Suggestions for Pastor Search Committees

A misfit between pastor and church can only be painful for all concerned and result in disruption, distress, and brief tenures. The following suggestions are intended to help pulpit committees carry out their responsibility to find God's men for their churches.

#1. As you go through this critically important process, always keep in mind where your responsibility lies. A primary example of misplaced loyalty frequently occurs when the pulpit committee interviews a candidate pastor. We are taught from our early years to be polite and not to offend, so it is perhaps understandable that usually when a committee interviews the potential pastor, everyone tends to act as if the most important thing is to make the other person like him. A little thought about the process, about the basic function of a pulpit committee, about the committee's responsibility quickly reveals the dangerous flaw in the "like me" approach.

Whether the candidate and committee members like each other is at best secondary and perhaps completely beside the point. The responsibility of the committee is not to please the candidate pastor but is owed to God and their fellow church members, to seek and find the will of the Holy Spirit in identifying the man God would have pastor that church. Now this is not to imply that there is any virtue in rudeness, for we owe everyone the courtesies of polite intercourse. But committees must be willing to ask the important and sometimes difficult questions and must insist upon receiving full, frank, specific, clear answers.

Communication is an art, not a science, and the relationship between pastor and congregation is an intimate one, much like a marriage. The best time for everybody, pastor and church members, to come to a complete understanding -- and to identify clearly any significant disagreements -- is before the relationship is consummated with a call.

#2. Committee members should keep actively in mind that the candidate is not a plaster saint, but a human being with all attendant needs, weaknesses, fears, and concerns. If the man has allowed his resume to be placed before the committee and if he has been willing to meet with you, he feels open to a call and/or is actively seeking a church. He almost always has a family and is properly concerned about providing for them. The relationship between himself and his present congregation may have deteriorated to a point of almost indescribable pain. He may even be without church or income. So he may well have significant pressure to seek a job rather than God's will.

Pastors who have bought into the liberal view of the Bible (that the Bible "contains" the word of God [that is, a correct spiritual message] but is inspired only in the sense that Shakespeare was inspired and so has errors when it deals with history or science) realize that laymen are on the whole much more conservative. Consequently they frequently try to hide their real views.

Whatever the specifics, the candidate always has a powerful temptation to tell you what he senses you want to hear. In most cases this will not be conscious on his part but rather simply an instinctive, subconscious reaction to the situation. Unfortunately, in some cases a candidate will intentionally mislead the committee. Here's an example from my personal experience:

--Our pulpit committee was interviewing an attractive young man with a good resume when one committee member asked, "What is your view of the Bible?" The pastor replied, "My Bible is absolutely true and trustworthy!" and slapped his knee for emphasis. After a slight pause the committee member came back with, "Well, I'm not sure I entirely understand your answer. Could you elaborate a bit?" So the candidate added a couple of sentences and ended the same way, "My Bible is absolutely true and trustworthy!" The committee member persisted. Finally, on the seventh question he said, "Let me put it this way. In the incident of the floating ax head, do you believe the iron ax head actually, physically floated to the top of the Jordan river?" And the would-be pastor replied, "No." Clearly he had been using words as weapons, saying words
he intended us to take one way when he knew he meant something quite different.

#3. Prepare yourselves in advance. Don't leave things to the whim of the moment. Study the New Testament passages regarding pastors. Think through the situation and your responsibility ahead of time so that you know what is important to you and your church. Make out a list of questions designed to clarify where the pastor stands on those vital issues.

#4. Do NOT assume that every would-be pastor believes the Bible or is even saved. Jude warns us to be alert for "certain men" who would "creep in unawares." And in Matthew 22:37 Jesus said that the greatest commandment is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." Be sure to engage fully your mind as well as your heart and soul while you set about this critically important responsibility.

Attached are two papers: (1) "One Committee's Approach" describes the process we followed. (2) "Selecting a Pastor" was produced by the joint efforts of our committee to help us in the search. It includes biblical guidance, help in considering resumes, and 42 questions our committee compiled for candidates. 

May the Lord lead your committee to His man for your church.



When our pastor of less than two years resigned at his own volition, it was of course a shock and disappointment. However, in accord with the church's constitution the deacons soon recommended and the church elected a Pulpit Committee comprised of seven members including at least three deacons, two women, and a youth between 17 and 21 years. in this case the youth was a male high school senior, one of the women was a leader in our Singles Class, and the "at large" member was a man. One of the deacons was also chairman of the Personnel Committee which proved helpful and convenient.

A general description of our congregation will help place some of our decisions in context. Our church is located in the suburbs of a large metropolitan area, and its congregation is made up primarily of private, governmental, and military executives. Our total membership is slightly more than 800, and the annual budget is a bit above $300,000.

That the previous Pulpit Committee had functioned so recently was helpful in that its files regarding procedures and advice were available to us and its members, especially the chairman, could draw on their relatively fresh memory to help our committee get started. For example, copies of the SBC Sunday School Board pamphlet, "The Pastor Selection Committee," were on hand and proved especially helpful in acquainting committee members with our duties and suggesting an orderly sequence of steps to follow.

Once elected the committee met immediately, chose a temporary chairman, contacted our predecessors, and sought what help we could find. After two weeks we elected a permanent chairman and secretary and agreed on two fundamental polices: all our discussions and actions would be completely confidential and no pastoral candidate would be recommended to the church unless committee members agreed unanimously that he was God's man. Also we decided to meet every Monday night at 7:30 and end our meetings by 9:30. The long-time Director of our local Southern Baptist Association came to one of our early meetings and passed on valuable advice gleaned from being associated with well over a hundred changes of pastors. We had been alerted to his tendency to become too controlling, so in advance he was asked how much time he would require and at the end of that period (45 minutes) he was politely thanked and ushered out.

One of the most important challenges facing any such committee is to achieve a match between the church and its new pastor. In our case being located in a large metropolitan area, it would be an unusual man indeed who could shepherd us if his entire background and experience were in small, rural churches. Likewise, a pastor who is highly effective with blue-collar congregations might not be prepared to care effectively for our predominantly professional folks. (Please note that it is not that our group is better than another or more spiritual than the other, just that they are different and may require different pastoral styles and approaches.) Another area of "fit" is theological. A congregation that is knowledgeably liberal-moderate would not likely be satisfied with a conservative-fundamental pastor and vice-versa. A pulpit committee should be aware of the theological character of the congregation and seek an appropriate pastor. If the committee intends to solicit resumes from seminaries, it should approach those seminaries which graduate pastors whose theology matches that of the church.

Our committee received almost 100 resumes, mostly in response to our requests to several seminaries and our own and four nearby state conventions. Each state convention has on its staff someone who responds to search committee requests; and these state offices were quite responsive. (Note, however, that without exception the men whose resumes we received from state convention offices fell within the moderate/liberal spectrum.) We also asked our congregation for recommendations and received a few names from them. A few candidates heard we were looking and volunteered, and several more were suggested by other pastors.

Selecting a Pastor

I. Biblical Guidance:

I Timothy 3:1-7
--above reproach
--husband of one wife (not divorced)
--temperate, clear headed
--prudent: foresighted, wise, discrete, good management of practical affairs
--respectable: estimable, decent & correct in character and behavior
--hospitable: generous and cordial reception of guests
--able to teach
--not addicted to wine
--not pugnacious or belligerent
--gentle, honorable, kind
--free from love of money
--manage own household well
--keep children under control
--not a new convert
--good reputation with those outside the church

I Timothy 4:12
--speech & conduct: love, faith, purity -- example to others

I Timothy 4:13
--exhort and teach

I Timothy 4:16
--pay close attention to himself and the doctrine he teaches

II. Resumes:

In reviewing resumes and later during interviews we need to look for evidence of the above qualities. Other characteristics to consider on resumes are:

--seminary graduate
--theology: Does he believe the Bible is without error of any kind?
--viewpoint: Is he open to non-SBC ministries?
--gifts: Expositional ability, evangelistic interest, capable counselor.
--previous results: Have his churches grown in spiritual maturity and numbers?
--tenure pattern
--progression of experience
--involvement in a range of programs
--involvement in growth programs
--experience in an urban setting (or rural if your church is rural)
--will he and his family be happy in our setting?
--experience in a building program
--health and appearance
--imagination, ingenuity, and initiative
--school and community involvement
--will our church be a step up, down, or laterally
--present position and location
--family situation
--expected salary and benefits

III. Questions for Pastoral Candidates:


1. What are your personal priorities? (God, spouse, children, job/ministry)
2. Describe your salvation experience. (If not on resume.)
3. Why are you open to changing pastorates?
4. Do you have any health problems?
5. In what ways do your wife and children participate?
6. What outside activities do you enjoy most?
7. Have you ever been divorced?
8. Do you drink alcoholic beverages?


9. What is you theological perspective? (Follow up as necessary.)
[Questions 9a-9h have been added in light of six years further experience in dealing with pastors, churches, and theological problems.]
9a Did the Red Sea literally part so that the Children of Israel walked across on dry ground?
9b Were Adam and Eve real, historical people?
9c Was Jesus born of a virgin without a human father?
9d Were the books of the Bible written by the stated authors or by someone else?
9e What are your views about the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention?
9f If called as our pastor, how would you lead our church to participate within the SBC, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and/or the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia?
9g What is your view of the “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship?”
9h How do you feel about the changes that have taken place at Southeastern Seminary since 1987?
10. What is your reaction to non-denominational ministries such as Young Life, the Bill Gothard seminars, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes?
11. To what extent, if any, do you believe a pastor and his congregation should be involved in such issues as:

--pornography --drug abuse --jail ministry
--abortion --hunger --ERA

12. How do you keep up to date on church related issues?
13. If you were convinced that God wanted you to preach on a certain subject or initiate a certain program but were opposed by the deacons, what would you do?


14. How would you help us develop stronger families?
15. How do you counsel someone contemplating divorce?
16. How do you counsel someone contemplating remarriage after divorce?
17. How do you prefer your church to respond to visitors? Do you visit visitors?
18. How do you handle the counselling of ladies? (A pastor should NEVER be alone with a woman other than his wife with the door closed. That rule may sometimes be inconvenient, but it protects him, the lady, and the church.)


19. What would your ministry goals be for our church?
20. Do you set personal goals and objectives for meeting them?
21. What is your goal for ten years from now?
22. What are some achievements that bring you satisfaction?
23. What have been significant professional disappointments?
24. In what ways has your current church changed during your tenure?
25. How do you measure your success?
26. How do you measure the success of your church?
27. What would you consider a successful tenure at this church?


28. Do you consider yourself an effective leader? Why?
29. Who are leaders you admire? What qualities of theirs do you emulate?
30. How do you generate enthusiasm for your initiatives?
31. What would you expect from this church?
32. In your judgment how important is organization of activities?
33. What if your initial program here does not attain its objectives?
34. In which of the many aspects of the pastor's role do you consider yourself strongest? weakest?
35. How do you compensate for weak points?


36. What kind of worship services do you encourage: morning, evening, Wednesday night? Formal, informal?
37. Do you have children's church, children's sermons, VBS?
38. How often do you prefer to have the Lord's supper?
39. At which service do you conduct baptisms?
40. What do you do during Sunday School?


41. How do you prefer to interact with other church staff members?
42. How do you organize your day, week, month?
43. What do you consider the proper role of deacons?

While waiting for resumes to come in, our committee prepared a paper titled Selecting a Pastor for our committee members' use. Part I summarized the guidance in I Timothy 3 and 4. Part II set forth those additional factors that we wanted to apply, such as, experience in an urban setting, age range, his results in previous pastorates, his strengths and weaknesses. Part III listed 43 questions we would want answered divided into the following categories: personal, theological, family, goals, leadership, church services, and administration. These questions did not necessarily each have one "right" answer. Some did have one answer the committee felt would be correct for our congregation, but most were simply tools for learning more about the man. While waiting for resumes we also developed a pastor's position description, based on a previous version used in our church plus original work by our committee. All committee members contributed to both papers. Incidentally, the questions were not intended to limit the committee to asking only about those subjects. Rather the purpose was to ensure that we thought out in advance what topics we should cover. Later in interviews additional questions were raised. We did not send a questionnaire to candidates because we felt such a request would be demeaning and quite possibly resented.

Early on we decided to keep our congregation informed regarding what we, the committee, were doing. Of course we never divulged private, sensitive, or personal information such as who we were considering or why a particular resume was rejected. But we placed statements in the church newsletter and our chairman made announcements from the pulpit every few weeks telling everyone that we had reviewed so many resumes and, later, that we had sent preliminary letters of inquiry to so many pastors. On each of these occasions we asked for at least daily prayer that the Lord's will be done and that we might look beyond our narrow human preferences. We wanted His man, not ours.

I have noted that "The Pastor Selection Committee" pamphlet was very helpful. Our committee was guided but not bound by its suggestions (perhaps thus reflecting the best in Southern Baptist tradition!). One of its first recommendations is to "guide the church through a self-study and determination of needs and qualities needed" by the prospective pastor. Our committee did not conduct such a self-study because, first, our recent predecessor committee had done so and that survey was less than two years old, and, second, because the members of that committee had not found the survey results helpful. Questionnaires are tricky. A slight wording change can skew answers one way or another. For example, I am convinced that the question, "Should our new pastor deal with political issues from the pulpit?" would result in overwhelmingly negative answers in most Southern Baptist churches. On the other hand, the question, "Should our new pastor teach our people to apply God's principles in their daily decisions?" would likely produce an overwhelmingly positive response. Yet the second question includes the first. The point here, of course, is not politics from the pulpit but that surveys are so tricky as to be more misleading than helpful unless very carefully constructed and analyzed. Nevertheless, if there has not been such a survey in several years, if there is no other practical way of sensing the congregation's needs (not expressed desires, needs), and if a questionnaire can be effectively worded and analyzed, a survey can be quite helpful to the committee and can give each respondent a sense of participation.

About this time we were up to our eyeballs in resumes! In evaluating them we read each resume without discussion, noted on paper any points pro or con that struck us, and scored that resume (using the biblical guidance and other characteristics we had developed in our paper) on a 1 to 5 scale, with I being unacceptable, 5 being our ideal, and 2, 3, and 4 ranging in between. We soon began to score in half-point increments. Once everyone had scored all the resumes for that session (our first group was four resumes), the chairman called for each person's score. If one person was notably above or below the other scores (sometimes both happened), the chair asked that person to explain his score . . . not in an accusatory way but simply to explain what had impressed him. Sometimes the other members had overlooked an important fact. Usually our scores were reasonably close, although every once in a while there would be a wide spread. Total scores covered a theoretical range from a minimum of 7 (the lowest possible score of one, times seven committee members) to 35. Actual scores ran from 9 to 28 ˝.

After we had scored 30 or 40 resumes (and while new resumes were still arriving), we began to send preliminary letters of inquiry as recommended in "The Pastor Search Committee" pamphlet. We eventually sent 22 preliminary letters, one to each pastor whose resume had received a total of 22 points or higher, an arbitrarily chosen cut-off. Each letter enclosed information describing our church, asked the pastor whether he was still open to a call, asked if he would consider moving to our area and, if so, requested that he supplement his resume with any material he might like. We suggested a doctrinal statement and a self-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, the latter in order to see how each man might mesh with our Associate Pastor and the needs of our church.

Perhaps this is the time to express our committee's profound dissatisfaction with the great majority of the resumes we received. We soon found that most provide only the barest factual outline of the pastor's history. It is virtually impossible to read a resume and know anything about the individual as a person. No wonder there are so many mismatches between church and pastor. If seminaries and state associations would urge pastors to include a doctrinal statement, a frank evaluation of his own strong and weak points, and perhaps other personalized information rather than just a sketchy data summary, it would be much easier for search committees to do a good job.

To our 22 preliminary letters we received eight negative replies (three of which were from pastors already called to other churches), twelve positive replies (one from a pastor who we subsequently learned had recently separated from his wife and so in our judgment was disqualified), and no replies from two. We evaluated the 12 positives by having each committee member rank order them I through 12 and adding all seven numbers for each candidate. With a potential spread from 7 to 84, actual scores ran from 25 to 81. The two worst scores (73 and 81) were skewed by the fact that those two pastors expressed only limited interest. The doctrinal statements of two other "positives" indicated clearly that their theology was not compatible with our congregation, and their consequent high scores eliminated them. We still had seven names with scores spread from 25 to 44. Now we faced a crucial decision.

"The Pastor Search Committee" booklet recommends at this point that the committee "Narrow the list of candidates," then "Interview the man most likely to meet the qualifications and arrange for visit in his worship services," and "Arrange for his visit in your services." That evening as we discussed our next step, it became increasingly clear that each of us had strong misgivings about narrowing our focus to just one individual on the basis of paper information alone. We all expressed the need to know the human beings behind the paper. After much discussion and well beyond our 9:30 p.m. guideline, we decided that we would follow a procedure common in business and government when hiring: we would interview several candidates.

We decided the chairman would telephone the remaining seven pastors, tell them of our interest and our unwillingness to work with only one pastor at this point, and invite each to come at our expense to meet with our committee, walk through our church, and become acquainted with our area. Each pastor was told he was one of seven who were being invited and was asked to send us cassette tapes of two recent sermons. All seven pastors accepted, though two or three volunteered that they had never seen a procedure quite like this one. The visits were worked out over some three weeks on mutually agreeable dates. Five candidates flew in, two drove. Each was reimbursed for his airline ticket or driving mileage.

Each meeting followed a similar format beginning with a meal during which conversation was confined to getting acquainted and breaking the ice. At the end of the meal we turned to business and both committee members and our visitor asked questions. Each meeting lasted between four and five hours. At the end of the meeting we knew each other fairly well, and our committee was much better prepared to judge the potential fit between that pastor and our church.

As a result of those seven meetings four more names were eliminated: one because of theological differences, three because the committee judged there would not be a productive match between them and our congregation or other reasons. The remaining three candidates were ranked in the sequence in which we would deal with them. We now felt confident in turning to just one man.

Here a word is appropriate about ranking these men. The committee felt that we could all be completely comfortable were any one of these three called to be our pastor. Still we were very conscious that we wanted the one man God had selected for our church, not the person we might personally like. We decided in advance, should our first choice not work out, that we would interpret that fact to mean we had not clearly discerned God's will. Therefore, the second man we sought would then be fully as much our first choice as the earlier one had been.

In fact, that is what happened. The chairman called candidate number one and told of our strong leading toward him. He promised that he and his wife would pray and then he would get back to us. Twelve days went by before he called and reported that he had no peace about the projected move to our church and asked that we no longer consider him. We were naturally disappointed but accepted it as the Lord's will. So we turned immediately to number two, now become number one.

By phone we arranged to visit him, meet with him and his wife and visit his worship service to hear him preach in person. The chairman checked his references by phone asking for general comments and following up with specific questions. Each listed reference was asked for and provided at least one further reference not listed by the candidate. We felt that these references from references were a very important help.

The Saturday-Sunday visit to his church went well, and the following Sunday a visit schedule and his doctrinal statement were distributed at our worship service. Then, the next week he, his wife, and children visited our church, arriving on a Thursday evening. On Friday he met with our church staff fairly early in the A.M., then he and his wife were taken on a housing search by our real-estate agent in residence. That evening we held a church-wide pot-luck dinner. Saturday there was a series of one hour meetings with the men of the church, the deacons, the women of the church, and the youth. Lunch Saturday was with the deacons and wives plus the Associate Pastor and his wife. Saturday evening was relaxed; our visitors dined at home with their pulpit committee member host and his family.

Sunday morning the candidate visited several Sunday School classes and preached at the 11:00 a.m. service. Lunch was arranged at a restaurant with the Pulpit Committee members, Associate Pastor, Deacon Chairman, and spouses. Later Sunday afternoon he and his family flew home.

Wednesday evening there was a called business meeting to consider the Pulpit Committee's recommendation. For timing that crucial meeting there are two main alternatives: on Sunday immediately after the service in which the candidate preaches, or the following Wednesday evening. The advantages of Sunday are speed and the large number of people present; the disadvantage is that some people feel pressured, feel a lack of time for prayerful consideration, and do not feel free to discuss this vital matter fully. Conversely, the disadvantages of waiting till Wednesday evening are the delay and the smaller group who will come out; advantages are more time to prepare one's heart and ample time to discuss any remaining questions. We chose Wednesday evening for these reasons, and did have some two hours of questions, discussion, and voting. The results, however, were virtually unanimous to call him.

The above describes one pulpit committee's approach to handling one of the most important decisions that ever faces a congregation. Hopefully our experience may be helpful to you, though our procedures may not be applicable to all circumstances. For example, a church short of funds could not afford to fly candidates in from 1,600 miles away for interviews. On the other hand, such dollar costs have to be balanced against the unquantifiable but very real costs of possibly calling the wrong man and the resultant unhappiness and short tenure if enough preparation is not made.

Whatever procedures you choose, our strongest advice is pray. Seek the Lord's will. Get your congregation to lift you up in prayer. Each pulpit committee member must pray at least daily asking that God's will be done, if the man of God's own choosing is to be found.