Part II (For Church Personnel Committees): Setting the Stage
In Part I of this miniseries on preparing for the introduction or interview with a new pastor, we talked about the pastor’s preparation for this important meeting. In Part II we look at the personnel committee’s side role in the process. Preparing for the interview or introduction of a new pastor takes some intentional planning in order to set the stage for the discussion. Here are some tips for the personnel committee’s preparation:
1. Make the New Pastor (and Spouse) Feel Welcome
The best introductions start with the committee extending hospitality to the new pastor and his or her spouse. Keep in mind what is happening here: the pastor and spouse are coming to be introduced to a bunch of people they don’t know in an unfamiliar setting with a minimal amount of information and, sometimes, as little as a few hours to discern whether or not this is a good place for his or her ministry and family. The more the personnel committee can do to extend a warm welcome, the better the conversation will be.
In some situations, the pastor and spouse may be coming from a distance and will require overnight accommodations. While it may be tempting for churches (particularly small churches) to save money by offering to bunk the pastor and spouse in the home of a member, avoid this at all costs. The pastor and spouse will need space to discuss what they are learning and feeling and they need a place where they don’t have to be “on” during this stressful time. Spend the money to put them up in a good hotel or bed and breakfast where they can relax a bit apart from the church.
One of the ways you can enhance that experience is by providing a welcome basket in the room for when the pastor and spouse arrive. My current church provided my wife and I with a lovely basket of snacks as well as a decorative bag full of information about the area (maps, brochures to area attractions, information about the school district, etc.). This made us feel welcome and gave us a chance to do some dreaming about our new home at the same time.
A nice dinner out is also a nice touch before the introduction. The chair of the personnel committee (and, in the case of some denominations, the denominational executive facilitating the move) will usually accompany the pastor and spouse to dinner at a nice restaurant in the area. This allows time for some informal conversation prior to the formal introduction.
2. Structure the Introduction Meeting
Make sure the interview or introduction has a clear agenda that will keep the conversation on task and yield the kind of information the committee needs to make its decision. Here is a sample structure for an introduction/interview that provides opportunities for dialogue and discernment:
- Formal introduction of pastor by the personnel committee chair or denominational representative.
- Introduction of the members of the personnel committee (name and how long they have been attending the church).
- The pastor gives a devotional (10 minutes) at the start of the meeting and opens the meeting with prayer.
- Pastor presents his or her story of spiritual life and call.
- Personnel committee persons asked prepared questions. Pastor responds.
- Pastor and personnel committee review the church’s profile document.
- Clarification of expectations: Pastor asks committee what they expect from the pastor, and committee asks pastor what he or she expects from the church.
- Discussion of any other matters.
- Pastor and spouse dismissed for deliberations.
- Final decision and celebration of new ministry, if the decision is being made that night. Otherwise, set the timetable for making the decision and the communication plan for letting all the parties know.
The key to the meeting is clarifying whether or not this pastor and this congregation are a good match for one another. If one or other of the parties is uncomfortable with the other, then that should be stated clearly during the deliberation period. Do not hesitate to express your concerns, keeping in mind, however, that no pastor has every gift that a congregation wants and no congregation has everything the pastor wants, either. Be realistic, be clear, and be honest.
What kinds of questions should the personnel committee be asking the pastor? These vary based on the local situation, but a good general list would include questions like:
- What are the three things you like most about being a pastor?
- What are the three things you like least?
- Based on what you know about our church right now, what vision might you have about our future together?
- How would you characterize your theology?
- What do you think is the purpose of the church?
- What do you perceive as your best strengths?
- What do you perceive to be your growing edges?
- What kind of church would you best like to serve?
- Looking at our church profile, what excites you and what concerns you?
- Describe a situation in which you dealt with conflict. How did you handle it and what was the outcome?
This is not an exhaustive list, just a few questions to get you thinking about learning the new pastor’s heart and gifts for ministry Don’t be afraid to probe deeper on certain questions. The more honest a pastor is about himself or herself, the better you will know what they are all about as you discern their fit for the church. Find ways to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses and you will likely have a long season of ministry together.
3. Introduce the Community
Assuming that the first meeting goes well, often the personnel committee will arrange for the pastor and spouse to take a tour of the local area the day after the introduction or interview. Obviously, if the church does not have a parsonage, the pastor will be looking for a place to live. There are likely some real estate agents in your congregation who would love to give them the tour and, perhaps, sell them a home. My policy, however, has been to always choose a realtor who is not a member of the church. A realtor is the buyer’s agent, which means the pastor will be entering into a business deal with a parishioner he or she barely knows. Chances are, too, that there is more than one real estate agent in the congregation and choosing one over the other puts the pastor on unequal footing with another member of the congregation. Save the reality questions and house hunting for an outside realtor. Instead, have a member or two from the congregation who can be objective tour guides show the pastor and spouse around town. Don’t just hit the attractions (if there are any!), but show them the tough parts as well.
The more than personnel committee can prepare for the introduction, the more likely it is that you will be able to make a good match. Gearing up for an interview or introduction can be an anxious time for both the pastor and the personnel committee. Some advance planning and prayer, along with a solid portfolio of information, can help you begin to make your best move!
Read Part 1, “Getting to Know You: Preparing to Make Your Best Move.”