How to Prepare for a Successful Pastoral Search

Looking for a new pastor can be a daunting challenge. Many churches can feel overwhelmed by the urgent need and can easily forget critical elements in the search process. Here are a series of tips I recommend to help your church prepare for a successful pastoral search.

Pray much

We cannot underestimate the incredible importance of prayer in a pastoral search process. The search committee needs to devote a significant portion of their meeting time to prayer (a perfunctory prayer at the start of each meeting is simply not adequate). In addition, the church leadership must mobilize the congregation to pray and also to invite people to form a prayer team around the search.

Understand that your primary role is to discern God’s leading

We need to realize that when we search for a pastor, we’re not actually looking for the best candidate who applies. This sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

Let me explain. We’re not looking for the best candidate because we’re looking for the right candidate. This is why prayer is so vitally important. Don’t worry if an outstanding candidate doesn’t fit or decides to move in a different direction. Receiving a “no” from the Lord is part of discerning His leading.

Line up your ducks

Make sure that you prepare all the necessary materials (e.g. position packet, application form, etc.) and have processes and timelines in place to help you stay on track. This will also help potential candidates develop an understanding for the values and expectations of your church. Remember that applicants are also discerning if this is the right position for them.

Search primarily along relational lines

Encourage people in your church to refer solid candidates. When possible, look within your congregation first. If you can hire from within, it can make the transition for the candidate (and his/her family) and the church so much easier.

Touch base with influential connectors

Who are the connectors in your denomination or network? Talk to them about your search. They may be able to provide some quality leads. In addition, advertise in places that your ideal candidate would likely visit (many churches and leaders in our MB family use the MB Herald job site to post ministry opportunities). 

Develop a scorecard for rating applicants

As the applications roll in, it is helpful to have a grid for evaluating candidates. Assign numerical values to different parts of the job description and other characteristics you believe are important for serving in that role. Then, prayerfully use the scorecard to assess each application. I have found that it is a very efficient way to discern which candidates are a potential fit for the position.

View each candidate as a potential staff member at your church

Treat each applicant with care and respect. Communicate with them in a friendly and timely fashion. Who knows? They may be the right candidate to fill your next pastoral vacancy.

Give yourself permission to track with only one candidate

If one candidate stands out, feel free to track with that person. A shortlist does not need to be more than one person.

Narrow the field

If you reach a shortlist of two to four people, use a good assessment tool like MinistryMatch to help you choose one or two candidates to interview. Before you look at the assessment results, make sure that you identify the kinds of results you would like to see in a successful candidate. This will help you overcome the confirmation bias that sometimes happens when an applicant’s name is immediately connected with his/her results.

Ask experiential questions in the interviews

Develop interview questions that ask candidates to give examples from their previous work experience. Use the assessment results discussed in the previous tip to ask questions related to perceived strengths and weaknesses. By doing this, you’ll gain a better understanding of what the interviewee has done which is different from what they might do.

Approach both official and unofficial references

I like to approach references after the interviews to explore perceptions arising from the interviews. It can also be helpful to ask candidates for permission to approach people who are not official references.

Communicate regularly with the congregation

Keep the congregation in the loop, so they know what’s happening and to remind them to pray for the process. Providing ongoing communication will help mitigate feelings of secrecy and also reinforce that the congregation is vitally involved. 

Give the candidate maximum exposure

Develop a candidating schedule that gives the candidate (and spouse, if applicable) maximum exposure to the congregation (both large groups and small groups) so that he/she has opportunities to demonstrate the necessary skills associated with the position.

What other tips would you offer to churches engaging in a pastoral search? Please share your comments below.


[Randy Wollf is the Director of the ACTS World Campus and Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Practical Theology for MB Seminary.

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