I’ve been actively seeking a full-time pastoral position for three years. I regularly peruse employment sites like ChurchStaffing.com and Indeed.com. Over the last several years I’ve read several hundred job descriptions. I’ve applied to approximately 100 ministry positions in various Christian denominations in the US and Canada. Along the way I’ve been shocked, puzzled, frustrated and downright angered at some of the stuff I’ve seen and experienced. So I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are problematic church hiring practices. Some of these problems relate to process, others to professionalism and some even expose prejudicial or discriminatory practices. I’ll tackle the problems in each of these three categories but I realize that many of these problems straddle the boundaries between categories. For each problem, I’ll offer at least one alternative practice that may enhance or safeguard the hiring process for both churches and their pastoral candidates.
PROBLEMS IN PROCESS
Asking Candidates ONLY Experience Based Interview Questions
We’ve all heard stories of clergy who have violated sexual or ethical boundaries. This has led to firing of pastors, the destruction of marriages and families, the division and splitting of church bodies and irreparable damage to denominational reputations. You’d expect hiring committees and churches to be very concerned about the character of the pastor they will hire to lead their congregations. However, I’ve discovered that churches are far more concerned that they hire people with proven experience.
Other than questions about my faith testimony, I have never been asked a question that would reveal the smooth or rough edges of my character. Instead, I’ve been asked 15 different ways about my work experience, how I would accomplish specific tasks, how I have successfully recruited volunteers, what strategies I’ve used to train leaders, etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I think once you’ve discovered that a candidate is a competent and promising employee, you’d spend the bulk of your time getting at a pastor’s character. It makes me very uncomfortable to think that churches nationwide are hiring the best managers, recruiters and event planners they can find, but a pastor’s character, moral compass and ethical decision-making skills are of lesser concern. I know this is probably not the intent of churches, but their processes and questions tell a different and frightening story.
Alternative Practice: Make sure your committee spends as much time developing and asking character-based questions as you do experience-based questions. Make state and federal background checks standard practice for every candidate. Call references early in your process to ask questions about the candidate’s character and verify claims made on the candidate’s resume. Push references to give critical feedback of the candidate and if they only give glowing reports, consider asking the candidate for a few more people you can call.
These days the budget belt is cinched tight for many churches, so combo pastoral positions are popping up all over. The idea is that a church really needs two pastors for two very different positions but they can only afford to hire one person so they combine the two. I’ve seen a lot of positions that combine worship and missions, worship and youth, youth and young adult, children and youth, outreach and discipleship. The problem with these combo positions is that they often require one person to have a broader-than-humanly-possible skill-set, knowledge base, and spiritual gifts.
For example, the popular combo “pastor of youth and young adults” is downright crazy to me. 13-17 year olds have vastly different developmental needs and abilities than 18-22 year old. Why are we asking a pastor to shepherd groups with such wildly different needs? Why do we expect that one person has equal love of, call to serve, or passion for such different demographics? The same principle can be applied to many of the combo positions out there.
Are we forcing pastors to compromise their passions and true calling so we can meet all of our ministry needs with one salary? When we offer these combo positions, how are we forcing pastors to give less than their best? How are we short-changing the receivers of ministry when pastors are over-extended and drained by work that doesn’t flow out of their gifting?
Alternative Practice: If you have two ministries that need oversight and pastoral presence but you don’t have the budget to hire two pastors, ask yourself it is possible to find and train competent and gifted lay-leaders from within your own congregation. Perhaps the Young Adult Pastor could supervise and encourage a team of passionate and competent lay youth leaders without being expected to actually juggle two full-time pastoral roles in one week under one salary.
Homogenous Search Committees
How often do we gather ministry committees made up of the 20%, those ever-willing, highly involved and available church members, rather than committees that actually reflect the diversity, values and demographics of our congregations? Too often. The same trend applies among pastoral hiring committees. The problem with homogenous search committees is that they may fail to ask a breadth of questions that target the various needs of the congregants the pastor will be serving.
Alternative Practice: Take the time to study the diversity, demographics and values in your church. Then build of the commitment of varied ages/generations, appropriate gender ratios, race and ethnicities that reflect the congregation, as well as persons that speak for the ministries at the core of the church’s identity or the job description.