Your pastor has announced his resignation. He’s been a faithful pastor for the past ten years. Your church is shocked and hurting. The church leadership has announced the beginning of a process to put together a team to search for the next man to lead your church, and they’ve asked you to consider serving on the team. You’re a faithful church member who cares deeply for your church, so you said, “Yes.”
You’re overwhelmed with the responsibility, and you want to do the best job possible.
You didn’t know where to start, so you googled “how to find a new pastor” and have landed on my page. First, let me tell you that I have prayed for you. I have been on the other side many times, and I know the burden you bear. Second, let me share some very practical advice, based on my twenty years as a pastor, which I believe will be beneficial to you and the pastor search team as you look for the man God is sending to shepherd your church.
Other than the first point, these suggestions are not given in any special order. Refer to them frequently during the process to help ensure a smooth and successful transition to your next pastor.
- Pray first and most.
Don’t forget that the most important thing in this process is to find God’s man to lead the church. Too many times we meet, plan, research, contact anybody, and everybody but God. It’s His church, and He knows what man He wants to lead it. Dedicate the first meeting and give the beginning of every following meeting to significant time in prayer. Pray for your church, your team and the man God is preparing to be your next pastor.
- Don’t drag your feet.
There is often a hesitancy to move forward expeditiously. Sometimes this comes from the shock of losing a pastor. Other times it happens because of newfound power on the part of some who have been placed in leadership in the interim period. Don’t fall for either of these traps. A church needs a leader and where there is a vacuum of leadership trouble always rushes in. Let me also say that I’m generally against long term “intentional interims.” These are more for the benefit of the denominational worker or retired pastor than the church. There are certain circumstances where I think this would be ok – in the case of a severe church problem or very long-tenured pastor – but typically I believe it’s best to be expedient when searching for your next pastor.
- Limit changes in church vision, ministry, staff, structure, etc.
The interim period is not the time to begin rewriting the church’s mission statement, constitution or policies. The interim is also not the time to start hiring new staff positions. If there are changes in policies or personnel that must be made be very cautious that you don’t start a church fight or shackle your next pastor with a major problem during what should be his new church “honeymoon.” Better yet, talk with the man you are prayerfully considering as your next pastor about some of the things you feel need to be dealt with and let him lead you through the process of dealing with them after he becomes your pastor.
- Ask for recommendations from pastors who know your church and that your church trusts.
Your church should have been introduced to preachers, pastors, and evangelists that have a sense of your church’s personally and purpose. Contact them and ask them to prayerfully consider recommending a pastor. I believe that this is much better, safer and effective than just contacting an association, convention or school and asking for fifty names. Never forget that our God is a relational God, and He often works through relationships, too.
- Limit the time you receive resumes – and stick to it.
You will likely reach out to everyone you can and inform them that your church is receiving resumes. When you do this, give a time frame. Be specific. Post it on your church’s website. Once you come to the time when you will no longer receive resumes stick to it. If you don’t, there will likely be confusion and conflict both on the search team and in the church body. Only open up the resume process again if you have considered and excluded all of the original resumes.
- Only deal with one pastor at a time.
This used to be a given. Churches would only deal with one pastor and would expect that any pastor they were seriously dealing with would not be talking with another church simultaneously. Unfortunately, modern business practices have infiltrated the church, and now the search for a pastor looks more like a board interviewing men to be the next CEO of their company. This has had the effect of causing pastors to deal with multiple churches at the same time, comparing the size, salary and benefits package of one church against another instead of looking for God’s calling. Operate with integrity and only deal with one man at a time. Ask whoever you begin to deal with seriously to make the same commitment until God confirms the call or closes the door.
- Communicate clearly and respectfully.
It’s not uncommon for the first contact with a potential pastor to be through email. If this is the way you make contact but then move on to another pastor, an email explaining your decision is fine. However, if you call a pastor, meet with them and then decide to go in another direction you should give the pastor you were talking with the courtesy of a phone call and not a “Dear John: text message.” Always remember that you may not be talking with the next pastor of your church, but you are talking to a pastor. Pay him the respect he deserves.
- Check him thoroughly. Background, credit, academic, community, denomination, etc. check.
There are too many stories of pastors who have been dishonest on their resumes, unwise in their finances and downright sinful in how they deal with people in their community. Also, I don’t have to tell you that we live in an age where predators hide behind pulpits. Do your due diligence now to save your church much embarrassment and heartache later.
- Be careful in sharing too much too soon.
I remember talking with a pastor search team once. Kim and I had prayed about it and felt open to at least talking with the search team. I traveled to the area to meet with them. As they were giving me a tour of the church one man kept saying things like, “Pastor, here’s your office…Pastor, here’s your pulpit…Pastor, here’s your parking spot.” I wasn’t their pastor and didn’t become their pastor. Deal with the pastor you’re talking with respectfully and openly, but don’t forget he’s not yet your pastor.
- Be cautious if he seems too eager to move.
I heard of a search team who received a call from a pastor whose resume they had. He informed them that he and his wife had prayed about it, and God told them they were supposed to be that church’s next pastor. He told them to either call him as the pastor or send his resume back. They called him as pastor. He only lasted a couple of years, and the damage he caused in that church is still being felt today. It seems he was running away from a problem only to cause more where he went.
Being on a Pastor Search Committee is a large responsibility.
But it doesn’t have to be a scary or overly stressful. Simply pray, do your due diligence, and trust God to lead the way.
If you have ever been on a Pastor Search Committee and have any insight, please share in the comment section below!