Pastor Search

Watch Out for These Red Flags When Talking with a Pastor Search Committee

Note: This is the second post in a two-part series. You can read the first post here: Look Out for These Red Flags When Searching for a New Pastor.

In this post, I want to examine the topic of red flags from the opposite perspective. Just as a Search Committee may encounter a red flag when working with a candidate, that same candidate may spot one or more red flags when talking with a Search Committee.

Before diving into the list, I want to share three brief remarks. First, in my previous post, I stated that a red flag does not mean that a pastoral candidate is a bad person. The same principle applies here. A red flag does not indicate that the Pastor Search Committee is a group of evil people. It doesn’t mean that they are inept. It doesn’t mean that there’s an actual problem. It’s simply an indicator that further investigation may be required to discover if the candidate would be a good fit for the church.

Second, it should also be noted that many of the red flags from my previous post could apply here as well. For example, just as a candidate should not play the “God told me” card in an attempt to manipulate the work of the Search Committee, neither should the Search Committee manipulate a pastoral candidate using the same approach.

Finally, keep in mind that these are general descriptions. Some may apply to your situation; others may not. Just as no two pastor candidates are exactly alike, each Pastor Search Committee is unique as well. Therefore, each of these examples should be examined on a case-by-case basis. Context is key!

If you are a pastoral candidate, use this list as a helpful guide. If you serve on a Pastor Search Committee, use these examples as a list of mistakes to avoid (if possible) during your pastor search. With those opening remarks, here are some common red flags that a pastoral candidate may encounter when working with a Pastor Search Committee:

  1. A pattern of brief tenures. Just as a string of short tenures may signal a problem on a candidate’s resume, the same is true for a church that can’t keep a pastor for more than 2-3 years. According to research conducted by Thom Rainer, one of the characteristics of dying churches is short pastoral tenures. Therefore, whenever a candidate engages in conversations with a Pastor Search Committee, he should ask how long each of their last four or five pastors served the church. If none of the past few have served at least five years, the candidate will want to discover why. 
  2. Unrealistic expectations of the pastor’s wife. Some churches expect the pastor’s wife to be as busy in the church’s ministry as the pastor. If the Search Committee asks more than just one or two questions about the wife’s potential involvement in the church, it might signal a problem. If written requirements for the pastor’s wife are included in the pastor’s job description, it definitely signals a problem!
  3. The perfect church. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that if you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it because it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. The reality is there is no perfect church. However, some Pastor Search Committees have difficulty identifying any problems with their congregation. Some may imply that their church is the best in church history, with no issues whatsoever. While some churches have more problems than others, no church is problem-free. If the Search Committee cannot (or will not) identify areas needing improvement, you’ll want to proceed with caution.
  4. Hypercritical of past pastors. During the interview process, you’ll want to ask about some of the church’s previous pastors. Listen carefully to how the Search Committee describes these men. If they have difficulty identifying strengths but can quickly rattle off a litany of faults, you may have just spotted a red flag. It may not be long before they start listing your weaknesses as well!
  5. Communication problems. Depending on the scope of the search, Pastor Search Committees may receive anywhere from a handful to hundreds of resumes. Therefore, it may be challenging to communicate with everyone who submits a resume. However, if the Search Committee initiates contact after reviewing your resume, they should remain in regular contact until you are no longer a candidate. If the Search Committee doesn’t communicate in a reasonable manner, it could signal a problem. Similarly, if different committee members share conflicting information with you, it could reveal potential dysfunction within the committee.
  6. Not sympathetic to a candidate’s current ministry. Unless a candidate is just starting in pastoral ministry, he will be serving in a current ministry role while talking with a Pastor Search Committee. Unfortunately, some Search Committees operate as if they don’t understand this reality. For example, some Search Committees approach confidentiality more as a preference rather than a requirement. As a result, they may share the candidate’s information in the church or on social media before the appropriate time, which could cause significant damage to his current ministry if word got back to them. Similarly, some Search Committees ask their candidates to preach at the church multiple weeks in a row before issuing a call. If he is currently serving elsewhere, this places him in an impossible situation and is a major red flag.
  7. Unwillingness to disclose information. The interview process is a two-way conversation. The pastoral candidate is interviewing the Pastor Search Committee just as much as they are interviewing the candidate. However, some Pastor Search Committees tend to dominate the conversation, leaving little time for the candidate to ask questions. When the candidate does ask a question, the Search Committee seems hesitant to provide a clear or transparent answer. If members of the Search Committee seem as if they have something to hide, it could signal a problem. 
  8. Rushing the process. The Pastor Search Committee may rush the process in some situations, failing to do their due diligence. They may not check references. They may fail to complete a background check. They may conduct only one interview. All these examples should serve as warning signs. Furthermore, they may not allow the candidate enough time to pray or process the information. This situation might signal that the Pastor Search Committee is not taking their job seriously. It could cause a candidate to question if other parts of the church’s ministries are approached with a lackluster effort as well.
  9. Unwilling to negotiate. Every context is unique, and each candidate that talks with a Pastor Search Committee will have a different financial situation. Search Committees should do their homework to discover comparable compensation packages from churches of similar size and budget. With this information in hand, they should present a package to the candidate and be open to the candidate’s questions and requests for adjustments. While they may not be able to meet every request for adjustment, a willingness to negotiate (within reason) shows a desire to work with the pastor. The Search Committee that presents a “take it or leave it” compensation package conveys a very different message.

When You Spot a Red Flag

What do you do when you spot a red flag while talking with a Pastor Search Committee? The four tips shared in my previous post apply here as well:

  1. Don’t ignore it. When you identify a red flag, don’t ignore it. Don’t sweep it under the rug and act like it doesn’t exist. Failure to deal with it could cause significant problems later for you or the church.
  2. Don’t assume the worst. We live in a culture that is quick to judge and slow to listen. Don’t make that mistake. You shouldn’t rush to judgment just because you spot a red flag.
  3. Ask for clarification. When you spot a red flag, you need to investigate. Ask good questions to see if you can understand why the red flag exists. 
  4. Determine if the red flag is a dealbreaker. After you have asked for clarification, you will need to determine if the red flag is a dealbreaker. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t. You will need to decide through prayer and discussion with your spouse and other trusted friends. 

A Quick Reminder

Depending on your specific context, these examples may expose a real problem. Then again, the red flag may turn out to be much ado about nothing. That will be up for you to decide as you prayerfully seek wisdom and discernment from the Lord.

If you found this post helpful, check out my book The Church During the Search, which explains six commitments every church member needs to make to honor the Lord during the pastor search process.

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