Saturday, October 04, 2014

Renting vs. Buying: home considerations

Pastors are not necessarily the most-adversely affected group when it comes to the decline in the housing market of the past seven years, but they are among those whose lives and vocations are greatly influenced by it. While buying a house used to be a stable and fairly certain positive investment, it is no longer such a safe bet. Frequently, pastors who would otherwise accept a call to ministry (a new/different one, or even a first one) are sometimes prevented from doing so because of the financial obligations of a home mortgage and the inability to sell their home.

Our family faced the impact of this when I accepted a call to serve in Tucson, AZ after four years in Tennessee: we had purchased a home in Tennessee in 2007 (just before the "housing bubble" burst), and refinanced it for incredibly low terms just a year before moving. Because of our refinanced loan, we saved a lot of money on our mortgage with a payment reduced by more than $200 a month—but we also had almost no equity, which gave us very little room for negotiation on the price. That, coupled with the fact that two very similar homes on our street were short-selling for more than $20K less than what we had to get as the final price meant that our efforts to sell our home failed miserably. We ended up staying in a small guest house in Arizona for eight months while we sought to rent our house instead, and then faced the challenges of renting (which are too many to address in this post).

I know another pastor who invested well in home after home (following one call to the next), and over the years established a great amount of equity—so much, in fact, that he and his wife were able to build the home they wanted shortly after accepting a new call in Florida in 2005. That home is now still more than $100K "under water" and every penny of equity they had gained over more than 30 years of ministry is gone. This is a perfect illustration of how home-buying is not the investment that it was for past generations.

This is just one example of why housing can be such a difficult matter of decision for a pastor in transition. For a pastor or candidate who is blessed with being unencumbered by an existing mortgage, important decisions about their future housing are afoot. A church that provides a manse or parsonage (which are fewer and fewer, sadly—and perhaps reviving this time-tested tradition would be a way around the problem entirely!) offers a deferment, of sorts, on the decision, but most pastors will eventually face a single important question: rent or buy?

There are more than mere fiscal considerations at play here. For example, about a year into my ministry at the church in Tennessee, one of the members affirmed that buying our house sent a clear signal to the congregation: we were coming to settle in and stay a while. That congregation had been through great turmoil in the years leading up to my pastorate, and the very existence of the church was precarious; this message was one small but vital piece of my ministry to them, and brought stability in ways I had not considered.

There may be other non-financial reasons to buy (or to rent), but the financial factor is a big part of the decision regardless. In our transition to Tucson, the reality was that buying another home was simply not a possibility (there may technically have been a way to do it once we had rented our home for a while, and the rent we received was seen as income—but we had neither the inclination nor the resources to own properties in two states).

In light of this, we recommend a new tool published in the New York Times website's "The Upshot" section offers a "rent vs. buy" calculator that allows multiple points of data input, with a very straightforward reporting of whether it makes more sense to rent or buy. (The report doesn't prescribe, but rather offers a recommendation along the lines of, "if you can rent for less than $xxxx / month, then renting is better.")

You can find—and use—this tool here: Is It Better To Rent Or To Buy?

There's no way to know how long the Times will keep this great resource available; for as long as it is, though, it will be very useful for pastors (and others).

In case it isn't (or if you want to look at other related information and calculators), we have a collection of Transition Tools on this website that will help you calculate:
  • What your monthly payment would be
  • How much home you can afford to buy
  • How much you can borrow
  • Rent vs. Buy (a different calculator)
...And other related information. Go to Transition Tools and scroll down to the "Links to Other Tools" section.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Posting your "ad"

What do you put in the "ad" for your pastoral search? If you're part of a search committee, chances are you've had to think through the things you will put out as a description of the pastor you are seeking.

I've talked before about some utter failures (and about some slightly more subtle problems) with some of the "want-ad" like venues. Today I'll point you to some really solid advice from Pastor Mike Abendroth (host of No Compromise Radio), who spoke earnestly and truthfully last spring about "Want Ads for Pastors."

Pastor Abendroth speaks with some irony about some of the foibles and mis-steps that some search committees have made—some of which are not nearly so obvious as the failures I point to above, but may actually come across as good and legitimate criteria to ask for; indeed, some of the things he describes may be part of YOUR criteria for seeking a new pastor.

After exposing these follies, however, Pastor Abendroth has some excellent and useful words to search committees about what you really SHOULD be looking for: a man who will faithfully preach the Word. Period. The other things are all secondary concerns.

If you are on a search committee, I think you may find this fairly brief (25 minute) podcast episode well worth the listen. Click here to listen to Mike Abendroth's podcast on "Want Ads for Pastors."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Desperation and the job search

So, according to Inc. magazine, when job candidates appear too "desperate" for the job, it is a turn-off for interviewers:

"…If a job candidate comes across as someone who desperately wants to get back to work (or wants to change jobs), we reject them. Which leaves candidates who are currently unemployed (or are in bad jobs) in the weird position of having to pretend that they are fabulously wealthy and just want to get a job to get them out of the house for a bit."

(Read the whole article here.)

With regard to pastoral transition, my evidence is only anecdotal—but if accurate, then this bears out with pastoral searches, too.

One search committee member told me about how one candidate seemed tired and worn down by the process, and that was a big mark against him. I asked her, "do you know how long he had been looking for a position?" and she said she thought it might have been over a year. Is it any surprise that he appeared weary and worn?

(To be fair, the committee I just referenced recommended another candidate for more reasons than just this—but this was the stand-out reason she gave for what made him less favorable.)

This is a hard part of the process. Unless a candidate makes the foolish mistake of simply jumping at any opportunity that is available, then inevitably he has had to do some digging and research, and probably some waiting, for an opportunity to arise that is a good fit.

So, here's a bit of advice to both sides of the equation.

To Candidates

It's hard, but do your best to present yourself as fresh, confident, and eager (but not over-eager)—even if you have been worn down by the search process! Don't mislead or misrepresent yourself to search committees; let them see you as you really are. At the same time, do everything you can to be well-rested before your interviews and visits. Trust in God that His timing for your transition is perfect, and exhibit that trust in how you speak about your willingness to accept a call.

To Search Committees

Be aware that the men you are interviewing may have been in a season of transition, and don't judge them solely on how "fresh" they are, how much they seem "desperate," or whether they seem content in where God has them right now. They may be very discontent or quite weary, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they can't serve your congregation faithfully and with real energy and contentment! (And realize that whether they can do these things is often more dependent on YOUR congregation, and how healthy and peaceful it will be to serve in, than it is the candidate's current circumstances!)

Summing up

The article I linked to above has a great wrap-up that I'll borrow here as well:

"Your first priority should be hiring someone who can do a fabulous job, and sometimes that person is desperate for a job. Don't reject on that basis alone."

Friday, August 08, 2014

Search Committee humor

Thanks to (PCA pastor) Sean Lucas for the cartoon!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shadow economies in pastoral ministry

A few years ago, I came across the idea of a "shadow economy," which is an economic structure that is parallel to, but also outside of, the "official" economy. This can be tantamount to a straight-out black market, where the economic activity is illegal—or it can be something that is not outright illegal, but it is certainly "off the books" as far as reported income goes, and even as far as something that people think of as part of their own economic equation.

(Two very helpful sources in learning more about shadow economies are: a book entitled Working In The Shadows by Gabriel Thompson, and an episode from the radio program and podcast Freakonomics Radio, called "How Deep Is The Shadow Economy?")

Our economic structure is not exactly favorable to shadow economies, but it doesn't prevent them either. And they are very present in the church and Kingdom, as well. In some cultures (especially in highly churched cultures, such as the American south), pastors are particularly frequent recipients of the benefits of a shadow economy.

We could think of this in a Jeff Foxworthy-style way: if any of the following have ever happened to you, you might be part of a shadow economy!
  • If you have ever been given a car...
  • If you've ever received some cash with the encouragement to take your wife out to dinner...
  • If you have been given a gift (for Christmas, pastor appreciation Sunday, or some other occasion) that was collected from all or most of the congregation...
  • If someone from the church has volunteered to clean your house/mow your lawn/etc....
  • If you've been given bags or boxes full of clothes for your children...
...then you've received the benefits of a shadow economy in your church.

Again, let me qualify: these are not wrong or illegal, and in almost every case you don't need to worry about reporting them on your taxes as income. (See this FAQ from the IRS on gifts.) If your church—or individual members in your congregation—are able to be generous with you as their pastor in one of these ways (or dozens of others), you should be thankful!

Why bring it up? Because shadow economies can make a difference in how you understand your terms of call. I can think of at least four ways that this is true. All of these are real-life examples.

Example 1

Pastor Bill is paid $xx,xxx annually by his congregation in housing and salary. In most years, this is barely enough for Bill and his family to get by on, and money is fairly tight for them. However, there are a couple of families in their church that are always on the watch for extraordinary expenses for Pastor Bill, and who step up and help out when these show up.

When Pastor Bill's wife delivered their baby, one of these families began to buy disposable diapers, wipes, and baby formula for Bill's family a couple of times a month. For the first couple of years of the baby's life, Pastor Bill never had to buy a single diaper or can of formula!

In this case, the shadow economy served Pastor Bill in a very beneficial way, including saving hundreds (or probably thousands) of dollars in regular expenses because of the diapers, wipes, and formula.

Example 2

Pastor Joe is a minister for First Church, which pays him $xx,xxx annually in housing and salary. Much like Pastor Bill, Joe and his family find his salary enough—but barely so—and they are grateful that they, too, have a few families who are especially generous. In Joe's case, the elders at his church are attuned to his needs, and have given him very generous "bonuses" and other gifts through the years. In one case, they gave Joe $4,000 when the engine in his car needed to be replaced.

Joe and his wife want to buy a house close to First Church, but the real estate there is not inexpensive. Though they have saved enough for a down-payment, and are confident that they could afford the monthly payment, Joe and his wife cannot qualify for a home loan because the bank sees the amount of income claimed on his taxes as risky. Yet, when Joe explains this to his elders and requests that they consider a raise, they are reluctant—isn't their generosity enough? Hasn't the church taken good care of Joe and his family?

Of course the answer is that they have taken care of him and his family—and yet, this is an example of the shadow economy working against Joe.

Example 3

Pastor Mike is a candidate for a new pastorate, and he feels called to serve them; likewise, the congregation has extended a call to Mike, and now he is negotiating the terms of his new call.

One elder in the church, Phil, works with a missionary agency. Phil and the others who work with that missionary agency all live nearby to the headquarters, and they have an elaborate volunteer structure. Phil and his fellow missionaries regularly have volunteers who fix their cars, repair their furniture, or do work on their homes. Even the homes in that neighborhood have been sold by one generation of missionaries to another at prices far below the market rate. Phil is a beneficiary to an extensive shadow economy—however, Phil has lived within that shadow economy for so long that he doesn't recognize how much he benefits.

Phil therefore cannot understand why Pastor Mike "needs" as much in salary and housing as Mike claims that he needs. Even though Mike has given full disclosure to the elders of his monthly expenses and most of the elders agree that his expenses are reasonable for a family like Mike's, Phil is insistent and votes against Mike's salary package being, as he says, "way too high."

Though Phil is out-voted, this puts Phil and Mike on rocky ground from the start and it is a long while before the tension of this rough start eases between them. Here's another example where a shadow economy can work against a pastor—and while this one is from outside the congregation, it is still within the local Christian community.

Example 4

Pastor Jim was called to serve Community Church following a challenging season in the congregation's history. Jim brings a great stability to the church, and during his years of service he helps them regain a firm foundation in Christ and begin to rebuild.
Jim served as a navy chaplain for a full career before coming to Community Church, and consequently had a nice retirement pension from his military service. When Community Church called Jim to be their pastor, he agreed to take a minimal salary—far less than he could have afforded were it not for his military pension. Were it not for Jim's ability to do this, Community Church would probably not have been able to afford to pay any pastor, and this was one of the key factors in their turn-around.

When Pastor Jim retired from ministry at Community Church, they extended a call to Pastor Adam. However, because of a number of years without having to pay a full pastor's salary, Community Church struggled for several years of Pastor Adam's ministry to pay him enough to live on; they were forced to cut expenses elsewhere, and many in the church didn't understand why the church was cutting out what they perceived as "vital expenses." Consequently, some in the congregation suspected Pastor Adam of not being supportive of the same kinds of ministry that they were, and his early years of service there were difficult in a number of ways.

This example is more complex, because Pastor Jim's retirement pension from his chaplaincy was not part of a shadow economy, but in a sense it sort of created one within the church. Pastor Jim was essentially a bi-vocational pastor, but he neither acted like one nor was he treated like one—except when it came to his pay.

[I feel that I should mention this as a sort of disclaimer: in ALL of the examples above, the effects of the shadow economies were overcome and the pastors described had fruitful ministries in their congregations.]

Closing Thoughts

The tricky part about shadow economies is that they are, by definition, almost impossible to quantify. You cannot "count" the financial benefits, nor can you easily calculate the financial costs, that shadow economies create.

This leaves me with very little advice on handling them. Mainly, you can be aware of them. There may be times when you can point them out to others in a way that lends clarity to a discussion (especially regarding terms of call). You might ask a search committee about them, though you will likely have to explain what you mean and what you are asking about (this will require extreme tact, lest you appear to be asking about "off the books" perks and/or how big your Christmas gift will be!).

But you can have your eyes open, at very least. Knowing that these are factors in many ministry circumstances can be enough, perhaps, to help you navigate these waters more carefully.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wacky Transition Stories #2

Sometimes the way a pastoral search unfolds is truly bizarre—for the candidate, for the search committee, for the congregation, or all of the above!

In this series, we're sharing stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"

So, here's Wacky Story #2, which came to us from a member of the search committee in this account...

The search committee for Covenant Church had been very efficient in their work, and within about four months had identified a strong candidate, who we'll call Fred, who they were prepared to present to the congregation. They invited him (and his wife) for a visit, and Fred spent about four days with the committee, the session, the diaconate, and the congregation. He got to know the church very well, and indicated to everyone his willingness to come serve them as pastor.

A week after his visit, the congregation held a meeting and voted with a very strong majority to extend Fred the call as their next senior pastor. The search committee chair communicated this to Fred, and they began to discuss his terms of call and the other logistics related to his call as their pastor. Once all of these were essentially settled (within about another week), Fred again indicated his interest but also stated that he wanted to pray about it with his wife, and seek the counsel of some others.

A week went by. Then another. A member of the search committee e-mailed Fred, who responded vaguely that he was still praying about it. Another couple of weeks passed.

Finally, the presbytery meeting where Fred's call as Covenant Church's new senior pastor would be approved was approaching. The search committee chair called Fred, who still maintained that he was prayerfully considering it. Fred told him that he would let them know what his decision was at the presbytery meeting.

The day of the presbytery meeting arrived, and Fred didn't even show up! The search committee chair called Fred from the presbytery meeting, and Fred said bluntly that he wasn't taking the call.

Needless to say, by this point the members of the search committee—and many of the members of the congregation—were having their own doubts about whether Fred was the right guy for them, as well. There was a certain amount of relief in the final conclusion of it, but it also led to doubts and some second-guessing for the next candidate (who did take the call).

* * * * *

Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reflecting on the basis of a call to ministry (or a lack thereof)

Mike Milton, who until recently was the Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), regularly writes very personal letters to the students of RTS; in June, he wrote this letter to pastoral students on the ground and basis of their calling and ministry.

Dr. Milton writes:

[Martin] Bucer teaches us that the warrant, the calling and the work of the pastor, must be grounded in the Word of God and in the theological commitments of the Reformation and must be embraced personally by the pastor. In other words, the pastoral ministry is not just a Biblical idea, though it must be that, it is also a Spirit-shaped reality in the soul of the one called to be a pastor.

He also recounts a conversation before his own seminary training, in which a seasoned minister challenged him:

You only have your call from God! When they give you a Christmas raise and then run you out on a rumor, when the devil stirs up opposition against you for the sake of Jesus, and when you are hurt like our Lord was hurt, you will only have one thing to help you pick up your things and move on to the next field of service. Do you know what that is?” I decided not to answer. “You know what it is? It is your calling from God.” We both stood there looking at each other without talking. This eternity lasted for about a minute. Then he laid down the hammer for the final time. “Son, are you called by God to be a pastor according to the Word of God?” I whispered that I thought I should go home and pray about that. Brothers, that is just what I did.

(Read Dr. Milton's whole letter here.)

Dr. Milton's words, quoted above and in the rest of his letter, are both profound and wise. When someone is called to the ministry, it is not on the basis of the approval of their congregation, the outward affirmation that they receive (or that they don't receive), or any other external measure that should be what "keeps them going" so to speak. It should be their unequivocal sense that shepherding the flock of God in his church is all that they can do—the only thing that they can do.

This is why Charles Spurgeon frequently admonished his students that, if there was any other profession in which they felt they could be satisfied and content, they should run as fast as they could from pastoral ministry and do that! (See Spurgeon's Lectures To My Students.) It wasn't that Spurgeon didn't want more pastors coming into the church, but that he recognized that (in his day) the ministry was seen as a cushy and undemanding job, and maybe one in which someone who didn't want to work all that hard might find their ease.

Still today, pastoral ministry is a job where a lazy man can find a decent paycheck without too much work. Now, let me be clear: it is not that it should be this way, but for some it is. I've known lazy pastors, who present a façade of busyness and activity while hiding in their studies or wandering around, whereabouts unknown. Their sermons were ill-prepared and poorly presented, their visitation (what little of it existed) was infrequent and filled with empty clichés, and they didn't know their sheep from the wolves among them. These men were more susceptible than most to failed marriages and to the temptations of pornography, plagiarism, and other scandals that eventually wreaked havoc in their congregations; while they usually didn't stay more than a year or two in any one congregation, they did great damage during their brief visit. Thankfully, most of the men I'm thinking of are no longer in the ministry.

I think Dr. Milton's admonitions are invaluable today. I believe our day is more like Spurgeon's, in terms of many men attending seminary and dabbling at the possibility of a career in ministry, than most of us would like to admit.

As I commented on in my recent post reflecting on the decrease in placement, I believe we can see the fruit of the problem I've listed above (among other problems) in how many qualified candidates there are who are called as Dr. Milton described, yet who have not found placement into a ministry position. I don't think we can chalk that up entirely to the decline of the church, but also to the fact that, for years, there was a shortage (or an apparent one, at any rate) of called, qualified pastors and pastoral candidates, and therefore we threw open the doors of our seminaries and our presbyteries and welcomed in all who would come. Now we are seeing one of the consequences.

I think a second factor that has led to this (and to the decrease in placement issue as well) is that some—perhaps many—of those entering seminary do so because it was either implied to them or outright said that, if they were really serious about maturity in their Christian faith, they would go to seminary and pursue a career in vocational ministry. This is dead wrong! Not least because, as Dr. Milton reflects, this is no basis for a true, biblical ministry of the Word. There are many professions (most of them by far, in fact) in which a godly young man or woman can serve God faithfully.

If you are a seminary student—or if you are a seminary graduate who is pursuing a call to be a pastor—I would urge you to read Dr. Milton's words and take them to heart. There is no shame in determining that you are not, in fact, called to be a pastor! But if you are so called, be encouraged, as Dr. Milton (and I) long for you to be, by the true and biblical basis of your call to ministry.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Good Search Committee Communication, part 2: starting commitments

In May we looked at why good communication from search committees matters so much. We're called to love our neighbors, and it's just the neighborly thing to do.

How should a search committee communicate? Obviously it's going to be different along the various stages of the search process, but it starts with a fundamental commitment to doing it.

Appoint a Secretary

If you're going to communicate well, someone must take the leadership on your search committee to do so. I recommend appointing one person to be the secretary for the committee; this simply means that they are in charge of any and all communication (internally and externally) that the committee has need for. The secretary can (and should) take notes for each meeting (not necessarily minutes, but those aren't a bad idea either) and make a regular report to the session, board, or other primary leadership of the congregation.

And the secretary should also be charged with the responsibility of communicating with each of the candidates that the committee interacts with. This sounds more daunting than it needs to be; as you will see, it can be fairly simple to do, even if there are a lot of candidates.

It's not a bad idea for the secretary to have an e-mail address set up specifically for the search process. This can be done through the church's existing system (something like, for example) or you can opt to set up an address through G-Mail or one of the other free services. Having a separate e-mail address allows the secretary to compartmentalize the communications work for the search team, and also protects their personal e-mail address from getting added inadvertently to a mailing list. (Do this well before you begin receiving submissions of candidates' names, if possible.)

Decide on a Timeline/Process

Even though the secretary will be in charge of communications, the committee as a whole should decide on the timeline and process by which they will communicate. It is important that everyone on the committee be in on this discussion, both so that they can know how much each candidate should have been communicated with, and so that they can all be accountable for the quality of communication from their committee. If everyone was part of the decision, then no one gets to say down the line, "We should have communicated more with them than we did"—which is only ever divisive and accusatory.

Be careful, as a committee, to find the right balance of communication. Too little, and you have failed in the process in an important way; too much, and you have overburdened the secretary and set him/her up for burn-out. I recommend that, in the early stages, communication occur roughly every 4–6 weeks, though it will need to steadily increase as time moves on. This is okay though, because as the search progresses there will be fewer and fewer candidates with whom the committee has to communicate.

Thus, a good timeline and process might look like this:
  • Stage 1: Beginning—in this stage you're still forming the search committee, gathering information from the congregation, and/or assembling the search profile information; if you receive any name submissions at this stage, it is easy enough for the secretary (or the chairperson, if a secretary has not yet been appointed) to acknowledge them immediately.
  • Stage 2: Getting Started—here you are beginning to receive names of candidates, but have not eliminated any of them yet; this is one of the busiest stages, because you will receive so many names—but you still need to acknowledge their submission in a timely manner (probably at least within a week or so).
  • Stage 3: Early Progress—now you have begun to eliminate some candidates and have "culled" the list for the first round; you should keep those candidates who are still "in the running" in the loop, at very least by a quick note to that effect. You must also notify those who have been eliminated promptly that they are no longer being considered. And, if you receive new submissions, you should either acknowledge them as you did the rest, or inform them that you aren't accepting new names for consideration (which one should be determined by the committee).
  • Stage 4: Middle—at this point you are actively considering candidates that passed the first round of elimination: listening to sermons, reading questionnaires, or some other form of evaluation; those who have been eliminated must be informed of that right away. Meanwhile, you should let the other candidates know that they have advanced to the next stage with you.
  • Stage 5: Late-Middle—by now you are beginning to do phone interviews or some other evaluation with select candidates; your communication with this increasingly-smaller list of candidates should be growing more frequent. You're still keeping candidates that have been eliminated well-informed of their status, while also keeping up open lines with those that you are still considering.
  • Stage 6: Advanced—you are in the process of bringing one or more "finalists" to you for in-person visits, interviews, and meeting with the congregation; the non-finalists deserve to receive prompt word that they are no longer being considered. Meanwhile, you're probably in touch with your primary candidates on a fairly frequent basis.
  • Stage 7: Almost There—here you have extended a call to your candidate of choice, and are waiting for their response, for presbytery or another governing body, or simply for him to move to the area and be installed; at this point every line of communication should be wide-open with your (hopefully) soon-to-be pastor.

Some fundamentals to notice in the above: First, there is never a stage when communication levels do not remain high. The secretary of a well-functioning search committee will always have work to do. Second, you must continue to communicate with candidates that you have eliminated, to inform them that they are no longer in consideration. This is not some extra-nice touch; this is common decency and giving respect and dignity to these candidates. Third, the longer a candidate is in the process, the more communication they should receive from you.

To elaborate on this last point, let's move on to the next big decision.

Determine the Venues/Contexts of Communication

Communication in the search process should grow increasingly personal and intimate. It is fine to use a pretty impersonal means to communicate in the early stages; frankly, most candidates will simply be glad to have heard from you. But when you start to get into more advanced stages, you—by which I mean ALL of the committee—should both expect it to get more personal, and be open to that.

First, let me explain what I mean. Communication tools like e-mail and form letters are pretty mechanical. Sure, e-mail can be very intimate—but we all know that an e-mail from a search committee secretary to a candidate they only know on paper will probably not be anything close to intimate. And in stages 1–3 above, these are fine. In fact, I recommend it—not because impersonal is good, but because these more mechanical means will allow the secretary to do his/her job efficiently. (In future posts, we will provide some sample/template letters and e-mails that you might use in these early stages.)

Once you get past the first "culling," though, you really must begin to communicate more personally. If you reject someone in or after stage 4, they deserve to know why, at least in broad terms. And their rejection should come in a warm and genial letter or e-mail that was written specifically for them—not through some slightly-adapted template.

Likewise, after you have had a phone interview with a candidate, the most appropriate way to tell them that they have been eliminated is through a phone call. To simply send them a form letter or abrupt e-mail at this stage is both rude and cowardly. Let's treat each other with more dignity than that.

And it goes the same for candidates that you're keeping in consideration, if not even more so: You need to get to know him, and let him get to know you, and see your relationship grow over the weeks and months that you are considering each other.

This is why, by the middle or end of stage 5, I would recommend that candidates have the phone numbers of the secretary, committee chair, and at least one or two other committee members. He should be made to feel welcome to call on them and get to know them, and even ask about how the search process is going. Sure, search committee members will need to be careful that they do not share information that they shouldn't, nor should these growing relationships give way to "picking favorites" at the expense of the integrity of the search process. But there is nothing wrong with growing relationships at the later stages.

So, a good plan for contexts might look something like this:
  • Stage 1: Beginning—form letters or e-mails are fine at this stage.
  • Stage 2: Getting Started—form letters or e-mails are still fine.
  • Stage 3: Early Progress—again, form letters or e-mails are still fine.
  • Stage 4: Middle—now the communication must begin to get more personal; e-mails and letters are still fine, but should not be just a boilerplate form letter.
  • Stage 5: Late-Middle—phone calls and personalized e-mails should be the norm; especially for rejections, a phone call is expected.
  • Stage 6: Advanced—phone calls and casual personal e-mails ought to be happening with increasing frequency by this stage.
  • Stage 7: Almost There—now you are beginning to really build relationships through every possible form of communication.

Now let me tell you why this is so important. With increasing likelihood throughout the process, this guy may actually be your future pastor! How important is it to you that your next pastor know you personally? How important is it that you know him? I both cases, I would say it is very important. Vital, in fact.

Beyond this, attentiveness to both the content and form of communication is dignifying and considerate. When your committee attends to this, you are demonstrating that yours is a congregation that any potential pastor should be eager to serve.

On the other hand, when you ignore the simple opportunities for communication, you are still communicating with him: however, what you are telling him now is that you don't care enough about basic courtesy to be bothered.

A Closing Anecdote

When I was in my last year of college, I had an opportunity to interview for a youth ministry position with a church in a city about 90 minutes away from where we lived. We went to visit them for a Sunday, and after worship and Sunday school went over to the home of one of the search committee members. The whole committee was there, along with the senior pastor and his wife, and we visited together casually for most of the afternoon. As the day grew long, someone realized that we still had a 90-minute drive home and offered us a gracious opportunity to begin our goodbyes.

On the way out, the senior pastor walked us to our car. He spoke of how well he felt like things had gone that day, and the last thing he said as he shook my hand goodbye was, "I'll be in touch with you as soon as there is something to tell."

I never heard from him.

For years I joked with Marcie that their search must have stalled, because I still hadn't heard anything from him. The truth is, though, that pastor looked me in the eye and made me a significant promise that he didn't keep. In retrospect, I'm relieved that I was never in a position where I had to decide whether I would want to work under a pastor like that.

Search committees are infamous—notorious, even—for poor communication. You can distinguish yourselves as an outstanding church simply by being different, through extending basic dignity and consideration for the candidates you consider. Please do it!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Transition survey

If you've read much of this blog, you may know that it all began (almost 10 years ago!) with reflections on an extensive research project, done in collaboration with staff and faculty from Covenant Theological Seminary, to survey seminary graduates about their experiences in the transition process.

We're doing another survey. And we need your help!

If you are a pastor in any church tradition, or of you are an elder (or a church leader that is the rough equivalent to a presbyterian elder), there are questions on this survey for you! Please fill out the survey and help us with our research.

Oh, and we're doing a drawing of all of those who complete the survey for a $25 Visa gift card. If you want to win free cash, then fill out our survey!

Here's a link to the survey, which is online:

Thanks SO much for your help!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book review: What Color Is Your Parachute?

In the early 1970s, Richard Bolles was an ordained minister who found himself without a placement. He began to find his own way (eventually leaving the ministry), but in the process realized that there were a number of other pastors who were in the same situation and didn't know how to find the next job, or make an effective career change. Over time, the book What Color Is Your Parachute? was the result of his thought and work in seeking to help these, and others, with career decisions.

Interestingly, Bolles couldn't find a publisher for his book, so he self-published (which, in the 70s, was stigmatized with the reputation of amateurism and poor quality, if not pure arrogance—that's why they used to call self-publishing companies "vanity presses"). Today, I'm sure he is glad that he did: without a doubt, the industry and brand that has grown up with What Color Is Your Parachute? (which Bolles has updated and re-released on an annual basis) has done quite well for him.

When I first began to learn about things like temperament and what professor (and Doulos Resources board member) Phil Douglass calls "discovering your Divine Design," I found it to be both fascinating and incredibly useful for pastoral transition. Richard Bolles was a pioneer in that category (though he doesn't rely heavily on temperament as Douglass's system does), and the book is chock-full of diagnostic exercises that will help anyone—pastor or otherwise—in discerning nuances and details about what sort of job(s) would fit them the best.

Bolles walks the reader through a process of self-discovery that is not only revealing, but immensely encouraging to the reader. His former profession as a pastor comes through in his writing, and it is clear that he is aware (probably all too aware, both from his personal experiences in the 70s as well as from countless encounters with others since then) of how challenging a season of job transition is. Hardly a page can be turned before he is building the reader up with hope and anticipation about their next job opportunity.

This can have a downside, as well: in today's job climate (very different from the context in which Bolles originally wrote in the early 70s), it is possible to over-encourage, to the point of building someone's hopes up in an unreasonable way. Good self-discovery and awareness of job fitness will not guarantee anyone a placement.

But they will take you further than an absence of them will—and that ultimately is Bolles's point and goal in writing. If you take the time to work through What Color Is Your Parachute? and complete the exercises within it, you will have a clearer sense of who you are and what you bring to a job, as well as where your weaknesses lie and how you can work around them.

Buy a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? from Amazon.