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  • Writer's pictureTracey Smith

Is Your Search Team Stuck? 7 Ways to Get Unstuck

7 Things to Do When The Search Team Is Stuck

The search is almost complete and the finish line is almost in reach. Everyone is excited about having a new pastor but for some reason you can’t get everyone to be 100% in agreement that this is the right candidate to hire. It is true the hiring team has done an amazing job of navigating this search but for some reason you feel like the team has become “stuck” when it comes to making an official offer. Even during just normal life decisions, many of us choose to punt when faced with having a tough choice, while others allow their emotions to get the best of them, leading to either an irrational response or simply just not being able to make a decision at all. Difficult decisions can be agonizing, but they don’t have to be. Here are a few things to consider when you need to bring much-needed clarity to the decision-making process and equip you and the team with a plan to make the decision. Here are some things to do that might be helpful to your team to make a final decision:

1) Consider the Reality of Your Candidate Pool

Whenever you consider hiring a pastor for your church or for any organization, you should face the reality of what candidates are available for this role. The search team should have a firm grasp of how many potential pastors would be interested in this role, would be available in this timeframe, would have the skill set needed, would be willing to make a move to this region of the country, and would fit the culture at your church. In our work, many search teams think it would be possible to just “pull rabbits (candidates) out of some magical hat” but believe me, as much as we would like to do just that, it is impossible to have candidates available on demand, especially when the search team does not have a grasp on what the candidate pool actually looks like for their particular role they are searching for at their church. As a search team, have honest conversations about whom your church would attract and how big the candidate pool really is at this time.

2) Reflect on the Process

One of the things a search team could do when you can’t make a decision is reflect on what you have accomplished already in the process and all the work that has led you to this decision or candidate in the first place. Let your team backtrack for a moment. You’ve gone through all of the expected steps to prepare to make this hire. You have:

  • Considered the timing of your process

  • Reviewed job applications to select the most qualified for this role

  • Interviewed your top candidates

  • Held second and sometimes even third interviews to assure a chemistry and theological fit

  • Invited your best candidates in to visit with you, your team, the influencers in the church, and your congregation

  • Held several follow up meetings with all of those involved in the search process to debrief

  • Performed the necessary background and reference checks

  • More importantly, all of this was covered in hours and even days of prayer

By reflecting all of what you have accomplished so far, it reminds you and the team of what you were searching for, the process, and all the hard work that has landed you with your final candidate. Many times the top candidates that were in the final round were good candidates that could fit the role and could easily do the job that your church desires.

3) Realize there are No Perfect Candidates and No Perfect Churches

Yes, it is correct that the candidate may not be 'Jesus' or the 'purple squirrel' - that is so often referred to in the HR world as the PERFECT candidate. Whenever I think of expectations, I think it is a good exercise to remember who you are as a church and who God has called you to be! The 'doing' will follow as long as we focus on the being! It is a church - a living organism with all of its greatness as well as it flaws. If you and the search team take time to reflect on the fact that you are not a perfect church and there are not perfect candidates, then it will help lower the frustration level of knowing that you will not hire perfection so don’t strive for it.

4) Manage Your Expectations

Most search teams have super high expectations for their next senior pastor but sometimes the expectations are way out of reason for your current situation. Take the time to…

  • Revisit - who are we really - and what type of pastor would we need for this next season

  • Know the size of your church and what pastor would come to your church. Sometimes I hear a church of 200 asking us to recruit a pastor of a church of 1,000. It may not be a reasonable expectation for that pastor to leave their current position.

  • Understand the location of your church and the dynamics of who your geographical location will attract

  • Assess the current situation of your church. Are you a growing church, a declining church, or is your church in a major conflict. Your current situation will determine what type of candidates that you will attract.

  • Know the potential challenges of your church. Some challenges that a church may be facing would be financial debt, location, staff turnover, or anything that would challenge the potential growth of your church

During this season of search, it is always good to review the season of your church and then determine are our expectations too high? - Too low? Or are we being too picky or not picky enough.

5) Evaluate the varied personalities involved in the selection process with different preferences

Navigating personalities is a tough role in any team. Maybe you have done well so far but now the varied personalities are causing the process to slow or maybe even come to an abrupt stop! Everyone on the team has a voice and discussion is mostly guided from the largest personalities in the room. A good exercise is to review the preferences and make a list of non-negotiable - you will be tempted to do this quickly if you get some pushback as to what may seem like someone’s preference and not a non-negotiable. Walk through it gently BUT walk through it! Come to a conclusion as to what are the non-negotiable for the next pastor. It should be a short list of possibly 5-8-10 things. Anything longer than that then refer to the first suggestions listed in this post and review your expectations. It is well worth the time.

6) Recognize the strong desire not to "mess it up" which sometimes results in a fear to move forward

Yes - this is a great attribute for any team but sometimes a team can become STUCK because of a fear of the unknown or uncertainty. Even with the search team, the future is unknown and may feel like this is your church and you want to make a new pastor doesn’t come in and ruin everything that you have invested in over the years. I completely understand! It is a good thing but only a good thing if it can be released into a season of total faith in the One who actually called and called the previous pastor in the role and will call the next pastor also. I'm sure there were a few people who didn't want your last pastor and were unsure about the previous pastor’s ability to lead the church in the next season BUT God called that person. It is a total faith journey with many uncertainties BUT God is Faithful with or without our faithfulness! It is His deal! I always like to applaud the search teams for their caution and I'm not for sure if they are always actually stuck but what I do know - is that search teams usually LOVE their church and they take their role seriously! IT is a good thing. Take the time though and make sure the GOOD thing is not holding you back from the GREAT things that God has in store for your church in this next season.

7) Realize the Effects of having a previously well-liked pastor

One of effects of having a previously well-liked pastor is that your previous pastor will be missed. You pastor has been your leader and the leader of that church. Now it is time for change and most people would rather stay with who they know and what they know. They KNOW your previous pastor and your previous pastor KNOWS them. It is how it has been! The previous pastor may have done well but this loyalty should not be at the sake of derailing a candidate or the search.

These are seven critical factors that you and the search team must consider when you are not in total agreement with making an offer to your pastoral candidate. Don’t forget, the foundation for the entire process is prayer. Relax in the fact that God has invited you into the process of finding your next pastor and God will always remain faithful in providing all that is needed in making a great hire. The search process usually has lots of unexpected twist and turns and the key is to take advantage and learn all that God has planned to teach us in the search process. Be patient and listen to what he is trying to teach you and the search team during this process.

Now, what are some things you and your search team have tried when you seem to be at an impasse?



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