What search committees say when they mean something else

Never volunteer for the pastor search committee unless one of two things is true: Everyone agrees that a beloved former staff member, who is now serving a church in Podunk, is going to be the next pastor, making this the easiest job ever–or, you have a death wish.

It can be the hardest, most thankless assignment you’ll ever undertake.

It can also make a world of difference for good in a church that needs just the right combination of visionary pastor, anointed preacher, competent administrator, and down-to-earth friend.

If your church is selecting such a committee, pray big time for the Lord to lead in filling the slots. Never volunteer for it.  Accept it if the Lord leads you and those making the decision.  If you are a member of such a group, then this little piece is for you.  Think of what follows as a cautionary note, exaggerated in places, attempting a little humor at times, but with much truth.

So, here goes…

The typical pastor search committee bears more than a passing resemblance to a chamber of commerce advertising team. They will put the best spin on everything, tell you all the positive and little of the negative, and leave the candidate with the impression that this church is the fulfillment of his dream and answer to his prayers.

If they want you as their candidate, that is.

If they do not want you, but are interviewing you anyway, the atmosphere in the room will be as cold as the final date with an old girlfriend who had decided to end this relationship for good.  You will know it by the lack of enthusiasm.

Ask any veteran pastor.  We have all sat in those meetings and heard all those glowing statements about the church they are representing.

“We have a wonderful church.”

“You would love our church.”

“We’ve had a few problems in the past, but those are behind us now.”

“We loved all our former pastors.”

“If you come as our pastor, we’ll raise the salary as quickly as possible.”

“We want a pastor who can grow our church but one who believes in unity and harmony.”

You need a PhD in psychiatry, probably, to know what they are really saying. But in many cases, it looks like this….

–“You would love our church” may mean anything.  Sometimes it means: One of our former pastors loved it, so you might be atypical like him.

–“This is a wonderful church” may be a true statement. But it may also mean: It’s a wonder we’re still here, the way we treated the last three preachers.

–“We’ve had a few problems in the past, but those are behind us now” may mean just that, that years ago they came through a difficult time. But it could just as easily mean: “We’ve gone ten days with no splits or lawsuits.”

–“We loved all our former pastors” may be an accurate testimony to these beloved shepherds over the years.   But it could mean: We made them “former pastors” just as fast as we could.

–“We’ll raise the salary as quickly as possible” usually means, “It’s up to you, preacherman.  If you get the church income up, we might give you a raise.”  (Pastors know, on the other hand, that attaching their salary increases to the contribution-level opens them up to criticism.  Your loudest critic in the congregation will not hesitate to let everyone know: “He’s just preaching on tithing to get a raise.”  You can thank the search committee and the other leaders for putting you in that position.)

–“We want a pastor who can grow our church but believes in harmony and unity” means one thing and one thing only:  We want you to grow our church without upsetting anyone.  And good luck with that.

Let the pastor search committee tell the truth, even when it hurts.

The (almost) funny thing to me is how a committee will judge the candidate so severely over his past record–“Why did you leave that church after only two years?” “Some of those people don’t speak highly of you.” “Why did the attendance go down after you arrived?”–but they would be upset if the candidate did the same to them on their behavior in the past.

I’d like to sit in the room with some church committees I could tell you about and listen to the candidate ask the group: “Why did your last pastor leave?”  “Why have you lost so many members to other churches in the area?”  “What does this say about your church?”

Every church needs a pastor.  Even the sick churches, those with troubled pasts, need a shepherd.  But what they do not need is to misrepresent themselves to the pastors they interview about coming to their church.

We never go wrong in telling the truth.  The Lord who is the epitome of Truth itself will honor the church that is honest and sincere.

God bless you, pastor search committee.  Go in the strength of the Lord, looking to Him as your church’s Rescuer and Savior, and not to any human being on the planet.

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