Part 4: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Here is a principle a Pastor Search Team can count on with their congregation: people are down on are what they are not up on. If our mission is to call and install a pastor who is affirmed by a vast majority of the congregation, then we better listen to the congregation and communicate with the congregation.

First, let’s listen. Let’s take some time before we actively begin to search for a new pastor, and before finalizing a position description for the new pastor, to actively seek to know the mind of the congregation through exercises like listening sessions and well-crafted surveys.

My favorite exercise is listening sessions with small groups of congregants. The format is simple. Ask two members of the Search Team to host a small group of people. These groups may already be formed: Sunday School Classes, youth groups, choirs, worship teams, small groups, and the like. But it is also good to organize a few groups that are open to the first 10-20 who sign up. This way no one can say they didn’t have an opportunity to speak into the process.

As for the discussion: ask one member of the Search Team to facilitate the conversation and another to take notes. The facilitator has one responsibility: give each person an opportunity to speak whatever is on his or her mind and don’t let one person or theme dominate.  Once gathered, the facilitator may begin with a welcome, followed by prayer. Then he or she may share with the group that the Search Team would like their input before actively searching for the next pastor. Next ask one member of the group, “What are the top two qualities you desire in our next pastor?” That question typically opens a flood gate of responses and questions from nearly everyone in the room but you will still need to call out the quiet ones in the group. When all is said, ask your team member to close the meeting with prayer.  During the next meeting of the Search Team, the recorder can share the primary themes or takeaways from the gathering.

Once the listening sessions are completed, the Search Team should forward a summary of their findings to the leadership of the congregation. They may decide to tweak the position description taking this new input into consideration. Then, with their permission, the Search Team may share their findings with the entire congregation.

Second, communicate with the congregation throughout the entire process. Some Pastor Search Teams mistakenly assume that all their work is confidential. It is not. In most situations, the only information that is confidential are the names of pastoral candidates and the content of the team’s conversations with those candidates. Other than that, you can be fairly open with the congregation. You can share the number of inquiries you have received, the number of candidates you have interviewed, and the number of candidates you plan to interview during your next meeting. You can share the details of the selection process, such as the number and types of interviews you plan to complete with the final candidate.

Now much of our communication will take place through prayer requests. But it may be helpful to appoint one of your team to serve as a Communication Coordinator who forwards information to the congregation at the appropriate time. You may forward your position announcement, position description, church profile, and more to congregation through bulletins, fliers and newsletters (printed & electronic). In other words, keep the congregation in the loop.

The bottom line here is that the congregation will be down on what they are not up on.  Respect the congregation and they will respect the Pastor Search Team.  Listen to the congregation and they will most likely receive your recommendation with enthusiasm.

Prayer Prompt: Lord, help us to listen to your Bride, our congregation.  

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ChapterNext is a pastor search and church consulting firm led by Rev. Sam Hamstra. They assist congregations through a handful of services, including staff development, weekend worship workshops, leadership retreats, and ministry reviews (vision and mission statements, budgets, building renovation, and marketing plans). These services grew out of ChapterNexts’ founding purpose which is to help congregations turn the page so that they can begin writing new chapters of dynamic and life-transforming ministry.

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