[Obviously if you are not a part of a denomination then this is largely irrelevant; I say "largely" because it may well be that you would benefit from putting this sort of information together, and you may wish to prepare it anyway.]
Many denominations have a pre-formatted Data Form that becomes a boilerplate evaluation tool for the search teams. All but one of the denominations that I am searching within use one.
In this post I want to talk through the benefits of using a Data Form and give a brief synopsis of the common components. In my next post on this subject, I'll give some advice on preparing these documents.
Many people are critical of data forms as redundant, unnecessary, or a distraction from more important issues. While it's true that many denominational data forms need updating-- for example, the PCA's data form asks about theological issues that most pastors won't face very much, while it misses the current "hot topics"-- I believe that they are still valuable tools for early evaluation.
Why? Because, when properly used, data forms give a good snapshot of the essentials for narrowing a field of candidates from dozens-- even hundreds-- down to a manageable number. In the best cases, churches will fill out a similar form (in the PCA this is called a "Church Profile") that asks identical questions on some sections. The benefit here should be obvious: a side-by-side comparison by either party should immediately reveal whether the "fit" is close enough to continue exploring.
(A rule of thumb that I use: if there are more than three times when my data form and a church's profile are off by two or more points on a ranking scale, the fit is not close enough and I'll pass on the opportunity.)
Of course, data forms and church profiles should be appropriately understood as only a part of the picture. It's a problem when either candidate-pastor or candidate-church put too much weight on the content of the data form.
What is a data form, anyway?
Nearly all data forms include the following information:
- Personal data (birthdate, marital status, family facts)
- Education and other training
- Ministry experience and other work history
- Personal views on theological issues
- Questions about "hot topic" theological issues
- Preferences about how a pastor would spend his time and energy
- Information about accomplishments, additional training, personal/professional goals, or key experiences
- Statements about theological views and exceptions to confessional standards