Preachers or Managers? What are Search Committees Looking For?

Search committees are charged with the significant responsibility of locating a church’s next pastor. And it isn’t as if at the conclusion of the committee’s first meeting the Holy Spirit drops on the conference table the resume of the man the church will eventually call. Countless hours are spent poring over resumes, listening to sermons, talking with references.

It is, to be sure, a huge job.

But do search committees make things harder on themselves than they need to be?

There is an old saw that when polled regarding what it wants in the new pastor, a congregation decides that the ideal man will have a Ph.D., a wife and three kids, 15 years of senior pastor experience, and still be in his 30s. And if the search committee honors this request it might as well be searching for a polka-dotted unicorn.

One search committee chairman spoke with me regarding the progress the committee was making. They had interviewed a few candidates, who each had been deemed inappropriate because what the church really needed was a man “with experience handling a staff.”

I recalled that this church had started its search process about six months prior, and that, to my knowledge, all had not come to a grinding halt without a senior pastor. The doors were not chained shut, the power had not been turned off, God had not withdrawn the church’s lamp stand from its proper place. In fact, the church had been managing to worship for those months with good teaching and leadership from other staff ministers and guest preachers.

Who, I thought to myself, had been ‘handling the staff’ in all these months?

Many churches will go six months, or twelve, or even a couple of years before locating and calling their new pastor. The business affairs of the church – and to a large degree even the ministry function of the church – continues without interruption during this time. Yet many will, just like the chairman I spoke with, require that their new pastor be a good ‘manager.’

It does not occur to many churches looking for new pastors that what they are missing without senior pastoral leadership is not ‘management’, but proclamation.

There is only one man in a congregation charged with the responsibility to proclaim God’s word to God’s people – the preacher. God usually blesses many in a congregation with management skill, organizational ability, and administration gifts. When a church focuses on whether a pastor can ‘manage,’ rather than on whether he can preach, they may end up with a harmonious and efficient staff, but one that surrounds an anemic pulpit.

Pastors – even young ones – can learn people skills on the fly. They usually don’t learn how to preach.

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