Pastor Search: Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Trinity searching for a lead pastor?
In June 2017, Trinity’s lead pastor, Keith Boyd and his wife, Dee Ann, announced to the congregation that they felt called to return to Texas to be with their aging parents after leading Trinity for the past 25 years. (See his letter). In July, the Elders announced that they would form a Pastor Search Committee and they asked James Leonard, Trinity’s associate pastor, to step in as Interim Lead Pastor. James was officially presented to Trinity as the Interim Lead Pastor in August.
Who is responsible for conducting the search and calling the new lead pastor?
Our church bylaws state:
Section 10.03 Selection Process. The process for selecting a Senior Pastor (and/or any Associate Pastor, if the process is deemed necessary by the Elders) shall be as determined by the Elders.
The non-pastoral elders (Dave Page, Fred Atkins, Ross Queener & Timothy Tien) agreed to constitute a diverse search committee with heterogenous views and experiences that would represent the congregation well, and also seek obedience to Word and Spirit together. Connie Lewin, Jamie Craig, Jenna Russo, Phil Woods and Sandy Barnett each agreed to join the committee in 2017. Each of the committee members is a long-standing member of Trinity with respective records of exemplary and sacrificial service in our church. (UPDATE: In April 2018, Jenna advised the committee of her need to step down, and the committee has accepted this and has begun looking for a replacement for her.)
Why is our church investing significant time in a search process?
Our primary search is for God’s will and calling, on both the life of our church and the life of our next lead pastor. In the long run, every pastor is an interim pastor, and every local church a life story with a beginning and end. As the hiring of a lead pastor is one of the most important decisions a church makes, the calling should not be made hastily or lightly, but instead with prayer, fasting, Bible study, healthy disagreement and reconciliation, best practices and consultation with wise and experienced associates. A healthy process increases the capacity for the church and candidates to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and includes additional wisdom and perspectives from more people from within the church family, as well as from outside experts and leaders. The committee’s early research of best practices resulted in our conclusion that an official search process was the best way of confirming God’s selection for a future pastor.
Why is our church investing budget in a search process?
Because the appointment of our next lead pastor carries much strategic impact, our trustees have approved a budget for the search. Anticipated expenses include travel, marketing, relocation and legal costs, as well as potential service provider (i.e. consultant or search firm) fees. The committee has been intentional about stewarding and constraining our spending and has not spent a penny in the first 8 months of the process. In this time period, the committee has worked diligently: scheduling due diligence sessions with experts from Converge (our church convention) and several search firms; designing and agreeing on a screening and interviewing process; and drafting a job description, a church profile, and a two-part job application. The committee also collaborates with church staff on regular communication with the congregation and the webpage for the search.
What does the search process entail?
The search process includes the following practices and goals:
- Spiritual disciplines, including prayer, fasting, transparency, conflict management and the ministry of reconciliation
- Practical process and project management, with research on best practices, intentional recruitment of committee members with complementary experience and skills, respect for varying gifts and faith journeys, regular and sustainable work tempo, delegation, specialization and coordination on efficiency, productivity, and quality outcomes
- Updating the definition and expectations of the lead pastor role for the next chapter of the church, in consultation with church family, and, most importantly, with Word and Spirit
- Drafting a suite of engaging documentation that describes our church and pastorate with quality and clarity
- Designing and conducting a comprehensive screening process from evaluating resumes and applications to final face-to-face interviews
- Identifying good sources for candidates, such as referrals, internet providers, and search firms
- Connecting with job candidates, professionally and confidentially
- Introducing finalists to the congregation and hearing them teach the Word
- Calling a pastor and agreeing on compensation
- Onboarding the new pastor and family into our church
What is the expected timeline?
The Boyds advised the church in June 2017 that they felt God was calling them back to Texas, after serving us with excellence and persistence for almost 3 decades. The non-pastoral elders worked on forming a search committee in June and July, and the committee was constituted in August.
Since then, the committee has consulted with 5 search practitioners, and learned that the expected timing to complete a search is about two years without help from a search firm or consultant. The search committee is embracing the tension between rushing too quickly and moving too slowly. Both of these behaviors can keep us from realizing the good and perfect will of God. An impulsive or hasty decision would reflect the temptation of controlling what is not ours to control, like King Saul at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13). On the other hand, a drawn-out search could suggest a fear or avoidance of embracing God’s will and change for our church, like the manager in Jesus’ parable who buried his bag of gold in the ground (Matthew 25).
Given the committee’s limited experience and constrained capacity of hours to serve the search process, the committee may decide to partner with a firm to help us search well. A search firm would typically reduce the search to approximately six months. The committee decided not to retain a firm for the first several months while working hard to make progress without spending any funds early in the process. We agreed to revisit the decision in Q1 2018, and the decision for a firm could be made in Q2 2018. The committee is working and planning to call a lead pastor in 2018 or 2019, yet as the proverb instructs “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps”.
Why shouldn’t we just appoint James, our long-serving associate pastor, and save time and money?
Both James and the search committee are open to the possibility that God is calling James to be the lead pastor of the church. However, James wasn’t originally hired with this intention, and the elders—including James—never planned for James to succeed Keith as lead pastor (in contrast to how Moses prepared Joshua in Numbers 27, or Elijah prepared Elisha in 2 Kings 2). In several elder discussions in recent years, the question of James as a lead pastor was raised but never answered.
What the elders did agree, well before Keith responded to a call back to Texas, is that James and the church would greatly benefit from James serving as interim lead pastor in a scenario when Keith vacated his role and James was available. As James has publicly stated, he is fully supportive of the search process and committee and does not desire “protection” from the scenario that another person could be called as lead pastor but instead trusts that God will lead our church in the way that we should go.
Certainly, James’ love and faithfulness to our church over the years is obvious to all of us who know him. But, we also need that extra set of eyes that the prophet Samuel lacked, in jumping to conclusions on Jesse’s grown sons while missing the youngest one left out with the animals who turned out to be the man after God’s own heart.
By embarking on a prayerful and watchful search process together, the church can grow in faith, obedience, and joy as we seek God’s will for our church. If James is ultimately the person called to the role, the affirmation and confirmation of this calling will be strengthened by an open search process of humility, wisdom, discernment, communication, and collaboration. And, if James is not called to the role, then we believe God has something better planned for James and his family. As per Romans 8:28: “All things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Why should we consider James, currently serving as interim lead pastor?
While James wasn’t seen as the successor to Keith in the past, the elders have seen significant growth in James in recent years that aligns with the job description we have crafted with congregational input. Additionally, James has been serving and leading the church effectively in many areas since Keith departed in November 2017. The church has been blessed and encouraged by James’ preaching and teaching and the staff energized by his leadership. Since taking the interim role, James has also demonstrated grace and courage when dealing with challenging situations and difficult behaviors from others. It is in the interest of the church to find the best leader we can for the next chapter, and James brings clear value as a candidate for the lead pastor role.
William Vanderbloemen, pastoral search expert, strongly recommends that an interim pastor can be essential in transitioning from one lead pastor to another but should not be considered as a candidate in the search process (from Search: The Pastoral Search Committee Handbook, by William Vanderbloemen, Chapter 4). But, this pertains to hiring an interim after the lead pastor has vacated the office. Vanderbloemen and other experts also encourage developing leadership from within. Our search committee recognizes the benefits of avoiding the conflicts attached with considering a transitional leader for the lead pastor role, but we are hopeful we will navigate and manage the potential conflicts appropriately as leaders who want what is best for the church and that our consideration of James is best for the church, whether he is ultimately called or not.
James has made it clear to the search committee that he is interested in being considered for the role of lead pastor. He is in full submission to the vetting process and timeline determined by the committee. In the interim, James has been given the authority to lead our congregation through this exciting transition and we are trusting God to guide our steps to a bright and vibrant future.
How can one influence and support the search wisely?
The committee is grateful for each person who responded to our congregational survey that was completed in December, 2017, as we studied the results and integrated the significant perspectives and preferences in the job description. The congregation can ask thoughtful questions of the committee and each other, stay informed. Please continually pray for wisdom and discernment: for the committee, for the person who God has in mind for the role, and for the church as a unified whole; and, encourage others in our church family to do the same.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
walk in the way of insight.—Proverbs 9:6
Different people in our congregation prefer different qualities and strengths in their expectations for a lead pastor. Some desire engaging and insightful teaching. Others prioritize caring and personal shepherding. Still others seek incisive and effective leadership. These and other preferences have been reflected from the survey the congregation completed in December 2017. It is important that the search committee and our entire faith community understand each other clearly, as we seek God’s intention together for what is best for the church. We should all be quick to listen to each other and the Holy Spirit, and slow to speak on what we think is best.
How can we encourage and protect unity among us that stands strong against the enemy’s desire to discourage, confuse, and disrupt God’s plan?
The elders—including Interim Lead Pastor James—and the committee welcome varying perspectives, vigorous debate, and healthy conflicts over search ideas. Most churches, including ours, do not have much experience in pastoral succession. Therefore, it is possible that some of us may not always speak nor act lovingly, truthfully, wisely, respectfully, or responsibly at all times. A lack of humility can push us away from the victory and unity that God intends for us. Anger may be authentic and appropriate in moments throughout the process, but we should not trade away persistent wisdom in extending any momentary anger, covering light instead of promoting it.
Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.—Proverbs 9:7-9
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.—John 14:23-27
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.—Eph 4:2-3