Like many of his peers who lead churches as an associational missionary, one of Bobby Braswell’s responsibilities is training pastor search committees. Braswell, who directs Middle Baptist Association in Sylvania, serves in an area fairly typical for many Southern Baptist congregations – rural, smaller churches, conservative in theology.
Right now Middle Association has eight churches without pastors, which is unusually high, Braswell says. Probably three out of the eight, he guesses, are more interested in bivocational pastors. He’s expecting that figure to rise in his association as more churches consider ministers going part-time.
“Most associational missionaries train search committees fairly often,” he says, adding that it’s best for those committees to not start in a vacuum regarding updates to the pastor search process.
When it becomes frustrating and the process seems to drag on, search committees wouldn’t be blamed for feeling there’s a much smaller pool of applicants to choose from, though a LifeWay study recently said fewer pastors are giving up on ministry. “About 90 percent of the time search committees are open to the training,” Braswell says. He leaves a manual for the committee to peruse, later using it to go through a 90-minute training session. In his time with these committees, there are a handful of common mistakes he notices.
Poor etiquette. “Some deal with one candidate at a time until the search is over; some try juggling candidates. Work with them until you narrow it down to perhaps three,” advises Braswell, “then deal with the one candidate to eventually present to your church.” Braswell touches on this and other aspects of the search process in greater detail on his blog.
“I also stress that if the committee asks for a resume, to always inform the candidate of where he is in the process and let him know if he’s no longer being considered. This is a really big problem when not followed through.
“How often you stay in touch depends on where you are in the process. As you get closer to asking them to visit the church, communication should increase.”
Candidates in the pulpit too early. The possibility of the church itself becoming the search committee can happen if a conveyor belt of candidates materializes at the church. Finding the right fit for a church can lead to impatience, which is perhaps why some churches are using other groups to do the searching for them.
Not vetting the candidate. Again, an example of proceeding too quickly. Background checks and calling references should be mandatory, explains Braswell, but only cover the surface. “Those don’t go as in-depth. You may uncover a serious problem if you dig a little deeper.”
Churches can also be guilty of exhibiting too much trust in an effort to not be judgmental. The task of a search team is really, really hard work,” he says. “They have to go a little further than others.”
Not functioning as a team. “You don’t want one person, whether it’s the chairman or someone else, operating on their own,” he stresses. “Good communication is important as well as understanding they’re going to delegate responsibilities and function together. It puts together a code of ethics for them to agree to.”
Be confidential. This is especially important if the candidate lives nearby. Protecting the integrity of the search process is tough enough in a society where people are used to knowing everything and facts aren’t necessarily the priority.