10 Commandments for a Pastor Search

by Daniel Overdorf 

Elders fulfill one of their most impactful roles when they hire ministry staff.  The wrong hire can lead to years of heartache, the right hire can result in years of fruitful and joyful ministry.  The following commandments (okay…they’re really just suggestions) can help.

1. Begin – and stay – on Your Knees.  Prayer is not just the first step in the process, it must weave itself through the entire process.  Engage the entire congregation in prayer.

2. Establish an Efficient Search Process.  Define the stages through which the search will progress.  As an example:

  • The elders appoint a search team.
  • The search team gathers résumés.
  • The search team checks references, performs phone/video interviews, then recommends the top two or three candidates to the elders.
  • The elders conduct phone/video interviews with the top candidates.
  • The elders choose a candidate to host for a face-to-face interview and visit.

3. Develop a Profile of the Ideal Candidate.  No individual will perfectly match the ideal, but developing a profile will give direction to the search.  Consider such matters as education, doctrine/beliefs, and the particular needs and personality of the church and community.

4. Assemble a Search Team.  Often, elders appoint a search team that includes a cross section of church members.  In other circumstances, elders prefer to serve as the search team themselves, or to commission existing church staff to conduct the search.  Each option is fine, but it should be defined and communicated. 

5. Get the Word Out.  Solicit recommendations from people who know ministers, such as professors, well-connected leaders, and workers from parachurch organizations.  If such networking fails to uncover appealing candidates, widen the search by posting the opportunity on ministry placement lists.  Most Christian colleges keep such lists, and consider online postings such as SlingshotGroup.org and ChristianStandard.com/help-wanted.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Consider at least a weekly email to all candidates still in the mix, even if just to say “We’ll be meeting next week…”  Appoint someone who is friendly and well-organized to handle this communication.  Also, provide as much information as possible to candidates about the church and community, perhaps an information packet filled with newsletters, pictures, bios of leaders, church history, budget, demographic information, and anything else that will be helpful.
 
7. Keep it Personal.  In this regard, churches should operate more like families than like businesses.  Families do not send form letters.  They do not draw conclusions based solely on résumés.  Instead, families talk, relate, interact, and ask questions.  Likewise, a personal search process gets voice-to-voice, then face-to-face, as soon as possible.
           
8. Host a Productive Visit.  When a candidate visits, plan the itinerary carefully to make it productive and enjoyable.  For example: pay all expenses, reserve a nice hotel room, stock the hotel room with a personal note and a basket of goodies, provide a car and a map with some free time to explore, plan some time for formal meetings but also informal gatherings.  Engage the help of someone who has the gift of hospitality. 

9. Reject as You Would Have Them Reject You.  At whatever point in the process you decide a candidate is not the right fit, remain personal and respectful.  Cold search teams hide behind form letters.  Caring search teams ask themselves, “How can we minister to this person?”  Through personal letters or phone calls, they’ll comment on the person’s strengths and promise to pray that God will guide them to the right opportunity.

10. Enjoy a Productive First Year.  When a candidate is hired, celebrate.  Allow time and resources for the new minister to transition smoothly.  And, don’t expect the new minister to “hit the ground running” too quickly or intensely.  That time will come, but first encourage the minister to settle his family into the community, to begin developing relationships, and to get his footing as a leader in your church.

Soon, we’ll no longer count the weeks or months but we’ll count the years our “new” ministers have served our churches.  May we begin a pattern in those early months that will stretch into those later years, a pattern of healthy partnership.

5 thoughts on “10 Commandments for a Pastor Search

  1. Michael Mack Reply

    Excellent suggestions! Every eldership should read this and use it as a checklist before and while each hiring process. These really can set a foundation for a continuing healthy, productive serving relationship together. Thanks, Daniel and e2!

  2. Rob Dale Reply

    Under what circumstances would elders decide who gets hired in the ministry? Wouldn’t the lead pastor perform that role much better?

    • jaredj Post authorReply

      Speaking for ourselves (not for Dr Overdorf), it greatly depends on the internal leadership structure of the local church. How involved are elders? Do they micromanage? How broad is the preacher’s authority? Are the elders “absent;” have they abdicated leading with their preacher? The principle of mutual servant-leadership will be practiced differently in a congregation of 200 than among 2,000. Not knowing your context, we hesitate to answer in concrete, brief terms.

      Preachers and elders should be leading the congregation together. It’s our general perspective that the preacher (“lead servant,” “senior minister,” etc.) is an elder. He is an elder who preaches. This ministry philosophy is based on 1 Tim 5:17, “…both preaching and teaching,” 1 Peter 5:1 “…I, too, am an elder,” and the brief history recounted in Acts 20:18-35. Peter and Paul both did the work of preaching and “eldering.”

      Please feel free to contact us directly to discuss further.
      Gary@e2elders.org (Executive Director)
      David@e2elders.org (Events Director)
      Jim@e2elders.org (Content Director)
      Jared@e2elders.org (Operations Director)

      • Rob Dale Reply

        Thanks for the feedback – I certainly agree that elders should be in charge of the lead pastor role, and I’d want them to be part of the process as he then “fills out the team,” but I don’t think the lead pastor should just be considered one vote as an elder during that process.

        • jaredj Post authorReply

          Indeed.

          That’s an aspect of the congregation’s governance; consensus and unity as opposed to simple vote-tallying. Structures that overtly use voting tend to engender a factions mindset; “take the vote – somebody wins, somebody loses.” Instead, discussion and debate leading to consensus, compromise, and decisions/positions that all leaders want to rally around build up the congregation and leadership. See also our past blog issue from Jon Weatherly, “Differences.” https://e2elders.org/differences/

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