Selection of a minister by a local church is an extremely important task and should not be taken lightly. We’re talking about the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and the people of God. This is not like choosing a Little League baseball coach, a hired hand, or a repairman to fix a leaky faucet.
Strong and gifted leaders guide successful organizations. The church is no exception. High-quality leadership is needed to fulfill the mission of the church. This is serious business. Few decisions are equally crucial to the church, and none is more important.
A wise choice will set the positive direction of the church for a long time. A poor selection will likewise negatively influence the health of the church for many years. Some churches never recover from a poor pastoral hire.
Oversee the Process
This decision is so important that the elders or local leadership team should oversee the process and make the final decision. The elders can and should delegate parts of the process to others, but they must take responsibility for the final decision and the process used in hiring a new minister.
This doesn’t mean the elders should operate in secret. Just because they’re responsible, they can’t afford to withhold information from the congregation or micromanage the process. Shared wisdom and open communication are essential to the pastoral hiring process. The elders should not try to manage the process on their own. There are others in every local church who possess gifts or experiences, or who work in professions that will help the leadership make a solid decision.
Develop a Profile
Leaders should take time and be thorough in developing a profile for the person they seek as their next minister. Some basics should be apparent in every candidate considered.
• Is the candidate called by God? Churches don’t want a minister who is simply looking for a job. Unfortunately, there are pastors out there who are incredibly capable, but who are not spiritually connected to God in their vocation. It is important to find out if the pastoral candidate has a clear call from God and if that personal call is continually cultivated in regular spiritual formation.
Scripture is clear that God’s leaders are called in different ways. Therefore, be careful not to put God or the candidate in a box by limiting how calling takes place.
• The candidate should be theologically sound. Don’t be afraid to create an initial questionnaire that includes questions on theology. The key is to find out as much as you can about what the minister believes before there is an interview.
Be careful to keep major doctrine the main focus. If you get too caught up in minor doctrinal issues, then you might never find a minister! There will always be some differences in opinion, but there needs to be basic agreement on the main issues.
• One of the most important things a married minister brings to a congregation is a healthy marriage and family (though churches should not rule out single people for ministry roles). A strong family value modeled by the church’s public leader can be a powerful influence in our culture. Therefore, before a minister is hired, take time to get to know the spouse and family. Spend enough time with them so you have a good sense of how they relate to one another.
• Personal financial integrity is rarely talked about in pastoral interviews, but I believe it is a knockout factor. Ask straightforward questions about the candidate’s finances and don’t apologize for it. If you hire a minister who is heavily in debt, your church will eventually suffer for it.
• Every church deserves a minister with high moral integrity. Ask the candidate about affairs (physical and emotional), addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography), or other immoral activities. Ask the candidate’s references, and then check with people who know the candidate but weren’t included in his list of references.
If your church is seriously considering hiring a person as minister, then the candidate’s past and current churches or ministries must be called. This should only be done with the potential minister’s permission, but it must be done. The local church deserves to know the answer to these questions. It is a huge mistake to ignore them.
• The pastoral leadership skills and personality of the candidate should match the needs of the congregation. Leaders should consider what kind of minister the church needs. Does the congregation need strong visionary leadership? Dynamic preaching? Sensitive pastoral care and shepherding?
Instill These Qualities
What makes for an effective ministerial recruitment process? I believe the following characteristics are important:
• Every pastoral selection process should be undergirded by prayer. Do not underestimate the power of prayer by God’s people. This is also a great way to get everyone in the church involved with the process. Don’t just talk about prayer; actually do it.
• Visibility is an essential part of finding the right ministerial candidate. Communicate your search broadly. Local churches should contact Bible colleges, seminaries, church agencies, Christian Standard, and other Christian leaders.
Consider well-connected friends and members of your congregation: those your congregation has ordained and sent out to ministry, missionary agencies, camp personnel, and former ministers and other longtime leaders who know the church. Ask these good folks for help.
• Effective pastoral recruitment programs are systematic. Leaders should adopt a clear set of processes so that when a potential candidate emerges, there are procedures to move forward. Nonsystematic programs lead to inefficiency, frustration, and mistakes. This also can cause ill will with potential candidates. Take the time to develop a good system.
• Successful recruitment is creative, innovative, and imaginative. The church team leading the search for a new pastor needs to make the congregation appear as attractive, viable, and dynamic as possible. The idea is to paint a picture of the church and the pastoral position that will entice prospects to check the church out. Creativity will attract those who initially might not be interested.
Innovation does not imply using gimmicks or making false representations. Pastoral candidates should be genuinely challenged by the Spirit to seek out the congregation.
• Finding a God-called minister requires the leadership to invest and spend resources. There should be funds available to pay travel expenses of serious candidates and their families. It also is appropriate for the local congregation to pay for leaders to visit the candidate’s current church or ministry. The church might want to invest in psychological testing to go deeper in its understanding of the candidates, or even consider a professional pastoral assessment of some kind.
• Effective recruitment is educational. Churches should assume that candidates know little or nothing about their church. Therefore, church leaders should produce a profile of the church, the community, and the kind of person being sought as the new minister.
A change in senior ministers is a great time for a congregation to reevaluate. What is the church’s history? Are there some things to be learned from the last minister? Are there some things the church wants a new pastor to do differently? What is the church’s mission and vision? Where does the church want to be in five years? What ministries characterize the values of the church? (For instance, church planting, youth, senior citizens, global missions, higher education, social justice.) How does the church spend its resources?
Once the church has a good handle on its identity, it becomes easier to define a profile, clarify a job description, and recruit a leader who can come alongside and help the church move forward.
• Assertiveness is another characteristic of successful recruitment programs. Every local church should be bold in seeking pastoral candidates. Churches and leaders have every right to be assertive if we indeed believe God is involved in the process. Each church deserves to be led by the best possible candidate. Don’t apologize. Be assertive. Don’t be passive about finding the God-given leader your church deserves.
Too many local churches take whoever comes along. If you know some pastoral leaders who would be a good fit for your ministry, then go after them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. However, this enthusiasm must be balanced by the processes and systems mentioned above. This gives the church a safety net so it doesn’t make mistakes.
Please take this important task seriously. Your church deserves to be led well. God expects for his church to be led well. Your community and the lost, hurting people in it deserve your church to be led well.
Thomas F. Jones Jr. is executive director for Stadia: New Church Strategies, a national church planting organization.
A convenient, 12-page download that includes all seven articles about Hiring a New Minister–and which may be reproduced up to 10 times for church and ministry needs–can be purchased at www.standardpub.com.