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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  • will haddock says on

    Just my humble opinion, but church and candidate alike, will only get what they inspect, not what they expect. Additionally, the process is about far more than hiring a person or taking a position. Its not even about the abilities to utilize technologies to expedite the process; but a Devine destiny waiting to become reality. A destiny that will impact individuals, families, communities and culture. For this reason, again in my humble opinion, there are no short cuts.

    This is Kingdom work. God’s kingdom. One should not be looking for hirelings, nor the other simply looking to be hired. Do technologies, systematic processes or qualifications matter? Sure they do but neither should be the determining factors in this dilemma. And I believe any flock without a shepherd is in a dilemma, even vulnerable, and perhaps in varying degrees danger. Likewise, a shepherd displaced from his responsibilities can often succumb to emotions, habits or opinions that create an unhealthy and isolated world, church, or cultural view.

    So how do we curb the frustrations, insecurities, and lack of trust that exists in this process? I believe, and mind you I humbly submit this opinion, we need to build networks based on real relationships rather than technological advantage.

    On both sides of this issue, we must be willing to build Christian fellowship that fosters trust and transparency. And while academic and private sector qualifications are important, we must not forget, the man who three times denied he even knew Jesus, preached the inaugural sermon of the New Testament church.

    Sometimes its seemingly the most unqualified candidate that God calls. Jesus….. will one day even sit upon the throne of such a one.

  • Samuel Lee says on

    Whenever a guest preacher comes, I look at the wife and how he treats her. I look at how he treats the kids and the waiter too.

  • Most of these comments are from pastors or aspiring ministers. I am neither. I am sitting on a search committee for my church. There are seven of us who meet weekly for 2-3 hours. We started 18 months ago and took 8 months to prepare our process and our church, community and pastor profiles. We want what God wants for our church. While we did take the time to seek counsel from a “consultant with denominational ties” and write these profiles. It is not hard and fast, it is guideline that will help us distinguish differences between candidates. One of the qualities which is hard to measure is leadership. When we receive a self-submitted resume it never addresses why they are looking. We wonder. We research. We speculate. We pray. We are very intentional about communicating with prospects and those that recommended them to us. We send letters and a discreet email address for communication. We always follow up with candidates -even when we do not have the answers we try to give an update. But…my purpose for writing this is to encourage and enlighten those of you in the ministry….. although I cannot speak for every search committee I will speak for ours – we are praying daily for the man God is preparing for us. We pray daily for our church to be prepared for him. We know change will come and we are praying for the transition for our church and for our next lead pastor’s family – many of those we have contacted have been surprised. So when we ask for information, they need time to pray. This all takes time and patience and most importantly prayer. We are praying daily – we want what God wants, who God wants, when God wants. We love our church and are excited about what’s next and who’s next. His will be done – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

    • Scott, I might be speaking for many here (even though I just ran across this site just today 10/12/15) by saying thank you. If we knew every pulpit committee acted as the one of which you are a part, we would pluck up and take more heart in the process.

  • Joe Pastor says on

    I’ve been in my present position for 12 years. I’ve been looking for a new position for the last year. One change I’ve noted in the search process is significant: A dozen years ago, “knowing someone” was often a key to a foot in the door. But now, with the development of ministry job boards, the number of candidates for each new position is staggering. For example, I sent my info to a church of 300 who was looking for a senior pastor. They replied (that alone is unusual!) that they had received 400 resumes. FOUR HUNDRED! Wow! Just by pure numbers, the odds of being “the one” are far less today than they would have been 12 years ago.

  • In response to #1 and #2 and #3: That maybe the case due to the disunity of the local church and high ‘worldly’ expectations of a candidate vs. spiritual requirements of Scripture (in other words: proven earthly success is preferred – everyone wants a five-tool servant). Today’s autonomy looks much different than decades ago. The music wars have done us no favors (I prefer the word music rather than ‘worship’ – they are not synonymous). The compartmentalization of ministry has made the market volatile since we specialize in so many areas, thus, ministry is done by a few rather than given members (i.e. consumerism).

    In response to #4: I think there is a different b/w denomination vs. convention. It would likely serve Baptist churches well if there was some type of ecclesiological authority. But, I guess we would not be Baptist. I think the traditional process is typically a reflection of the church and committee and how they relate or trust/love one another. My experience here is that those selected to find a pastor(s) are not all that spiritual but pragmatic.

    In response to #5: It ought to be the vision of the church and pastor to raise up the next pastor from within the congregation. This may provide a more sympathetic shepherd well connected to local families and community. This may lead to lasting transformation in a given culture. (Not talking about nepotism)

    In response to #6: If nothing else I’ve typed is worth a dime, please consider this – whatever the process, please due all diligence and go beyond the references given. The resume is NOT always trustworthy. It is only meant to cast the candidate in the brightest light. Call several others, listen carefully, ask specific questions, and beg God’s Spirit for discernment. A candidate can be a master communicator, highly educated, quick witted, smooth as grape juice, and charismatic personality that draws a crowd but maybe a terrible pastor/shepherd – driven by self-ambition. It may also be a good idea to do a criminal background check today and interview the spouse as a reference – read body language.

    Grace to you,

  • As I have searched twice for new ministry opportunities ihave never been more discouraged. I know my calling, my gifting and my desire. But in talking to more than 50 churches the only thing they wanted to know was what letters followed my name. Shameful. None asked me about anything to do with scripture or teaching/preaching. Just whatmy credentials were. It has to stop.

    So, I take a different approach. I beg you, pastors. Please, teach your flock what matters. It is not the church’s fault, it is the previous pastor’s fault.

  • My Dad headed the Church Extension Department at then Baptist Home Mission Board (Jack Redford). In addition I am a Worship Pastor. I have watched as Churches have drifted into a more ‘secular’ approach to finding their Leaders. I wrote this artical a while back in response to observing this escalate.

  • Jason Bland says on

    It must be very challenging to address a clearly broken system that is being maintained by autonomous churches and seek change. Thank you Dr. Rainer, please keep moving on this! As a 36 year old pastor with 3 earned doctorates and 10 years as a senior pastor of turnaround churches ( interviewed for Transformational Church), I assumed that all of the pastorates have been going to the “older” guys. Guess we are all in this mess together.
    It seems every pastor-less church calls an interim and then calls the pastor recommended by the interim regardless of their qualifications (or lack thereof). I never thought I would be on the Southeastern campus finishing a fourth doctorate and still looking for a ministry a year and a half later. I was floored by your article on the increasing demand for qualified pastors, I’m still shaking my head and praying, “God, what do I need to do to get qualified!?” If it’s all about who you know, how do I go about knowing them, and is that even biblical? This whole process has lead me to a place of deep concern for the American Church. How do we get word of the pastor/search team disconnect to the individual churches?

  • Thom–thanks for sharing this–one thought regarding #4–if more churches are utilizing non-traditional avenues for finding pastors (state conventions, seminaries, etc.) imagine how that transition is affecting worship leaders. Most of the “institutional” paradigms deal either primarily or exclusively with pastors and pastor search committees. This means that those churches looking for staff members are left to word of mouth approach or a handful of resumes from traditional sources. Added to that the trend of many staff ministers no longer attending traditional seminaries and the problem is compounded because even our Christian/Baptist colleges are not really set up to serve as Minister Relations departments. All of this means we much investigate and continue to evaluate new paradigms for this issue and others facing our churches and ministers today.

  • I have found the process of looking for another ministry position exhausting. I am looking for a full-time worship pastor position. I have been actively looking for over a year. My search is made a tad more difficult due to medical needs in my family. Due to this, my search is more restrictive geographically. The next issue that seems to be in play is the video era. It seems many search teams are looking for a specific type of person, that has a specific style and (maybe) a specific look. I know that music is subjective, but the video era has enhanced the subjectivity. Churches want to find someone doing exactly what they do now. The problem is that really good worship pastors are not getting called to churches based more on style than substance. It seems that if the style they are looking for is not present than they are not interested. The issue with that is many worship pastors can lead multiple styles and in different ways. For instance, say a church is acoustic-driven. If they see a worship pastor leading with electric, they may not see that person “fitting” their church. Lastly, music styles are continually changing. Hymns and re-tuned hymns were not popular 8 to 10 years ago. Now, they are. What holds for the next 10 years? No one knows, but Bethel Church and Passion may not be the trendsetters. This is why it looks like it would be more important to find a good pastor opposed to a person that does a certain music style.

  • I think it would be interesting to see some sort of data on long term outcomes of pastors that were hired by a committee verses hired by the Senior Pastor (or his designate). Being in the search process of looking for a new position over the last year, I find my experiences of interviewing and communications with committees to be very different from those with just a single Senior Pastor or Exec Pastor who doesn’t necessarily have to work with a committee. Certainly there are advantages to both styles, but generally speaking, I find the experience with the pastors to be overwhelmingly better, faster, and more pleasant.
    I think it would be interesting to see if those hired by a single pastor (with little to no oversight from a committee) do better in the long run within the church verses those who had to go through a lengthy committee process…or vice versa.