Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wacky Transition Stories #2

Sometimes the way a pastoral search unfolds is truly bizarre—for the candidate, for the search committee, for the congregation, or all of the above!

In this series, we're sharing stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"

So, here's Wacky Story #2, which came to us from a member of the search committee in this account...

The search committee for Covenant Church had been very efficient in their work, and within about four months had identified a strong candidate, who we'll call Fred, who they were prepared to present to the congregation. They invited him (and his wife) for a visit, and Fred spent about four days with the committee, the session, the diaconate, and the congregation. He got to know the church very well, and indicated to everyone his willingness to come serve them as pastor.

A week after his visit, the congregation held a meeting and voted with a very strong majority to extend Fred the call as their next senior pastor. The search committee chair communicated this to Fred, and they began to discuss his terms of call and the other logistics related to his call as their pastor. Once all of these were essentially settled (within about another week), Fred again indicated his interest but also stated that he wanted to pray about it with his wife, and seek the counsel of some others.

A week went by. Then another. A member of the search committee e-mailed Fred, who responded vaguely that he was still praying about it. Another couple of weeks passed.

Finally, the presbytery meeting where Fred's call as Covenant Church's new senior pastor would be approved was approaching. The search committee chair called Fred, who still maintained that he was prayerfully considering it. Fred told him that he would let them know what his decision was at the presbytery meeting.

The day of the presbytery meeting arrived, and Fred didn't even show up! The search committee chair called Fred from the presbytery meeting, and Fred said bluntly that he wasn't taking the call.

Needless to say, by this point the members of the search committee—and many of the members of the congregation—were having their own doubts about whether Fred was the right guy for them, as well. There was a certain amount of relief in the final conclusion of it, but it also led to doubts and some second-guessing for the next candidate (who did take the call).

* * * * *

Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at: transitions@doulosresources.org.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reflecting on the basis of a call to ministry (or a lack thereof)

Mike Milton, who until recently was the Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), regularly writes very personal letters to the students of RTS; in June, he wrote this letter to pastoral students on the ground and basis of their calling and ministry.

Dr. Milton writes:

[Martin] Bucer teaches us that the warrant, the calling and the work of the pastor, must be grounded in the Word of God and in the theological commitments of the Reformation and must be embraced personally by the pastor. In other words, the pastoral ministry is not just a Biblical idea, though it must be that, it is also a Spirit-shaped reality in the soul of the one called to be a pastor.

He also recounts a conversation before his own seminary training, in which a seasoned minister challenged him:

You only have your call from God! When they give you a Christmas raise and then run you out on a rumor, when the devil stirs up opposition against you for the sake of Jesus, and when you are hurt like our Lord was hurt, you will only have one thing to help you pick up your things and move on to the next field of service. Do you know what that is?” I decided not to answer. “You know what it is? It is your calling from God.” We both stood there looking at each other without talking. This eternity lasted for about a minute. Then he laid down the hammer for the final time. “Son, are you called by God to be a pastor according to the Word of God?” I whispered that I thought I should go home and pray about that. Brothers, that is just what I did.

(Read Dr. Milton's whole letter here.)

Dr. Milton's words, quoted above and in the rest of his letter, are both profound and wise. When someone is called to the ministry, it is not on the basis of the approval of their congregation, the outward affirmation that they receive (or that they don't receive), or any other external measure that should be what "keeps them going" so to speak. It should be their unequivocal sense that shepherding the flock of God in his church is all that they can do—the only thing that they can do.

This is why Charles Spurgeon frequently admonished his students that, if there was any other profession in which they felt they could be satisfied and content, they should run as fast as they could from pastoral ministry and do that! (See Spurgeon's Lectures To My Students.) It wasn't that Spurgeon didn't want more pastors coming into the church, but that he recognized that (in his day) the ministry was seen as a cushy and undemanding job, and maybe one in which someone who didn't want to work all that hard might find their ease.

Still today, pastoral ministry is a job where a lazy man can find a decent paycheck without too much work. Now, let me be clear: it is not that it should be this way, but for some it is. I've known lazy pastors, who present a façade of busyness and activity while hiding in their studies or wandering around, whereabouts unknown. Their sermons were ill-prepared and poorly presented, their visitation (what little of it existed) was infrequent and filled with empty clichés, and they didn't know their sheep from the wolves among them. These men were more susceptible than most to failed marriages and to the temptations of pornography, plagiarism, and other scandals that eventually wreaked havoc in their congregations; while they usually didn't stay more than a year or two in any one congregation, they did great damage during their brief visit. Thankfully, most of the men I'm thinking of are no longer in the ministry.

I think Dr. Milton's admonitions are invaluable today. I believe our day is more like Spurgeon's, in terms of many men attending seminary and dabbling at the possibility of a career in ministry, than most of us would like to admit.

As I commented on in my recent post reflecting on the decrease in placement, I believe we can see the fruit of the problem I've listed above (among other problems) in how many qualified candidates there are who are called as Dr. Milton described, yet who have not found placement into a ministry position. I don't think we can chalk that up entirely to the decline of the church, but also to the fact that, for years, there was a shortage (or an apparent one, at any rate) of called, qualified pastors and pastoral candidates, and therefore we threw open the doors of our seminaries and our presbyteries and welcomed in all who would come. Now we are seeing one of the consequences.

I think a second factor that has led to this (and to the decrease in placement issue as well) is that some—perhaps many—of those entering seminary do so because it was either implied to them or outright said that, if they were really serious about maturity in their Christian faith, they would go to seminary and pursue a career in vocational ministry. This is dead wrong! Not least because, as Dr. Milton reflects, this is no basis for a true, biblical ministry of the Word. There are many professions (most of them by far, in fact) in which a godly young man or woman can serve God faithfully.

If you are a seminary student—or if you are a seminary graduate who is pursuing a call to be a pastor—I would urge you to read Dr. Milton's words and take them to heart. There is no shame in determining that you are not, in fact, called to be a pastor! But if you are so called, be encouraged, as Dr. Milton (and I) long for you to be, by the true and biblical basis of your call to ministry.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Good Search Committee Communication, part 2: starting commitments

In May we looked at why good communication from search committees matters so much. We're called to love our neighbors, and it's just the neighborly thing to do.

How should a search committee communicate? Obviously it's going to be different along the various stages of the search process, but it starts with a fundamental commitment to doing it.

Appoint a Secretary

If you're going to communicate well, someone must take the leadership on your search committee to do so. I recommend appointing one person to be the secretary for the committee; this simply means that they are in charge of any and all communication (internally and externally) that the committee has need for. The secretary can (and should) take notes for each meeting (not necessarily minutes, but those aren't a bad idea either) and make a regular report to the session, board, or other primary leadership of the congregation.

And the secretary should also be charged with the responsibility of communicating with each of the candidates that the committee interacts with. This sounds more daunting than it needs to be; as you will see, it can be fairly simple to do, even if there are a lot of candidates.

It's not a bad idea for the secretary to have an e-mail address set up specifically for the search process. This can be done through the church's existing system (something like search@firstcommunitychurch.org, for example) or you can opt to set up an address through G-Mail or one of the other free services. Having a separate e-mail address allows the secretary to compartmentalize the communications work for the search team, and also protects their personal e-mail address from getting added inadvertently to a mailing list. (Do this well before you begin receiving submissions of candidates' names, if possible.)

Decide on a Timeline/Process

Even though the secretary will be in charge of communications, the committee as a whole should decide on the timeline and process by which they will communicate. It is important that everyone on the committee be in on this discussion, both so that they can know how much each candidate should have been communicated with, and so that they can all be accountable for the quality of communication from their committee. If everyone was part of the decision, then no one gets to say down the line, "We should have communicated more with them than we did"—which is only ever divisive and accusatory.

Be careful, as a committee, to find the right balance of communication. Too little, and you have failed in the process in an important way; too much, and you have overburdened the secretary and set him/her up for burn-out. I recommend that, in the early stages, communication occur roughly every 4–6 weeks, though it will need to steadily increase as time moves on. This is okay though, because as the search progresses there will be fewer and fewer candidates with whom the committee has to communicate.

Thus, a good timeline and process might look like this:
  • Stage 1: Beginning—in this stage you're still forming the search committee, gathering information from the congregation, and/or assembling the search profile information; if you receive any name submissions at this stage, it is easy enough for the secretary (or the chairperson, if a secretary has not yet been appointed) to acknowledge them immediately.
  • Stage 2: Getting Started—here you are beginning to receive names of candidates, but have not eliminated any of them yet; this is one of the busiest stages, because you will receive so many names—but you still need to acknowledge their submission in a timely manner (probably at least within a week or so).
  • Stage 3: Early Progress—now you have begun to eliminate some candidates and have "culled" the list for the first round; you should keep those candidates who are still "in the running" in the loop, at very least by a quick note to that effect. You must also notify those who have been eliminated promptly that they are no longer being considered. And, if you receive new submissions, you should either acknowledge them as you did the rest, or inform them that you aren't accepting new names for consideration (which one should be determined by the committee).
  • Stage 4: Middle—at this point you are actively considering candidates that passed the first round of elimination: listening to sermons, reading questionnaires, or some other form of evaluation; those who have been eliminated must be informed of that right away. Meanwhile, you should let the other candidates know that they have advanced to the next stage with you.
  • Stage 5: Late-Middle—by now you are beginning to do phone interviews or some other evaluation with select candidates; your communication with this increasingly-smaller list of candidates should be growing more frequent. You're still keeping candidates that have been eliminated well-informed of their status, while also keeping up open lines with those that you are still considering.
  • Stage 6: Advanced—you are in the process of bringing one or more "finalists" to you for in-person visits, interviews, and meeting with the congregation; the non-finalists deserve to receive prompt word that they are no longer being considered. Meanwhile, you're probably in touch with your primary candidates on a fairly frequent basis.
  • Stage 7: Almost There—here you have extended a call to your candidate of choice, and are waiting for their response, for presbytery or another governing body, or simply for him to move to the area and be installed; at this point every line of communication should be wide-open with your (hopefully) soon-to-be pastor.

Some fundamentals to notice in the above: First, there is never a stage when communication levels do not remain high. The secretary of a well-functioning search committee will always have work to do. Second, you must continue to communicate with candidates that you have eliminated, to inform them that they are no longer in consideration. This is not some extra-nice touch; this is common decency and giving respect and dignity to these candidates. Third, the longer a candidate is in the process, the more communication they should receive from you.

To elaborate on this last point, let's move on to the next big decision.

Determine the Venues/Contexts of Communication

Communication in the search process should grow increasingly personal and intimate. It is fine to use a pretty impersonal means to communicate in the early stages; frankly, most candidates will simply be glad to have heard from you. But when you start to get into more advanced stages, you—by which I mean ALL of the committee—should both expect it to get more personal, and be open to that.

First, let me explain what I mean. Communication tools like e-mail and form letters are pretty mechanical. Sure, e-mail can be very intimate—but we all know that an e-mail from a search committee secretary to a candidate they only know on paper will probably not be anything close to intimate. And in stages 1–3 above, these are fine. In fact, I recommend it—not because impersonal is good, but because these more mechanical means will allow the secretary to do his/her job efficiently. (In future posts, we will provide some sample/template letters and e-mails that you might use in these early stages.)

Once you get past the first "culling," though, you really must begin to communicate more personally. If you reject someone in or after stage 4, they deserve to know why, at least in broad terms. And their rejection should come in a warm and genial letter or e-mail that was written specifically for them—not through some slightly-adapted template.

Likewise, after you have had a phone interview with a candidate, the most appropriate way to tell them that they have been eliminated is through a phone call. To simply send them a form letter or abrupt e-mail at this stage is both rude and cowardly. Let's treat each other with more dignity than that.

And it goes the same for candidates that you're keeping in consideration, if not even more so: You need to get to know him, and let him get to know you, and see your relationship grow over the weeks and months that you are considering each other.

This is why, by the middle or end of stage 5, I would recommend that candidates have the phone numbers of the secretary, committee chair, and at least one or two other committee members. He should be made to feel welcome to call on them and get to know them, and even ask about how the search process is going. Sure, search committee members will need to be careful that they do not share information that they shouldn't, nor should these growing relationships give way to "picking favorites" at the expense of the integrity of the search process. But there is nothing wrong with growing relationships at the later stages.

So, a good plan for contexts might look something like this:
  • Stage 1: Beginning—form letters or e-mails are fine at this stage.
  • Stage 2: Getting Started—form letters or e-mails are still fine.
  • Stage 3: Early Progress—again, form letters or e-mails are still fine.
  • Stage 4: Middle—now the communication must begin to get more personal; e-mails and letters are still fine, but should not be just a boilerplate form letter.
  • Stage 5: Late-Middle—phone calls and personalized e-mails should be the norm; especially for rejections, a phone call is expected.
  • Stage 6: Advanced—phone calls and casual personal e-mails ought to be happening with increasing frequency by this stage.
  • Stage 7: Almost There—now you are beginning to really build relationships through every possible form of communication.

Now let me tell you why this is so important. With increasing likelihood throughout the process, this guy may actually be your future pastor! How important is it to you that your next pastor know you personally? How important is it that you know him? I both cases, I would say it is very important. Vital, in fact.

Beyond this, attentiveness to both the content and form of communication is dignifying and considerate. When your committee attends to this, you are demonstrating that yours is a congregation that any potential pastor should be eager to serve.

On the other hand, when you ignore the simple opportunities for communication, you are still communicating with him: however, what you are telling him now is that you don't care enough about basic courtesy to be bothered.

A Closing Anecdote

When I was in my last year of college, I had an opportunity to interview for a youth ministry position with a church in a city about 90 minutes away from where we lived. We went to visit them for a Sunday, and after worship and Sunday school went over to the home of one of the search committee members. The whole committee was there, along with the senior pastor and his wife, and we visited together casually for most of the afternoon. As the day grew long, someone realized that we still had a 90-minute drive home and offered us a gracious opportunity to begin our goodbyes.

On the way out, the senior pastor walked us to our car. He spoke of how well he felt like things had gone that day, and the last thing he said as he shook my hand goodbye was, "I'll be in touch with you as soon as there is something to tell."

I never heard from him.

For years I joked with Marcie that their search must have stalled, because I still hadn't heard anything from him. The truth is, though, that pastor looked me in the eye and made me a significant promise that he didn't keep. In retrospect, I'm relieved that I was never in a position where I had to decide whether I would want to work under a pastor like that.

Search committees are infamous—notorious, even—for poor communication. You can distinguish yourselves as an outstanding church simply by being different, through extending basic dignity and consideration for the candidates you consider. Please do it!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Transition survey

If you've read much of this blog, you may know that it all began (almost 10 years ago!) with reflections on an extensive research project, done in collaboration with staff and faculty from Covenant Theological Seminary, to survey seminary graduates about their experiences in the transition process.

We're doing another survey. And we need your help!

If you are a pastor in any church tradition, or of you are an elder (or a church leader that is the rough equivalent to a presbyterian elder), there are questions on this survey for you! Please fill out the survey and help us with our research.

Oh, and we're doing a drawing of all of those who complete the survey for a $25 Visa gift card. If you want to win free cash, then fill out our survey!

Here's a link to the survey, which is online:


Thanks SO much for your help!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book review: What Color Is Your Parachute?

In the early 1970s, Richard Bolles was an ordained minister who found himself without a placement. He began to find his own way (eventually leaving the ministry), but in the process realized that there were a number of other pastors who were in the same situation and didn't know how to find the next job, or make an effective career change. Over time, the book What Color Is Your Parachute? was the result of his thought and work in seeking to help these, and others, with career decisions.

Interestingly, Bolles couldn't find a publisher for his book, so he self-published (which, in the 70s, was stigmatized with the reputation of amateurism and poor quality, if not pure arrogance—that's why they used to call self-publishing companies "vanity presses"). Today, I'm sure he is glad that he did: without a doubt, the industry and brand that has grown up with What Color Is Your Parachute? (which Bolles has updated and re-released on an annual basis) has done quite well for him.

When I first began to learn about things like temperament and what professor (and Doulos Resources board member) Phil Douglass calls "discovering your Divine Design," I found it to be both fascinating and incredibly useful for pastoral transition. Richard Bolles was a pioneer in that category (though he doesn't rely heavily on temperament as Douglass's system does), and the book is chock-full of diagnostic exercises that will help anyone—pastor or otherwise—in discerning nuances and details about what sort of job(s) would fit them the best.

Bolles walks the reader through a process of self-discovery that is not only revealing, but immensely encouraging to the reader. His former profession as a pastor comes through in his writing, and it is clear that he is aware (probably all too aware, both from his personal experiences in the 70s as well as from countless encounters with others since then) of how challenging a season of job transition is. Hardly a page can be turned before he is building the reader up with hope and anticipation about their next job opportunity.

This can have a downside, as well: in today's job climate (very different from the context in which Bolles originally wrote in the early 70s), it is possible to over-encourage, to the point of building someone's hopes up in an unreasonable way. Good self-discovery and awareness of job fitness will not guarantee anyone a placement.

But they will take you further than an absence of them will—and that ultimately is Bolles's point and goal in writing. If you take the time to work through What Color Is Your Parachute? and complete the exercises within it, you will have a clearer sense of who you are and what you bring to a job, as well as where your weaknesses lie and how you can work around them.

Buy a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? from Amazon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reflecting on the decrease in placement

Graduates of several seminaries—including Matt Seilback, who is a member of our Advisory Council—were recently featured in a video piece by PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. Here's the video:

(If you're not the video-watching sort, you can read a transcript here.)

The bottom line for everyone in the video is: the ratio of available candidates to available opportunities continues to be less favorable for candidates. (An argument could be made that a glut on the "market" of many qualified candidates is, in some ways, less favorable for churches seeking a pastor, as well.) Or at least, the number of seminary graduates that are finding placement into pastoral ministry is at a low—not an all-time low, as the video pointed out, but a low point nevertheless.

One candidate, Brian Brown (a graduate of
Covenant Theological Seminary) comments at one point: "I was always thinking there’s going to be a job at the end of this, you know. That was the hope and that was—and that’s the desire. It’s still the desire." He later comments on how he is following a call from God, and that demands a certain faith and faithfulness. Another CTS grad, Allen Sipe, talks about how being a pastor isn't just what he does, but it's who he is.

I think these are sentiments shared by most seminarians—certainly most of those who plan to become pastors (rather than matriculating from seminary into PhD study, say, or simply planning to re-enter the secular workforce). But clearly many otherwise called and qualified candidates are coming out of seminary and not finding a particular call to a ministry position. What can be done?

If you've read much of what has been written on this blog, you will know that I/we believe strongly that
simply "sending out resumes" is not enough. There is a certain work-ethic that must accompany any placement, and especially an effective one. And part of that work must include exercising one's network as much as possible. I continue to find that, more and more, the "network" of the Body of Christ is vital to the search and transition process, from both sides of the equation: more churches are simply not "casting a wide net" by using the various lists and services, but utilizing the network that they have to find candidates.

disclaimer here: the PBS video presented many of the featured graduates as having "sent out a bunch of resumes" and did not represent any further efforts on their parts. I am in no way either assuming that this is all they did, nor trying to cast these folks as being to blame for the struggles they have each had to find placement. I do not know, nor can I know, what the reasons are for why they have not found placement; I assume that each of them has faithfully explored every possible avenue toward finding placement, and that for reasons that remain mysteries to us God has not seen fit to put them into a pastoral call.)

Another change that I believe will be increasingly present in the climate of pastoral transition is
the need for bi-vocational and non-traditional pastoral calls. While the traditional pastorate will prevail for the foreseeable future, I think it will continue to decline in frequency in lieu of more non-typical options. I already see and read about this occurring in church planting situations, especially outside of the denominational mainstream; I'm convinced that we will see it increase and expand into other areas of pastoral ministry, too. (I'm not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so don't stone me if I'm wrong!)

Of course, one thing that is off the radar for many Christians—even seminary-trained ones—in the U.S. is that Christianity is on the rise in Africa, Asia, and South America in unprecedented levels. Dr. Bryan Chapell (President Emeritus of Covenant Seminary) has said that "we are in the midst of the greatest expansion of the church in history." What many don't realize, even if they are aware of this growth, is that this represents an opportunity for pastoral ministry. Those who believe that, without a doubt, they are called to pastoral ministry
could consider moving to a place where there is a great shortage of pastors and taking up their calling there. The problem is that there are no mechanisms (that I know of) to do this at present—maybe a major ministry opportunity for Doulos Resources (or a ministry like ours) could be connecting candidates with international opportunities to serve as pastors.

Another direction that this conversation could go is this: perhaps the reason that both seminary attendance AND pastoral placement out of seminary are in decline is because more churches are exploring "non-traditional" ways to recruit and train their future pastors. There is a sense among some (mainly those who aren't "company men" but are outside of the traditional seminary model) that the existing model for pastors-to-be to move away from their homes and jobs for 3–4 years, then flounder about looking for a call, is going to die (or all but die) in the next couple of decades, in favor of more localized, organic training in "on the job" arrangements. Probably bi-vocationally. I think this makes a lot of sense, and the institutional church (locally, denominationally, and otherwise)
must begin to plan and prepare for accommodating this.

I don't have a lot of answers, but I think the questions this kind of discussion raises (and
should raise) are important. What do YOU think?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Wacky Transition Stories #1

Sometimes the way a pastoral search unfolds is truly bizarre—for the candidate, for the search committee, for the congregation, or all of the above!

In this new series, we'll share stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"

So, here's Wacky Story #1, which came to us from a ruling elder who served as the chair of the search committee in this account...

Community Church in York, South Carolina is a small, 50-member congregation that has been around for a little over 60 years. Their pastor had received another call, so the congregation formed a search committee led by one of the elders (call him Joe). This committee was active and diligent in their work to evaluate candidates and begin the process of narrowing the list down to a few. Meanwhile, several qualified men in the region served Community Church in their weekly worship service by providing pulpit supply.

One particular preacher, who we'll call Tom, became a regular; he was a seminary graduate with some ministry experience, and had been ordained by their presbytery; however, he was currently without a call, and was therefore available to come fill the pulpit for Community Church on a regular basis. Tom had a good rapport with the congregation in general, and had submitted his name to the search committee as a candidate to be the next pastor—but, for a variety of reasons, they had eliminated him fairly early on in the process. He took it well, and continued to serve them regularly in preaching.

After several months of consideration, the search committee began to turn its attention to one candidate in particular, whom we will call Bill. They really liked the way Bill had answered his questionnaire, and when they did a phone interview it went really well. Bill and Joe had also had several phone conversations one-on-one, and a friendship had begun to form between them. After further consideration, the committee decided to invite Bill to spend a long weekend with them, interviewing, leading worship, and preaching.

The interview weekend came, and Bill and his family arrived on Thursday night. They spent time with a wide variety of congregants, including a lengthy interview with the session (all of the elders together) and another extended conversation with some other leaders. Bill seemed at ease leading their worship service, and his sermon hit the mark pretty well. When Joe asked around, he couldn't find anyone who didn't seem favorable to Bill as their candidate—it looked like they had found their next pastor.

The congregation was scheduled to meet and vote the following Sunday. The process was supposed to be simple: they would call to order, pass out ballots, and cast their votes. There would be a few minutes before the votes when they could have some discussion, if they needed it. Joe didn't think they would.

So he was surprised when, after asking if there were any questions or discussion, someone stood up and asked, "Why didn't we consider Tom to be our next pastor?" Joe began to explain that Tom had, indeed, applied—and then another member cut him off angrily, saying, "How come you never told us that!?" The discussion quickly devolved into an emotion-filled, multi-sided debate: some wanted Tom and were angry that he wasn't the candidate; others didn't want Tom, but were still frustrated they didn't know he had been a candidate. Others didn't care about Tom at all, and couldn't understand how the vote for Bill had become an argument about someone else!

The meeting went for nearly two hours. In the end, Joe was able to make a full explanation that Tom had been given a fair consideration, and had been eliminated for a variety of reasons (which he was grilled about in the meeting). With the hope that questions about Tom were behind them, he asked if they wanted to go ahead and vote on Bill, or wait until the following week. The general mood seemed to be that they wanted to go ahead and have the vote.

Clearly, though, the spirit of enthusiasm for Bill had been tempered severely by the debate about Tom. When the votes were counted, only 55% had voted in favor of Bill.

Bill declined to accept the call, such as it was, because he recognized the problems associated with taking such a barely-legitimate call. Bill continued his search with other congregations, and Community Church eventually called a different candidate to be their pastor.

* * * * *

Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at: transitions@doulosresources.org.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Was it an effective placement?

The church I'd been serving since late 2011 closed its doors almost exactly two years after I got here. Which means that we moved across the country (to Arizona), away from our families and all that we knew, and into a culture very different from anything we were familiar with—only to see the church close in just two years.

I've had others ask me if we regretted it. "Was it worth it?" they would say. I've asked the same question.

Those who have followed my paradigm of "effective placements" might similarly ask: "was it an effective placement?"

Let's get to the heart of these questions. When we ask things like this, what we really want to know is: how could God be pleased and well-served by a church closing?

The truth is, I don't know the answer to the "how" question; not exactly, anyway. But I do know the answer to a more objective question: WILL God be pleased and well-served by a church closing?


As I said, I don't know how He will serve His purposes through such an event. But I can imagine it will include some of these things:
The work of discipline in a family, where the husband had abandoned his wife and children.
The home visitation of an older couple, who reported that it was the first time ever that their pastor had been in their home.
The counseling of a member whose 20+ year struggle with self-doubt and spiritual confusion was eased, if only a little, through the course of multiple counseling sessions.
The introduction to many in the congregation of the importance and value of a richer, fuller worship service—that worship was more than "just" a sermon with some buffer activities around the margins.
The act of disciplining the spouse in another couple who was fleeing the marriage unbiblically.
The bedside care of several who were dying and in need of a pastor, and the subsequent funerals conducted for the sake of the grief of their families (and the congregation as a whole).
The ministry to a single mom who couldn't see her way forward, and who needed to be assured that the messes in her life were cared for by Jesus.
The care of a divorcée who struggled with learning to trust anyone again.
The mounting weekly benefits of the ministry of Word and Sacrament, including a handful of baptisms.
The conducting of several weddings, plus the pre-marital counseling that attended them.
The challenging, encouraging, training, and support of elders and deacons.

That was just during my tenure here—and I'm certain that more of the above (and other things too) occurred before my ministry began.

And that's just the things I know about. There are surely countless others that I do not know now, and may never know this side of glory.

Which is to say: I'm confident in this, above all else: this was an effective placement, because God used me as He would do and did much in our midst in spite of me. I served the "full term" of my ministry here, even though that term was briefer than I or anyone else thought or hoped it would be when I accepted the call.

That's all that I—or anyone called to ministry—can ask.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Good Search Committtee Communication, part 1: why it matters

A friend of mine is between positions in non-church jobs, and he had an interview a few weeks ago. The company he interviewed with met with him on a Tuesday, and they said at the end, “We’ll let you know what is next on Friday.” And that’s exactly what they did.

To a pastor in transition, the above situation seems foreign, if not inconceivable. That’s because pastoral search committees, as a category, have a reputation for being fairly horrible at communicating with candidates. And I have yet to encounter or hear about one that defies this reputation consistently, if they have any kind of process in place at all.

(This means that I don’t have any one particular church or experience—so no one should take this personally. Actually, scratch that;  everyone should. This is very personal, and not just to me: it is personal to every pastor who is in transition, along with their wives and families. It’s personal to the people on the search committee and reflective of their perception about just how important it is.)

Search committees: this post (and this series) is for you.

What’s going on with your candidates

By a certain point in life, all of us have had job interviews. Some of them may have been more informal, while others required the greatest of poise and decorum. We heard back from some right away, while others made us wait.

The point is: somewhere in everyone’s personal history, they know the mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges of having to wait to see whether this job will be the next one for us.

Your candidates are going through this, too. Whether they are currently in another position as a pastor or associate/assistant pastor, without a call, or approaching graduation from seminary, they are wrestling with the same challenges.

Only maybe a little more. The pastoral transition process takes longer, and in some ways is much harder, than the process of many other professions.

The timeline of a pastoral transition

In many secular professions (by which I mean simply, “not a profession working in ministry”), the timeline for a transition can be as simple as this:
  1. Professional feels it is time to move on from his/her current position, or is fired/laid off/“downsized"/let go
  2. Professional contacts those who might help him/her find another position (recruiters, friends with similar positions in other companies, etc.) and asks for help
  3. A new opportunity arises
  4. Professional submits his/her name for the new opportunity
  5. Professional interviews for new opportunity
  6. Professional is offered a position with new opportunity and decides whether or not to take it; OR
  7. Professional is NOT offered a position with new opportunity, and explores other opportunities
This timeline can take a while—maybe a few months—or it can take as little as a few weeks. In rougher economic times, as we have seen in recent years, it can be trying and a much longer process. Often, though, professionals are able to make an effective transition to a new position within, say, 2–4 months of when they first decide that it is time to move on.

Let’s assume the same starting-point for a pastor: he has determined that it is time for him to move on to another pastorate. What happens next?

He will probably spend several months waiting for a position to come available that likely is a good fit. This is because the positions that are currently open are already well-along into the process of considering other candidates.

He may submit his name for several positions as they come available, and will wait another month or two still. This is because church search committees typically receive between 50 and 150 applicants for any position.

He might finally hear from a search committee that they are interested in exploring with him his fit for their position, through a questionnaire or possibly a brief phone interview; this time of exploration may take another several months. This is because search committees are almost always done by volunteers, who can only devote a few evenings or weekend afternoons a month to the process—and they are also still considering as many as 20 or 30 other candidates at this stage.

He might then be asked to work with them on the next stages of their consideration—such as a phone interview (a second one), another questionnaire, or possibly an in-person visit with just the search committee; this time will take perhaps as little as a few weeks, or as much as another couple of months. This is because, while the search committee has culled their list to only a dozen or fewer candidates, they are still considering several candidates; meanwhile, the volunteers on the committee have begun to tire out, and their efficiency in the process is understandably suffering.

Now assume that he gets the invitation to be the main candidate—now he will be asked to come for a visit (probably several weeks in advance) and spend a weekend with the congregation; thus, he may wait for as much as a month or more before the next phase can be completed. This is because the logistical aspects of the process take time, and travel arrangements can’t be made for just a few weeks out without substantial cost.

If you’re following so far, this pastor’s timeline has added up thusly:
  • Waiting for a likely position: 1–3 months
  • Submitting his name and waiting: 1–2 months
  • Initial search committee processing: 2–3 months
  • Advanced search committee processing: 3 weeks–2 months
  • Invitation for in-person candidacy: 3–6 weeks
Total: 5.5–11.5 months

If this pastor is efficient in his own process, he may have more than one of these going at the same time (up to a point)—but if he is attentive to fit and not just submitting his name willy-nilly to every open position, he may not!

But remember this, too: it’s not unlikely that he’s also already been through this once or twice with other congregations, and at some point (maybe half-way through, or maybe all the way at the end) it reached a conclusion without this pastor receiving a call. In such situations, it can be well over a year from the time when a pastor first decides to seek a new call until he actually has one, even if every search committee is as fast and efficient as the minimum timeline above

I know one fellow pastor who searched and candidated with other congregations for four years before he actually received a new call—all the while waiting, and striving to serve his current congregation faithfully until he was called elsewhere.

This is actually a good thing

All of this process is actually good for the church; it should take a while to find the guy who will be the next pastor! I am in no way advocating that the search process should speed up, or be cut down in some way to make it happen faster.

What I want you to see here is two key points.

First, this process is long, elaborate, and exhausting. It’s not the same as any other professional transition process. (Probably the closest analogue in a non-church setting is the teacher/professor who seeks a new position with another school, university, or other academic institution—and must usually wait until a certain time of year to make their transition.)

Second, with a process this lengthy, good communication is a must. Think of it this way: I often counsel candidates to treat each opportunity as if they will be the next pastor of that congregation, and seek to minister to them throughout the process. What if search committees took the same approach—and sought to communicate with each candidate as if he were to be their next pastor? (One of them likely will be!) 
I wonder if the communication breakdown that often happens would be different?

In future posts in this series, I’ll explore how it could be different. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Infographic on recruiting

Here's an infographic from the folks at Vibe—it details a few "secrets" from recruiters about how things go in the corporate world.

A few take-aways from this are helpful:
  • My guess is that the average time looking at a CV (or resume) spent by a search committee is slightly more than the 5–7 seconds listed above; however, I would guess, too, that it is not more than 30 seconds for the first time they look (in other words, if you don't make the first cut, that's all the time you may get).
  • A lot of this stuff has already been covered on this blog (see Removing pebbles from the path...); however, here's further verification that those warnings are true (at least in the world in general).
  • I still maintain that finding opportunities via networking is the best way to go—precisely because of the notions mentioned above.