’s preferred future will yield a higher quality candidate every time.

There is never a guaranteed result to any pastor search process, and the working of God through the leadership of His Spirit is never to be overlooked or underestimated.

Yet, we must admit that the pastor search team role is an important and needed part of any transition process, or else the church should just sit and wait for the next pastor to knock on the front door, announcing their arrival. Breaking the painful cycle of pastoral turnover takes more than wishful thinking andwistful dreaming.

A successful search for the next pastor takes a willingness by the whole body to attain active leadership, maintain congregational convictions and sustain missional priority.

> Read more from Bryan.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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COMMENTS

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lmalstrom — 08/28/15 9:48 am

nailed it! praying fervently for our church. LM

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.