Monday, January 21, 2008

Looking for a Preacher

The San Jacinto Church of Christ here in Amarillo, TX (my church family) is looking for its next preacher. The vacancy was created several weeks ago when Leonard Harper took over the prison ministry sponsored by congregations in this area. We wish Leonard well. But we also wish that he was still at San Jacinto.

In the meantime, Dale Dennis, a former missionary to Tanzania, has been preaching for us. Dale is a good man and a clear, organized communicator. We're fortunate to have him serving as our interim.

Anyway, our elders asked the deacons and me to serve as the preacher-search committee. We're the ones publishing the ads, reading the resumes, listening to the sermons, etc. I've never been on this side of this process before. It can be a lot of work. And it's an eye-opener. About the preacher-search-and-selection process, I have more questions than I could possibly write down. But here are three:

1. For those of you who've been where I am, what are some of your experiences, lessons learned, etc.?

2. What do you think are the best, most important questions a church should ask a preacher candidate?

3. On a related note, among Churches of Christ in the U.S., what would you say are the biggest differences between expectations for preachers today compared to thirty years ago?

15 comments:

TREY MORGAN said...

Frank - I hate to hear that about Leonard. He is an excellent preacher and a very good man. I know your loss is the prison's gain.

I have very little experience on the hiring side of the preacher search. I have been a part of a youth minister search. While that is similar, I don't think it's even close to the same thing.

I think if I was hiring a preacher I'd look for someone who's teachable. Someone that's willing to learn and grow with the congregation, no just come in and say, "We're going to do things my way." If he's teachable then he'll continue to learn, grow and mature no matter what his age.

As for expectations I think the preacher today is expected to wear a lot of hats. And I'm unsure how that relates to the past.

Blessings and prayers in your search.

Leland V said...

Frank,
Two comments. First, I have found it to be profoundly difficult integrate the aspects of a minister search that are related to "hiring an employee" and those related to bringing in a brother to labor along side the congregation for the Lord.

Second, I believe the elders and the congregation need to have a very clear picture of his Job Description, to put it in a very business way. In hiring business employees I have always felt that more than half of the interview process should be focused on making sure the candidate knows what the job is and what will be expected, and to do this you need to fully understand what you want in a preacher.

I agree with Trey; the preacher needs to be able to change, because you can assure him that the congregation will change and the community will change in future years. However, living a life that is solidly attached to an unchanging foundation is essential.

A couple of years ago I heard a discussion by a "counselor" that spends all of his time with ministers and pastors in east Tennessee; he said he gets paid to drink coffee. He said that the most frequent root causes that he saw in troubled ministers were: (1) studying only for sermon preparation and not spending time in the Word for personal growth, and (2) not practicing a sabbath, i.e., not taking personal and family time to unwind and relax. Thus, maybe these are two questions to explore with candidates.

Leland

Arlene Kasselman said...

Frank
I led the process for hiring a Worship Minister, so my experience is a little different. However, a couple of key things.

1. Search committee's lie. They don't mean to, but they do. Usually they represent the church as they want it to be, not as it actually is. From your side, let them know what they are really coming to.

2. Outline your process before you begin. That way no one agenda is being pushed. The process can become the guide. Often times healthy process is more crucial than we realize.

3. Check references. This seems like a no-brainer, but you won't believe how often in church we ignore this.

4. Know before you begin what you are looking for. It is not fair to the candidate or the church to have a laissez-faire attitude that says, "come and tell us what you want to do here."

5. However, be flexible enough to massage the position to match the giftedness of the candidate.

6. Pray before you talk. Have the search committee covenant to pray over the process, the candidates and the church.

7. Discuss the real values/expectations. Is this a search for a skill set; personality type; giftedness or is it more about someone who models a life of spiritual practices; justice; mission.

8. Oh so many other things pertaining to vision and how the congregation wants to seek out the work of God in the world.

Sorry this is so long.....

Frank Bellizzi said...

Trey, I agree. It's healthy and refreshing for a leader to acknowledge that he/she doesn't always have things figured out. It's important for the leader to do more than just talk that talk. It must be apparent that a leader values the thoughts, opinions and experiences of others.

Leland, you hit that nail on the head. Any preacher worthy of the name is much more than an employee. On a side note, for reasons found in the Bible and the dictionary, I wish churches wouldn't talk about "hiring a preacher."

Arlene, thanks for these wise, candid observations. And don't apologize for the length of your comment. We need more of the good stuff.

Bob Bliss said...

Frank, here's my two cents plus a dollar.
1. Ask him what he does for his spiritual growth.
2. Have a clear time line from when you start interviewing to when you make your decision.
3. Acknowledge the reception of all your applications immediately. Let them know your process and time line.
4. Make sure you let your candidates know ASAP if you aren't accepting their applications and why.
5. Once you decide no on a candidate after an interview (whether phone or in personal) let them know ASAP as well.
6. When you invite a candidate to interview personally at the congregation, make sure the whole family comes (if possible).
7. Try to have the candidate come as early as possible - Thursday evening is best.
8. Make sure that the candidate meets as many as possible during the week. Meet with the entire church staff, the deacons, other ministry leaders, the elders. Let them have every meal with people or groups from the congregation.
9. Give them some time to drive around and see the area by themselves.
10 Have information about schools, real estate, cost of living, and other necessities of living in your area. Include a good map of the area.
11. Have someone in charge of the candidate's schedule. This person will make sure that the candidate has the schedule, all necessary information, and directions to wherever he needs to be.
12. Make sure they have a car to themselves - whether rented or loaned by someone in the congregation.
13. Tell them you won't consider them as a candidate unless they have a questionnaire for your elders. I don't think we preachers ask enough questions of the congregations where we interview.
14.Have Charles Siburt come from ACU and help you develop a congregational survey that might tell you a little more about the guy you are looking for.

That's enough for now.

Odgie said...

I would recommend avoiding certain practices that I or friends of mine still in the ministry have encountered over the years:

1. Don't boil it down to demographics - insisting that he be married with 2.4 kids, a certain age, etc. People are more than their demographics, and this is even more true of believers.

2. Don't ask for a family photo - is there any good reason for this?

3. Don't ask about his politics

preacherman said...

Frank,
I think it is important to lay out a clear job discription. Make sure you don't over work your minister. It is important that he has set days off for his family, sick days, vaction, Spiritual health time off(different from vaction). It is important to take care of your ministers sanity, family, health, and most importantly his spirituality. You don't wan't him to become a statistic of the many who burnout and leave ministry.

Royce Ogle said...

Frank,

I have been on two search committies, one of which I chaired. And, my name has been given as a reference on two occasions by men who were looking. What an eye opener!

In both committies (seperated by 1000 miles and 15 years) we interviewed one man and hired that one man. Each had productive and long ministries, one staying 22 years. I believe in each case the key was prayer. There were meetings when all we did was pray together asking God to give us clarity and to bring to us the right person. Far too many search committies only pray as a fromality and then try to fill the opening as a business would would hire a manager.

My second recommendation is to agree together with the elders and members what exactly you want. Do you want a super-human who can visit every sick person, go soul winning two or three nights a week, do the job of an administrator/secretary/cfo, and preach dynamic messages 3 times a week? When I read some of the ads for ministers in the Chronicle I cringe to think what will eventually happen to the man who is unlucky enough to be hired by some of those churches.

Last, I wouldn't want a man who did not ask more questions than he answered.

My observation is that Jesus and most of the Apostles would not qualify to be a church of Christ pulpit minister in most congregations. Think about it.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

Frank Bellizzi said...

Bob, you mention many important specifics. Thanks for this input.

Odgie, I get the impression that many congregations want that 35-55 year old married man with children and a dog. Sometimes they'll even joke that neither Jesus nor Paul would qualify.

Preacherman, thank you for emphasizing that churches should treat their preachers fairly, with consideration and thought.

Royce, I appreciate your emphasis on prayer. We have prayed, but not like we could.

Danny said...

I have always been on the hired end of the preacher search! lol

I think balance would be a key if I were on the hiring end. Plus I would look for someone with a gentle unifying spirit.

That is my two cents worth. I know God will lead you all to the right guy.

Neva said...

Frank,
What a small world!
My husband was the minister in Spearman following Leonard and Cheryl. We are now in North Platte, NE, and I hear the church in Spearman has a new man coming from CA. I met Leonard and Cheryl only once but they seemed like nice folks.
Many blessings in your preacher search.
Blessings
Neva

JOYce said...

That's about the best advice I've ever read. Thank you folks for printing it. My husband is a gospel preacher...and may be looking for a change soon. As his wife/help meet, I've been so frustrated reading what churches are looking for....and not reading that they desire a mighty man of God who loves the Lord, loves His word and loves His people. I often wonder if we have become a business instead of a body of believers. God bless you all.
Joyce Bentch
1068 N. Rd. 11
Worland, WY 82401

Amos Akonto said...

"LOOKING FOR A PREACHER"
I have a similar a task as Frank Bellizzi. My congregation is searching for a preacher to replace the present one who intends to resign soon in order to enter another Ministry. He has served the congregation since 1985 and ordained Elders and Deacons in 2002. I am a Deacon who is likely to be selected to join the Elders and other panelists drawn from some local congregations to interview applicants for the Preaching work.
I read the twelve comments resulting from Frank's questions. The contributors have discussed excellent attributes of an aspiring preacher but have not answered the 2nd question Frank asked.
Again, Frank Asked;
“ What do you think are the best, most important questions a church should ask a preacher candidate?”
I would be glad to receive specific interview questions from any or all of the Twelve contributors.

My Name: Amos Akonto.
Age: 54yrs
email: akonto2@yahoo.com

Amos Akonto said...

"LOOKING FOR A PREACHER"
I have a similar a task as Frank Bellizzi. My congregation is searching for a preacher to replace the present one who intends to resign soon in order to enter another Ministry. He has served the congregation since 1985 and ordained Elders and Deacons in 2002. I am a Deacon who is likely to be selected to join the Elders and other panelists drawn from some local congregations to interview applicants for the Preaching work.
I read the twelve comments resulting from Frank's questions. The contributors have discussed excellent attributes of an aspiring preacher but have not answered the 2nd question Frank asked.
Again, Frank Asked;
“ What do you think are the best, most important questions a church should ask a preacher candidate?”
I would be glad to receive specific interview questions from any or all of the Twelve contributors.

My Name: Amos Akonto.
Age: 54yrs
email: akonto2@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

I know this post is several years old, but it is possible you or one of your readers will enter into a search at some point in the future.

I am coming at this question as a former deacon who was on two search committees who then began looking for full-time ministry.

1. Do not break laws in your job posting and questions. Good candidates notice this and avoid applying.

2. Make sure the committee has the time necessary to make a decision. One chairperson should post the opening on every Bible College and Seminary website he or she can find. They should also receive the information and print it for the committee. The committee should be prepared to meet together and discuss needs, expectations, etc. They should also be ready one night for several phone interviews with candidates (with time in between for discussion) and ultimately a weekend or so for their final choice candidate.

3. Do not let education, age, family, location, or any other concern keep them from choosing the best available candidate.