When discerning the identity of the next pastor, Search Teams, either intentional or unintentionally, evaluate pastoral candidates in, at least, five areas: Character, Competence, Chemistry (with the staff and congregation), Culture (a candidate’s fit in the community), and Credentials (such as a Master of Divinity degree, or ordination by a specific group, or membership in a particular denomination).
When asked which of the five is the most important, Search Teams offer four answers: each of the above, except one. I have never worked a Search Team that prioritized Credentials. Yet, where do most Search Teams begin their evaluation of pastoral candidates? Reviewing resumes or profiles! In other words, they begin with Credentials! In the process, they remove excellent candidates from consideration.
This is an all-too-common mistake by Search Teams, one with enormous ramifications. Why? While credentials have value, they are human constructs that, as such, limit God to candidates which meet our standards. The history of the Christian church, a story which includes the most unlikely and unexpected vessels of God’s grace, encourages us to think twice before insisting that God work within our institutionalized structures.
In short, when Search Teams prioritize credentials, including filters like age or gender, degrees and experience, race and ethnicity, they limit the discernment process to that which they can imagine. Wouldn’t the work of the Search Team be more exciting if we expected the Lord “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”? (Ephesians 3:20)
So here’s a suggestion when interviewing pastoral candidates: Start with character! Then move to competence, chemistry and culture. If you discover a candidate who scores high in those areas and looks like the perfect fit, then address the issue of credentials.