Improving Pastoral Searches

cross-364676_1280To prepare churches for the challenges of pastoral searches, I recently introduced a fictitious congregation named “St. Barnabas Lutheran Church.” Readers provided a good deal of affirmation for the post, but they also wanted to know how to improve the call process. We go back to St. Barnabas today to start answering that question.

If you are “first-time visitor” to St. Barnabas, here’s what you should know. More than a year ago, St. Barnabas’ pastor retired at age 67 after serving the church for 15 years. It took about eight months to issue the initial call to a candidate, only to see the call declined.

Now starting the second year of vacancy, the call committee decided to create an “after action” report to learn from the experience of the first year. The first lesson: The church and potential pastors could have been better prepared for the call process.

The Church

In reviewing the call process, the call committee realized they never actually created a plan. They had a task list, but not SMART goals. As such, the call committee…

  • Lost track of some tasks, competing them haphazardly.
  • Held meetings two or three weeks late.
  • Didn’t always contact all the pastoral candidates with updates.

The lack of planning left the call committee unprepared for the initial congregational meeting to call a pastor.

First, The call committee provided a brief written summary of each candidate. Congregational members wanted more information. One member said, when her sister’s church called a pastor, the church posted video interviews and sermons of each candidate on the church website.

Second, the call committee did not prepare salary and benefits packages for the candidates, opting to wait until the church chose one candidate to compile this information. Some members wanted to know the benefits cost of each candidate before voting.

Third, the call committee decided to use a voice vote to call the pastor. Members asked for written ballots. The committee was unprepared for written ballots.

The meeting was going so poorly, the committee had to table calling a pastor and schedule another congregational meeting.

The call committee also recognized they made a mistake when the call meeting was rescheduled. They didn’t notify the pastors. The pastors and their families were left  sitting on pins and needles, wondering if they might be moving, for weeks on end.

The call committee committed to changes to address these issues, starting with a plan for the next call.

The Pastors

In the review, the call committee also recognized some pastoral candidates were better prepared than others to consider a call.

A couple of pastors confused the call committee because their information in their documents was almost a decade old. It took weeks for the pastors to update their information.

One candidate removed his name for consideration in the middle of the call process. He was interested in the church, but discovered his house was in no shape to sell. It would take months to get it condition to go on the market.

Another candidate withdrew his name late in the call process, after St. Barnabas brought him to interview in person. He had not told the call committee his wife was studying for a doctorate at the university where she worked. The university was paying for the degree.

And, yes, one call committee member questioned whether they would paid for the pastor to travel to the church if they had known his family couldn’t move.

The call committee acknowledged they couldn’t influence whether pastors were prepared to consider a call. But they could ask more questions up front to discern whether pastors were able to consider a call.

What lessons has your church learned about being prepared in a call process? Leave your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email. You can read the initial post on this topic here.

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