Six Updates from Churches with Pastoral Vacancies

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear from a church searching for a pastor. As I have taken mental notes from these conversations over the past few months, I have noticed common themes. Here are the six of the most common developments I have heard from leaders of these churches:

  1. It is taking longer for churches to decide on a pastor. About ten years ago, you could expect a church to take about six to nine months to find a pastor. Today, it is more common to hear the range increase from nine to eighteen months.
  2. These churches have many candidates; but they say most of them are not qualified candidates. Each church seems to have a different idea of the desired qualifications for a pastor. Though they all seem to insist the pastor must have basic biblical qualifications, their preferred qualifications beyond that vary from church to church.
  3. There is more frustration from both the churches and potential candidates. The churches express frustration because they can’t find a qualified candidate. Many candidates express frustration because they can’t seem to find churches willing to respond to their expressions of interest.
  4. More churches are giving up on traditional processes to find a pastor. In the past, many churches depended on their denominational organizations to find a pool of candidates. Today, only a small number shared that the denominational path was their preferred alternative.
  5. Churches are turning to internal candidates more frequently. This trend may be the most pervasive. Some churches begin with an intentional process toward an internal candidate. Others get an internal candidate by default.
  6. More churches are screening candidates by listening to their podcasts. They thus avoid the potential awkwardness of going to a candidate’s current church. They also do not ever need to let candidates know they are being considered until they make a decision based on the podcast.

Many of the comments I hear from churches and candidates come through this blog and other social media. If your church is looking for a pastor, I would love to hear from you. I also appreciate hearing from those of you who are looking for a church. Of course, I am always happy to hear from any of you.

Posted on September 22, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • i think it’s a bit odd too when churches want simply a “doctorate” which doesn’t mean much. You can do an online DMin in preaching (or something like that) or you can get PhD in OT/NT and those are orders of magnitude different academically, but both put a Dr. in front of your name.

    Also 10 years as the Associate Pastor at a 2,000+ church is usually not considered as good as 5 years experience at a church of 40. It’s a mixed bag, but the more people like Thom talk about it, the better the market should get.

    Thom, how about a post on what requirements a churxh “should” set?

  • Jeff Glenn says on

    Speaking as a pastor who is currently searching (3 years and counting!). It appears that most churches today are looking for a diploma/degree from a particular school/college/seminary instead of a pastor. Also, I do wish and pray that after a Search Committee contacts a pastoral candidate, he will be contacted either by mail, email, or phone call if the committee decides to “go in another direction.” It gets frustrating as the days, turn into weeks and then months.

    • As a first time search committee member (and an active position seeker myself), I have learned to send at least the initial “we got your resume” email to applicants from those on the websites where I have been responsible for posting our position. Nothing is more frustrating than no word at all.

  • One things that baffles me is that most pastor-less churches search for young candidates only. Many of these churches barely give a man who is over 50 any thought whatsoever. Yet Division 1 NCAA Football programs that involve millions and millions of dollars as well as alumni often hire men in their late 50′s and into their 60′s. It seems college athletics respect wisdom and experience more than our churches.

  • One things that baffles me is that most pastor-less churches search for young candidates only. Many of these churches barely give a man who is over 50 any thought whatsoever. Yet Division 1 NCAA Football programs that involve millions and millions of dollars as well as alumni often hire men in their late 50’s and into their 60’s. It seems college athletics respect wisdom and experience more than our churches.

  • First of all, I am serving as Pastor of one of the most amazing churches I have ever known and, admittedly, it has been awhile since I have been seeking a place to serve. I have been in the position of being a candidate for a ministry position, and, as a Pastor, I have worked with a few search committees seeking staff members. Both can be rather difficult processes. In my experience, there are just as many candidates with their own profiles of income requirements, jobs they will not do, and unreasonable demands as there are churches with profiles and congregational desires that might appear unspiritual. While I would agree that surveys and profiles can work to the disadvantage in seeking God’s minister, I have also seen more times than not that God overcame the church’s agreed upon profile and raised the profile of a resume that the committee had already discarded. Herein is my point. So far in this thread (and many others like it), the search committees and the seeking churches seem to bear all the responsibility of seeking and trusting the Holy Spirit. Trusting and following the Holy Spirit is best practiced by Churches AND the men and women who seek ministry positions. In short, if God wants you to serve on a certain church staff, He can certainly overcome the obstacle of a misguided profile requirement.

  • As an aspiring youth pastor I find it frustrating how to find churches that are looking. I will screen a church just as much as a church may screen me to ensure it would be a good fit. There are a few church staffing sites, especially for youth ministry but what is listed is certainly out of my desired range and asks for someone much more qualified. It’s frustrating as one who has not been able to take the traditional route of 4 straight years of college and then seminary, but rather has earned a degree online while volunteering in my church has left me without the desired qualifications a church looks for. Online school has also not given me the same networking that is available through professors and internships because I need to work full time.

  • I’m not looking for a new pastorate at the moment, but I infrequently view ministry job boards. I’m shocked at what some churches require and what they’re willing to give. Sounds like a recipe for burnout. I understand we serve the Lord and aren’t supposed to expect a luxurious lifestyle, but there is this little idea of not muzzling a threshing ox.

  • If I have learned one thing for trying to get a start in the secular world, it is that education does not mean experience. I have the highest degree academia can confer, but I was given no credit for it when experience was desired. My suggestion is for those in seminary to take internships in congregations and gain experience. Even unpaid internships are great.

    Now, for those who are willing to hire the inexperienced to work with the youth, why is this the case? What age group feels like they weren’t taught the faith? Youth. What age group is most likely to leave the church? Youth. What age group needs to know how to defend the faith? Youth. In churches with no female clergy, what group has no one to talk to? Young females. Why should the youth be given the least experienced people?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good advice on internships, Mark.

    • Internships and part-time positions don’t count as experience. Most churches are looking for 5-10 years of full-time senior pastor experience. Many of these churches also want your experience to be in a similar sized church or larger and will even designate the acceptable size. Once again, why does pastoring a 300 person church make a candidate a better pastor than pastoring a 250 person church?

  • As someone looking for a position I have been struck by how arbitrary the qualifications are that churches require. Churches say that they are looking for God’s man but God’s man must have a doctorate, 10 years experience, between the ages of 38 and 45, married with two children, dark hair and 6′ tall. Oh, and you also have to root for the right football team. The fact is, almost none of the qualifications that churches require are Biblical. And who decided that 5 or 10 years experience was the magic number? Why is a guy with 10 years experience automatically a better pastor than a guy with 9 years? And what makes a candidate with a doctorate a better pastor than one with a mere MDiv? Let’s be honest, the only reason why churches want to hire Dr. Whoever is for status. Smaller churches may not be looking for the doctorate, but they fall into the same trap of arbitrary qualifications that have nothing to do with the Bible or God’s leading.

    What really bothers me is the trend toward making personality a qualification. Many churches state that they are looking for a people person, outgoing, with a winning personality and a good sense of humor. In other words, they’re looking for the next celebrity pastor. Nowhere in the Bible is personality listed as a qualification for church leadership. Building relationships is a vital part of ministry, but often the low-key, introspective, get-to-know-you pastor is much better at building relationships than the outgoing, life-of-the-party, never-met-a-stranger pastor.

    When I was a youth pastor, I was often criticized for my personality. Even though I had a committed group of students who were maturing in their faith and knew more about the Bible than any other youth group in town, I was still criticized because I didn’t have the “youth guy” personality. When it was mentioned to one of the students that the youth group wasn’t growing, her response was, “But I’ve grown a lot!” Sadly this attitude is now being projected on the senior pastor position. Too many churches are looking for someone who can draw a crowd rather than teach and make disciples.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good input, Adam. Thank you.

    • Adam, I have been looking for associate or even youth pastorate ministry. I have been blown away by how even the youth pastoral positions require 3-5 years staff experience (among a few other qualifications). In one sense I am thankful that these churches want serious pastors for the youth, but how does one gain experience if the experience is not to be had? And if one decides to work temporarily for free as a staff member, will the church smell ulterior motives of that volunteer?

      I also wonder if it is or is not arbitrary for churches to automatically think that in order to become an associate pastor or senior pastor one must have first been a youth pastor. It seems that some churches don’t want a youth pastor who is just using the position as a stepping stone to senior pastorate, yet are churches not the reason why this happens?

      Further, I wonder if churches don’t go by the biblical qualifications for the pastor as their main means of finding “God’s man,” because they don’t understand those qualifications nor how to identify them.

  • As a young pastor who recently went through the process there were three things that frustrated me.

    1) The amount of search committees who called once, spoke to me for about n hour and then never called back. For me, that number was 7.

    2) The idea that theological education was the most important qualification.

    3) There seemed to be no one helping guide any of the committees.

    This sounds like I’m complaining, but in reality God has me right where He wants me and He couldn’t have sent me to a better church to pastor.

  • I am a recent seminary grad seeking a church. I am certainly finding it difficult to find one that is willing to “take a chance” (I dont like that phrase) on someone without full-time experience. Any advice on what/where/who to go to next? It can certainly be frustrating to know the Lord has graciously gifted me in preaching and teaching yet not being able to do this full time or move anywhere along a search process due to my short resume. Also I have noticed many associate pastor positions are simply youth pastor positions to which I do not feel at all led to do so that is frustrating as well. All in the Lord’s time, I know!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Daniel –

      I have advised many people in your position to take a volunteer staff position in a church to get experience and resume cred. If that’s a possibility for you, it can be a fruitful path.

      • Thom, thank you for your reply. I certainly have many years of service to my local church in many capacities: pulpit supply, teaching, leadership roles and even our current search committee which has been very helpful. The difficulty is that many churches do not see this as “real” experience because I am not full time. Its a hard thing to get through I am finding! Thanks again for your reply.

    • Daniel, I don’t know what part of the country you’re in or what part you’re able to go to, but I know my area (central New York) is flooded with ministry needs. There’s probably at least a dozen churches within a 100 mile radius of here that is without a pastor. Ours is even looking for an Assistant Pastor to help launch a number of ministries to get our church involved in the community. I’d be glad to talk with you a bit more. Maybe I could be of some help to aid you in making the transition (or give you some connections) to where God has called you to be.

      • John,

        Thanks for your reply. I am in western New England so not far away. I would love to connect. You can email me at danjsargent at


  • Pastor Chris says on


    What advice would you give us pastors on the searching side of this equation? Specifically, those of us who are “highly qualified” and yet still do not meet the qualifications some churches are using to fill vacancies.

    For example, I’m in my mid-30s with over 15 years of full-time Student Ministry experience in large churches (1200+ members) pastoring large student ministries (250+ students). I also have a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies. However, I am finding that some churches I have applied to do not believe that Student Ministry is “viable” experience. I’ve tried to be polite and say that my experience is what it is. But I’ve also been very upfront in saying that I believe my experience uniquely qualifies me because Student Pastors fulfill all the roles of a Lead Pastor, just in a different context.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts…. God Bless.

    • Are those congregations to which you have applied in university towns? This makes a big difference in thinking about student ministry.

      • I’ve only worked in university towns. Some I’ve talked to have been in college towns, some in others. How do you see it differently in a university setting?

      • My take from it is that people in university towns understand university culture more than those not in a univ. town. Now by univ culture, I mean dealing with law students who want to argue points of law such as found in the Torah and study the opinions of the rabbis, med and grad students in the sciences who want to talk about biomedical ethics and genetics, etc. It means you are dealing with a large concentration of the most educated people there are. Go elsewhere and people will likely feel intimidated.

        Most people not in university towns or these areas have little concern for these topics.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      PC –

      I’ve seen many student pastors become excellent lead pastors. Churches should certainly be open to that option.

      • Small Jewish temples in the South have been using student rabbis (4th year seminary students) for decades. The students are assigned to a temple for a year. They counsel people, lead the services, teach Hebrew school (if there are any youth) and sometimes even conduct funerals. Weddings are about the only thing they can’t do because of the legal aspect.

        I see little of this in Christianity. It is rare that a seminary student goes to a church pulpit, much less leads a congregation.