Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Finding a balance, part 2

I mentioned before that I think there is a clear need for (and absence of) balance in the initial communication between candidate-pastor and candidate-church. I think that this problem continues through much of the rest of the process, and it poses significant problems for both church and pastor. Considering what would bring balance might, at best, present churches with the impetus for change, and at worst it will give candidates a heads-up of what is-- and isn't-- to come.

As a candidate-pastor proceeds through the candidacy process, the interviews will inevitably pose another occasion of unbalanced interaction. A phone interview, for example, will likely be all of the members of the search committee in one room on a speaker phone calling the candidate-pastor. They will take their turns asking questions and following up with more questions. Quite often, this will take all of the allotted time; it will almost certainly take most of that time. Little or no time is afforded for the questions that a candidate-pastor may have of the committee, and when he asks them, the answers are often abridged or awkward. He usually will not get to ask very many questions at this time. My experience has frequently been that search committees are actually surprised at the possibility that a candidate has questions for them.

By the time a candidate-pastor visits the church in-person, it is highly possible that the church (or at least the search committee) knows a great deal about him, his experience, and his hopes and ambitions in ministry. In fact, if this were not the case, I would wonder if they have taken their work very seriously. However, it is also highly possible that the candidate-pastor knows very little about the candidate-church at this point. When will he have the chance to learn more about the candidate-church? Hopefully by the end of the visit, although even this is not guaranteed. Will he have an opportunity to ask all of his questions? Will he be able to ask them to different people, even different groups of people? We found that we usually would not have all of our questions answered by the end of a weekend visit, even though we strategically asked our questions to the groups we were with, and we edited our question list heavily. (We did eventually get them answered, but it was only with much perseverance.)

How can these things be remedied? (After all, my reflections on this would be only a little helpful if I did not present a few possible solutions...)

I think that candidate-pastors can, first and foremost, be confident that they have a right to know what they need to know to make good, thoughtful decisions. In other words, the first remedy to the situation is to act like a candidate-pastor dealing with a candidate-church, not just as an applicant seeking a job. We need to have confidence in the calling God has given us!

Secondly, it can be helpful to let the candidate-church(es) know up-front that you are trying to get to know them just as much as they are trying to get to know you. This may be with bold steps to seek out information from the start, as my friend Travis indicated that he does (see his comment on "The Waiting Game"). For me, that comes in a simple sentence in my cover letter that says as much. I follow that with persistent requests for additional information, such as a Church Profile and a statement of the church's Vision.

Also, it helps to think of creative ways to seek out information about the church. Does the church have a website-- and if so, have I studied it? Hoards of questions can come from them. Have I looked at the immense amount of data available online about the town and area the church is located in? Demographics, rea estate, cultural events, civic resources, and even the Yellow Pages can be greatly helpful. Are there other churches in the area who are familiar with the ministries of the candidate-church? Asking for a list of "references" and calling the pastors of those churches seems to be a reasonable move. How about within the church itself? Do I know anyone who is or has been there, or who knows a member there? Who were the last two pastors to serve in the position I am seeking-- and why did they leave? Who is the pastor now-- is he leaving, and why? Have I talked to these men? Do I know others who know them-- and what can they tell me about the church and the position I am seeking?

Finally, be prepared with good questions. I don't want to waste the precious time I do have with questions that will not get me useful answers, and I don't want to waste the time of those I ask, either. I may have 50 questions I want answers to, but can I condense those into 5 bigger questions that will reveal the answers to the rest? I need to exercise good stewardship of the time and questions I have to make the most of the candidacy process.

Of course, these are not all of the possible remedies. If you know of any, I would love hear about them. And I appreciate your feedback on the ones I have come up with.

1 comment:

Wong Online PoKér Hu said...

Balance is more of a challenge than an issue. In this world where everthing seems to be unfair, it is hard to make equity dominate. However, the possibilities are endless and balance is attained depending on the willingness of the concerned entities to make sacrifices.