Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Some practical advice for pastoral search committees

Like so many things in the church, the Pastoral Search process seems often to be spiritualized beyond any recognition for what it is: a hiring process.  Actually, I think what's worse is that search committees are taught to use the language of call while disguising their true desire to hire with a religious patina.  Oh, I don't know.  I just know I've seen a whole lot of bad search processes that seem to lack any straightforward and forthright thinking in favor of a lot of spiritual blather.

I was preaching last Sunday to a church in the middle of a search process.  So I told them my rather blunt ideas about calling a priest as part of the sermon and thought I'd share them with you.

Be as realistic as you can. Be realistic about the resources you have, about what you want done and the time it will require.  One thing you should know is that for me as supply clergy, it takes about 10 hours a week to prepare a sermon, do the service, and attend coffee hour.  That leaves you 30 hours a week for additional work if you're hiring someone full time.  I have seen so many job descriptions that seem to feel they need to fill up a priest's time.  Forty hours a week is not as much as you think.

• Prioritize. If the person you call were good at only one thing, what thing would you like it to be? What kind of skills will that require?  If you really want to grow as a congregation, make sure the job description allows lots of time for outreach--which means less time for training acolytes, creating bulletins, etc.

• Past titles mean very little. I think this is more true in the church than in many other professions. Don’t be impressed by or dismissive of job titles.  Just because someone was in charge of a parish doesn't mean they were any good at it.  Skip the title and look at their skills, what they have accomplished, and what they say they can do well.

 • Check references! Really, I can’t stress this enough. What do the people who have already worked with the applicants have to say about them? What do they report about their skills, accomplishments, and gifts?  I am amazed at the number of times I've been in a search and gotten fairly far, only to ask my references if they had been called and found out they hadn't.  References are an excellent resource for getting a fuller perspective on the applicant; why people don't use them I do not know.

• Priests lie in interviews. I’m not saying all priests lie all the time. What I’m saying is that if a priest wants a job and you say to that person, “What we really need is someone who’s good at administration. Are you good at administration?”, there’s a temptation to say, “Oh, yes!”, and then try to figure it out later once you’ve got the job. I'm afraid we have been well-trained to give the right answer in order to get ahead.  You need to be (I hate to say it) cunning to allow priests the freedom to tell you the truth about themselves. What questions can you ask that will determine their actual skills, habits, and practices?

 • Priests are also trying to do the best they can. But they are still the same species. Never forget that.
Image courtesy of ASBO Jesus



it's margaret said...

I liked the process I met in South Dakota. It took six weeks. Everything that needed to be said and done was said and done in a reasonable time.

You said: Priests lie in interviews
So do search committees. So do churches. Big time. If you are in a search, know your own abilities and work priorities, and learn to read between the lines of search committee profiles. The way you are treated in a search is a sign of the way they are going to treat you later. If everyone can't get together for an interview --it's a really bad sign. If they are unresponsive to questions or emails, it's a really bad sign. Etc....

LKT said...

My ranting opinions about what priests should know about the search process will be part 2!

it's margaret said...


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