The Multiple-Choice Pastor Search

November 29, 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

I always preferred essay tests when I was in school (duh, I became a writer).  I didn’t like the “objective” tests, because I felt like they weren’t as accurate in measuring how well I knew the material, at least for material that is thick in concepts and not-so-thick in memorizable facts.  In law school, I became even more opposed to objective tests…we called them “multiple guess” tests…it seemed always about finding the “least wrong answer”.  Give me an essay test, please!

I feel that same way when it comes to eliciting information from a person or a group of people.  If learning what is on their minds is important to me, I would much rather sit down and have a conversation with them than give them an objective survey.  And I especially feel that same way when it comes to discerning God’s will as a church…my concept of God’s will just does not lend itself to a series of multiple-choice questions.

And yet, the conventional wisdom (and literature) for Pastor Search efforts is to do just such a written survey to your church in order to develop a profile for your pastoral candidates.  The problem with asking your church objective, demographic questions like “Place a check next to the age range you think our next pastor should be?” is that, invariably, once all the results are tabulated, what your church ends up telling you is that they want a 40-year-old pastor with 30 years of pastoral experience…and a big, red “S” on his chest would be nice as well!  Good luck with that.

Objective surveys may be mildly effective (not greatly effective, but mildly so) at figuring out what the people wantbut not so much at figuring out what God wants. For that, if you don’t have the time and resources to personally interview every church member, then I suggest an essay survey.  Because when it comes right down to it, there are only a couple of questions which matter:

1.  Describe how you believe God has been working in recent years in this church, and how you see Him working right now in the life of our church?

2.  In light of how you answered question #1, describe some qualities or characteristics of the person you believe God would have pastor this church?

When we used this simple, two-question survey with my own church body 16 years ago for our last pastor search effort, we got hundreds of responses, ranging from one paragraph to multiple pages.  It was a lot to assimilate!  But as we began poring over the responses, we began to see certain words and phrases and concepts over and over again.  We began to see a few characteristics which had the consensus of the congregation…five characteristics, to be exact.  These are not the five most important characteristics for any other church’s pastor.  But they became the defining characteristics of our own search committee’s profile:

1.  Humility

2.  A man of prayer

3.  Impartial; not a “respecter of titles or positions”

4. Good communicator

5.  Not political (this was a reference to denominational politics)

Those characteristics may seem broad and vague to you, but that would only be because they aren’t intended to describe your pastor.  They represent God’s will for my pastor, and anyone who knows my pastor even moderately well would immediately put his picture next to this profile.  Before we ever knew him, we knew his profile.  But most importantly, it was NOT because we asked our congregation to fill out an objective survey.  It was because we asked them to help us discern God’s will.  This profile helped us sift through scores of resumes and candidates.  It literally eventually took us right to our pastor, because it was a right reflection of what God wanted for us.

So, as your church works to discern God’s will together, may I suggest that you not try to relegate that process to an objective, multiple-choice test?  Give them the opportunity to share testimony of what they see God doing among you.  You may just be surprised at what God does with that.


© Blake Coffee
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One thought on “The Multiple-Choice Pastor Search

  1. Frank Mathews

    As much as there is no perfect church, there is no perfect pastor. After accepting the position of pastor at several churches, I looked at the surveys taken and the average church member was looking for the perfect man to step in. That may be the source of the struggles some pastors have in getting started at a new church. I would also say, that even after all the interviews, and after the coming in view of a call, neither the church or the pastor has a good understanding of the dynamics that evolve until the pastor is at the church for some time. There are personality dynamics and church dynamics that are not known until both work together for some time.

    Thanks for your insightful questions that may help both the church and the perspective pastor have a better understanding of each other through the “calling” process. Great article.

    Reply

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