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The Pastoral Search

It may have been a long time since your church needed to search for a new pastor. Some lay leaders may have never been part of a pastoral search. The process can seem overwhelming at first. Here is one simple approach that will help you get started. Have confidence that the Lord will guide you to the right man in His own timing.

The Purpose of the Search

The purpose of the search is to prayerfully seek one or more prospective candidates for the office of senior pastor who has the calling, character, capacity, and compatibility to lead the ministry of this church. The goal is to follow the principles of God’s Word, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the leading of the Holy Spirit, the counsel of godly leadership, and the input and choice of the congregation to the man of God’s ultimate choosing. It is to accomplish the goal in as unified a way as possible, bringing honor to the Lord, the outgoing pastor, and the incoming pastor. It is also necessary to preserve the essential character and beliefs of this church into the next generation of effective ministry.

Preparing for the Search

Preparatory to being able to search for a pastor, the church first must answer some key questions:

Who are we as a church?

    1. What is our doctrine?

    2. What is our essential mission and core values?

    3. What is our church’s history and ministry culture and personality?

    4. What is appealing to a new pastor and family about the community we serve?

    5. What are our strengths and weaknesses, and what needs to improve?

What is our attitude toward changes that a new pastor will bring?

    1. Are we as a church willing to change toward greater Christlikeness?

    2. Are we as a church willing to follow a pastor leading us to more effective ministry?

    3. What are we willing to change, and what are we not willing to change about our church? What would be considered positive change and negative change?

    4. How do the answers to the questions above affect our criteria in seeking a new pastor?

      • His personal gifts and abilities

      • His ability to motivate others toward these ideals

      • His administrative skill to develop, implement, delegate, and evaluate

Planning the Search Process

The next step is planning the search process.

Start with prayer.

Pray for God’s leading the church to the right pastor and God’s leading the right pastor to the church – “lead us to him and him to us.” Pray for God’s timing to be right. Pray for God’s people to be unified. Pray for wisdom, perception, clarity. Throughout the process, have seasons of prayer. Keep praying!

Read these three books:

The Right Pastor; In Search of God’s Man; and Search: The Pastoral Search Committee Handbook. Become familiar with other similar books or articles online about good practices in searching for a pastor.

Develop a church profile to share with good prospective candidates.

    1. Compile vital information about your church’s size, demographics, ministries, attendance, finances, doctrine, mission, vision, values, leadership structure, and constitution.

    2. Compile information about your local community for a prospective pastoral candidate or point to such information if available online.

Develop an ideal prospective pastor profile or possible profiles.

    1. Age, experience, background, education

    2. Primary and secondary gifts

    3. Consistent Christ-like character – meets biblical qualifications

    4. Family – wife, children, educational expectations

    5. Proven preaching and leadership capability

    6. Outlook compatible on key doctrinal and ministry issues

Select a committee according to your church constitution and determine individual roles and responsibilities of search committee members.

Be sure that the process of pastoral selection is clear and according to the constitution of the church. Discuss this prior to beginning the actual search.

The Initial Search Process: Gathering Initial Prospective Candidates

Now it is time to start searching.

Begin by gathering names.

Invite the congregation to submit names and provide key information about the prospect. Discretely ask pastors and Christian leaders for recommendations. Confidentially vet possibilities submitted to the search committee. Settle on a limited number of men to potentially pursue.

Get permission to contact each prospect.

If the prospect is on the church staff and serving under a pastor, get permission from the pastor himself.

Contact each prospect for a preliminary conversation.

Send him the application and get his permission to do a background check.

Review the completed applications and check references.

Be sure to do all due diligence.

Narrow the applicants down to one to three possibilities. 

The Intermediate Process: Increasing Familiarity with Prospective Candidates

The next step is to become increasingly familiar with each prospective candidate. Committee members should listen to sermons by each man, travel to meet the prospect at a neutral location, invite the man to fill the pulpit at the church, and meet informally with the prospect and his wife during this visit.

The Candidating Process: Discerning God’s Choice of a New Pastor

Now it is time for the formal candidating process.

Extend a formal invitation to candidate to one prospect.

Eight days is an ideal timeframe for a visit. This includes two Sundays, a full week on site, and enough time for the opportunity to hear four or five sermons preached.

During the visit, hold a series of meetings and Q&A sessions with various church groups.

Interact socially during lunches and dinners.

Vote within two weeks.

Extend a call if the vote is positive.

Share with him the vote percentage, and give the prospective pastor up to one week to respond.

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