Sunday, January 14, 2007

Why starting early is so important

Why is starting early so important?  Why does it take so long?  A large part of the equation is what happens on the church's side.  One of the churches I'm currently in the process with (which will remain anonymous) is a good example.

This particular church began developing the position (a new Assistant Pastor role) in late spring 2006.  This development essentially consisted of the Elders approving a position in principle, Senior Pastor drafting a position description, and the Elders approving it.  While this was a relatively quick procedure (it probably was completed in less than two months), this is exceptional.  When a position description is subject to the work of self-studies, committee discussion, and congregational approval, the process obviously would take a lot longer.

Once that was completed, they began listing the position as open (mid-summer) and they formed a search team.  By early fall, they had begun gathering a number of candidates, and the search team started the lengthy process of screening and evaluating these candidates.  (One of the advantages-- to pastors, at least-- of the unbalanced system is that there isn't as much work to be done on the screening/evaluation.)

I contacted them mid-fall; my package of information went into the pile with the others.  I don't know how many there were that I was competing with, but if I had to guess it would be over 50 candidates.

[Elapsed time: six months.]

Remember, these committees are made up of volunteers, meeting as often as they can and doing "homework" (reading documents, listening to sermons, calling references) on their own time.  My guess is that they met monthly at least; perhaps they were able to meet as often as twice a month, and even on occasion more often than that.  Even if they met weekly, the search team had a lot of work to do.  They likely eliminated some more quickly than others, but when the time came to make a major cut they probably still had 15 or more to choose from.  From there, they cut down to a handful.

[Elapsed time: eight months.]

This handful would next face telephone interviews.  Again, if they scheduled them one at a time, each would take 2-3 hours; at least one hour for the interview itself, plus another hour or more for discussion.  If they met weekly to conduct these, they have a month's worth of work to do.  More than likely it would take two months.

[Elapsed time: 10 months.]

By this point they will narrow the candidate pool to one or two candidates.  Having done this, they will schedule a visit for the top candidate.  In this case, this is simply a matter of bringing the candidate (and his wife, if he's married) to them; however, in other situations (such as when the candidate is a senior or solo pastor, and they must visit him), it may be more complicated.  Still, even my case study church will need a few weeks to get this organized.  It's reasonable to think that it may take a month before the interview weekend actually occurs.

[11 months.]

Assuming they still prefer their top candidate, they may begin the process of extending him a call in the week following the interview weekend.  (If they vote against him, it may take another few weeks before another interview weekend with a different candidate.)  It may take a few days, or even a week, for negotiation of the terms of call (that is, if he also believes that this is the call God has for him).  Once the negotiations are done, it is likely that the candidate will need a month or six weeks before he is available.

If all of this goes as smoothly as possible, they may have their new Assistant Pastor one year after they began the process of looking for him.  (However, there may another couple of months of work with presbytery for ordination.)  There are any number of things that might complicate it:

• Developing the position description requires broader input than just staff and Elders
• Phone interviews are slowed by schedules and take two or three months
• The first "pick" is not the right guy-- or he doesn't accept the call-- and they have to go another round (or two, three, four...)
• After accepting the call, he needs two or more months before he can make the transition
• Snags with presbytery slow down the ordination process (this is particularly a concern for a solo or senior pastor)

In most cases, a church should expect the process to take 12-18 months.  If a candidate gets in at just the right moment, he may get in on the last 2-3 months of it.  In all likelihood, it will be four or five months in many candidates' experience.  And that's assuming that the first opportunity he contacts is the one he ends up with.

Why is starting early so important?  If you want to place by graduation, you have to give it the time it takes-- and that means six months or more.

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