There's a lot of good stuff to mine from this article; while it is obviously written for those working in a more corporate work environment, much of what is said applies to pastoral transition too (if indirectly). The one I want to focus on today is #2 on Foss's list: "Applying for jobs (blindly) when you're not an obvious on-paper match."
I think this is one of the bigger problems that pastoral candidates (and, consequently, search committees) have to deal with. And I think that because, when I have interacted with search committees—and especially committee chairs—about this question, they often tell me so.
Here's a typical scenario of what I mean: during a season in which I am candidating (such as right now!), I usually try to find potential opportunities through my network of contacts; invariably, though, I will see some on the various lists that are out there that appear to be intriguing at first glance. In these cases, my next step is to get in contact with the search committee chairperson: I want to find out if the position would be a strong potential fit for me and for them.
Often, when explaining this reason for calling or e-mailing, the chairperson will first express gratitude, and then surprise. It seems that search committees receive a lot of resumes from candidates who, it seems to the chair, have never stopped to consider whether potential "fit" should influence the decision to submit their names for consideration!
What happens when a candidate doesn't bother to consider fit? Wasted time: it wastes the candidate's time— because they've spent time writing an e-mail and attaching files, at minimum. In some cases, the work that goes into taking the first steps of submitting one's name are much more involved. If a candidate has so much spare time on his hands that this waste is not a big deal, there are still many better ways to spend it fruitfully toward an effective transition.
And it wastes the committee's time— because now they have to consider this candidate's resume, discuss it, and take the time to respond (negatively). If it were once in a blue moon, that would be one thing; add three, four, a dozen, or more candidates who are poorly suited for position to the mix, and you have a recipe for a committee that is fatigued, discouraged, and disenchanted with the process on the front-end of it. (Oh, and by the way: if you think it's no big deal to discourage a search committee like this, you've just proven how poorly suited you are to be their pastor!)
This is not to mention the wasted energy, emotional investment, and so on that inevitably results from every time you chip your name into the hat. It costs a lot to NOT consider fit!
How should you go about determining "fit" and avoiding the blind mass-application? Here are few ideas...
- Don't worry about casting a wide net. Early on in my research on the topic of pastoral transition, I thought that guys who had not submitted their names to at least a dozen or more churches were either being lazy or settling too quickly. As I've studied this topic over the last decade, I've come to realize that this can also be the mark of a careful consideration of what a good "fit" looks like. (This doesn't mean that a candidate shouldn't think outside of the box in terms of what he really is fit to do; there's a difference.)
- Remember that fit-ness will ultimately determine the effectiveness of your future ministry. If this is so (and my research certainly has demonstrated that it absolutely is), then you need to be all about this from the start. I was just talking with a fellow pastor over the weekend who recounted how tempting it was at one point to simply accept any position, because he knew he needed a job; fortunately for him (and for his church!), his wife was a voice of reason, reminding him of the need to follow a sense of clear calling, not simply gaining a paycheck.
- Actually read all of the information you can find. I would hope this would be pretty self-evident from what I've already written on doing church research (see "What do you do first?"); just in case it isn't—or in case you haven't yet read that post—hear this: your first steps are to learn about this potential congregation. Try to figure out whether you are a good fit, and whether they are a good fit for you (see comments below on what to think about "fit"). If you've read up on a church thoroughly, and talked to others you know in that area or region about the congregation, and you still think you'd be a good fit for them, you are ready for the next step.
- Get in touch with them. I always do this, and I've never yet regretted the time spent. It usually starts with a simple e-mail to a key person (the search committee chair, the current or previous pastor, an elder or leader in the church, etc.) saying, "I'm interested in the position, and I'd like to talk with you briefly about it to determine whether it would be worth the search committee's time for me to apply." (If they are unresponsive or uninterested—which will be rare—that may be indicative of fit, as well...) Then just have a conversation with them. Ask them what you should know that the information you have can't tell you. Ask about the circumstances of the previous pastor (if relevant). Ask what kind of person they are seeking to fill the position. Ask about the leadership and what sort of leadership style they will expect from the new guy. Ask whatever you think you need to know to determine whether it's a congregation you could be content serving for the next season of your life and ministry.
- Now, you may apply. If you've made it this far and you still think a good fit could be there, by all means send your resume and other information along!
What are you thinking about to determine whether the "fit" is good or not? Just a few ideas...
What are their convictions and preferences?
Who are they? And are they folks you can pastor?
What is their stated "vision" and does it fit with you?
What challenges have they faced in the recent past that you will have to deal with?
Are there any keywords or key phrases that describe particular convictions that you have, that they also clearly share? (Conversely, are there particular convictions expressed that you know will be a struggle for you to go along with?)
These are just a few. There are definitely others (probably a couple of blog posts' worth of "fit-ness" questions could be developed).
In closing, here's a quote from the late William Still on waiting for the right fit (which I have posted before):
You must know or be seeking decisive assurance that you are called by Him to minister the Word; and you must eventually, before you begin, be so certain of this that you would die at the stake for your knowledge.
[Then] you must be willing to wait His will. Some of the most fruitful ministers I know in Scotland have had to wait years for their God-given appointments. And I might add that some have to wait for years in what I call a preparatory ministry, which is often more for their own personal good than for what an unwilling evangelistic people bargained for. You must be sure that you are in the right place. Only one thing kept me in my pulpit when all hell was let loose against me: it was the knowledge that God put me there, and there I had to stay until God took me out. I have hurled this more than once at my enemies with, I assure you, devastating effect!