Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Churches have some obligations in the process, too

Early in my blogging endeavors, I discussed the need for a better balance in the candidacy process (see “Finding a Balance, part 1 and part 2). As I mentioned then, candidate-pastors must be extensively prepared for the process before they even begin communicating with candidate-churches: they will have assembled a resume (at a minimum), and should also have completed some other major documentation, such as:
  • A Ministerial Data Form (MDF)-- most denominations have some form that organizes specific information in an arrangement they prefer.
  • A statement of ministry philosophy-- pastors need to know what your values, commitments, and essential focus(es) will be, and so do candidate-churches.
  • A list of references-- every candidate needs to have a group of people ready to speak on behalf of that candidate.
  • A personal biography-- what's the candidate-pastor's life-story in a page or less? (This information is more important than you think.)
  • Sample sermons or lessons-- preferably in audio format (or even video), candidate-churches will want-- and need-- to hear candidate-pastors teach.
What are the specifics that candidate-churches ought to bring to the table? How should a church be prepared for the candidacy process? I suspect (and my research confirms my suspicions) that pastors leave ”early“-- before they have served the full-term of their ministry at a particular church-- frequently because they did not know key details about the church before they began their ministry there.

Here are some ideas (far from exhaustive) for how a church may begin gathering the information they should present to a candidate-pastor as he goes through the interview process with them.
  • Gather existing documents and information. Chances are, a candidate-church already has a good bit of information that is useful in the search process. Does the church have a constitution or by-laws? What about Board-approved position papers on various issues over the years? Where are the notes from the Session's ”Vision-Casting Retreat“ last fall? Anything that is already on paper is helpful; some (even most) of it may need updating, but these things are a great starting point right out of the gates. [NOTE: this is only true if the documents actually represent meaningful information. So, if a ”Vision Statement“ was developed and adopted two years ago, but nothing has been done with it since then, it is misleading and even ethically questionable to present it as an accurate statement of the vision of the church.]
  • Create a profile of the church. How would the Search Committee describe it, given unlimited time? How about in five minutes or less? How about in a paragraph-- or even a sentence? If the Search Committee can't help outsiders understand the existing ministries, dynamics, and demographics of the cnadidate-church, there is no guarantee that the pastor will be anything like what the church needs. My denomination, the PCA, has a church profile form that largely mirrors a candidate-pastor's MDF, so it is easy to compare the two and spot similarities-- great idea.
  • Develop a statement of ministry philosophy (or update it if it already exists). This sounds like a complex, abstract, and boring document, but all it really does is answer this question: ”Why are we doing what we are doing?“ It addresses the core values, theological emphases, and natural inclinations that exist in the church. Does the church have a special interest in mercy ministries? Are most of her members strong evangelists? Does the prominence of worship resonate as a central aspect of the congregation? These (and others) are the ideas that go into a Philosophy of Ministry statement.
  • Provide a history of the church. This doesn't have to be a move-by-move account of every Sunday School class that ever existed, but it does need to be honest, and complete enough to present an accurate picture. The obvious milestones should be included: when the church was planted, the first building purchase, any long-term relationships with other churches and organizations, etc. But there are other things a candidate-church might prefer to hide, but shouldn't: have there been any splits? What have the patterns of growth been? How many pastors has the church had-- and why did the last few leave? It should give candidate-pastors a fair and true presentation of the church's background.
  • Have a clear sense of what the church is called to do. Churches have callings just like pastors; some are stronger in evangelism, others in mercy, others in teaching and fellowship. The same five key factors I've identified for candidate-pastors also apply to candidate-churches. How is the church-- and especially the Search Committee-- attuned to the church's sense of calling, their willingness to follow God (even in new directions), and their submission and humility through the process? If the committee can articulate these, then they're really starting to get somewhere with the search process.
Having this information gathered and documented protects everyone, both short-term and long-term. Candidate-pastor(s) get the information they want and need during the interview process, and Search Committees are not forced to answer questions on the spot or, worse, to try to dodge them. And, both the church and pastor are assured that future problems are less likely, since all of the cards are on the table from the start.


Saville said...

Ed, how much do you think churches consider the matter of philosophy of ministry? I have written one. But I have found that most churches typically only ask for and MDF and Resume, and maybe a bio/testimony. Ministry philosophy as come up somewhat in interviews, but only one church has actually asked me to submit a written philosophy of ministry. Is this just because I am looking for an Assistant/Associate position?

Ed said...

That's disappointing all around. Even if you are only seeking an Assistant/Associate Pastoral position, I would hope that the Search Committee-- or at least the Head Pastor!-- would want to know that your Philosophy of Ministry is congruent with theirs.

I have a friend who, as the Sr. Pastor, frequently came under fire from a couple of Ruling Elders for a certain aspect of ministry in which they felt he was "lacking" in his performance. He finally said, "You knew that "___" was not one of my top priorities when you hired me, because we talked through my Philosophy of Ministry statement; we need to move on, or if it is really that important then we should part roads." That settled the matter; thus, because of his diligence to present and discuss his ministry philosophy, he had an established precedent for his ministry practices. [Be aware that it does not always work out this cleanly!]

So I think they are very important, both for you-- as they give you guidance for evaluating what ministries and churches suit you-- and for them, even if they don't know it. I would say that, if they don't actively engage you about it, then you should bring it up. Make it a part of the discussion; let them know it is important to you, and that it should be important to them too, if they want you on staff.