In my experience as a pastor, one of the single most difficult responsibilities I faced was the selection of staff members. Knowing what to look for, where to go for candidates, and how to focus in on the right candidate when you are faced with a stack of resumes has always been daunting for me. Growing up the son of a pastor, and then serving as a pastor for most of the last 15 years has also shown me that most churches who use a search committee process seem to struggle with this as well. With that in mind, I’ve tried to develop some filters, or processes, by which I view potential pastor/staff candidates to help me determine whether or not they are the right fit for the position. I thought they might be helpful to you as well.
It’s unfortunate, but this can often be the most difficult to determine. Whether it be our own failure to do our due diligence, calling references and doing character checks, or the inadequate accountability provided by those who vouch for a candidate, this one can occasionally be tough to manage, and yet I think it’s the most significant of each of these filters. What’s more, scripture details for us a number of expectations for church leaders, and almost every single one is a reference to character and not job function. Too often church leaders are guilty of pastoral malpractice which can regularly be traced back to a lack of character. This filter stands above the rest as the most important.
This is an interesting filter, mainly because so many churches and leaders are accustomed to not worrying about it. It seems as if we almost think it’s an affront to Christian ministry to ask whether someone is capable and effective in their job. Too often we allow leaders to continue in their positions when they are not doing their job out of a sense of grace or affection, when in reality, giving permission for their continued lack of success is among the least loving things we can do. Ministry is a tricky responsibility because it’s generally people focused, rather than task focused, but this does not mean that we can be ok with pastors and staff who are unable to do their job. Let’s not disparage the name and character of Christ and his church by perpetuating a poor work ethic and low expectations among our leaders. The New Testament expectations for church leaders seems to consistently raise the bar in respect to character and competency, not lower it.
A filter that is extremely important, and yet was often undervalued in my personal process for many years, is the importance of making sure that you and the potential staff member or pastor share a common purpose, vision and beliefs. It’s amazing to me how often this can be overlooked. It is vital that you are not working against each other within the same ministry. Often we imagine this happens because one of us is right, and the other is not, when much of that time that’s simply not an accurate explanation of what’s happening. There are certainly many examples within Christian ministry where multiple options are available, none of which are bad, and a decision must be made. It’s important that staff be pointed in the same direction, or chaos and ineffectiveness can reign. When staff members pull in different direction, the church is hurt, the gospel is slowed and pastors and church members can end up at war with one another.
Do you and the potential team member like each other? Can you enjoy long periods of time working closely together in close proximity to one another? This can often be tough to figure out in a typical interview process, so I generally created an opportunity to do something casual together, during an interview, which would create a situation where guards were let down and the potential staff member was able to freely represent themselves. Golf, shared meals, a baseball game or some other experience can help determine this. I can’t say enough how important this is. You can be incredibly gifted, pointed in the same direction and simply find yourself clashing over personality types, thus rendering the organization/ministry/church ineffective and the staff frustrated. This is obviously unhelpful and should be avoided.
Finally, the most difficult of all to determine is this issue of calling. As followers of Christ we believe that God is involved in our daily lives; that he has a desire for us and that he points us in specific directions to help accomplish his will and further his kingdom. This means that filling a pastoral role is more than just a job hire, it’s the selection of someone who has a God-given sense of calling. However, ascertaining God’s intent can prove to be difficult. In my experience, the way most people attempt to determine God’s will is a bit odd. The way they explain God’s will can occasionally leave me wondering if God was actually speaking or if they just had roast beef a little too late the night before? Feelings in the gut, emotional sway, etc. are not generally the picture of we find in scripture of hearing from God. Scripture points us to a number of means for determining God’s will (scripture, the counsel of others, the desire of our hearts, etc.), but regardless how you attempt to determine it, I think clarifying calling can often be the intangible, missing piece of the puzzle that has to be measured as we select staff members and pastors.