Pastors & Search Committees

As a Senior Pastor of a Chicagoland congregation of about 500 folk, I had the privilege of bringing an Associate Pastor on board.  Towards that end, I formed a Pastor Search Committee, of which I was a part. My rational for serving on the committee was that the committee would be selecting my co-worker, my right-hand person.  Hence, I should be part of that decision.

While it is customary for Senior Pastors to serve on Search committees assigned the task of calling an Associate Pastor, I have recently discovered that there are good reasons why a Senior Pastor may choose NOT to serve on such a committee. (This is especially true with a congregation served by only two ordained pastors.)

First, the Senior Pastor may desire to dedicate his or her limited amount of time to other areas of ministry.  After all, who needs another committee meeting?  Second, by remaining off the committee, the Senior Pastor will express confidence in the Search Committee and, thereby affirm the lay leadership of the church. Third, if the congregation contracts the services of a Pastoral Search Consultant, that person will keep the Senior Pastor in the loop and his or her hopes, dreams, and concerns before the committee.

Fourth, and most importantly it seems to me, the Senior Pastor may choose not to serve on the Search Committee because the committee could be more successful if he or she is not on the committee.  Here’s why.  When a mid-size congregation envisions two ordained pastors on staff, it foresees a complimentary relationship between the two.  In such a relationship, the strengths of one pastor compliment the weaknesses of the other and the weaknesses of one are minimized by the strengths of the other. This means that, in order to find the right person, the Search Committee will need to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Senior Pastor.  Human nature being what it is, committee members will find it easier to do so without the Senior Pastor in the room.  Some may dismiss this reality as non-Christian, suggesting that Christians should be open and honest with one another at all times and in all ways. But, as a former Senior Pastor who spends too much time dwelling on my weaknesses, I can tell you that I would rather my Search Committee have that conversation without me in the room!  Plus, the members of the Search Committee may know me better than I know myself!

While I believe it may be beneficial for the Senior Pastor to decline participation on a Search Committee for his or her Associate Pastor, I have discovered that the process best include an opportunity for the Senior Pastor to weigh in on the final recommendation.  The Search Committee, for example, may consult the Senior Pastor early in the process to receive nominations for consideration and to firm up the position description for the Associate Pastor. It may also consult the Senior Pastor late in the process and, perhaps, give the Senior Pastor the opportunity to choose one of two final candidates or be the first to interview a final candidate.  Whatever the involvement, the Senior Pastor will work hard at trusting that God will use the Search Committee to bring the right person to the scene – a win-win situation for pastors and people.

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