Sunday, January 21, 2007

The "Data Form": the second-most important piece of your information packet (part one)

I posted previously on the most important part of your information packet, your resume (here and here).  The second most important part for many pastors (and pastors in training) is the denominational "data form."

[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
  • References
Other points of data that are often requested:
  • 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
Data forms deserve a lot of thought and time.  If you want to make progress in your search, you need to do a good job putting this document together.  In a future post, I'll walk through some considerations when filling out your data form.

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Saville said...

I am really surprised that the PCA Data form does deal with 'Hot Topics' or exceptions to the Standards. It would make things much easier. My paedocommunion exception - though not a big deal to the church where I was called - was a BIG concern for some other search committees. It would be nice to have these issues out of the way BEFORE the interview process begins!

Ed said...

The PCA's Data Form DOES have some of this information. For example, some of the "hot topics" are covered under Part IV, Personal Views and Practices-- but probably not the one that most folks will be looking for today (Federal Vision, New Perspective, Paedo-Communion, etc.). This was what I meant by needing an update.

However, your exceptions to the Confession should have been noted in the very last question of that secion, which reads as follows:

Please be specific in answering the following:
(a) If you are not now a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, do you intend to support and be active in the denomination?
(b) Are you in agreement with the system of doctrine, discipline and government of the Presbyterian Church in America?

Particularly part B, though veiled, is looking for confessional exceptions-- because the Westminster Confession IS the system of doctrine of the PCA, and it asks for specific answers.

Saville said...

You're right about it being veiled. I looked at B as being a "yes" or "no" answer - similar to the second ordination vow. Though I do take a few exceptions, I still consider myself to be in "agreement with the system of doctrine etc..." so I didn't read that question as really getting at those issues.