Thursday, March 15, 2007

On brackets and search processes

I got an e-mail responding to my post on brackets from a few days ago. This Pastor, who acknowledges that his church has used a similar process, had some good critique of my post, which I would like to respond to, and clarify some of my thoughts.

He said:
I simply don’t know how any interview process doesn’t involve comparison and weighting of strengths and weaknesses, unless you are willing to go to some mystical method of choosing a candidate.  We recognize here that the best candidate might not be the most skilled candidate and that has never been our thinking.  We want God’s choice, but that means, in our system of government, the opinion of Elders as they weigh both the skills, personality, ‘fit,’ and intangibles that a candidate can bring.
I agree with this sentiment, but I don't agree that it must occur through a "mystical method" in the search process. It seems to me that each candidate could-- and should-- be evaluated on their own, as opposed to evaluating them in comparison to others. Do they have the skills and gifts being sought? If so, do they have the experience needed (or desired) to fortify their abilities? Can they work well within the context presented-- e.g., would they fit into an existing ministry team well (with personality, teamwork ability, need for oversight or lack thereof, etc.), would they serve as the leader they need to be (over a ministry team, Session or Board, etc.)? If these answers can be answered in the affirmative, maybe they should advance to further consideration.

I'm not saying the opinion of Elders in weighing those factors isn't important; in fact, I think it is essential. I'm simply saying that the "weighing" should occur with an objective set of standards on the other side of the scale-- not simply a different candidate.

He said:
Other comments speaking of a “beauty pageant” and that the Senior Pastor must “pick between candidates” is offensive. [In my situation,] we are not a pastor-centered church and I have done everything that I can do to not weight my opinion more heavily than it should be weighted. I have therefore stayed out of much of the Search Team process, but it seems I’m dammed if I do get involved (Senior Pastor is the major decision-maker) and dammed if I don’t (abdicated proper responsibility). 
I apologize for the offense: I'm sorry for that. In some searches, what you described (in terms of your involvement) is exactly the way the search should be handled, and it may be that you walked that narrow line very well.

In other situations, it seems that the Pastor must get involved early on. If the search is for an Assistant Pastor whose role will essentially be to relieve the Pastor of an oversized burden, I think that Pastor needs to be very actively involved; he will have to work very closely with the new Pastor, and his lack of involvement could sabotage the process: either he gambles and wins (best case) or some incompatibility or obstacle is learned late in the process (worst case) and time is wasted for everyone.

Whatever the case, for a Pastor to be kept out of the loop, then handed the names of two candidates and asked to "pick one" is unfair to the Pastor and the candidates-- it seems like he (the Pastor) must then repeat all of the previous vetting and evaluation in brief, just to get up to speed. Then there is the problem of comparison evaluation, as I mentioned above. Yet this was how my situation was described to me by the search team leader.

Far better, in my view, for the search team (with the Pastor's input along the way) to present one candidate that is the "best" in terms of fitness, ability, experience, etc., then ask the Elders to decide. This may result in rejection of that candidate and the process starts over, to a degree-- but at least everyone was dealt with in a fair and objective manner.

He said:
You said:  “The Search Team shirked their responsibility.”  Wow – that’s an awfully clear condemnation.  I just don’t see where these absolute judgments come from.  I would just point out that your perspective is limited, as is all of our perspectives, but there seems to be no grace here or humility of perspective. 
That's true, and unfair of me to condemn outright-- and I've corrected the previous post to reflect it. Again, I apologize for a lack of grace or humility.

Perhaps in my situation the search team was directed to return the top two candidates-- in which case they would have fulfilled their responsibility utterly. However, that would mean that the directions given to them would have presupposed a comparative search, like what I described above, and I can't get past my objections to that to fully condone the methods employed. (By the way, my objections do not arise simply from the fact that I wasn't chosen by this church! I discussed my concerns with Phil Douglass before I was even a "final four" candidate, and that is when he commented that such a method always resulted in a "beauty pageant.")

He said:
We have used the normal tools of discovery, and we can’t get past them, yet we realize that the whole story is not ours to know.
Maybe this is exactly the problem: perhaps the so-called normal tools of discovery are insufficient for a Pastoral search. My point in the "brackets" post is simply to say that the whole story is, actually, what needs to be known.

In a conversation with Dr. Dominic Aquila, he mentioned to me that if a church is doing their duty in evaluating candidates they will check multiple references. "If they get all 'halo' references then they haven't looked hard enough," he said, "because no one is a perfect candidate." This goes both ways, too: if a church gets a less-than-positive reference, it needs to be considered in concert with a host of other factors, including other references.

The take away is that a good (and fair) evaluation will not just look at a snapshot of the candidate's qualifications and history, but more of a home-movie of it. This isn't possible with a comparative search method.

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