Tips For Successful Pastoral Searches

  • 18 March 2016
  • Randy Wollf

Looking for a new pastor can be a daunting challenge. In this blog, I will offer several tips for successful pastoral searches (this content is also available in a training video that you can find here).

Pray much

One cannot underestimate the incredible importance of prayer in a pastoral search process. The search committee needs to devote a significant portion of their meeting time to prayer (a perfunctory prayer at the start of each meeting is simply not adequate). In addition, the church leadership must mobilize the congregation to pray and even challenge some to form a prayer team around the search.

Understand that your primary role is to discern God’s leading

In a pastoral search process, we’re not looking for the best candidate who applies; we’re looking for the right candidate (click to Tweet). This is why prayer is so vitally important. Don’t worry if an outstanding candidate doesn’t fit or decides to move in a different direction. Receiving “no’s” from the Lord is part of discerning His leading.

Line up your ducks 

Make sure that you prepare all the necessary materials (e.g. position packet, application form) and have processes and timelines in place to help you stay on track. This will also help potential candidates develop an understanding of the values and expectations of your church (remember that you might be providing candidates with their first impressions of your church).  

Search primarily along relational lines

Encourage people in the church to refer solid candidates. When possible, look within your congregation first. If you can hire from within, it can make the transition for the candidate (and his/her family) and the church so much easier.

Touch base with influential connectors

Who are the connectors in your denomination or network? Talk to them about your search. They may be able to provide some quality leads. In addition, advertise in places that your ideal candidate would likely visit.

Develop a scorecard for rating applicants

As the applications roll in, it is helpful to have a grid for evaluating candidates. Assign numerical values to different parts of the job description and other characteristics you believe are important for serving in that role. Then, prayerfully use the scorecard to assess each application. I have found that it is a very efficient way to discern which candidates are a potential fit for the position.

View each candidate as a potential staff member at your church

Treat each applicant with care and respect. Communicate with them in a friendly and timely fashion. Who knows? They may be the right candidate to fill your next pastoral vacancy.

Give yourself permission to track with only one candidate

If one candidate stands out, feel free to track with that person. A short list does not need to be more than one person.

Narrow the field

If you come up with a short-list of two to four people, use a good assessment like MinistryMatch to help you with selecting one or two candidates to interview. Before you look at the assessment results, make sure that you identify the kinds of results you would like to see in a successful candidate.

Ask experiential questions in the interviews

Develop interview questions that ask candidates to give examples from their previous work experience. Use the assessment results discussed in the previous tip to ask questions related to perceived strengths and weaknesses.

Approach both official and unofficial references

I like to approach references after the interviews to explore perceptions arising from the interviews. It can also be helpful to ask candidates for permission to approach people who are not official references. 

Communicate regularly with the congregation

Keep the congregation in the loop, so that they know what’s happening and to remind them to pray for the process. Providing ongoing communication will help mitigate feelings of secrecy and also reinforce that the congregation is vitally involved.  

Give the candidate maximum exposure 

Develop a candidating schedule that gives the candidate (and spouse, if applicable) maximum exposure to the congregation (both large groups and small groups) and gives him/her an opportunity to demonstrate necessary skills.

What other tips would you offer to those engaging in a pastoral search? Please leave your comments below.

Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary. This article is also available as a training video on YouTube