Recently, Wilkesboro (NC) Baptist Church voted to call me as their senior pastor. My conversations with the pastor search committee went smoothly, and we were both in agreement that God was leading us together. We met for the first time in May, and they called me to be their pastor in July. While my conversation with Wilkesboro happened rather quickly, the entire process for me was years in the making.
For nearly five years, under God’s leading, I looked for opportunities to serve as a senior pastor. Wilkesboro Baptist Church was not the first church I talked with. In fact, I talked with several churches at different levels of detail during that time. I’d like to share with some observations about pastor search committees that I’ve discovered in my journey. Some of the observations are neutral, some obviously positive, and some are negative. I trust my experiences might be helpful and encouraging.
- Every search committee is different. I can honestly say no interaction and no committee I talked to handled themselves the same way. Some were made up of the entire church age spectrum, some had all men, some had clear spokespersons, some functioned as a plurality, some were pushy, some were patient, some dealt with only me, some were dealing with several candidates at a time. You should expect anything and everything with pastor search committees.
- Committees that seek training and insights are better than those that don’t. It wasn’t difficult to sense the committees that pursued insight and training and those that did not. The pastor search committee at Wilkesboro Baptist Church experienced excellent training by their associational director of missions.
- Committees will tell you what they think and what they expect from you as a candidate. When I asked what the church expects of their pastor, one committee member (not my current church) told me, “We want our pastor to be superman.” To be fair, he was complementing the quality and leadership of their long-tenured previous pastor. Understandably, I trembled in fear at the honesty of his answer. Questions you are asked and answers you are given will give you insight into the expectations they have for you as a pastor.
- Committees should be in prayerful agreement. I cannot speak for the spiritual process of each committee I talked with, but I know the committee at Wilkesboro prayed diligently for God’s direction and leading. As an example, they prayed for God to send a buyer for our house. As an affirmation, we had an offer on our house the weekend I was preaching in view of a call before the house went on the market. Prayer should be the guiding and foundational element of any committee.
- Some committees do their homework, while others do not. Several things about Wilkesboro Baptist’s committee stood out, not the least of which was that they listened to everything I preached and read nearly everything I had written publicly. They knew me well. Other committees were more intent on selling their church or talking about themselves.
- Committees that work together function better than ones where there is a leader who clearly calls all the shots. I was ceaselessly impressed by the teamwork of the committee at Wilkesboro. While the chairman led in communication with me, every other committee member added something significant to our conversations and meetings. In other situations, there appeared to be one, and only one, spokesperson. In fact, in one “Dear John” conversation, I received a sales pitch from the committee chairman about why they were pursuing a different person. Furthermore, before any other person spoke, they looked to him for his permission to say something. As you can imagine the conversation was awkward.
- The best committee/candidate relationships operate as a courtship. I went into this pastor search process viewing it a bit like a marriage. Therefore, the conversations between committees and myself were like a courtship. If you take someone to dinner, you should pay for his meal. Generosity is not everything, but committees that don’t lead with generosity in the courtship oftentimes reveal the generosity level of their church. Also, a courtship does not include presumption. The committee at Wilkesboro Baptist never presumed to know my mind and gave me space and time to discern God’s direction.
No committee is perfect. No pastoral candidate is perfect. I trust these observations might encourage pastors who might be seeking a new position. While I know this audience is primarily pastors, I hope these insights might aid pastor search committees as well.