By Thom Rainer
If there is anything consistent about the current state of how churches find and call pastors, it is the inconsistencies of the process for each church. It is inconsistent by denomination and by each church individually.
I have the opportunity to interact with a number of churches looking for pastors and with pastors who are being considered by churches. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed changes and trends in the process. Let me highlight the seven most frequent changes I’ve discovered.
- Social media has become a major reference to check on potential pastors. More churches and pastor search committees are looking at blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media venues of potential candidates. One search committee member told me he read four years of blogs of a pastor their church was considering. He said that he could tell a lot about the leadership and personality of a pastor by reading his articles and how he interacts with those who comment on the blogs.
- Two background checks are more common: criminal and credit. Most church search members will not disqualify a candidate who has some issues in his background legally or credit related, but they do want the candidate to be upfront about any issues and know how he is dealing with those issues today.
- More leadership questions are asked. In the past, Bible and theology rightly dominated the questions asked of a prospective pastor. Today, those considering these pastors want to know more about his leadership qualities. “We had problems with two of our last three pastors,” one church member wrote me, “but none of those problems had anything to do with their theology; they just had terrible leadership skills.”
- Churches scrutinize the prospective pastor’s church website. I have been surprised how much churches depend on a website to find out information about a prospective pastor. They certainly expect to hear sermon podcasts there, but they are looking for much more. Rightly or wrongly, they often evaluate the pastor by the quality and the content of the site.
- Fewer search committees are going to the prospective pastor’s church to hear him preach. I am hearing more often that they view such a move as disruptive to that pastor and the church. They have other options available to hear him preach. Of course, they lose the advantage of seeing and hearing that pastor in his current context.
- Churches are depending less on traditional resources to seek prospective pastors. More are depending on informal networks to seek these pastors, rather than denominational or similar sources.
- More churches are asking questions about the emotional intelligence of a candidate. Is he self-aware? Is he moody or temperamental? How motivated is he? Is he empathetic? Does he have good social and interpersonal skills?
There are several other trends I am watching closely, but these seven are the dominant trends in the pastor search process. Though they are ranked in order of frequency of comment, they are really all very close in their overall importance in the ways churches seek to find and call a pastor. So the number one issue, social media and the pastor, is not that much more dominant than the number seven issue, the emotional intelligence of the prospective pastor.
Thom Rainer is President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.