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Pastor Search Committee Tips
by Dr. Joseph "Mike" Willmouth

This Biblical article was written and submitted in January 2003 by: Joseph M. Willmouth, Pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Biloxi, Mississippi 39532. This contributed article is copyright protected, and the sole property of the contributing author.  It may be freely copied and used provided the above credits are included. Document expiration: indefinite. 
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Pastor Search Committee Tips

This list of tips was originally put together to help a friend of mine's church to get a good start in looking for a new pastor.  The information that is given here is based upon my own experience as someone who has served on a pastor search committee and as a pastor who has been interviewed by pastor search committees.  As a result of being on both sides of the process it has given me a better perspective of how things should be conducted so as to be as painless process for both sides.  An important fact that the pastor search committee needs to be mindful of is that the prospective pastor isn't the only person being interviewed, but their church is also being interviewed by the prospective pastor as to whether-or-not he wishes to go there.  I have gone through some interviews where I was down right thankful that the interviewing church decided to look elsewhere because of their coldness and their efforts to intimidate me during interview.  The key to this whole process is to have everyone in constant prayer, seeking the Lord's direction and will.  Treat each prospective pastor with courtesy and respect, just as you would like to be treated -- that's all the prospective pastor really wants in the whole process too.  I would also recommend that you talk to other people who have gone through this process before, and learn from the things they did right and the things that they did wrong.  The better you are prepared before beginning the interview process, the smother everything will go.  Remember the goal of every committee and prospective pastor is to have the right pastor in the right church.  May God bless you in your search for the right pastor -- Mike Willmouth

Step 1: Form a pastor search committee.

1. If your church is run by an elder board, then skip this step.

2. Selection of pastor search committee members.

A. Announce prior to the business meeting, that nominations will be taken for the purpose of  electing a pastor search committee.

B. Take nominations during a called business meeting and then elect an odd number to the pastor search committee (this is to avoid a tied vote).

1) It would probably be a good idea to place the chairman of the deacons on the committee as a member, along with the chairman from the finance committee.
- This keeps key people in the church informed and enables the process to go a little smoother when the committee begins to interview prospective pastors and calling them.
2) It would be wise to only elect those people who are activity involved in the church, since they have a better idea of what’s been going on in the church.
- People who tend to not be very dependable in their service to the Lord, will not be anymore dependable if put on a committee of this type, and this isn’t the time or the place for them to start either.
3) Stress the importance of putting only those individual’s who have the time and commitment to seeing this process through – it could take years!
C. Elect the number of members needed for the committee, and maybe a couple of “back-up” committee members in case someone has to step down due to situations beyond their control.
- The back-up members can be the runner-ups during the voting process.


D. Once the committee is formed, have them meet to elect a chairman of the committee.

1) This person should be someone other than the chairman of the deacons or the chairman of the finance committee to avoid the appearance that these groups are trying to control the church (even though they may not be, some people always seem to have this impression).

2) The chairman should be someone who is able to organize and direct the pastor search, and keep everyone moving forward.

A) That will ensure that phone calls are made, and letters are written.

B) That will ensure that the committee members are actively involved and informed during the whole process.

C) Meeting and interviews are scheduled and kept.

E. The Pastor search committee now needs to follow the remaining steps.
 
Step 2: Get a general idea of what type of pastor the church is looking for.

1. Education.

2. Age.

3. Preaching Style.

4. Personality of church compared to that of the Pastor.

5. Church goals and desires.

6. Areas of concern by the church (these normally come up from past experiences with former pastors).

7. Make sure that the pastor is doctrinally alined with the church (this is the one area that churches normally never think about, and it the most important area).

NOTE: Remember to keep things realistic, there was only one Messiah and no one else can live up to the standards that He set.
 

Step 3: Set ground rules for the pastor search members.

1. Address the issue of confidentiality among the committee members.

2. Address the issue of the amount of agreement among members for bringing a pastoral candidate before the church for a vote.

3. Gather information that is needed by potential pastors.

A. Local information about the area.

B. Cost of living information.

1) The average cost of a rental home or apartment.

2) Taxes (State Sales Tax, Income Tax, etc).

3) The cost of car tags.

4) The average cost of utilities.

C. Average church & Sunday School attendance.

D. Total amount of pay package.

1) Get the total amount that the church can pay from the finance committee, but don't break it down into categories because the pastor should have input on how he wants it broken down.
A) Also this is not a time to be trying  to save money by offering less than what you can afford just to see if they accept.
- Be honest and pay what you can afford to pay.
B) Just as you expect honestly from your pastor, he expects the same from your church.
2) Moving expenses also need to be addressed by the finance committee.
A) Take in consideration such things as moving vans, gas, deposits (housing, utilities), vehicle(s) tags and driver's licences (for pastors who coming in from out of state), motel costs, etc.
- An example of this is I just paid around $300.00 for new car tags, if I move to a new state I now have to get new tags.  Since the church is calling the pastor they need to consider these expenses so as to not create a burden on someone they are asking to move to their church.
B) This is an important area because it says a lot about a church and the way they treat their pastors (I was in one church where the finance committee didn't want to pay to move the pastor they just called, and this was a horrible witness).
- Remember the church is asking someone to relocated for them.
C) Another option for the church is to go ahead and rent a house or an apartment, once they have called a pastor.
(1) This would allow the pastor to have a place to move in quickly and then give him time to find another place if he wishes.

(2) Plus this would allow the church to get their deposits back also.

(3) Make sure that you discuss his needs before doing this.

D) The key to all of this is for the finance committee to think in terms of treating the pastor as they would want to be treated if they were in his shoes.

E) A good way to have money for these expenses is to put aside the funds that you had been paying your former pastor for this purpose.

F) If your church cannot afford to spend this type of money, then you had better limit your search down to those who live in the local area.

3) Interviewing expenses also need to be addressed.
A) This means if you ask a pastor to come to be interviewed by your church and/or even preach, then you need to make sure that the church covers his travel expenses.

B) Other expenses need to be considered also, like motel/hotel costs, food, etc.

E. Let potential candidates know about any problems in the church that may have lead to the church looking for a new pastor (this doesn't mean you tell them every little problem, just let them know of any major problem area that they will be confronted with if they do end up at your church - if you don't they'll feel like you have blind-sided them).
4. Keep the committee working and moving forward - if you don't it will get hard to get them going again.
 

Step 4: Collect Resumes

1. From the Association or Convention.

2. Bible Schools, colleges, seminaries, etc.

3. From church members, friends, family, etc.

- Announce to the church that you are taking resumes and give them a cut-off date of somewhere between 2 weeks to a month.
4. Advertise in Christian Papers (like an associational or convention paper) if need be.

5. Advertise on Christian Job web sites.
 

Step 5: Sort & Rank Resumes

1. Make enough copies of the resumes to give to every committee member.

2. Send them home for a week to sort through the resumes and pick their top ten candidates based on qualities the church is looking for.

3. At the next meeting compare everyone's candidates and start the process of coming up with a master list of ten resumes.

A. This means you'll have discussions from everyone on why they think certain people need to be on the list or why they don't think someone should be on the list.

B. Once you get the list down to 10, then have the committee rank them from 1 to 10.

- You could end up agreeing on a list of 11-20 also, but its just easier to keep the number smaller to work with (you can always go back an add some more later if need be).


Step 6: Contacting Candidates

1. The next step depends on how you want to handle it.

A. You can either contact every pastor on that list and tell them that your committee is beginning its search for a pastor and you are just inquiring to see if they would be interested or not (this can save some time, but it can also send wrong signals to candidates).
- Once this is done remove those who are not interested and start with the highest ranked candidate (for example: if your number one choice said no, then you begin to focus on number two next)
B. Or you can start by just focusing on the number one candidate.
- Ask him if he is interested, if not move on to your next candidate.
2. Once your list is complete make sure that you work with one candidate at a time, this way you are focused upon them and it doesn't become a popularity contest.
- With this in mind, NEVER bring a candidate into your church to preach until you are sure that he is the one you want to present to the church - if you do, it can create problems with church members as they begin to get involved before they should (I've seen this happen).
3. Once you get a candidate that is interested, then it is time to talk with him.
A. This interview can be done at the church or somewhere that is more convenient for the candidate.
1) An example is, if you are interviewing someone who lives a few hours away see about meeting them around half-way for a lunch.

2) If they live too far away for this to happen, then you'll have to either bring them up to your church or do the interview by questionnaire and by phone (if you get a speaker phone you can plug it in at the church and do an interview with everyone present).

B. To save time it is best to give potential pastors important facts up front to see if they are interested in even being considered. Here are some examples:
1) Tell them what the church can afford up front (maybe even include moving expenses).

2) Address major concerns that the church might have.

A) The version of Bible that they want preached from.

B) What the church expects from the pastor in the way of visitation, ministry, etc.

C) Major areas of concerns that have come up because of previous pastors.

D) Doctrinal positions of the church.

C. Have the candidate send you audio or videos of his sermons, or go and listen to him preach.
Warning: Do not do it unannounced, or you may end up with someone withdrawing themselves from your list. This isn't because they want to fool you by giving you their only good sermon, but your visit can create problems within his church when 5 to 7 people show up for no reason.  This is an instant warning signal to the church body that says, "a pastor search committee is here to steal our pastor" and can have a negative impact upon his ministry at that church if people begin to think that he's leaving.  Ask to see if it is ok to come to hear him. He may prefer to preach at a different church so as not to create possible unneeded concern within his congregation. Also if you show up unannounced, you may not even get to hear the pastor - he may not be speaking that Sunday. If you must go and visit his church then it would be best to send only a couple of committee member over several weeks so as not  to create problems.
D. Contact his references.
1) Remember that when talking with references you will probably get an either a "love" or a "hate" response (or both) about him, so just try to see if there was really something that  needs to be addressed further with the candidate before interview him.

2) Ask his references for other references and contact them.

3) Many churches also do background checks with the police to make sure that there is not something in his background that could create problems for the church.

E. The Interview (you can do this step before hearing the sermon if you like)
1) Have the committee come up with a list of questions to ask the candidate.

2) Know what your doctrinal position is, and ask questions to see if the candidate is compatible with the church's position (if he's not, then I would recommend that the committee moves on because it will eventually create problems if you call him).

3) Avoid vague questions.

A) These would be questions that you're asking because of a prior problem, but you don't want to come out and just ask what they think.

B) The problem with these questions, the candidate doesn't have the background to know what you are really asking.

C) So if you need to address a former problem, just be honest and address it directly.

- Do this with all your questions, this isn't the time to play stump the pastor or to try to read his mind).
4) Ask the candidate to give their testimony of their salvation (believe it or not most churches never ask if the pastor is saved - they just assume it).

5) Find out what the candidate's goals, desires, and visions are for a church that he wants to pastor.

NOTE: Remember the interview process is not only to find out if the candidate is not only qualified to be a pastor, but how you think that he will fit in with your church's personality, goals, and desires. This is not a Employer interviewing a paid Employee - the pastor-church relationship is more like a husband and wife relationship.
 

Step 7: Presenting the candidate to the church.

1. Once the committee has listened to sermons, asked questions, prayed about, and everyone believes that this is the man that God is calling, then it is time to present him to the church body.

2. The best method.

A. Have the pastor (and his family, if possible) come up for the weekend and put them up in a nice hotel (or a home if possible, but this may be a little uncomfortable - it just depends on the person or family).

B. Have a get together with the committee members, church leaders and deacons on Saturday (maybe a cook-out or meet at restaurant).

1) This way the church leadership can have some time to get to know them and ask questions.

2) Plus this gives the candidate idea of what he will be working with also.

C. Sunday Morning - have the candidate preach a sermon.

D. Sunday after church have a church potluck fellowship so the congregation can get to know them a bit.

E. Sunday Night Service, have an answer and question time for the congregation and pastor.

F. Now take about a week to two weeks to pray about it before you bring it to a vote.

- There are pros and cons to whether you should wait one week or two.
G. Vote
- Then let the candidate know the outcome so He can pray about it also.
 
F. If the church votes no or the prospective pastor says no, then go back to step 5 and go to the next person on the master list and begin the process again.
Important Miscellaneous Information.

1. Get a interim pastor. This will relieve some of the pressure on the committee and church.

2. Keep your Church informed on a regular basis (you don't have to get into details, but give them general comments about how things are progressing). This will prevent a "us" against "them" attitude from beginning.

3. Keep all candidates informed - this means everyone that you have contacted. If you have made contact with others then write them a letter and tell them that you are no longer looking at them and why (i.e., you have called a pastor. or God has moved your church to look in a different direction). Don't leave people hanging by asking if they are interested and never telling them anything else again - most pastors understand this process and will not be offended if you decide to look elsewhere. Plus don't burn your bridges, because you might feel led to go back to someone that you dismissed earlier.

3. Any time this whole process stops, for example the candidate or church says no, or the church feels like they need to look elsewhere then move to the next person on you list and follow all the steps again. Don't lose heart if things don't seem to be going so well, this whole process could takes a few months to over year. Remember your number one choice may not be God's number one choice, so it may take some time before you get to God's choice.