Common Search Committee Mistakes

Based on The Pastoral Search Journey—A Guide to Finding Your Next Pastor by John Vonhof, adapted by Dean Phelps.

  1. Failing to conduct a complete and honest evaluation of your church to identify strengths and weaknesses. Your regional minister can help you use surveys and congregational gatherings to build this information.
  2. Failing to reach consensus on criteria before looking at profiles. As a search team, we often want to start looking at candidates before we have a shared understanding of what we’re looking for. The search team that begins interviewing with shared criteria will have greater success than the search team that relies on the individual criteria of each member.
  3. Failing to let our conversations about candidates shape and adjust our criteria. Even after doing the work to gain a consensus around criteria, our review of candidates will spark other ideas. The successful search team will discuss those ideas and continue to create consensus around its criteria.
  4. Making a decision based on first impressions. Take time to review a pastor’s profile and materials thoroughly and compare these with the selection and evaluation criteria.
  5. Failing to engage candidates in conversation. Ministerial profiles contain a lot of information, and it can be tempting to use only the information on paper to identify the ideal candidate. Take time to have conversation with several possible candidates. The more information that we can move off of paper and into conversation, the more successful our search will be.
  6. Looking for the ideal candidate (a.k.a. Someday My Prince Will Come). The perfect minister does not exist, just like the perfect congregation does not exist. We each bring our strengths and weaknesses to the ministry we share, and we are a people of grace. We grow and learn in ministry together. Despite the legends, even our beloved former pastor was not an ideal candidate.
  7. Always anticipating the next candidate profile (a.k.a. The Grass Looks Greener). You have no guarantee that the next profile will be better than the last. The regional minister is always sending you profiles for the best candidates available at the time.
  8. Choosing a pastor that the committee thinks the congregation members want rather than the one the church needs.
  9. Choosing a pastor who is the exact opposite of, or exactly like, your former pastor.
  10. Failing to look carefully at the pastor’s previous ministry for length, growth, congregational size, and ministries developed under their leadership.
  11. Trying to guess a candidate’s age. If we are asking about age, we are asking the wrong question. Rather than trying to call someone who is young enough or old enough, look for passion, energy, and a clear sense of call. It is better in the long run to call a great match who will serve with us for four years than to call a so-so match because they might serve for ten or twelve years.
  12. Failing to hold the Search Committee accountable to its own ground rules—especially around confidentiality of candidate information.
  13. Not holding all candidates to the same submission requirements. All candidates should be expected to submit the same materials—complete Search and Call papers from the denomination, sermons, and criminal background check, etc.
  14. Succumbing to pressure from committee members, the Board, or members of the congregation to speed up the process.