I've worked with a number of pastor and staff search teams as they vet possible candidates for their open positions. These folks typically are God-seeking believers who want nothing but God's will to be done.
Churches and their search committees face an array of challenges. Among them:
1. Making wise choices for committee members. Just because a person is viewed as a leader doesn't necessarily make him or her a good search team member. These ought to be godly, prayerful, trustworthy believers and good team members.
2. Consistent prayer. I've seen some committees that prayed a lot when their work started, a little during the actual search process, and a lot more once they'd narrowed their search to one person. Significant prayer is essential during the entire process.
3. Checking accuracy of resumes. You'd hope that all Christian candidates have only truth on their resume, but that's not always the case.
4. Doing background and credit checks. Again, I wish neither of these reviews was necessary, but we live in a fallen world.
5. Asking theological questions. I'm amazed by the number of candidates I know who are asked only one or two (or zero) questions about what they believe. A general, "Do you believe the Bible?" is not sufficient. And these questions should be asked early in the process; otherwise, if strong relationships have begun to develop, it's too easy to let debatable responses pass.
6. Checking references. While few people include negative references on their resume, you still can learn about a candidate from others.
7. Patience. In my experience, it's taking longer and longer to find pastors and staff members. The longer it takes, the likelier it is that the committee will want to settle. That's dangerous.
8. Being honest with the candidate. Most churches are not as healthy as search teams seem to think they are. Withholding significant information in the search process will only breed frustration later.
9. Spending ample time with the candidate. Sometimes this issue is the result of an overall faulty process, but the more time the search team spends with the candidate, the better.
10. Involving the candidate's family in the process. The candidate may become the church's leader, but he likely comes with a family. To ignore them in the process is to send the wrong signal to them from the beginning.
11. Keeping the church informed. The work of the committee is to be confidential, but the committee should still keep the congregation in the loop. At a minimum, they can then pray more pointedly.
12. Keeping the candidates informed. Even if the committee decides not to pursue a particular candidate, they still owe the candidate a response. Leaving people hanging is unkind.
13. Guarding against overreacting to the previous leader. If, for example, a church has had a positive experience with a leader, or a negative one, they must be careful in setting realistic expectations.
14. Expanding the search beyond those who've submitted a resume. God might be working in someone whose resume is not yet available. Committees that don't consider asking someone whose name has not been submitted might miss an opportunity.
Calling a new spiritual leader is one of the most significant decisions a local congregation makes. I don't know any churches that take that process lightly, but I do know churches that don't do that process well. Don't be one of those churches.
Chuck Lawless, on the Web at www.chucklawless.com, is a vice president and missions and evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.