The Pulpit Committee
Dr. Bryan Gentry
One of the most important decisions in the life of a church is that of selecting a pastor. Many good churches have been hijacked by unscrupulous individuals posing as a man of God. Obviously, the only foolproof way to find the right man is to make sure you are in touch with the Lord. In this article, we are going to look at some of the practical ways to screen candidates and minimize the time spent searching for a pastor or any other staff position for your church. I have been on both sides of this process, on a committee to search for a pastor, as well as being the candidate for pastor. Through these experiences I have found some lessons that may be helpful for churches going through this important process.
What is a Pulpit Committee?
This may seem like a silly question, yet there are many who do not understand the purpose of a committee. If the committee is elected by the church, then they are to represent the church body and their interests. If the committee is assigned by the pastor (this happens sometimes when a pastor retires because of health), then they are to follow the wishes of the pastor. Unfortunately, I know of committees that, once they were formed, they forgot what they were assigned to do and began to serve their own agenda. A committee is called to only stay on task and do only that job they were assigned. The committee has no authority except that granted to it.
Pray, Pray, Pray!
Do not make any decision without praying over it. Remember, this is the Lord’s Church, so let Him call the pastor He wants. You follow His lead. Many churches have grown closer to the Lord and to each other during the time they are without a pastor. Become very familiar with and put into practice the principles in these verses –; ; ; ; ; .
There is a tendency to get a pastor as quickly as you can, but this has ruined many a church. When we get in a hurry, we become careless and often make mistakes. The importance of finding the right man for God’s church cannot be overstated. Do not drag your feet, but take whatever time is necessary to find God’s man.
The first item of business for a search committee should that of finding preachers to supply the pulpit until you call an interim pastor. You may have men in your church that can supply the pulpit full time or from time to time. If not, you may be able to work out a system of supply preachers with a Bible college or a large church in the area that believes the way you do until you call an interim. This needs to be done so the normal services go on uninterrupted.
Perhaps Call An Interim Pastor
The next item of business is to call an interim pastor. It is helpful if this man is familiar with the needs of the church, but this is not always possible. If a man like this is not available, you may feel secure in calling one of the supply preachers to be your interim. You need a good interim that knows and preaches the Word of God, and believes what you believe. He can help the church through this time and this allows the committee to focus on the task at hand, finding God’s man. The interim pastor should only be called to preach and teach. The interim may be able to give advice in areas of the church that will be helpful, but the rest of the church should step up and take care of the business of the church. Be sure you screen the interim before calling him. You should not call an interim that is one of your candidates for pastor. This may give the church the idea that the committee had to settle for less. This also gives this man an unfair advantage. Also, remember to pray, pray, pray!
The Committee Must Be United
There will be a tendency for some church members to learn more than you are willing to share regarding the findings of the committee, so they may try to work one committee member against another. The committee must be one body, not sharing anything that the committee as a whole has not agreed to share with the church. It is also wise not to tell your spouses any more than you are telling the church. When making announcements to the church, let the chairman make them all.
Conduct a Background Check
Be thorough with your background check of each candidate. There is a fee for criminal searches, as well as financial background checks, but this money is well spent if it keeps you from calling a shyster.
Note: This should also be done for every member of the church staff and anyone who works with children to prevent possible legal problems.
A release form to allow the Church to do background checks can be acquired from local law enforcement offices. Candidates who are unwilling to submit to these checks should be removed from your list.
Keep The Church Informed
The church will become anxious and rumors may start if you do not keep them informed. I do not, however, believe this should be done weekly. This tends to cause the church to become too anxious. It will not hurt the church to go 2-4 weeks without being updated. They need to learn to trust their committee.
One Candidate At A Time
When you select a candidate, deal with only one at a time. If you work with two or three at a time, a vote between them may cause some church members to feel alienated because the man they voted for did not win. A church can be split over this because the process becomes a competition and every competition has losers. The committee should agree on an order and work with only one candidate at a time. Either recommend him and have him in to candidate, put him in the 'maybe file' or reject him. When you have selected a man to present to the church, the committee should meet with him and his wife before making the announcement. Meet in a place where all can talk freely and hear easily. Set aside ample time to talk without being rushed. Have questions written down prior to meeting so you do not forget anything. Make sure his wife is supportive of his ministry and the move.
You will receive names from church members of candidates of family members, friends and soon. Ask that man for a resume, but do not feel you have to tell people why you do not think this candidate is right for your church. The best answer is “We did not feel the Lord leading that direction.” This will be the truth if you are following the Lord’s lead.
Create A Candidate Packet
Create a candidate packet which should include:
- A copy of the Church Constitution
- A copy of the Church’s By-laws
- A copy of a general budget statement
- A list of the ministries of the Church
- A questionnaire for the candidate to fill out.
- Information about the Church, such as history, location, surrounding area, etc.
- A release form to allow the Church to do background checks (These can be acquired from local law enforcement offices. Candidates who are unwilling to submit to these should be removed from your list.)
- Ask the candidate to send the following:
- A complete resume
- A doctrinal statement
- A picture of his family
- Recordings of two or three recent messages
- A statement regarding his financial requirements
- Anything else the committee may wish to ask for
Ask each candidate for the following:
- A written copy of his personal salvation testimony including his call to preach.
- A complete resume including all secular and ministry positions. Look for lapses in time periods. This may an indication of a mistake in filling out the resume or candidate may have something to hide.
- A doctrinal statement, which needs to include his stand on:
- Why he is a Baptist (and his commitment to remain Baptist).
- His convictions on the King James Bible, music, standards, ecumenical movement, etc.
- Salvation, eternal security, Deity of Christ, Return of Christ (Is he Premillennial?), baptism, local church, church discipline, deacons, pastoral authority, standards, predestination, affiliations and other important doctrines.
- Social topics such as abortion, homosexuality, immorality, etc.
- Ministries he has started personally and ministries he may start at your church.
- Reason for leaving present ministry. If not in a ministry at present, question him thoroughly about this.
- Anything else the committee thinks is necessary or helpful.
*Note: If the candidate does not send an item that you requested, question him about it. This should be the first area of focus if you begin seriously looking to call this individual. He may be trying to hide something or it may have been an oversight. Either way, you must be suspicious of every discrepancy. This is by no means a complete list, however, it gives a basic idea of the process and things a church should look for. It may also help prevent possible problems. Of all the steps, the constant attitude of prayer on the part of the committee and the church is invaluable.