One of the most frustrating moments during the pastor search process is when the Search Committee feels “stuck.” For various reasons, they reach a point during the search when they feel like they are out of options and can’t identify a clear path forward. Perhaps they review dozens of resumes without identifying any promising candidates. Maybe their top candidate removes himself from consideration unexpectedly. Perhaps the committee’s recommended candidate does not receive the required percentage of votes, and they’re back at square one. For these (and many other) reasons, the committee doesn’t know what to do next.
If you’ve ever served on a “stuck” Pastor Search Committee, you know how it feels. It’s an odd mix of frustration, desperation, and despair. You feel like you’re out of options with no clear path forward. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick, and the pressure continues to mount. If your Pastor Search Committee is currently in this position, here are nine suggestions you can try to get unstuck.
- Don’t give up. When you feel like you’re out of options, the natural response is to give up. Don’t give in to this temptation. God is not surprised by your current situation. There is a path forward for your pastor search, even though you may not see it right now. In His perfect time, God will reveal His plan and the one He has already chosen to be your next pastor. Don’t give up!
- Enter a season of prayer and fasting. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” If your Search Committee is stuck and needs the Lord’s wisdom, ask the church to join you in a season of prayer and fasting. The Lord often shows up and shows off only after we acknowledge our need for Him!
- Take a break. Whenever I can’t solve a problem, it usually helps if I take a break from thinking about it for a while. I often find that I can soon see the problem with fresh eyes, and the solution stares me in the face. If your Search Committee can’t seem to determine its next best step, suspend your meetings for several weeks. Try your best not to think about the search. When you regather, you may be able to tackle the problem with a renewed sense of purpose and vigor.
- Ask for help. Your Search Committee doesn’t have to try to move forward alone. Ask for help from an outside source who can offer a fresh perspective. Enlist the counsel of a denominational representative or church consultant who has experience in pastor search problems. They have likely helped other Search Committees get unstuck, and they can also help yours.
- Learn from past actions/decisions. Retrace the actions and decisions that led to your current state of stuck-ness. What would you do differently if you could? What are some things that you would do the same? Are there common actions or behaviors that are sabotaging your committee’s work? Take time to evaluate these questions and be willing to have hard conversations with your fellow Search Committee members so that you can avoid these problems in the future.
- Review expectations. Some Search Committees get stuck because their expectations for their next pastor are so high that no one measures up. They regularly eliminate good candidates because of secondary preferences that go beyond the biblical qualifications (such as the candidate’s age, number of children, level of education, etc.). If your Search Committee regularly dismisses most candidates from serious consideration, ask yourself if your expectations are unrealistic. Remember that there is no perfect pastor – other than Jesus. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t have the proper credentials for some churches! Therefore, you may need to adjust your expectations to get unstuck.
- Don’t settle. While your Search Committee will want to avoid having unrealistic expectations for your next pastor, you will also want to avoid the opposite extreme. Make sure that you don’t lower your expectations so low that you settle for a candidate that is not biblically qualified or is clearly not a good fit for your church. When Search Committees get stuck, they often get desperate. Don’t fall into that trap by selecting a candidate because they are the convenient choice. Make sure that you choose a candidate because you sense that they are God’s choice and qualified to serve as your pastor.
- Collect additional resumes. Most Pastor Search Committees designate a specified amount of time to receive resumes. After the deadline passes, they will review those resumes and narrow their search. However, for various reasons, the Search Committee may not present a candidate to the church from any of the resumes received. This situation is not uncommon. Whenever that happens, your Search Committee may need to solicit resumes for another specified period and repeat the resume review process. I realize it may be difficult to hear, but some Search Committees may need to go through multiple cycles of the resume review process before identifying their next pastor.
- Appoint new Pastor Search Committee. This suggestion is the worst-case scenario, but it may be necessary for some situations. If your Search Committee has tried most of the other tips in this list and still cannot move forward, it may be best to give some other members of your church a try. Again, this step is only recommended after you’ve tried most (if not all) suggestions on this list.
Believe it or not, it’s common for Pastor Search Committees to get stuck from time to time. But the good news is you won’t remain stuck forever. If your Pastor Search Committee is having a hard time moving forward, I pray these suggestions will help!
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.