One of the more challenging events in the life of a congregation happens when the pastor either resigns or retires. Sometimes members of the congregation might have a sense that a change is coming, especially in the case of a pastor’s retirement. More often than not, the event is a surprise to many people. What may be even more of a surprise is that at any one point in time, a significant number of churches are searching for their next pastoral leader. But that is a normal state of affairs. Still, when it does happen, it leaves any congregation with sense of concern and uncertainty. At the very least, people have a lot of questions and are not sure what happens next or where to turn for help.
One of the reasons Baptists have associated together as congregations over the past 400 years has been to provide guidance and assistance in seeking qualified, trained pastor leaders for their congregations. In fact, mutual aid in attaining qualified pastors was a key reason Baptists began to associate together in the late 1600s. Of course, there are horror stories about isolated churches being taken advantage of by lone wolf pastors who appear on the scene at what seems to be “just the right time,” only later to be found wanting in leadership, integrity or a call supported by other churches. Drawing on the experience of hundreds of Baptist churches over the years, ABCNW has put together a process to assist churches during their pastoral leadership search. This process has much in common with what other regions provide for their churches but is adapted to meet some of the special needs within our region. While not perfect, it does provide the framework and assistance needed while at the same time allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our midst as churches seek the Lord’s direction in calling a new pastor leader.
One of the challenges of the past has been to provide leadership and training for search committees as soon as an announcement of retirement or resignation was made. Calendars, travel schedules and other church needs often left area ministers struggling to meet this need of a church, especially when a number of churches were searching for a new pastor at the same time. In an effort to support search committees and church leadership during this important time of transition, ABCNW has begun to enlist and train individuals to serve as search consultants. Search consultants generally meet face-to-face with a search committee 4 or 5 times during the time of the search and are in touch on a monthly basis with the committee by phone and email.
The primary ROLE of a search consultant is to
Conversely, search consultants are not
Additionally, search consultants are advocates for
We have a number of trained search consultants available throughout the region.
There is much that happens in the life of a congregation when a pastor leaves. There is grieving, and there are tasks to be done. There are good-byes to be said and questions to be answered. And Sunday worship, outreach, and discipleship still need to happen. To ease the uncertainty, we recommend the following steps and provide the described help in “writing the next chapter” of the church’s kingdom work.
1) Church leadership should arrange for appropriate celebrations of ministry for the retiring or resigning pastor.
2) Church leadership should contact the region staff to request the services of an interim pastor and a search consultant.
3) Church leadership should put together a search committee according to its rules of governance.
4) The search consultant meets with the search committee on a scheduled basis to provide training and resource materials for the process of the seeking the person God is calling to be pastor.
NOTE: During this process, the church’s life does not come to a halt. Often, this time during the search can be opportunity for reflection and new growth. In addition, the search committee calls on individuals outside the committee to assist with certain aspects of creating the church’s profile.
5) When the new pastor has been called by the church and accepted the call, the search committee’s final work is to arrange for a service of installation. This is a time of worship in which sister churches are invited to formally recognize, bless, and commit this person to the work of pastor-leader of that church.
One of the first questions that congregations ask about the search process is “how long will it be before we have a new pastor?” The general answer is 12 to 18 months, on the average. Some wonder why it should take so long. The process allows for time to pray through all decisions, gives enough time and space to diminish some of the inevitable comparisons between the departing pastor and new pastor, and to take stock of what God might be calling the congregation to be and do next.
One other often asked question is “Where does the search committee get names of potential candidates?” There are four general ways the search committee receive names.
1) When the church profile is complete, region staff “searches” the American Baptist Personnel Services (ABPS) for possible candidates who general match the criteria given by the search committee.
2) Pastors who sense the Lord may be leading them to a new ministry will contact the region staff, submitting their materials. Those who seem to also be good potential matches are included in the list.
3) Ministry Opportunities Listing (MOL) is published once a month and contains the names and general information of churches seeking pastoral leadership. Some people who believe the Lord is moving them to a new ministry will see this listing and contact region staff, asking to be considered by specific churches.
4) People hear about an open pastoral position via “the grapevine.” While some want to send their materials directly to a search committee, search committee members understand the best practice is to invite these people to contact region staff so they can prepare the same materials others prepare. This allows the search committee to compare similar input from all the candidates.
In all cases, the region staff attempts to screen all names given to the search committee in order to remove those who might not qualify because of misconduct or leadership issues and to determine the potential candidates openness to ministry in the Northwest. Search committees are instructed to complete reference and background checks before interviewing any potential candidate.
If you have questions or need help to get the search process started, contact Dr. Charles Revis, or Rev. Patti Duckworth. It is our desire to assist every church in moving closer to God’s plan to be a vital, healthy, disciple-multiplying church, even in the time of transition between pastors.
Patricia Duckworth ©2009