A recent column about some of the positive experiences of clergy who have recently moved motivated some responses around the theme of “things that have not gone well.”
Here are some common ethical issues search committees must deal with.
The perennial complaint clergy have about search committees is their lack of common courtesy in the realm of communication. Many a minister has sent their resume to a committee and never received an acknowledgement of receipt or any response at all.
Along the journey through a call process, committees are often guilty of promising to get back with a candidate and never bothering to do so.
Everyone understands that committees are comprised of volunteers with limited time to give to the process. However, that does not negate the need to treat potential candidates with appropriate courtesy.
As is true with any relationship, it is difficult to interpret silence. Healthy search committees pay attention to the way they communicate and take it seriously. Please, we can do better in this regard.
Lack of Clarity
One respondent lamented the lack of focus and training most committees seem to display. Unfocused position titles, shallow questions, and outdated methods are just some of the frustrations for clergy.
Many committees operate today as they did decades ago. So much has changed in the realm of communication and sharing of information that unhealthy practices are more obvious and damaging than in the past.
Healthy search processes start with intense self-study that produces clarity and focus for the search. If you think this is a step you cannot afford to take the time to do well, please think again.
You must come to terms with your past, your present and your honest hopes for the future if you are going to do your job well. Expectations that are fuzzy or filled with archaic language trip up many a process.
Integrating your search with your congregation’s vision and dream for its future is a must.
Consider the search process an opportunity to learn on multiple levels. If an issue arises in the midst of a conversation, hit “pause” with a candidate and seek clarity before going further.
Lack of Integrity
One of my correspondents was dismayed to find that committees gave vague, cryptic responses to questions in an effort to string him along while they talked with another candidate.
While clergy can be just as guilty of this, it is usually committees that must manage multiple candidates simultaneously. An unhealthy practice is to be deceptive about what your committee is doing.
Much preferred is a level of honesty in which you say: “Hey Bill, right now we’re moving in another direction, but we’d still like to leave our options open with you in case things don’t work out. Is it OK for us to contact you later if that’s what we want?”
That way the choice is mine, and I don’t feel like I’m being led on.
Lack of Mutuality
It’s tempting for a search committee to fall into “hiring mode” rather than engage in a spiritual discernment process.
One correspondent put it this way: “Some search committees seem astonished that I have questions for them or may not even be interested in the job. I guess it’s a tough job market, but I’m still operating under the belief that a pastor should go to a church not because it’s the only thing available, but because they feel called by God to do so. Likewise, I think the search committee should understand that every candidate does not desperately want to come to their church. There is prayerful discernment involved. Ideally, I see the pastor-church relationship as a partnership, not a favor that’s being bestowed on me by a search committee.”
Lack of Creativity
Far too many committees settle for ordinary when they could have something extraordinary.
Candidate profiles that simply report out congregational demographic preferences are nearly useless. Most end up at the same, unrealistic place.
Another missed opportunity is that many committees go for the candidate they want rather than the candidate they need.
The Bible is filled with examples of God using the unlikely, and healthy churches are not afraid to entertain such ideas.
Rather than settle for the safe and predictable, invite your committee to be open to the Spirit’s leadership, even if it challenges convention or precedent.
Committees would be wise to stretch themselves with regard to age, gender, experience, traditional position titles, time commitments and so on.
Some of the most interesting and engaging ministry taking place today has emerged from churches willing to step outside the box of conformity and invite God to do something unique and special among them.
Search committees face a daunting and challenging task. When they go about it with the right spirit, God is able to do some amazing things. I pray that will be your experience.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.