Pastoral Advice for the Pastoral Search Committee
Rev. James M. Leonard, PhD
Members of the search committee have been entrusted with a task that is huge, time-consuming, and often frustrating. They usually work very quietly; the congregation generally does not know the many hours of labor their committee members must sacrifice to complete the task. Members can often feel underappreciated, and these feelings can be exacerbated when the congregation starts getting impatient about the pace of the committee work.
For this reason, as an interim minister, I want to encourage committee members. I understand a little about how hard the task is. I pray for you, and at nearly every church meeting, we encourage the whole church to keep you in prayer. There will come a time when all your hard work comes to fruition. Be faithful, then, and do not be downcast. Your reward is great.
Close Contact Leads to Closer Personal Relationships
As you spend hours each week with your fellow committee members, and as the weeks turn into months, and even years, you will get to know each other incredibly well. You will discover that each member has different abilities, gifts, perspectives, and urgencies. I ask you to appreciate these diverse gifts and these diverse perspectives. Rely on God’s gifting, so that the members carry the burdens equally. Don’t let any one individual carry too heavy a load.
Recognize that discernment is actually a charism—a spiritual gift. All of us have some measure of discernment, largely determined by the wisdom that we’ve developed over the years. Yet God gives to the church a Spirit-anointed discernment through individual church members. This is a supernatural gifting that goes well beyond natural wisdom. After working so closely together as a group, you may perceive that God has gifted one or more people with this Spirit-empowered gift. The members of the committee should recognize this over time, and judiciously lean on such individuals as God leads.
The crucible of the search committee has a way of yielding contention, arguments, and impatience. It has a way of bringing out idiosyncrasies and untamed character traits. For this reason, we must remember that love covers a multitude of sins. Or, in the case of church members, love covers a multitude of idiosyncrasies. You must deeply love one another, or else you will get on each others’ nerves! But if love covers a multitude of idiosyncrasies, then you just have to smile when any unseemly characteristics rear their ugly heads. Everyone is normal until you get to know them!
Your Ideal Pastor Profile Is important
You should review your list of characteristics you want in a new pastor, mostly as a reminder. Have confidence in that profile. It was created with great care by the collective wisdom of your entire committee. Keep it in focus. Every once in a while it might need to be modified, but mostly it should serve you well.
There are many characteristics that might be emphasized in any pastoral search, but among those that you should not overlook are high energy and creativity. Donald Trump sand bagged Jeb Bush with the moniker “Low Energy Jeb.” A low energy pastor might not sink a church, but a church is hardly capable of changing directions without a high energy pastor.
A Prophetic Minister Is Key
By prophetic, I mean that your installed minister should be cut from the same cloth as the biblical prophets who did not do so much foretelling. Rather, the biblical prophets preached the Mosaic covenant with great persuasion, and in ways that were relevant to their contemporaries.
The corollary to this point is that you should not seek the preacher whose sermons are easily “amen-able.” There is a whole crop of preachers whose preaching elicits quick and easy amens. It is not enough for your preacher to say, “Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor.” The preacher needs to be more specific, and some of those specifics should involve some stepping on your toes from time to time. The faithful minister will preach the truth, and the truth should hurt—at least every once in a while. The best sermon compliment is to tell the preacher that his sermon hurt, but that you needed it.
Be strong in the Lord, confident of his presence and guidance. Do not faint or grow weary, but press on toward the conclusion. There is such a thing as following the Lord’s leading.