Screening Applicants for a Pastoral Position
You’ve put the word out about your need for a pastor and now the resumes have started rolling in. Perhaps panic has begun to set in as you realize the daunting challenge of choosing the right one. How do you discern which candidates to seriously consider based on their resumes? Once you have a shortlist of preferred candidates, how do you decide which one to call to meet the rest of the church?
In my blog called Tips for Successful Pastoral Searches, I suggest several ways that search committees can set up a search process to succeed. In this blog, I will focus on one part of the process—the actual screening of candidates—and make recommendations around three levels of screening.
First Level – Résumés
For this level, I would encourage you to develop a list of key qualifications for the position based on the position description. Then, assign a value to each one (you may choose to weigh some qualifications more heavily than others). For example, you might assign a value of 5 points to having a seminary degree and 10 points to previous related pastoral experience.
As résumés come in, it is relatively easy to measure the candidate against what the group has already decided are the key metrics. Depending on the number of applications, each member of the search committee can assess each applicant (and then average the scores) or the committee chair can assign résumés to individual committee members (it’s helpful to have at least two people assess each applicant to minimize individual biases).
Sometimes, it’s easy for search committee members to get distracted by an outstanding or underwhelming part of a résumé. Using this approach helps committee members to objectively evaluate all the important pieces, producing a more holistic appraisal of a candidate’s suitability.
Second Level – Assessments
If you come up with several people of interest from the first phase, you could then ask them to do one or more assessments that will help you gauge fit. Having the top candidates do these assessments provides helpful information that may support (or contradict) what the references provide. I also find that assessments provide information that is sometimes difficult to obtain through references and interviews. The assessments I like to use for candidate screening are StrengthsFinder 2.0 and Ministry Match (there are lots of other good assessments like the Myers Briggs and Birkman that you can use).
With StrengthsFinder, you will see their five signature strengths (e.g. strategic, context, harmony). This will give you a strong sense of what they will bring to the team. If your other staff members have done the assessment, you can also see how the candidate might complement other team members. The 34 strengths that are assessed through the StrengthsFinder inventory fit into four larger categories: execution, persuading, relationship, and strategic. When adding to a team, it’s helpful to think about which of the four larger areas need further strengthening.
Ministry Match is much more detailed. It will give you a sense of their temperament (e.g. big picture versus details), the types of roles they prefer (e.g. conceptualizing, managing), their leadership style (e.g. directive, unifying), the ways they prefer to participate on teams (e.g. coach, assistant), their ministry gifts (e.g. teaching, interpersonal communication) and their ministry values (e.g. developing potential, hard work).
Before you look at the assessment results, it’s important to discern the preferred results of the ideal candidate. Of the 34 signature strengths in the StrengthsFinder assessment, which ones are the most important for a candidate to possess? With Ministry Match, you would identify preferences related to the various categories. Of course, we want to do this evaluation prayerfully and be open to God pointing us to a candidate that may not be an exact fit according to our preferred profile.
Level Three – Interviews
As you meet with candidates during the interview process, make sure that the interview occurs in a relaxed environment. Have snacks and refreshments available. Interject humour into the process, as appropriate.
Prepare open-ended questions ahead of time that explore areas where it looks like the candidate fits well and areas where the fit is not self-evident. Ask for examples from their previous work experience. A candidate may say she is good at managing conflict. Follow-up with a question that asks her to describe a time when she managed conflict well in a ministry situation.
After the interview, take time as a committee to debrief. Identify the favorable points of the candidate and areas of concern. After you have completed all the interviews, compare the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. It may be helpful to go back to the grid you developed for screening resumes now that you have considerably more information. How do the remaining candidates score now? Go back over their assessment results. How do they help to clarify which candidates bring more of what the church needs?
As you go through these three levels of discernment, it’s important to remember that you are not actually looking for the best candidate. You’re looking for the right candidate. The screening tools I’ve mentioned are helpful, but ultimately, we want to discern God’s choice for the position.
Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.