Pastor Search

Top 5 Traits of Effective Pastor Search Committees

In my work serving the churches of my association and beyond, I have made one observation that I believe to be universally true for every church: they’re all unique.

Some churches are large; many are small. Some have contemporary worship; others have traditional worship, and still others have a blended service. Some churches conduct long worship services; some churches are the first to make it to the restaurants after the morning service. Some churches are happy to see you; others are fine that you’re there as long as you don’t sit in their seat! Some churches are growing; many are plateaued or declining. Some churches are actively reaching people with the gospel, while others are struggling to do so.

This principle of uniqueness not only applies to every congregation, but also to every pastor search committee. In my experience, no two pastor search committees go about finding a new pastor exactly the same way. Some search committees rush the process; others take their time. Some search committees keep their congregation informed; others keep the process to themselves. Some search committees develop a clear plan of action; others are much more flexible in their approach. Some search committees are effective; others are largely ineffective in their work.

While each pastor search committee is unique, I have found that the most effective search committees are characterized by a common list of traits. In fact, a study I completed in 2018 identified the top 5 traits of effective pastor search committees.

Trait #1: Humble

Effective pastor search committees are humble pastor search committees. The research revealed that humble pastor search committees have the following characteristics:

  • They understand that they have been entrusted by the church with the crucial task of finding the man that God has called to lead their church during its next chapter of ministry.  
  • They understand that they have a responsibility to pursue God’s will as they conduct their search rather than pursue their own personal agendas. While they have been assigned the responsibility for this task, they understand that this does not give them a license to do whatever they want. The committee is still accountable to the church to find the man that is the right fit for the whole church and not just a segment of the church.
  • They realize that they may not have all the answers. Therefore, they actively seek training and coaching from outside sources.
  • They do not think more highly of themselves and their church than they ought to think. Therefore, they are honest and transparent about both the current strengths as well as the challenges of their church with potential candidates.

The research revealed that effective pastor search committees exude a humble approach to their work. Otherwise, selfishness and personal agendas will quickly derail the work of the committee.

Trait #2: Prayerful

Effective pastor search committees are praying pastor search committees. In fact, the research overwhelmingly revealed that prayer is the most important activity that pastor search committees must engage in throughout the search process. There are countless ways in which the committee can pray. Here are some examples:

  • Pray for the search committee. Pray that they would be humble, prayerful, patient, intentional, and thorough. Pray that they would be unified throughout the search. Pray that they would be wise and discerning.
  • Pray for the church. Pray that they would be unified and patient during the interim period. Pray that they would continue to engage in the Great Commission during the interim period. Pray that they would support the work of the committee.
  • Pray for the man whom God is calling to be the next pastor. Pray that God would begin to draw him to this new place of ministry. Pray also for his family as the transition involves the entire family.

Prayer is often assumed during pastor searches. However, the research revealed that one of the biggest mistakes of pastor search committees is failing to bathe the entire process in prayer from start to finish. A committee that frequently and fervently engages in prayer will be well on its way to finding God’s man for their church.

Trait #3: Patient

Effective pastor search committees are patient pastor search committees. According to those who consult with churches during an interim period, the biggest mistake that committees make is rushing the process by being too anxious or impatient.  

The temptation to rush is certainly understandable. Search committees are under constant pressure and scrutiny from the congregation to “hurry up and call a pastor.” In addition, the search process itself can be exhausting for search committee members due to the time commitment that it requires. When the committee faces a setback and has to repeat a previous step in the process, committee members can grow weary of the work. Due to these and other reasons, search committee members are often tempted to speed things up simply so that they can get back to their normal lives (which are probably already busy enough).

However, in order to be intentional and thorough (traits #4 and #5), pastor search committees must be patient. It takes time to do your homework. It takes time to properly assess the church’s strengths and weaknesses. It takes time to properly vet candidates. It takes time to conduct background and reference checks. It takes time to pray. Pastor search committees who fail to be patient will undoubtedly fail to properly do one or more of these actions, which will potentially hinder the search process.

Trait #4: Intentional

Effective pastor search committees are intentional pastor search committees. They take the time to plan the work and work the plan. Being intentional during the pastor search process means that the committee will:

  • Receive appropriate training before they begin their work. Receiving training was also listed under Trait #1, but it’s appropriate to mention here as well. It’s hard to reach a destination if you don’t know where you’re going, and it’s always best to have someone who has already been there to be your guide along the way. That’s being intentional.
  • Develop an intentional communication strategy. They will provide regular updates to the congregation as well as to potential candidates. 
  • Develop an intentional strategy for how to sort and review resumes. Churches can sometimes receive hundreds of resumes and the committee needs to be intentional in how they process them in order to identify the best candidates for their church.
  • Take intentional steps to protect confidentiality throughout the process. Confidentiality is always important, but even more so if committees are considering local candidates. Without intentionality in this area, things could go sideways very quickly.

These are but a few examples provided in the research for how pastor search committees can be intentional. Without an intentional plan for how they seek to accomplish their work, search committees may find themselves going around in circles.

Trait #5: Thorough

Effective pastor search committees are thorough pastor search committees. They diligently “do their homework” throughout the entire search process. The following list are just some of the ways that survey respondents indicated that search committees should be thorough:

  • They make sure that they have a deep understanding of the church’s culture and (written and unwritten) expectations of their next pastor. 
  • They conduct multiple interviews with candidates to gain an accurate understanding of his beliefs, ministry practices, family relationships, etc. They don’t back down from asking difficult questions during interviews.
  • They don’t ignore red flags, but rather fully explore them with the candidate to discover if he would be the proper fit for their church.
  • They don’t simply rely on references listed on the resume, but they conduct secondary and tertiary references checks.
  • They do their research to determine fair compensation packages and they communicate these issues openly and honestly.

Serving on a pastor search committee requires a great deal of thorough and diligent research. Committees who do their homework are usually rewarded with a successful search. Those who do not often find themselves caught by surprise after the church calls a new pastor.

While these five traits are certainly generalized statements, they reflect the heart of the research. If pastor search committees will be characterized by these five traits, they will be well on their way to conducting a successful pastor search.

What traits would you add to this list? Comment below to share your thoughts!

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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