Take a Sneak Peek
Read the Free Pastor Search Committee Handbook Today!
If your church is looking for a new senior pastor, a pastor search committee is important in helping to find and choose the new leader of the church. But it’s not just about the pastor search committee. Just as important is including the congregation in the selection process. There are many steps to choosing the committee, but you should take the time to listen to the wants and needs of your church members.
With that in mind, we've created an ultimate pastor search committee kit and handbook for you and your congregation. In it, you will learn how to find and form a pastor search committee, members you should not pick for the committee and more.
Forming the Pastor Search Committee
Before you can get to the offer phase of finding a new pastor, you must start at the beginning — finding the people who will do the work of finding a pastor for your church. How do you choose people? What factors should your church consider while conducting its search?
The makeup of your pastor search committee can make or break your hiring process. And, if things really go sideways, it can split your congregation in two.
Here's a crash course in how to form a pastor search committee 101.
The Three Qualities of an Outstanding Committee Member
Finding a pastoral search committee member is unironically like hiring a new person. You'll want to look at everyone's "body of work" within the church before giving them the added responsibility of choosing your next spiritual leader. Here's how you can identify promising committee members:
1. This Person Is a Respected Church Member
There are always a few of these people in every congregation.
Has someone lost a family member? “Sister Jane” is right there with casserole and Kleenex.
Is the church planning a BBQ or looking for a new deacon? “Brother Steve” is always at the top of the list.
The pastor search committee will need to exercise good judgment, thoughtfulness, and patience. There's no one better for the job than someone who has been demonstrating these qualities day in and day out for years.
2. This Person Deeply Understands Your Church
Think back to the last time you went looking for a home church.
Maybe you looked for congregations in a certain denomination. Maybe you checked out a mix of medium to large-sized churches. Through observation alone, you probably noticed that every church had its own flavor.
Some congregations drink coffee in the sanctuary and dress like it's Casual Friday. Others are more formal. And to make matters even more complicated, sometimes a church might be in the process of experiencing a cultural shift.
We've all had well-intentioned acquaintances who just didn't "get" us as people.
Maybe they kept insisting on watching the game even though you hate sports - and you've told them that. Or maybe they're so interested in hanging out and seeing new people that your preference for decompressing and relaxing after work seems foreign to them.
Nine times out of ten, these folks aren't bad people. But because they don't understand you as a person, they can't give you what you need in a relationship unless you tell them what to do. And even then, sometimes the incompatibilities are too much.
Your new pastor will have a major role in shaping the culture of the church. You don't want to select a committee that's not on the same page as the rest of the congregation. That's how you end up with candidates who are excellent on paper but not so much in practice.
3. This Person Knows How to Balance Pragmatism With Optimism
Finding a new pastor is both an art and a science.
On the one hand, you don't want your spiritual leader to be someone with no church-related experience whatsoever. But at the same time, when the Holy Spirit speaks, you can find yourself choosing a candidate who doesn't necessarily have all of the qualities that you and your congregation dreamed of - but who is nonetheless the right candidate for your church.>
When you're choosing a pastoral search committee member, you want to make sure that you're choosing someone with a balanced perspective. If you follow the letter of the law too closely, you could find yourself passing on excellent candidates. But if your committee is full of people who are easily swayed, you could find yourself hiring an extremely charismatic pastor who can't do much more than preach.
The solution? You'll want to make sure that your members are thoughtful in their general decision-making. But alongside their sound judgments, they'll also be open-minded and willing to follow where the Spirit leads.
The Three People That Pastoral Search Committee Members Should Never Have
In the same way that amazing pastor search committee members tend to have in common, there are also disqualifying qualities that you'll want to avoid at all costs. Here's a list of three characteristics that you do not want on your committee:
1. Someone With a History of Causing Problems
Being in the family of God is a lot like being a member of your earthly family. Everyone has a flaw or two — maybe your aunt always forgets to close the bread bin after making toast. Perhaps your brother has a long and storied history of leaving his clothes in the dryer and then heading out to see his friends.
Even so, however, there's a difference between forgetting to fill up the gas tank and being a destructive gossiper.
Is this congregant member constantly falling out with other people? Are they known for steamrolling people's boundaries or being abrasive when they speak?
If you came home after work and found your garage on fire, you wouldn't reach for the gasoline. You'd look for a fire extinguisher while calling 911.
Similarly, you don't want to have a pastoral search committee member with a known penchant for making tense situations worse. Your committee members may disagree about candidates. As you go down the shortlist, the committee may be forced to make some tough decisions.
We should all be willing to show grace to other believers. Everyone has off days. But if someone is known for behaving badly, they may not yet have the spiritual maturity needed to assist with the pastoral search.
2. People Who Are Too Busy
We all go through different seasons in life. Sometimes we have time to stop and smell the roses. And other times, we can barely find time to eat breakfast.
If a congregant is extremely busy in their personal lives, they may not be able to give the pastoral search the time and attention it needs. While you may be able to overlook a packed schedule when you're looking for worship leaders or once-a-month greeters, you want to look for congregants who have a few hours to spare.
3. Individuals Who Want the Job
Sometimes interim pastors do such an amazing job that the congregation throws up its hands and says, "There is no other choice!". But just because you have a star candidate, that doesn't mean that you should leapfrog the overall process.
You'll still need to iron out details like:
And in those cases, you don't want to have potential candidates serving on the pastoral search committee. That would be a total conflict of interest. For this reason, the ideal committee member will be someone who has nothing to gain from choosing one candidate over another.
Establishing a Committee Selection Process
Okay. So, you've put together a basic list of qualifying and disqualifying qualities. How do you go from "We're searching for a committee." to "These are our people."?
Let's take a closer look at the four questions that every congregation needs to answer.
1. How Are You Going to Select the Committee?
In church settings, some congregations are going to be a bit more democratic than others when it comes to this. And the good news is that you have a few different options:
- Have a secret ballot vote
- Get the current deacon board to form the committee
- Ask the congregation for volunteers
There's no right or wrong way to do this. It all comes down to what makes the most sense for your church context.
2. How Are You Dividing up Your Responsibilities?
Once the job posting is out and the applications are coming in, you'll have to spend a lot of time wading through resumes and having serious discussions about the suitability of different candidates. There are a few ways that you can go about selecting people to interview.
You can all read every resume. You can ask one person to review resumes and recommend candidates. You can even divide the applications between a few people while bringing the most qualified candidates to the committee for further discussion.
Once again, this is an issue of process. You don't want to be sorting these concerns out while you're buried under a mountain of resumes. To keep the process running smoothly, your committee will want to hash these details out ahead of time.
3. What Will You Do Until You Can Find a Pastor?
You've heard people say "The show must go on.", right? Well, in church settings, the service must go on even after the previous pastor has retired or left.
You need to plan services and create worship setlists. You need a calendar that will allow you to rotate speakers. Depending on your area, you may even have to assign someone to the task of doing visitation.
Being without a pastor can be hard on churches. You'll want to create a process that'll allow your congregation to keep doing church until the new leadership is installed.
4. How Will Your Committee Remain Accountable?
According to the numbers, people are 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals by writing them down every day. Within the context of a pastoral search, the whole daily goal-setting element may seem a bit weird.
But that's not the only goal-setting research out there:
It turns out that writing down goals is only half the battle. If you come up with an action plan and then tell a friend about your progress, you're significantly more likely to achieve your goals than if you don't.
When you're searching for candidates on behalf of a larger body, you'll want to spend some time thinking about ways to keep the congregation in the loop.
Do you plan to make regular updates? Is the congregation going to make the final vote? What measures do you have in place to prevent a rogue committee?
Committee accountability is a balancing act. You want people to freely make recommendations without the threat of the congregation looming over their heads. But you also don't want people to pursue their own agendas at the expense of the congregation.
This is another issue you'll want to hash out before you start filtering resumes.
Creating Pastoral Search Committee Guidelines
At this stage, you've put together your committee and built a few safeguards into the process. Now it's time to drill down on some of the committee's pre-hiring responsibilities:
1. Talk Logistics
If your committee is meeting in fits and starts, your candidate search will struggle to get momentum. So the first thing you'll need to do is sort out the time, meeting, and place.
To make sure that everyone's on the same page, you'll want to collectively review your Code of Ethics as well as your expectations for pastoral standards. These steps may be tedious, but they're necessary to start your committee off on the right foot.
2. Do Your Homework
Have you ever had a boss or a coworker with a bad habit of underestimating the work that needed to be done on projects? With people doing less than what needed to be done, chances are that your work output likely suffered.
This is where a congregational survey can come in handy.
With pastoral search committees, you can think that you know what the church needs. You might even have an inside-of-the-pew perspective. But you won't necessarily have an accurate candidate wishlist until you've asked the congregation what it wants.
In addition, if your congregation wants to reimagine its leadership structure or make a wholesale change, here's your chance to get people's input.
3. Discuss Money
As much as we all want to serve God out of a sense of passion, even pastors need money to live. For this reason, you'll want to put together a salary and benefits package that's:
From insurance coverage to retirement planning and invoicing, you'll want to make sure that your next pastor is well-compensated for the work they do.
4. Gather Your Materials
Here's the part where your committee will begin transitioning out of the foundation-building stage of the pastoral search process. That's right. This is where you'll begin centralizing your material into a handy dandy pastor search committee handbook.
With dozens, or even hundreds, of incoming applications, you don't want to be writing rejection emails from scratch. Similarly, it'll be easier to send regular group emails to the congregation when you're not trying to reinvent the wheel.
If you want to spend less time writing letters and more time evaluating candidates, we've got your back. You can check out our list of pastoral search committee sample letters.
5. Finalize Your Hiring Process
Before you advertise your opening, there's one more thing you'll want to do:
You'll need to create a standardized process for moving candidates through the hiring process.
Most jobs will start with a resume screening followed by phone and in-person interviews. Maybe your committee will follow this procedure, or maybe you'll want to take a different approach. Either way, you don't want to be choosing candidates while openly wondering what the next stage is in the process.
Beginning the Search
Alright. You've got your committee together. And your pre-hiring and hiring process has been more or less ironed out. Where should churches look for candidates? How can you ensure that your job posting is attracting the right candidates? Here's what you need to know:
Clarify the Future Pastor's Role
Imagine getting a job with a company. You show up on your first day and you ask your boss, "What tasks do I need to do?". But instead of answering your question or referring you to someone, your supervisor shrugs and says, "I don't know. Whatever needs to be done?".
You'd probably have a hard time performing at work in those circumstances, right?
Your new pastor's situation is going to be no different.
For some churches, the rockstar marketing team does all the heavy lifting to attract congregants. So all your pastor has to do is prepare the sermon and do visitations. But in other churches, the pastor is the pastor ... and the defacto worship leader and administrator.
In those circumstances, your dynamic pulpit preacher will flop around like fish out of water.
To avoid these awkward scenarios, you'll want to hammer out a list of duties and responsibilities that can be copied directly into your job description.
Look for Ministry-Specific Job Boards
Advertising for a ministry job isn't quite the same as throwing a post on Monster or Indeed. You have to look for job boards that cater to people in ministry where possible.
Depending on the experience level you're looking for, some good sources would include:
- Bible colleges and seminaries
- State-level church organizations
- Superintendents and district-based denominations
However, don't forget that the Christian community is a small place. You never know if your neighbor or your social circle might know a pastor who's looking for work. Don't hesitate to mine your network for potential candidates.
Pastoral Job Posting Tips
It's finally happening. You're writing up your job description and getting ready to post it. What can you do to ensure the quality of your candidate pool?
Here are our top tips:
- Look at sample job postings
- Get detailed
- Explain who your church is and what its priorities are
With this advice, you'll be landing rockstar candidates in less time than you think.
The Interviewing Process
You've found the candidate of your dreams. Awesome!
And the phone interview is tomorrow. Less awesome, but still good.
Want some last-minute tips? We've got you covered.
1. Create Your List of Must-Have Qualities
There's an open secret in the world of hiring:
Experience doesn't affect on-the-job performance as much as you'd think
To offset this, you'll want to evaluate your pastoral candidate's personality.
Look for traits like humility, flexibility, and patience. Does this person rub people the wrong way?
Some congregations are better off with a more discipline-oriented pastor. Others need love, coaxing, and gentle guidance. You'll want to look for personality cues and proper perspectives as you go about this search.
2. Follow Up with References
No candidate is going to raise their hands and say, "I was a lousy pastor and a spendthrift in my last position.". Even if you ask people point-blank about their weaknesses, you might not hear the words, "I struggle to turn on a computer.".
Plus, on a personal level, you don't want to hire someone who's a danger to themselves and others.
By following up with references and conducting background checks, you can protect your congregants while getting the inside scoop on what this person is like to work with.
3. Focus on Fit
We've talked elsewhere about how to recognize an unhealthy pastor. Some of the signs include:
- Preoccupation with being popular
- Lack of accountability
But sometimes the signs of a bad pastor aren't so obvious.
How does this pastor handle conflict? Are their strengths and weaknesses a good fit for what your congregation needs?
Sometimes the candidate in front of you isn't a bad person. However, if your congregation needs a pastor with vision and a talent for growing congregations, a steady and consistent candidate may not be a good fit for your needs.
In 2022, The Cold Wire speculated on the next stop for NFL quarterback Baker Mayfield. They asked questions like, "What teams are looking for a starter?" and "Is this guy a legit gamechanger or does he need a good team around him?".
This is the type of assessment you'll have to make. And to get to the bottom of everything, you'll want to come prepared with a list of well-curated interview questions.
Onboarding the New Pastoral Hire
You've made an offer and the congregation is thrilled with your choice. What are your next steps?
Fortunately, this phase is probably the easiest part of hiring a pastor. You start talking about relocation arrangements. And you encourage people to meet the pastor one-on-one.
If the pastor is a local candidate, you might not have to follow up too hard. But if the new pastor is from another state or city, you'll need to think about:
- Where the pastor will stay to start
- What moving assistance is available
- What, if any, relocation packages you're prepared to offer
And finally, you may want to commemorate the situation by having a welcome potluck.
These small touches might not seem like much — but they can do a lot to make your new pastor feel at home.
Handling the Post-Hire Transition
Before we conclude, there's another issue that you'll need to address during your search:
Many congregations don't want change.
When a beloved pastor leaves for another church or retires, there's a grieving process that congregations often must go through. In other words, don't form the search committee on the same day that the resignation has been tendered.
Along with allowing an acceptable amount of time to pass, you'll also have to accept the fact that some congregants will never come around to the new pastor. As a leadership team, you need to make peace with the reality that some families will want to leave.
Finally, you'll want to ensure that your new pastor has the resources needed to hit the ground running. Where are the computers kept? Are the Wi-Fi passwords accessible?
These are the little details that will help your new hire get up to speed quickly.
Looking for More Pastor Committee Resources?
We built a free kit complete with interview questions, sample letters, form templates and survey questions to help you navigate the challenging waters of a pastor search. Access them for free today!