When Should a Pastor Search Team Disband?

Pastor-Search Committees have a very hard job. In just a few months, they are charged with

  • going through the five stages of grief as the pastor leaves (even when it is a contentious departure, people still grieve a loss)
  • determine what is the current culture of the church
  • decide what are some of the future paths the church can take
  • solicit names of potential leaders and research those prospective pastors
  • work with other church leaders such as the personnel and finance teams to ensure there are sufficient funds and a fit with the existing staff
  • promote the final candidate to the church and to the current staff
  • coordinate the vote and install the new pastor

At this point, most pastor-search committees are exhausted. This has taken about 18-24 months of monthly or even bi-weekly meetings. The members have given up family time, their jobs may have suffered, and certainly there have been jabs and barbs from church members second-guessing the decisions of the committee. Many, if not most, committee members want nothing more than to be done with the pastor-search committee.

But their work isn’t done. In fact, it won’t be done until the pastor they helped bring to the church departs. Pastor-Search Committees have a very difficult short-time responsibility but they have a critical long-term role.

Pastor-Search Teams need to stay together and continue to work with the pastor. They need to meet at least semi-annually with the pastor to provide him or her feedback about the status of the church and what the “person in the pew” is saying. The committee needs to know what the church leadership is saying about the direction of the church and its leader and then they need to share that in an honest way with each other and the pastor. In fact, the Personnel Committee should charge the Pastor-Search Committee with doing the pastor’s annual evaluation.

No one at the church knows the new pastor better than the search committee – they’ve known him longer and they know the reasons they felt he or she was a match with their church. The search committee has a duty to both the church and the pastor to help the new pastor be a success and they have a vital role in his leadership. Pastor-Search Committee members were selected for their position because they are typically highly respected lay leaders with a lot of experience and influence. They must leverage their position to help the pastor succeed and chart the course for the church for the next generation.

When church members begin to gripe about the new pastor, the search committee must step up and be his or her advocate. That doesn’t mean they have to defend everything the new pastor wants, but they shouldn’t denigrate the pastor publicly, either. Instead, they can bring concerns to him or her at their next semi-annual meeting and together craft a way to address valid problems in a win/win scenario. The pastorate is an incredibly lonely position and one in which people want to tell him or her only good things. All leaders need constructive and forward-looking feedback. In a church, that responsibility is on the Pastor-Search Committee for the length of the pastor’s time with that church.

Over time, especially for long-tenured pastors, some search committee members will leave the church through moving or death. But the original search team should stay together and not recruit any replacements. The last two jobs a Pastor-Search Committee have is

  • To plan a departure event of the pastor when he or she leaves whether it is due to retirement, resignation, or even death. A nice symbolic gesture at the farewell is for the committee to receive the “mantle” from the departing pastor and then give that mantle to the next Search Committee who will pass it on to the next pastor.
  • Finally, the search committee must meet with the next Pastor-Search Committee and give them suggestions and ideas of how they failed and succeeded so that the next search committee and pastor can succeed even more.

Lead On!