It is inevitable that churches find themselves in a position of seeking a pastor to shepherd their congregation. Because the issue of leadership in the church is so important and potentially costly churches are well-advised to engage the process of selection carefully. We all know of churches that have committed themselves to hire someone quickly only to find it isn’t long before they have to work through difficult issues and begin the process again. For this reason transition pastoral ministry has become somewhat of a speciality. It’s purpose is to take the time to help a church make a wise and informed choice for more fruitful ministry in the future.
In my experience as a transition pastor, I’ve had the privilege of working with more than half a dozen churches in the last several years to aid them in the process of pastoral selection. Ordinarily, transition pastoral ministry involves at least eight months of work together with the church. In addition to regular pastoral ministry that includes teaching/preaching, arranging and leading services, and regular pastoral care, a transition pastor will provide on-going administrative leadership while also engaging a process of analysis and preparation for the pastoral selection. In this work I have benefited much from the knowledge and practical wisdom of Outreach Canada.
After taking the time to work with the Board through relational and management issues in the church, the transition pastor typically also engages the Board in fine-tuning its sense of vision. This in itself is an important process: helping the church understand its own history and culture while also considering what changes it might have to make in order to effectively communicate the Gospel in its own cultural context. Invariably this also entails a discussion about the relevance of certain biblical/theological factors. For example, what does it mean for the church to fulfill Christ’s mandate to go and make disciples in our times? What principles of Scripture and ministry are universally timeless, and what aspects can be adapted to changing times and expressions?
Having taken the time to understand itself and its context in the light of a good biblical understanding of these matters, the church is ready to begin the Pastoral Search Process. Since this is important spiritual work, the entire church must be led to engage in it prayerfully. Having arrived at a consensus on an appropriate pastoral profile for the future, the Board is ready to appoint a Search Team made up of a small group of committed members of the church. A good number on a team is about 7 — consisting of a couple of Board members, and various other leadership elements of the church. Some knowledge of hiring protocol is helpful.
Acting in an advisory capacity, the transition pastor participates in the selection team by helping to guide the process. The Board selects the chairman of the team. Usually this is someone who may be on the Board and has the time to commit to making initial contact calls. The team meets to review its mandate — a process of prayerfully considering resumes and helping with different aspects of interviews and reference checks. The objective of the team is to recommend up to two or three names to the Board for its members to complete the process of final interviews and candidate selection. The profile and job description of the pastor are reviewed. Plans are made to publish the profile. Denominational churches will act in accord with denominational search policies. The chairman, having reviewed protocal with denominational leaders, with one other team member should be the one to make the initial contact and conduct the official reference checks. Other members of the team could be encouraged to find additional information as appropriate. More members of the team could be involved in the pre-candidate interview. There should be unanimity on the final selection and recommendation to the Board.
From the information given to it, the Board will decide in what order to present candidates to the congregation. Candidates should be considered individually without comparison to others or other candidate presentations. The candidate weekend itself needs to provide as much exposure as possible to the congregation as well as to the candidate. No doubt, the candidate will speak, will meet with the congregation in various forums, and finally with the Board for a formal interview. The Board should take time to consider its decision before extending a call. The church will then need to wait for the candidate’s response. Depending on what it is, the Board may have to proceed to the next candidate option.
Pastoral selection can be a special time of reflection and spiritual renewal for the church. If properly engaged, the congregation will be more unified in its understanding and vision, and better prepared to work with a new pastor who has been knowledgeably and carefully selected. The objective is for the pastor and church to work and serve together for at least 10 – 15 years in mutually satisfying and fruitful ministry.